Not much is known about the new strain, so it’s too early to panic. But the threat cannot be ignored either. The Times answers the biggest questions about the new coronavirus challenge – just complex.
When was the Omicron strain discovered?
Samples with far more dangerous mutations in the coronavirus were found this week, Tuesday, at 2 p.m. They were taken on November 14 and 16. Already on Wednesday, similar samples were identified in Botswana and China, from people who arrived from South Africa.
Why did the new strain immediately alarm scientists?
The spike protein is a tool that helps the virus to enter the cell. The coronavirus vaccines currently in use are formulated to detect it. This strain has 32 mutations in the thorns. That is, to the immune system, it looks differently and attacks differently. A virologist at Imperial College called the mutation combination “terrifying.”
Why is anxiety increasing?
Having studied mutations, geneticists realized how high the likelihood of an increase in infectivity and the ability of the virus to bypass immunity. However, the anxiety was theoretical. But yesterday, South African scientists discovered an unusual anomaly: a PCR test looks for three genes in the coronavirus and amplifies them, but in this strain it was only able to amplify two.
What does it mean?
It is possible, but unlikely, that this is an accident. But if it really has an advantage, then it can either spread better and faster, or more effectively infect people, even those who are immune as a result of vaccination or a previous illness. Or both.
And if it’s more contagious?
In November 2020, with the advent of the alpha strain, it was found that it was about 50% more infectious. This is a colossal difference. The herd immunity threshold during that period rose from 66% to 80%. Today, the “delta” has 85-90%. But it is impossible to get 100% herd immunity. Each time the infectivity increases, this rate changes. If the new strain is more infectious, there will be more infected. We will increase the number of vaccinations, but in the end we will be in the same place.
Can Omicron overcome immunity?
But this raises the most serious concerns. Delta has already dealt a tangible blow to our collective immunity. Things can get even worse with this strain. In this case, it will be necessary to create vaccines against different strains. It will take weeks, not a year, but they are unlikely to be ready for the beginning of a new wave.
What about treatments?
Antibody therapy for immune deficiencies can be severely compromised. But fortunately, this will not affect treatment with antiviral drugs, which attack the enzymes used by the virus.
Which countries are subject to the flight ban?
Since November 29, the American authorities will impose an entry ban for residents of eight African countries in connection with the spread of Omicron – South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi. Other countries are also introducing restrictions.
Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca announced a ban on entry from Botswana, South Africa (RSA), Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe effective November 26. Before that, restrictions on air traffic had already been introduced. European Union, UK, Singapore and Japan.
Russia restricts the entry of citizens from a number of African countries, including South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho and Namibia. From November 28, for an indefinite period, entry will also be restricted for residents of Hong Kong, Mozambique, Eswatini, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Madagascar and foreigners who have been in these countries for the past 10 days.
Given the potential danger of mutating Botswana, Greece takes protective measures. South African travelers can enter our country only with the special permission of the local embassies, if there is a serious reason. In addition, arriving in Greece from South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Eswatini, they must stay in quarantine for 10 days and do PCR three times – before the trip, upon arrival and during quarantine. All travelers must be vaccinated.
People arriving from these countries in Britain must be quarantined for 11 days at one of the government-approved hotels. The cost of staying there is 2285 pounds per person. One adult will have to pay 1430 pounds for sharing a room. Only holders of British passports and people eligible to reside in Britain will be allowed to enter the country.
When will it become known how dangerous the new strain is and is it dangerous at all?
Information, as always in such cases, appears gradually. Uncertainties and ambiguities create a clearer picture. It will take at least a week to grow a culture of the virus and transfer it to scientific institutions. Then it will take several weeks for scientists to obtain high-quality laboratory data on the resistance of the immune system to the virus. And only in a few months it will be possible to judge the impact of the new strain on our world.
How does it compare to previous options?
Alpha was largely responsible for the catastrophic winter surge in Britain. The beta strain, which is less contagious but more resistant to immunity, has caused a wave of infection in South Africa. The delta variant turned out to be twice as infectious as the Wuhan strain. First, he struck India, and then swept the whole world. Most of the strains are of scientific interest to virologists, but not to mere mortals. The virus changes all the time, so mutations are expected and possible.