SARS COVID-2 is not a new-fangled term to people anymore. Over the past two years, this lethal COVID-19 has created havoc in every field. This COVID-19 has claimed many lives and made a few lakhs people jobless. In India, 3.46 crore people have been infected, and nearly 4.7 lakh people have lost their lives due to this COVID-19.
After the second peak (March-May 2021), the pandemic has become controlled because of preventive measures, lockdowns, and the unprecedented distribution of vaccines. After vaccination, many offices, institutes, services, even schools are reopened (Class 9 -12). Life has again started to gain momentum, and then suddenly, a new corona variant (Omicron) was detected first in South Africa and Botswana. On November 24, 2021, a new variant of SARS-COV-2, B.1.1.529, was reported to the World Health Organization (WHO). And On November 26, 2021, WHO named the B.1.1.529 Omicron and classified it as a Variant of Concern (VOC).
What Is the Omicron Variant?
In November, the omicron variant, officially known as B.1.1.529, was discovered in several southern African nations. Omicron is the new variant of concern because it has several mutations, and some of these mutations have been associated with potential increased transmissibility and possible immune escape. This means people may get infected even if they have developed some natural immunity from previous COVID-19 infection or COVID-19 vaccination. This variant may invade the layer of protection and can attack people. At this point, these types of mutations have never been documented before. That’s why scientists and experts are researching more on Omicron so that they can understand its potential impacts.
Initially, it was identified that this new variant was associated with an S-gene target failure on a specific PCR assay because of a 69–70 del deletion, similar to that observed with the alpha variant.
Omicron comes with many deletions and more than 30 mutations. Because of these deletions and mutations, this variant can increase transmissibility, have a higher viral binding affinity, and have a higher antibody escape. But, most omicron mutations are not known. That’s why the scientists can’t conclude whether the whole combination of deletions and mutations of this variant will affect viral behaviour and susceptibility to natural and vaccine-induced immunity or not.
How Is The Omicron Variant Different From The Delta Variant?
Is the Omicron variant worse than the delta variant? This is the most common question that everyone is pondering at this moment. But it’s too early to conclude.
According to the Republic of South Africa’s Department of Health, Omicron has similar mutations in its spike protein to the delta and the alpha, gamma, and beta variants. WHO classified all these as variants of concern. This indicates Omicron will also be very transmissible. The experts assume that this variant may penetrate someone’s antibodies, thus minimizing the vaccine’s efficacy against symptomatic disease. Scientists from South Africa also believe that Omicron may enhance more cases of reinfection in people who have already been infected with the COVID-19.
According to the CDC, the Delta variant is more contagious (as twice) than other COVID-19 variants. In unvaccinated people, this variant may cause severe illness than previous variants.
As per WHO, Omicron possesses many mutations, and thus, it can easily cause reinfection among people who have previously suffered from the COVID-19. The spike proteins of the variant enter the body’s cells and make people sick. It is still not clear whether Omicron is as contagious as delta or even more infectious than delta.
How Fast Do Omicron Variants Spread?
Scientists in South Africa now have evidence claiming that the omicron variant is spreading more than twice as quickly as the delta variant in that country. This wave could be much faster than the delta wave.
This variant was reported to the World Health Organization on November 24. This Omicron was detected in more than a dozen countries across at least five continents within these two weeks. Over the past two weeks, Omicron has spread to at least seven of South Africa’s nine provinces, and thus, it’s overpowering the delta variant. The omicron variant is responsible for three-quarters of new cases in South Africa. On December 2, South Africa reported 11,535 new coronavirus cases, a 35 per cent jump from the day before, and the proportion of positive test results increased to 22.4 percent from 16.5 per cent. The omicron variant is responsible for 73% of all sequenced genomes from positive COVID-19 tests in South Africa in November, according to the country’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases.
The UK reported 86 cases of Omicron on December 5, making 246 total cases of Omicron in the country. On Saturday, December 4, the number was 160. So, there is a sharp 50% jump in these cases.
The omicron caseload in India now stands at 21, with 17 new cases reported from Delhi, Maharashtra, and Rajasthan on December 5. Omicron cases are found in Karnataka, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Rajasthan, and Delhi.
