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Omicron variant – What do we know about it?

Hamdhan Shakeel



News of a new variant of the COVID-19 virus has taken the world by storm as countries rush to take preemptive measures to curb the spread of the new variant inside their borders. The latest variant identified as SARS-CoV-2 variant: B.1.1.529 was named as Omicron by the World health Organization, later declaring it’s as a “Variant of Concern”.

The Omicron variant was first identified on 24th November 2021 in South Africa. But the earliest confirmed case of the virus was from a sample collected on 09th November 2021.

While specimens were collected and sent to the Technical Advisory Group on SARS-CoV-2 Virus Evolution to assess its mutations. According to the World Health Organization, the number of infections has steeply increased in the areas where the Omicron variant was identified.

Preliminary studies on the variant suggests that compared to the other Variants of Concern, the Omicron variant has an unusually high number of mutations, leading to an increased chance of reinfection for those who had already contracted the virus and for those who are already immunized.

So far, the variant has been identified due to the PCR tests failure to target and detect one of the three genes. So far, the variant has been identified in Israel, Hongkong, Botswana and Belgium.

While the World Health Organization has maintained that to would take a few weeks to fully understand the full impact of the virus, UK Health Officials have warned that the vaccine would “almost certainly be less effective” against the Omicron variant.

British Professor of Structural biology James Naismith stated that “It’s bad news but it’s not doomsday.”. He further stated that the mutations spotted in the variant suggests more transmissibility, the variant’s ultimate transmissibility would be determined by how ell the mutations work together.

The variant is further expected to spread as only 24% of the South African population is vaccinated against COVID-19.

While medical experts warn preemptive measures, Australia, Brazil, UK, U.S., Iran, India and Japan has taken some form of measures against the spread of the variant through partial border lockdowns or through increased screening at borders.

In the Maldives, President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih has announced that additional booster shots for the public would be launched in mid-December in wake of the Omicron variant. He also stated that the Technical Advisory Group will be meeting today to decide on what actions to take against the Omicron variant.


Could Omicron BA.2.75 sub-variant lead to a new global COVID-19 wave?





A new sub-lineage of the Omicron variant known as BA.2.75, which was first detected in India, has raised concerns among health experts, Indian media reported.

BA.2.75, which is said to be a second generation sub-variant of Omicron BA.2, has an 18 percent growth advantage over other Omicron sub-variants currently circulating in India, The Indian Express reported.

Sub-lineages of Omicron have been the dominant strains circulating across the globe, with new mutations continuously evolving.

BA.2.75 could be behind recent COVID-19 surge in India

BA.2.75 has been detected in about 10 states in India, which has been witnessing a surge in new infections in the last month or so, according to Indian media.

In the last 10 days, the number of new cases in the country has been hovering in the 15,000-19,000 range, while the number in the past few months stayed below 3,000.

Dr. Rajesh Karyakarte, a microbiologist at Pune’s B J Medical College and head of Maharashtra’s genome sequencing effort, and scientists elsewhere in India, have picked up three sub-variants, BA.2.74, BA.2.75, and BA.2.76, as the possible drivers for the current surge, according to The Indian Express.

The three sub-variants have more than nine changes in the spike protein, and are expected to outnumber the BA.4 and BA.5 sub-variants, which were the most common until a few weeks ago, according to Karyakarte’s team.

Besides India, the strain has also been reported by several other countries, including Japan, Germany, the UK, Canada, the U.S., Australia and New Zealand, according to data from Nextstrain, an open-source platform of global pathogen genome data.

Does it cause more severe disease?

So far, there is no evidence to suggest that the BA.2.75 leads to a more severe form of infection, although scientists are at a very early stage to know about it.

Evidence on its transmissibility and immune evasiveness is also still preliminary and emerging, according to a statement from New Zealand’s Ministry of Health on Tuesday.

Why are health experts concerned?

While there is not much known about the new strain, health experts have raised concerns about it.

In a series of tweets, Dr. Shay Fleishon from the Central Virology Laboratory at Sheba Medical Center in Israel, said the sub-variant may be “alarming because it may imply a trend to come.”

He explained that in recent months, there has been a trend of second-generation variants based on Omicron sub-lineages BA.1, BA.2, BA.3, BA.4, and BA.5.

He said until now the second-generation variants have only been found in a few cases within one region. But BA.2.75 has spread to multiple regions, the first of its kind to do so.

The BA.2.75 variant has new mutations in the spike protein, of which G446S and R493Q are of particular concern, as they give the variant the ability to evade several antibodies, reported, citing unnamed experts.

