The World Health Organization (WHO) has classified a new variant of SARS-CoV-2. It has been named as Omicron. The Technical Advisory Group on SARS-CoV-2 Virus Evolution (TAG-VE) is an independent group of experts that periodically monitors and evaluates the evolution of SARS-CoV-2 and assesses if specific mutations and combinations of mutations alter the behaviour of the virus, WHO has informed. The TAG-VE was convened on 26th November 2021 to assess the SARS-CoV-2 variant: B.1.1.529.
The B.1.1.529 variant was first reported to WHO from South Africa on 24th November 2021. This variant has a large number of mutations, some of which are concerning. Preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this variant, as compared to other variants of concern.
As we try to understand more about this variant, we need to enhance surveillance and sequencing efforts to better understand circulating SARS-CoV-2 variants. On a personal level, people must ensure that they are vaccinated and that they are taking all the measures necessary to prevent the spread of this variant and any other variants that are circulating. These include proper hand hygiene, the wearing of face masks appropriately, ensure physical distancing and improving ventilation of indoor spaces.
The identification of this new variants comes as no surprise. We will continue to see new variants of COVID-19 evolving over the next weeks, months or years because of the biological and immune factors on the virus to evolve. Once there are susceptible hosts, that is persons who are not immunized, the virus will spread and will get the opportunity to mutate. If we are to end this pandemic and to avoid these flare ups, we must be able to stop transmission of current strains.
While we know that vaccines alone will not work, all of us must do what we can to bring the current transmission to an end. These include getting vaccinated to slow the spread of the virus and strict adherence to the measures stated above.