Efficacy of COVID-19 Vaccines Against Omicron
Over the past few days, Omicron has been roaring everywhere; thus, one central question is how well the COVID-19 vaccines will hold up against it?
South African scientists have claimed that Omicron can evade immunity from the prior protection, and hence, there is a chance of reinfection with this variant. But these scientists have inadequate information on the vaccination status of people with the Omicron variant. Thus, they can’t make a firm comment regarding the effectiveness of vaccines on omicron variants. Scientists are also studying the spread of the variant in other countries that have different vaccination rates and preventive measures.
Both vaccination and infection can lead to immunity against the coronavirus and minimize the risk of hospitalization and mortality. But whether fully vaccinated people are protected against Omicron, need a booster or how long the vaccine immunity will last, etc.
If the neutralizing activity drops significantly in the case of Omicron, this may imply that the vaccines are less effective against this variant. “We have some clues that we may have some reduced efficacy of vaccines [against Omicron]. But we don’t have that information yet,” Maria Van Kerkhove, PhD, World Health Organization technical lead on COVID-19.
An officer of ICMR has claimed that Covaxin may be more effective against this omicron variant. Covaxin, a virion-inactivated vaccine, combats the entire virus and can work against this highly mutated new variant. Covaxin is also effective against other variants like alpha, beta, gamma, and delta. The official also said that once they receive more samples, they will test the efficacy of vaccines at the National Institute of Virology, Pune.
The vaccine manufacturers are planning to tweak their existing ones to produce omicron-specific vaccines. Some of them also claim that within 2-3 months, they will be ready with omicron vaccines.
Symptoms of The COVID-19 Omicron Variant
Though the omicron variant is still under observation, symptoms related to this variant, have been described as “extremely mild” by the South African doctor who first raised the bell over the new strain. Dr. Angelique Coetzee told the BBC that all patients suffering from the omicron variant have highly mild symptoms. The WHO said that it might take a few weeks to analyze and observe how this omicron variant affects diagnostics, therapeutics, and vaccines. Scientists are also claiming that the new characteristics of Omicron result from its mutation.
The first omicron case of India (the South African national who already left the country) was completely asymptomatic and tested negative. The Bengaluru doctor with no international travel history, the Mumbai marine engineer who was not vaccinated, the Gujarat NRI, and all omicron patients experienced mild symptoms.
These symptoms portray that variant is not causing severe illness; scientists are still unaware of its increased transmissibility. Dr. Rakesh Mishra said that most people would get confused with this variant, Director of Tata Institute for Genetics and Society and former Chief of Council of Scientific and Industrial Research-Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology as its symptoms have resemblances with the common cold because there is no breathing trouble or loss of smell or taste.
How to Defend Yourself Against the Omicron Variant?
Omicron is ruling these days, and cases are increasing rapidly. Under this scenario, everyone should try to protect themselves in the best possible way against this new variant.
Get vaccinated and boosters
If you are not yet vaccinated with both dosages, it’s time you need to get jabbed completely. Though it’s not known whether the vaccines are effective against this new variant or not still, vaccines minimize the risks of severity and hospitalization. So, book your slot and get vaccinated as soon as possible. There is also a chance of reinfection with this omicron variant. If you are young and immunologically healthy, the vaccine is very effective against serious illness. If your age is above 65 years and you have weak immunity, consider a booster dosage. A booster will give you further protection against infection and mild illness, and thus, you will become less susceptible to viral infections.
If you have completed your vaccination and are at least six months out from your complete Pfizer/Moderna vaccination or at least two months out from your Johnson & Johnson shot, then you can go for a booster dose. Many other vaccine manufacturers are also planning to launch booster dosages to protect against Omicron and different variants.
Wear a mask
Irrespective of your vaccine status, wear a mask, especially in public places.
Wash your hands
Wash your hands frequently or use sanitizers. If you are sick, stay at home and maintain a distance from others. Get tested yourself if you have experienced any symptoms.
Precautions You Need to Take Care of Against Omicron
As per the healthcare experts, the Omicron is spreading silently. This variant is highly-mutated and transmissible. In case of symptoms, people should not delay testing. Early testing is the best way to curb the spread of the virus. All adult populations must get vaccinated when available to them. Moreover, they also need to follow physical distance, wear masks, do regular hand washing and keep indoor areas well ventilated.
