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Because of him, borders are closed and an emergency is introduced: what is known about a new strain of coronavirus that has worried WHO

Recently, a new variant of COVID-19 was discovered in southern Africa. This strain is named Omicron. Edition The Guardian decided to collect all the necessary information about him.

Photo: Shutterstock

Omicron in the USA

The United States, having barely managed to lift the travel ban from dozens of international countries, including South Africa on November 8, will be reinstated again on Monday, November 29. Foreign citizens of eight African countries will not be able to fly to the States, writes USA Today.

“We will make sure that there are no trips to and from South Africa and seven other countries in the region. Except for American citizens who may return, said US President Joe Biden. “We don't know much about this option, except that it raises a lot of concern. It seems to be spreading fast. I spent about half an hour with my COVID-19 team led by Dr. Anthony Fauci and that was the decision we made. "

The new rules apply to travelers from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi.

New York Governor Katie Hochul has declared a state of emergency ahead of potential outbreaks of COVID-19 this winter due to the already circulating Delta and the recently identified Omicron coronavirus variant. NBC New York.

The decree takes effect December 3 and will allow the state to purchase supplies to combat the pandemic, increase hospital capacity, and tackle potential staff shortages. This will, among other things, allow the State Department of Health to restrict nonessential and non-urgent hospital procedures.

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“We continue to see warning signs of upticks in activity over the coming winter, and while a new variant of Omicron has yet to be found in New York State, it is approaching,” Hochul said.

Omicron in the world

In addition to South Africa, Omicron was found in Malawi, and on Saturday morning, November 27, it was found already in Germany and the Czech Republic. A case of infection with this COVID-19 strain was also reported in Israel in a person who flew from Malawi. On the eve, cases of infection with the Omicron variant in Hong Kong and Belgium were noted, writes ZN.UA.

The Netherlands said 61 passengers who arrived on two flights from South Africa to Amsterdam tested positive for COVID-19. The infected were quarantined, although it is not yet known if it is Omicron.

A number of European countries have already restricted or suspended air traffic to southern Africa.

The Omicron coronavirus strain can be as dangerous as the Ebola virus, the head of the World Medical Association said.

Strain name

The option was originally named B.1.1.529, but on November 26 was designated by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a worrying option due to its “worrying” mutations, and “preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of contracting the virus”.

The WHO system assigns a Greek letter to these variants to provide a non-stigmatizing label that does not associate new variants with the place where they were first discovered. Therefore, the new version was named Omicron.

When Omicron was first discovered

Variant B.1.1.529 was identified on November 24 and highlighted as a concern due to the large number of mutations that can lead to immune evasion. This was also due to a sharp increase in the number of cases over the past two weeks in the province of Gauteng in South Africa - an urban area in which Pretoria and Johannesburg are located. These two factors quickly caught the attention of international observers, with the UK Health and Safety Agency's chief medical adviser calling the option "the most worrisome we've ever seen."

Where is he from

While this variation was originally associated with Gauteng, it did not necessarily originate there. The earliest example with this variant was in Botswana on November 11. Scientists say the unusual combination of mutations suggests they may have arisen during a chronic infection of an immunocompromised person, such as a patient with HIV / AIDS.

Why are scientists concerned?

This variant has over 30 mutations in its spiny protein (the key used by the virus to unblock the cells in our body) more than double that of Delta. This dramatic change has raised concerns that antibodies from previous infections or vaccinations may no longer work. Based solely on knowledge of the mutation list, scientists suggest that the virus is more likely to infect (or re-infect) people who are immune to the earlier variants.

Contagiousness of a new strain

It is not yet clear how much more advanced he is than other strains, but the emerging picture is worrying. South Africa saw an increase in the number of cases, from 273 cases on 16 November to more than 1200 by the start of this week. More than 80% of them were from Gauteng province and preliminary analysis shows that this variant quickly became the dominant strain. Such data has raised enough concern for precautionary measures to be taken.

Will existing vaccines work against it?

Scientists are concerned about the number of mutations and the fact that some of them are already associated with the ability to evade existing immune defenses. However, these are theoretical predictions, and research is already underway to test how effectively the antibodies neutralize the new variant. Real data on the frequency of reinfection will give a clearer picture of the situation.

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Scientists do not expect this option to be completely unrecognizable for existing antibodies, but existing vaccines may offer less protection. Thus, increasing vaccination rates, including third doses for risk groups, remains a major challenge.

Will existing medications help

Scientists expect recently approved antiviral drugs, such as Merck's tablets, to work just as effectively against the new variant because these drugs don't target the spike protein - they work by stopping the replication of the virus. However, there is a greater risk that monoclonal antibody treatment may fail because it targets parts of the virus that may mutate.

Will this strain cause a more serious course of COVID-19?

There is no information yet on whether this option is changing the symptoms or severity of COVID-19. This is something that South African scientists will be closely watching. Since there is a gap between infections and more serious illnesses, it will take several weeks to get any clear data. At this stage, scientists say there is no serious reason to suspect that this option will be worse or softer.

Is it possible to adjust vaccines for this strain and how long it will take

Vaccine development teams are already working on updating vaccines using the new spike protein to prepare for the need for a new version if needed.

Much of the preparatory work for this upgrade was done when the Beta and Delta variants were introduced, although existing vaccines performed well in these cases. This means that research groups were already ready to create new versions of vaccines and discussed with regulators what additional trials would be required. However, it can take four to six months before updated vaccines become widely available.

How likely is it to spread around the world

To date, most of the confirmed cases have been reported in South Africa, with a few in Botswana and Hong Kong. And a few more cases were scattered across different countries.

Nevertheless, the new variant has probably already spread imperceptibly to other countries.

Previous experience has shown that travel bans tend to buy time, but aside from the initial COVID-19 hard-lock approach, these measures are unlikely to completely stop the spread of the new variant.

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