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The World Health Organization on Friday mentioned the Covid omicron variant has been detected in 38 countries, up from 23 two days in the past, with early information suggesting the pressure is extra contagious than delta.
“We do see an increasing growth rate, we see increasing numbers of omicron being detected,” Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s Covid-19 technical lead, mentioned throughout a Q&A livestreamed on the group’s social media channels Friday. “But we have reports of omicron in 38 countries in all six WHO regions.”
“There is a suggestion that there is increased transmissibility, what we need to understand is if it’s more or less transmissible compared to delta,” Van Kerkhove mentioned, noting that the delta variant continues to be dominant throughout the globe.
Dr. Mike Ryan, govt director of the WHO’s well being emergencies program, mentioned “clearly the virus does appear to be transmitting efficiently.”
“And we saw that before with delta. So again, there’s certain things we shouldn’t be surprised with,” Ryan mentioned.
Omicron has some 30 mutations on the spike protein, which is the mechanism used to bind to human cells. Some of those mutations are related to larger transmission and the flexibility to escape immune safety, in accordance to the WHO.
South African scientists this week discovered that omicron is related to a “substantial ability” to reinfect individuals who already had Covid, in contrast with previous variants of the virus. The examine, revealed by the South African Centre for Epidemiological Modelling and Analysis and the National (*38*) of Communicable Diseases, has not but been peer reviewed.
Van Kerkhove mentioned it is nonetheless too early to perceive the severity of illness brought on by omicron. Early studies of gentle signs in among the first circumstances the place it was recognized had been based mostly on a cluster of college college students who have a tendency to be youthful and expertise extra gentle signs than older adults, she mentioned.
“There was initial reports that it tended to be more mild, but it’s really too soon,” Van Kerkhove mentioned. “Everybody who is infected with SARS-CoV-2 regardless of what variant will always start out with a mild disease. And so maybe it will stop there with mild, some people are asymptomatic of course, but it may stop with mild disease or it may take some time.”
Van Kerkove mentioned there are rising hospitalizations in South Africa, however public well being officers have not seen an elevated danger of demise but, however they’re ready on extra information.
Ryan mentioned public well being officers initially noticed gentle circumstances with the alpha and delta variants as nicely. It may take two weeks to see elevated mortality related to omicron if the variant does, the truth is, trigger extra extreme illness.
“It takes time unfortunately,” Ryan mentioned. “We saw that as well in previous waves of this pandemic. When the incidence rate goes up, it takes a week or two for that to result in hospital admissions and deaths.”
Van Kerkhove cautioned there is a reporting bias in the intervening time which can obscure how virulent the variant actually is. Many of the folks around the globe who’ve examined constructive for omicron had been wholesome vacationers, which may clarify why the signs reported to date are gentle.
“If you’re traveling, you’re not sick or you shouldn’t be traveling if you’re sick,” Van Kerkhove mentioned. “So there’s a bias in terms of what is being detected at the moment, but that will change over time.”
The first particular person within the U.S. who examined constructive for omicron was a completely vaccinated traveler between 18 and 49 years of age getting back from South Africa to the San Francisco space.
Van Kerkhove referred to as on nations around the globe to improve genetic sequencing of Covid-19 circumstances to detect new variants and share the outcomes publicly to higher perceive the evolution of the virus.
“Now is the time to beef up the systems,” she mentioned. “You’ve heard us say that for quite some time now, but it’s not too late to do this — systems need to be reinforced.”
Van Kerkhove famous that South Africa was the primary nation to report omicron to the WHO, however the timeline may change as extra countries sequence a backlog of Covid circumstances from November.
“So some of the earliest cases of this particular variant may very well not be in South Africa,” she mentioned.
Van Kerkhove and Ryan mentioned the present vaccines stay the best measure to sluggish transmission of the virus. Ryan mentioned there is a “clear relationship” between vaccine inequity and the event of variants around the globe. The WHO has repeatedly criticized rich nations for not doing sufficient to get vaccines to folks in poorer countries.
Pfizer and Moderna have mentioned it’ll take about two weeks to know the way omicron impacts the present vaccines as researchers collect information.
“Right now there is no need to change the vaccines we’re currently using,” Ryan mentioned. “There is no evidence to support that. There is no evidence there to change, but there’s a lot of work going on to look at if we were to change, how might we change those vaccines and that work needs to be done upfront.”