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Omicron, the latest Coronavirus variant

November 22, 2021, Pretoria, South Africa, a grouping of new Covid-19 cases emerged from Tswahne University along with some nearby townships, the incidence of infections were four times the usual level. This was a worrying development in the pandemic since the delta variant emerged from Asia during the spring.

South Africa was concerned about rising cases in student dormitories. In Botswana scientists were concerned about an unusual set of covid-19 samples taken from a few patients which was confirmed as a new variant and revealed an alarming 50 mutations. The S-drop sequence identifies the variant. A further sample, with the same genetic sequence was recorded in Hong Kong, this patient had travelled from South Africa. The new variant had 30 mutations on the spike protein. The Delta variant had 13 spike mutations. The major vaccines Pfizer, Moderna and Astra Zeneca operate by instructing the immune system to recognise the virus' spike protein. Should the spike protein be changed utterly the antibodies may no longer recognise the spike protein and the long striven for immunity becomes ineffective.

10 mutations have been detected on the receptor binding part of the spike protein, the part that attaches to human cells, the more easily the virus attaches ensuring the virus is more transmissible, the faster it will spread. This part of Africa is well sampled but with low numbers of infections. The South Africa and Botswana virus infections were caused by the same new mutation. The Alpha and Delta, from India, mutations required 2 months and 3 months rspectively of research to be recognised. On Friday November 26, the WHO labelled the new variant a 'variant of concern' naming it Omicron, the 15th letter of the Greek alphabet.

Will the variant evade vaccines? The genomics are of concern with the mutations to the spike protein at present a theoretical risk with assessments of antibodies and vaccines due to be examined. Only 24% of South Africans are vaccinated with 92% vaccinated in Ireland. Ireland with at least 200,000 attending 4 ball games and one packed theatre in November, no masks were worn, with the blame for ICU numbers firmly resting on the 300,000 unvaccinated. The Irish government is not preparing for the pandemic merely reacting to daily cases of c.4,500. How are we supposed to live with the virus? In splendid isolation?

Viral strains could fade away, unable to compete or displace Alpha and now Delta. A dramatic viral evolution could have occurred in an immunocompromised patient with HIV Aids who could not counter a Covid-19 infection which then mutated with their body because in 2020 4 dangerous mutations Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta emerged within a few weeks around the world. Since that time Delta, the dominant variant, has remained remarkably stable. Perhaps Omicron is an occurrence in a single very ill patient. Botswana published the genetic sequence for the new virus with both Moderna and Pfizer ready with specific booster vaccines.

A South African GP who treated these patients described mild influenza like symptom, a slight fever, really nothing to worry about and said it was unfair to isolate southern Africa who acted altruistically to publish the genome sequence

to the scientific world.

Source: Yes, the new variant is worrying, but scientists are preparing our defences The Sunday Times, News, November, 28, 2021


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