COVID-19: Omicron variant rises in India, total count is at 38

The number of reported cases of Omicron variant of COVID-19 in India has now moved up to 38. The states of Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Karnataka, and Gujarat along with Delhi were among the first to report the COVID-19 variant. According to reports Andhra Pradesh, Chandigarh, Karnataka, and Maharastra have reported at least 1 case each as of December 12 and cases have increased since.

Speaking of the severity of the variant, Dr Poonam Khetrapal, Regional Director South East Asia, for the World Health Organisation said “A new variant doesn’t mean that things will be worse, but definitely, they will be more uncertain” reported NDTV.

What is the Omicron variant?

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Omicron is the latest fast-spreading SARS-CoV-2 variant. Detected in about 38 countries, the WHO has labelled Omicron as a “variant of concern” and said that it can escalate into a “very high” global risk with potentially severe consequences. Keeping up with the trend of naming variants after Greek alphabets, the WHO named the new B.1.1.529 variant Omicron, the 15th letter in the Greek alphabet. 

While it’s too early to say how the pandemic might evolve as a result of this variant, experts continue to study how severe and transmissible it is as well as how effective or ineffective vaccines might fare against it. 

The variant drew international attention due to its “unprecedented” number of mutations and is said to have the potential to be the most infections coronavirus variant to date. While Omicron could make things worse in countries that are already dealing with rising cases of the Delta variant, the good news is there have been no reported deaths so far attributed to Omicron. 

What are the symptoms of the variant?

Experts say Omicron’s symptoms are similar to that of other variants. Fever, fatigue, scratchy throat, cough, shortness of breath, and muscle aches are some of the major symptoms of the variant. However, a loss of taste and smell, the telltale symptom which was prevalent in the previous variants has not been extensively seen with the new variant so far. 

Dr. Angelique Coetzee, a South African doctor who helped discover Omicron, told the BBC that the patients she’s seen with the omicron variant to date have “extremely mild cases” of COVID-19. However, experts note that this factor could help the virus spread because people might not get tested and can transmit the virus unknowingly.

The difference between Omicron and variants?

The WHO said there is “currently no information to suggest that symptoms associated with Omicron are different from those from other variants.” Omicron has more mutations compared to the Delta variant which is twice as contagious as the other variants. It will likely take several weeks of research to determine if Omicron is less or more contagious and infectious than the Delta variant but a large number of mutations of Omicron is raising concerns in the medical fraternity.

The Omicron cases in South Africa suggest that the symptoms seem to be milder than that of Delta’s. However, South Africa has a sizable college-aged population whose immune systems can cope with the disease. Hence it becomes difficult to estimate the severity of a variant when it’s geographically localized like this scenario. Once the variant’s effects on other countries are studied, a more nuanced scientific conclusion can be reached. 

Quoting Prof Francois Balloux, director of the Genetics Institute at University College London, the Guardian reports, “From what we have learned so far, we can be fairly confident that – compared with other variants – Omicron tends to be better able to reinfect people who have been previously infected and received some protection against COVID-19.”

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