For those of you who just woke up to the news of global chaos due to variant B.1.1.529, which has now been assigned the name Omicron today skipping the letter Nu, here’s a condensed form of what has been revealed so far:
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- It is considered the most powerful type of coronavirus today, as it contains 32 high protein mutations and 50 in total. Specifically, the researchers noted that in the delta variant, the receptor binding contained 10 to 2 mutations, the part of the virus that initially interacts with cells.
- The Omicron variant was first identified five days ago in Botswana and later with about 100 confirmed cases in South Africa. As of this morning, cases of the disease have been detected in Belgium, Israel and Hong Kong.
- These sequences show that 18.104.22.1689 is another development path, but with some variants C.1.2, Beta and Delta there are some general changes.
- But as a large number of changes may not necessarily be “negative”, as they depend on the performance of changes that researchers have not yet established.
Is it more deadly?
- It is too early to determine if the mortality rate in the new variant is higher than before. Cases did not start in South Africa until November 19, so Covid-related hospitalizations and the impact on mortality are yet to be discovered.
Testing and Detectability
- This option can be found through simple PCR tests, so it will be “easy for the world to track it,” wrote Tulio d’Olrea, director of the Centre for Epidemic Response & innovation (CRII) in South Africa. It is not immediately clear if this is a “excess false positive PCR tests”, but it is safe to assume that this is the case.
- “One silver lining may come in the ease of identifying this variant via qPCR tests. B.1.1.529 has a deletion within the s-gene which can be identified easily via widely-used PCR tests. More complex sequencing analysis is needed to differentiate the delta variant. This will help track the spread of B.1.1.529, both within Southern Africa and across the globe,” claims Credit Suisse.
How widespread is it
- As of Thursday, about 100 cases were reported in South Africa, where the disease had triumphed amid a new infection. According to De Oliveira, preliminary PCR test results show that 90% of 1,100 new cases were reported Wednesday in the South African province, including Johannesburg, were due to a new type.
- In neighboring Botswana on Monday, officials registered four cases of people being fully vaccinated. In Hong Kong, a passenger from South Africa received unusual permission and another case was found with a man in a hotel room in a private room. Israel has also launched a case against a man who recently traveled to Malawi. Belgium also reported two new cases.
- Olivia explains that the new variant spreads faster in less than 2 weeks, now covers all infections after the Delta dominance in South Africa – notes that the variant is “now at 75% of last genomes and soon to reach 100%”.
- In addition, the virus contains mutations that have been observed in other variants and facilitates transmission.
- Outside Africa, two cases have been reported in Hong Kong, one in the area traveler and the other in separate hotel rooms. A recent case has been reported in Israel.
- In response, the UK has red listed several South African countries, including Israel, India, Japan and Singapore. Moreover, European Commission President von Dir Lein will request an urgent flight to block travel to South Africa.
- It is too early to focus on the vaccine response to this new variant. However, the large number of variants increases the possibility that existing vaccines based on the original COVID-19 vaccine may be less effective.
- Popular variants include strains that complicate the detection of antibodies to their presence.
- According to the South African National Institute of Infectious Diseases, laboratory tests have already begun. The company’s initial assumption was that while the unusual vaccine may have been, the idea seems to be possible due to the many modifications in the system of existing vaccines. The first hypothesis on this topic came from immunogenicity tests in vitro or possibly from systematic computer simulations. Credit Suisse estimates that initial laboratory data may take less than a week to develop because the process is already known and work has already begun.
New Vaccine Would be Available in 100 days
- According to Pfizer, if a new vaccine resistant variant comes out, the company hopes to launch a vaccine against the virus within 100 days.
Impact of efficacy of existing drugs antibodies is unknown
- There has been significant progress in COVID treatment since the emergence of the 2020 disease wave: The use of steroids and anti-inflammatory drugs, such as Roches Actemra, has improved survival results.
- Recently, antiretroviral drugs against COVID (LLY, RAIN / Roche, AZN) have shown the best results against COVID to date. It remains to be seen if their performance can be compared to the new B1.1.529 model.
- Finally, recent positive data from oral contraceptives (PFE, MRK / Ridgeback) may also be able to reduce the spread of any new COVID. The effectiveness of these therapies will be tested against new forms of the virus, but rapid laboratory results are to be expected. It is also expected that human studies will produce immediate results if conducted in an area with a high spread of 22.214.171.1249.
- According to Citi, concerns about Omicron must be addressed against the collapse of a variety of concerns such as Beta (previously known in Africa) to overwhelm the delta.
- The next two weeks will be crucial: (i) determine whether Omicron will be successful in delta prevalent countries (2-3 weeks), (ii) develop pseudoviruses for Omicron to determine the efficacy of vaccines in people with malnutrition (2- 4 weeks) and (iii) real world data to determine hospital and mortality rate (i.e. 6-8 weeks). The implementation of travel restrictions in the public health system may go back some of the timeline planning above. New oral anti-virals are expected to continue to work against Omicron, but resistance may begin to increase over time.