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A new variant of the coronavirus – omicron. What do we know and what do not?

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The new variant of the coronavirus B.1.1.529, called the omicron, is another serious threat in the global pandemic that has been going on for almost two years. Virology experts around the world agree on this, CNN writes on Saturday. What do we know about the omicron and what answers do not we have?

Lawrence Young, a virologist and professor of molecular oncology at Warwick Medical School in the UK, endorsed the World Health Organization (WHO) opinion that Omikron is “very worrying”.

“This is the most mutated version of the virus we have seen so far. This variant has some changes that we have seen in other variants before, but never have all of these combinations together in one virus. It also has new mutations,” wrote Young in a statement.

Omikron – a new variant of the coronavirus

He explained that the omicron contains about 50 mutations in total, and most importantly, according to a study by South African genomics scientists, more than 30 of these mutations have been found in the spiny protein – a structure that the virus uses to get into attacked cells.

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Neil Ferguson, director of the MRC Center for Global Infectious Disease Analysis at Imperial College London, said the number of mutations in the spike protein was “unprecedented.”

– The spike protein gene is the target of most vaccines. Therefore, there is concern that this variant may have a greater potential than the previous variants to avoid the immune barrier that vaccines are supposed to provide, Ferguson said.

Sharon Peacock, professor of public health and microbiology at the University of Cambridge, noted that while the overall number of COVID-19 cases is relatively low in South Africa, there has been a rapid increase in the past seven days. On November 16, 273 new infections were registered, the number rose to more than 1,200 cases on November 25, of which over 80 percent. discovered in Gauteng Province.

‘The epidemiological picture suggests that this variant may be much more infectious, which may be due to some mutations,’ Peacock wrote in a comment from the UK’s Science Media Center.

“This variant has a trait that the previous ones do not already have”TVN24

Tulio de Oliveira, director of South Africa’s Epidemic Response Center, also admitted that the new variant “has many more mutations than expected.” He added that “the virus is spreading very quickly and we can expect healthcare systems to be overloaded in the next few days and weeks.”

Dr Ashish Jha, dean of the US Department of Public Health, Brown University, said the new variant “behaves differently” and “appears to be much more contagious than the delta variant.” – It quickly became dominant in South Africa in the regions where it was discovered. It happened in days, not months, warned Jha.

A new variant of the coronavirus. What we don’t know about the omicron

Peacock, de Oliveira, Ferguson and Jha agree that it is too early to determine the full impact of the Omikron variant mutation on vaccine efficacy. De Oliveira stressed that Covid-19 vaccines are still the best tool in the fight against the coronavirus and added that laboratory research should still be carried out to improve formulations.

“I don’t think we will find ourselves in a situation where vaccines become useless,” said Jha. – I think it is extremely unlikely. The only question is, does the new variant pose little or no threat to vaccine efficacy? I think that the preliminary data will be known in the next few days – he emphasized.

US vaccine manufacturer Moderna said on Friday that the combination of mutations seen in the new Omikron variant represents “a significant potential risk of hastening the decline of natural and vaccine-induced immunity.”

The company said it has already started testing its vaccine’s ability to neutralize the new variant, and the results are expected in the coming weeks.

In turn, AstraZeneca announced that it is testing a combination therapy of antibodies in the fight against the new variant, and a spokesman for the company assured that the current vaccine capabilities already allow it to react quickly to the new variants.

“AstraZeneca is also conducting research in locations where a variant has been identified, namely Botswana and Eswatini. This will enable us to collect real data to develop a measure against the new variant,” the company said.

Johnson & Johnson also announced that it is testing its vaccine against a new variant.

CNN points out that, according to scientists, it is not entirely clear where the new variant came from. Although it was first identified in South Africa, it may have come from elsewhere.

WHO on Friday said there have been just under 100 cases of the Omikron variant globally reported so far, mainly in South Africa and Botswana. The AFP agency writes that this variant was also discovered in Malawi, Israel, in a person who came from Malawi, Hong Kong and Belgium.

Main photo source: FOCKE STRANGMANN / EPA / PAP

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