Below, we mention some imperative things that you must do to minimize your risk of infection.
- Wear a surgical or three-layered or an N95 mask that completely covers your nose and mouth. Always wash your hands with soap or sanitizer when you put on and remove your mask.
- Keep a physical distance of at least 1 meter from others
- Avoid poorly ventilated or densely crowded places
- Open windows to improve ventilation indoors
- Wash your hands regularly with soap water
If you are experiencing any symptoms, get tested and contact your nearest healthcare centre.
What To Do If I Get Contact With the Omicron Variant?
If you are in close contact with an omicron variant person, you should follow the below-mentioned steps.
Immediately quarantine yourself: if you are away from your home when you become aware of your close contact status, please go directly home and not move around the community. You will need to quarantine for 14 days after you were last exposed to COVID-19.s
- Complete the contact declaration form provided by the government and ward office
- Do a COVID-19 test immediately
- Follow any advice provided by health experts
All other people, including family members and secondary contact, must quarantine and follow the instructions.
You will need to get tested (RT-PCR) for COVID-19 at the following times:
This test should be done as soon as you come to know that you are the close contact with an omicron patient
You need to do another test on or after day 6 to check the viral load
Day 12 or 13:
This test should be done on day 12 or 13 after your last exposure
At present, in India, if you are diagnosed with the omicron variant, you need to stay at designated hospitals for your treatment and observation. Your contacts and other suspects must be hospitalized until their genome sequencing results come. If they are affected by the Omicron, they also need to stay at hospitals. If there is no omicron and yet they are COVID-19 positive and then based on their symptoms, the authority will decide.
The Latest Updates On The Omicron Variant
- As Omicron is considered a “Variant of Concern,” WHO recommends countries take multiple actions like increasing surveillance and sequencing of cases, sharing genome sequences on publicly available databases, such as GISAID, reporting initial cases or clusters to WHO, performing field investigations, and laboratory assessments and so on. All these steps will give a better idea about Omicron, its nature, disease characteristics, the effectiveness of vaccines, therapeutics, diagnostics, and many more
- Civil Hospital in Ahmedabad has started on omicron isolation ward with 12 beds
- On December 5, 9 Omicron cases were found in Rajasthan and 7 in Maharashtra
- Cases of omicron variant rise to 11 in Israel
- Many countries, including the USA, UK, and other European nations, are putting restrictions and stricter rules for travel.
- In India, all international travellers from high-risk countries should go for seven days of institution quarantine after showing the COVID-19 negative reports. Other international travellers should follow a 14 day home quarantine, and if they experience any symptoms, they should contact the nearest healthcare centres and take proper measures and steps.
Though Omicron is raising the alarm everywhere, still, in India, it reduced vaccine hesitancy. Many people are coming forward and getting jabbed to enhance their protection and immunity against this new variant. The Indian government has also escalated the vaccination drive to cover most of the adult population within a few months. WHO and other healthcare experts recommend following necessary COVID-19 protocols and increasing testing to detect omicron variants instead of panicking. The Omicron variant is a newbie in the healthcare field, so examinations and research are still ongoing. Don’t get bothered with rumours; get vaccinated and follow the necessary steps to curb the growth of the virus. If you are experiencing any symptoms, seek medical assistance without any delay.
Latest updates on Omicron variant in India
Update Till 3 Jan 2022:
1. Several cities across India started the Covid vaccination for kids aged between 15-18 years yesterday. Union Health Ministry announced that Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin would be given to eligible children in 2 doses, 28 days apart.
2. India has confirmed 1,700 cases of Omicron-variant, according to the Union Health Ministry’s data. The cases have been spread across 23 different states so far.
Update Till 2 Jan 2022:
1. The Haryana government has closed down cinema halls, sports arenas, public pools and amusement parks in the Gurugram district. Government and private offices will be operating on half staff, according to the government. The restrictions will remain in effect till January 12.
2. Cities like Mumbai, New Delhi and Kolkata are seeing a dramatic increase in Covid infections because of how densely populated they are.
