Omicron: Sound Alert Not Alarm
The Times of India Mumbai|November 29, 2021
Too little is known as of now to presume this variant will be worse than Delta
K Srinath Reddy

Covid virus variant B.1.1.529 had the shortest wait time for acquiring a Greek name, from the time of its first reported arrival into the world. Initially identified in Botswana and later confirmed by South Africa, it has been labelled as a variant of concern (VOC) by the World Health Organisation which named it Omicron. By November 26, it was also reported from Hong Kong, Belgium and Israel. By the next day, Omicron was detected in more countries, including two cases in the UK which had announced a ban on flights from African countries.

Several other countries too have banned flights from Africa and Hong Kong. It is not clear whether the ban will be extended to more countries that now have Omicron infected persons, such as the UK itself. It is also unclear how effective travel bans are, given the experience with the Alpha and Delta variants which slipped through such restrictions. The South African health minister has protested that his country is being unjustly penalised for efficiency in testing and honesty in reporting

The heightened concern is linked to the large number of new mutations that Omicron has acquired, especially in the spike protein which the virus uses to enter the human cells. It was reported that these provide Omicron a greater ability than the currently dominant Delta variant, to bind to the human ACE 2 receptor which opens the door to the interior of the cells. After entry, the virus uses human genetic material to make many copies of itself. They can then infect other humans, to continue the chain of transmission. Through these mutations, Omicron appears to have acquired features that give it greater infectivity.

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