Covid-19 Omicron Variant

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Published on Nov 30, 2021

On the 26th of November, 2021, the Technical Advisory Group on SARS-CoV-2 Virus Evolution (TAG-VE) evaluated the most recent SARS-CoV-2 variant that was reported to WHO from South Africa on the 24th of November, 2021. The report was generated from a specimen collected on the 9th of November, 2021. After the evaluation, TAG-VE advised the World Health Organization (WHO) that the virus be designated as a VOC, Omicron (B.1.1.529). From the Alpha to the Zeta variant, such designation has not to be associated with the Covid-19 virus except with the Delta variant.


What is VOC?

VOC simply means Variant of Concern. The SARS-CoV-2 variants are grouped into four classes: Variant Being Monitored (VBM), Variant of Interest (VOI), Variant of Concern (VOC), and Variants of High Consequence (VOHC). Currently, there are 12 SARS-CoV-2 variants. 10 of these variants are classified under the VBM class and 2 are under the VOC. As from the time of publication of this article, last month, there was only the Delta variant under the VOC class. This month was when the new variant was classified under the VOC by the TAG-VE. To date, there are no variants under the VOHC.


What is known so far?

Due to the abrupt discovery, much is not known about the Omicron variant. But the TAG-VE and their evaluation have been able to classify the variant under the Variant of Concern class. Variants that fall under the category above must satisfy the criteria associated with the Variant of Interest class first. The criteria listed below are as stated by WHO:

  1. Genetic changes that are predicted or known to affect virus characteristics such as transmissibility, disease severity, immune escape, diagnostics, or therapeutic escape.
  2. Identified as causing significant community transmission or multiple COVID-19 clusters, in multiple countries with increasing relative prevalence alongside an increasing number of cases over time, or other apparent epidemiological impacts to suggest an emerging risk to global public health.
  3. Increase in transmissibility or detrimental change in COVID-19 epidemiology.
  4. Increase in virulence or change in clinical diseases.
  5. Decrease ineffectiveness of public health and social measures or available diagnostics, vaccines, therapeutics.

The first and second criteria are associated with the Variant of Interest class, while the last three are criteria for the Variant of Concern. A SARS-CoV-2 variant that is tagged as a VOC must satisfy the VOI criteria as earlier mentioned and satisfy one or more of the conditions in the VOC. That is to say; with the criteria listed above, the first 2 must be met and any of the last three or a combination of the last three must be met by the variant before being tagged as VOC.

The first case of the Omicron variant was reported by a South African doctor, Dr. Angelique Coetzee, chair of the South African Medical Association. She said the symptoms that she has seen in patients she has treated so far are mild. Patients she treated on the 18th of November, 2021 were exhibiting symptoms that were not so similar to those associated with the Delta variant. The first patient she identified the new variant with was a male aged 33 years. His family tested positive for the same variant.


What to do

Though the symptoms are mild and the observations are from a few cases, it is advisable to adhere to all precautions listed by the NCDC and the CDC or your public health agency against contracting and spreading the virus. It is advisable to stay away from fake news regarding the new variant as some are spread to incite fear and panic. Since it is new, symptoms might differ from patient to patient. Data coming out of South Africa would suggest that the variant is spreading in South Africa more quickly than previous variants did. It is going to take some time for the WHO to fully understand the new variant.


This article will be updated as more information is gotten or released.



Classification of Omicron

SARS-CoV-2 Variant Classifications and Definitions

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