The New Covid Variant ‘Omicron’: Everything You Should Know

By: Visakha, Shrishaila

Published On: November 29, 2021

Named after the Greek alphabet, ‘Omicron’ - the new heavily mutated variant - has opened the ground for alarmed questions around the world. Is Omicron more contagious? Is this variant more likely to cause serious illness? Will it trigger the third wave of coronavirus in India? We answer these questions with the research compiled to date. 

Omicron was first detected in South Africa and promptly designated as a variant of concern (VOC) by the World Health Organisation (WHO) on November 26, Friday. The director of the National Institutes of Health in the United States, Dr Francis Collins expressed on CNN’s State of the Union that the data is still being gathered on Omicron and how it competes with previous Covid-19 variants. He says,

"I do think it’s more contagious when you look at how rapidly it spread through multiple districts in South Africa. It has the earmarks, therefore, of being particularly likely to spread from one person to another.… What we don’t know is whether it can compete with Delta.” .

While it may be too early to comment on whether Omicron can trigger the third wave in India, we cannot ignore that within a few days itself, the variant that was initially called B.1.1.529 has already left much chaos in its way. In India, investors lost over Rs. 7 Lakh Crores in a single day with the Sensex going down by 1687 points and the Nifty by 509 points. Internationally as well, Omicron has shown harrowing effects on the stock market. Owing to the fear of the variant’s transmissibility - travel and airline stocks plummeted around the world on Friday, November 26.

Everything We Know On Omicron’s Transmissibility, Lethality and Vaccine Efficacy 

Preliminary evidence suggests there may be an increased risk of reinfection with Omicron (i.e, people who have previously had COVID-19 could become reinfected more easily with Omicron), as compared to other variants of concern, but the information is limited. More information on this will become available in the coming days and weeks.” 
-The World Health Organisation’s report, November 28

The increased risk of reinfection aside, scientists and doctors across the world are also worried about the newly emerged variant’s negligible response to antibody therapy or double vaccinations. As far as the symptoms are concerned, there is no evidence to suggest that the Omicron variant has a specific set of symptoms that differ from the Delta variant. 

Image for representation purpose and not for measurement. 

Meanwhile, the discussions surrounding the severity of the disease are ongoing. While some reports suggest that infection with the Omicron variant can be fatal, the South African Medical Association (SAMA) suggests that symptoms have been mild. 

“It presents mild disease with symptoms being sore muscles and tiredness for a day or two not feeling well. So far, we have detected that those infected do not suffer the loss of taste or smell. They might have a slight cough. There are no prominent symptoms.”  
- Angelique Coetzee, the Chairwoman of SAMA.

How Has The World Reacted

As of late, according to the World Health Organisation, the Omicron variant has been on the rise in areas of South Africa, which is why airports in India have been asked by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) to show extra vigilance during COVID testing of individuals arriving from “areas at risk.” 

The Union Health Ministry on Sunday issued guidelines that passengers arriving from abroad have to present their negative RT PCR test reports and follow up with a 14-day quarantine post-arrival. The guidelines are said to come into effect from the 1st of December. Additionally, hospitals in India have been asked to be on high alert and ensure COVID-related safety measures. 

Stringent Covid norms were announced by several states across the country.

Once again, travel restrictions might play some role in containing the spread of the Omicron. However, these measures do not come without their own consequences with livelihoods and the lives dependent on them being affected - as was observed closely last time - a consequence that many households are still reeling from. A thought echoed by many experts around the world is that we need to collectively make sure that this time around, the restrictions are less intrusive, focusing instead on scientific methods and International health regulations.  

What Can We Do

According to experts, preventive measures work well in minimizing the spread of the virus. Some of them are mentioned below- 

  • Physical and social distancing

  • Quarantining in cases of contact

  • Ventilation of closed spaces

  • Covering coughs and sneezes

  • Isolating in case of symptoms

  • Regular hand washing

  • Avoiding touching the face if unwashed hands

To our readers we say, stay safe and stay informed!

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