This means it can infect people who have been vaccinated, or have been infected previously, the report said.

Research reveals that the R493Q mutation increases the strain’s ability to attach to ACE2, the protein that the COVID-19 virus uses to enter cells, according to the report.

Source: CGTN

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Chinese experts caution against over-disinfection for COVID-19





Chinese health experts have cautioned against inappropriate disinfection practices to curb the spread of COVID-19, and called for minimizing the impact on people’s regular life when conducting necessary disinfection.

“We should avoid blind or excessive disinfection, and make it targeted. Disinfection is only necessary when the virus transmission can be cut off this way,” said Zhang Liubo, chief disinfection specialist of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), at a press conference on Friday afternoon.

“If we have multiple methods to block the spread of the virus, we can choose the safest, most effective, economical and convenient one. Disinfection is one of the available options,” he added.

For example, items not touched by the infected people in their homes can be sealed off and left unattended for a period of time, instead of getting disinfectant sprayed on them, according to Zhang.

During the battle against the latest Omicron wave in China, there have been media reports and online complaints about some questionable disinfecting approaches, such as workers in protective gear spraying disinfectant all over someone’s home.

Is indoor disinfection necessary?

In accordance with China’s Law on the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases, places and items contaminated by infectious disease pathogens should be strictly disinfected, said Lei Zhenglong, deputy head of the Bureau of Disease Prevention and Control at the National Health Commission.

Disinfection of places that may have been contaminated by the coronavirus, such as the living areas of the infected people, has played an important role in ensuring the safety of the environment, he said.

Zhang further explained that after the infected people were relocated to other places, there might still be living virus on the objects or in the environment that have been contaminated, which need to be sanitized.

Sometimes it’s difficult to determine whether there still exist living virus in the contaminated environment, because how long the virus can survive on the surfaces of objects is associated with a lot of factors, including the characteristics of the virus, the viral load, the temperature, humidity and the intensity of sunlight in the environment, he said.

Previous studies have shown that the novel coronavirus can live for two to three days on environmental surfaces, and even up to 28 days under certain conditions.

It is also possible that people can get COVID-19 by touching surfaces contaminated with the virus, both Chinese and foreign health authorities like the U.S. CDC have said.

Terminal disinfection of the contaminated places can ensure that the environment and the objects are free of living virus. Therefore, indoor disinfection of infected people’s homes is one of the effective measures to prevent against the virus transmission among family members.

Safe and effective disinfection stressed

Although proper disinfection of the contaminated environment is necessary, Lei pointed out that there have been problems in the disinfection practices in some places, like inadequate communication with the affected residents and improper operations.

It’s necessary to strengthen the training of proper disinfection procedures, as well as the supervision of the disinfection process, he said.

When organizing indoor disinfection of someone’s home, local health authorities should strictly follow relative technical specifications and procedures, and keep the residents informed about the whole process, so that they can understand and support the disinfection work, he added.

People should choose safe and effective disinfectants and disinfecting methods, Zhang said, adding that different methods should be adopted for different items and materials.

They should also protect the valuables and minimize the damage to the objects inside some’s home when conducting the disinfection work, he noted.


Source: CGTN

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China may have prevented 50,000 COVID-related deaths: WHO data





hina’s COVID-19 control measures may have prevented more than 50,000 people from dying of the pandemic, according to data compiled by the World Health Organization (WHO).

The data, released by WHO in May, listed numbers of “global excess deaths” related directly or indirectly to COVID-19 from the start of 2020 to end of 2021, among which China’s accumulated number is below zero, meaning China could have lost more people if the control measures were not taken.

The mean number for accumulated excess deaths in China is minus 52,063, the lowest among all 194 countries listed in the WHO dataset.

Graphics by Zhao Hong

WHO said the numbers were calculated based on the all-cause death number in a region, be it reported or projected, minus the number of deaths that would have been expected if COVID never happened.

The number not only includes deaths caused directly by COVID-19, but also includes indirect deaths resulted from “the wider impact of the pandemic on health systems and society,” said the WHO on its website.

WHO said the number can provide “a more comprehensive understanding of the impact of COVID-19 beyond the number of COVID-19 deaths reported by countries,” and can “reveal a picture of its full impact and burden on countries, health systems and individuals.”

Other countries scored a big minus number include Japan, Australia, Sri Lanka and the DPRK, which also could have prevented thousands from dying of COVID-related social impacts.

Countries with large number of excess deaths include India, Russia, Indonesia, the U.S. and Brazil.

Source: CGTN

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