3. Officials from public health services in Pune said that the city was on the verge of catching a transform of Bacteria has been detected. Out of the 96 genome sequences analyzed, six were found to have this new Covid type.
Update Till 1 Jan 2022:
World Health Organization chief scientist Dr Soumya Swaminathan spoke about new trends in hospitalizations around the world related to the Omicron virus. The rates are mostly seen in people who haven’t been vaccinated. There are plenty of warnings for countries that are feeling the effects of Omicron. The disease isn’t always as severe, but there is still a large chance it will take over countries. It’s important to be prepared with resources that can handle an outbreak.
Update Till 31 Dec 2021:
1. Gujarat reported 16 new cases of the Omicron variant of COVID-19 on Friday, taking the tally of such cases in the state to 113, reported an official release.
2. According to reports, more than 150 people in the Bihar province tested positive for Covid-19. Even worse, the total number of active cases has risen to 488 in less than a month – which is nearly 15 times higher!
Update Till 30 Dec 2021:
Reports have been coming in from Maharashtra about a new wave of Omicron cases, with 26 being reported on Monday. This means the state now has 167 total Omicron cases.
Update Till 29 Dec 2021:
Thursday seems to have been the day India saw its first Omicron death. The infection level has also risen in 2 states- Punjab and Bihar- in just this past 24 hours.
Update Till 28 Dec 2021:
1. The government of India has authorised two more new vaccines – Corbevax, Covovax- and anti-viral drug Molnupiravir for emergency use.
2. India has registered 6,358 Covid-19 cases and 293 deaths in 24 hours, the health ministry said on Tuesday.
3. As COVID Cases rises, Delhi Government decides to enter into a mini lockdown, Cinema halls, gyms to be closed and Delhi metro to operate at 50 % capacity.
Update Till 27 Dec 2021:
1. In view of the increase in daily COVID-19 cases, the Delhi government on December 26 announced a night curfew from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. The restriction will go into effect from December 27, according to the administration. Today, the health department said it had 290 new cases, which was the most since June 10.
2. The number of Omicron infections in India has increased to 578. Delhi reported 142 cases, while Maharashtra recorded 142 incidents. Following them were 57 occurrences in Kerala, 49 in Gujarat and 43 in Rajasthan.
Update Till 26 Dec 2021:
1. Tiredness, joint pain, cold and high fever are the four most common symptoms of Delta and Omicron coronavirus strains, according to the livemint. Following Covid protocols such as – Wearing a face mask, avoiding gatherings, hand sanitizing, and social distancing – is the greatest method to prevent Omicron infection
2. On Saturday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed the nation in the wake of the Omicron crisis, and vaccination for children aged 15 to 18 will begin on January 3. He also said that healthcare professionals, frontline personnel, and people 60 years old or older with co-morbidities will be vaccinated from January 10.
Update Till 25 Dec 2021:
1. The Prime Minister chaired a high-level meeting to examine the COVID-19 and Omicron strain response efforts, emphasizing the need to be “satark” and “saavdhan” in light of the new variant.
2. Due to the COVID-19 situation, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has issued a ban on celebration activities in an open or closed space in Mumbai.
3. Over 300 cases of the new variant of coronavirus have been detected in India, with Maharashtra recording 65 new variants of coronavirus infections and Delhi reporting 64. Telangana and Tamil Nadu each reported 38 cases, while Karnataka and Kerala confirmed 31 and 29 cases, respectively.
Update Till 24 Dec 2021:
1. India has seen a significant increase in the number of active cases since December 24, with 38 new Omicron Variant Cases being reported since then. Uttar Pradesh imposes a curfew 11 p.m.-5 a.m.
2. On Thursday, the Allahabad High Court urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Election Commission of India to postpone the Uttar Pradesh election in light of Omicron’s threat.
3. South Africa’s recent decrease in new COVID-19 infections is possibly an indication that the country’s massive omicron surge has peaked, according to medical specialists. The figures fell to about 15,424 on Tuesday, after reaching a high of almost 27,000 new cases across the nation on Thursday.
4. Delta is three times more transmissible than Omicron, and stringent measures are required, Center to the States