According to local health experts, the Omicron variety has fueled a “worrying” spike in coronavirus infections in South Africa and is quickly becoming the dominant strain, while additional nations, including the United States, identify their first instances of the new strain.
The Omicron form has been detected in the United Arab Emirates and South Korea, which is already dealing with a deteriorating outbreak and record daily infections.
Dr. Michelle Groome of the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) in South Africa said there had been a “exponential surge” in infections over the previous two weeks, from a weekly average of roughly 300 new cases per day to 1,000 last week and 3,500 most recently. South Africa has 8,561 cases as of Wednesday. The daily total was 1,275 a week ago.
“The rate of growth is alarming,” Groome remarked.
The NICD said the new variation was identified in 74 percent of the viral genomes it sequenced last month, which was originally discovered in a sample obtained on November 8 in Gauteng, South Africa’s most populated region.
Experts are racing to ascertain the amount of protection offered by vaccinations while major uncertainties about how transmissible the Omicron form, which has been found in at least two dozen places around the world, remain. Maria van Kerkhove, an epidemiologist of the World Health Organization (WHO), said during a press conference that statistics on how contagious Omicron was should be available “within days.”
Omicron was able to elude some protection, according to early epidemiological data, but existing vaccinations should still protect against severe sickness and death, according to the NICD. Uur ahin, BioNTech’s CEO, said the vaccine the company is developing in collaboration with Pfizer is anticipated to provide excellent protection against severe Omicron illness.
While countries awaited a more complete picture, many proceeded to tighten border controls in the hopes of halting the virus’s spread.
South Korea tightened travel restrictions after discovering the first five Omicron cases, raising concerns about how the new type would influence the country’s current Covid outbreak.
For the next two weeks, authorities have suspended quarantine exemptions for fully vaccinated arriving travelers, who must now undergo a 10-day quarantine.
On Thursday, South Korea’s daily infection rate surpassed 5,200 for the first time, raising concerns about the dramatic surge in patients with severe symptoms.
Although limitations were removed earlier this month in the country, which has about 92 percent of individuals properly vaccinated, infections have increased since then, and the emergence of Omicron has fueled new concerns about pressure on the already overburdened healthcare system.
In Europe, the head of the European Union’s executive body said the new version is in a “race against time” to be stopped while experts figure out how hazardous it is. The EU has moved forward the start date of its vaccination rollout for children aged five to eleven years old by a week, to December 13th.
At a press conference, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said, “Prepare for the worse, hope for the best.”
In reaction to the new variety, the United Kingdom and the United States have both increased their booster programs, while Australia is revising its timeline.
Anthony Fauci, a leading infectious diseases specialist in the United States, emphasized that fully vaccinated persons should obtain a booster vaccine if they are eligible to ensure the maximum possible protection.
Nonetheless, the WHO has said several times that the coronavirus would continue to produce new varieties as long as it is permitted to circulate freely in huge populations of uninfected people.
“We have a poisonous mix of poor vaccination coverage and extremely low testing globally — a formula for breeding and amplifying variations,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stated, warning the globe that the Delta variant “accounts for practically all cases.”
“To prevent Delta transfer and save lives, we must employ the instruments we currently have.” And if we do that, we’ll be able to avoid Omicron transmission and save lives,” he added.