November 26, 2021, The WHO designated variant B.1.1.529 as a concern variant called Omicron on the advice of the WHO Technical advisory group on virus development (TAG-VE). This decision was based on the evidence presented to TAG-VE that Omicron has several mutations that may have an impact on how it behaves, such as how easily it spreads or the severity of the disease. , it causes. Here is an overview of what is known at the moment.
Current knowledge about Omicron
Researchers in South Africa and around the world are conducting studies to better understand many aspects of Omicron and will continue to share the results of these studies as they become available.
Transferability: It is not yet clear if Omicron is more transferable (eg easier to spread from person to person) compared to other variants, including Delta. The number of people testing positive has increased in areas of South Africa that are affected by this variant, but epidemiological studies are underway to understand whether it is due to Omicron or other factors.
Severity of the disease: It is not yet clear whether infection with Omicron causes more serious disease compared to infections with other variants, including Delta. Preliminary data suggest that there is an increasing number of hospitalizations in South Africa, but this may be due to an increasing total number of people becoming infected, rather than a result of specific infection with Omicron. There is currently no information to suggest that the symptoms associated with Omicron are different from those of other variants. The first reported infections were among college students – younger people who tend to have milder disease – but understanding the severity of the Omicron variant will take days to several weeks. All variants of COVID-19, including the Delta variant, which is dominant worldwide, can cause serious illness or death, especially for the most vulnerable people, and therefore prevention is always the key.
The effectiveness of previous SARS-CoV-2 infection
Preliminary evidence suggests that there may be an increased risk of re-infection with Omicron (ie individuals who have previously had COVID-19 may more easily become re-infected with Omicron), compared to other variants of concern, but the information is limited. More information on this will be available in the coming days and weeks.
The effectiveness of vaccines: WHO is working with technical partners to understand the potential impact of this variant on our existing countermeasures, including vaccines. Vaccines remain critical to reduce serious illness and death, including against the dominant circulating variant, Delta. Current vaccines remain effective against serious illness and death.
The effectiveness of current tests: The widespread PCR tests continue to detect infection, including infection with Omicron, which we have also seen with other variants. Investigations are underway to determine if there is any impact on other types of tests, including rapid antigen detection tests.
Effectiveness of current treatments: Corticosteroids and IL6 receptor blockers will still be effective in the management of patients with severe COVID-19. Other treatments will be evaluated to see if they are still as effective given the changes in parts of the virus in the Omicron variant.
At present, the WHO is coordinating with a large number of researchers around the world to better understand Omicron. Studies that are currently underway or are underway shortly include assessments of transmissibility, severity of infection (including symptoms), performance of vaccines and diagnostic tests, and efficacy of treatments.
WHO encourages countries to contribute to the collection and sharing of inpatient patient data through WHO COVID-19 clinical data platform to quickly describe clinical characteristics and patient outcomes.
There will be more information in the coming days and weeks. WHO’s TAG-VE will continue to monitor and evaluate the data as it becomes available and assess how mutations in Omicron alter the behavior of the virus.
Recommended actions for countries
As Omicron has been identified as a variant of concern, there are several actions that the WHO recommends the countries take, including improving surveillance and sequencing of cases; sharing genome sequences on publicly available databases, such as GISAID; reporting initial cases or clusters to the WHO; conduct field studies and laboratory assessments to better understand whether Omicron has different transmission or disease characteristics, or affects the effectiveness of vaccines, therapeutic agents, diagnostics, or public health and social interventions. More details in executive order from 26 November.
Countries should continue to implement effective public health measures to reduce COVID-19 circulation in general by using a risk analysis and a science-based approach. They should increase some public health and medical capabilities to deal with an increase in cases. WHO provides countries with support and guidance for both preparedness and response.
In addition, it is crucial that inequalities in access to COVID-19 vaccines be addressed as soon as possible to ensure that vulnerable groups everywhere, including healthcare professionals and the elderly, receive their first and second doses along with equal access to treatment and diagnostics.
Recommended actions for humans
The most effective steps individuals can take to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus are to maintain a physical distance of at least 1 meter from others; wear a well-fitting mask; open windows to improve ventilation; avoid poorly ventilated or overcrowded rooms; keep your hands clean; coughing or sneezing into a bent elbow or tissue; and get vaccinated when it’s their turn.
WHO will continue to provide updates as more information becomes available, including after TAG-VE meetings. In addition, information will be available on WHO’s digital and social media platforms.