Researchers have discovered a new COVID-19 variant called Omicron in South Africa. The EU and UK have tightened border controls as researchers are now trying to figure out if the new mutation is vaccine-resistant.
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UK plans out travel restrictions
The World Health Organization (WHO) designated the B.1.1.529 strain as a “variant of concern”, warning it may spread more swiftly than previous forms of the virus. This announcement came only hours after the UK barred flights from South Africa and neighbouring nations. However, the WHO warned against premature steps. A South African scientist further called London’s travel restrictions plan a symptom of “vaccine apartheid”. The UN health organization has named the new variant Omicron naming after a letter in the Greek alphabet.
Combating the New Variant of Concern
Furthermore, the WHO has stated that determining how effective immunizations are against the new mutant strain will take weeks. The Omicron variant was only discovered this week. According to Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, a WHO Chief Scientist, the new COVID-19 type could serve as a “wake-up call” for COVID appropriate behaviour in India. She emphasized the importance of being cautious and continuing to use masks. Swaminathan further called masks highly effective “pocket vaccines”, particularly in indoor settings. Other recommendations made by the scientists for combating ‘Omicron’ include full vaccination of all adults and avoiding large gatherings. They have also stressed on expanding genome sequencing and closely monitoring any odd increase in cases. “To combat ‘Omicron,’ we need a science-based strategy,” Dr. Swaminathan added.
Omicron Likely More Contagious, Sparks Concerns
According to news agency Reuters, Omicron is likely more contagious than previous versions of the virus. However, doctors are unsure whether it will cause more or less severe conditions than other strains. Its rise has sparked global worry, prompting a new round of travel restrictions. It has also sparked a sell-off in financial markets over fears that it may stall the economic recovery from 2 years of the pandemic. Regarding comparisons with existing COVID-19 variations, Dr. Swaminathan stated, “We need more investigations to pinpoint the new variant’s properties”.
Vaccination is still a priority, and public health precautions must be maintained, she said, pointing out that ‘Omicron’ has a lot of mutations. She went on to say that vaccine equity is still a work in progress.
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