The new variant of the coronavirus omicron poses a potential threat. The European Commission is considering a ban on flights to the countries where it has appeared. Scientists are concerned because in South Africa it has become the dominant variant in just a few days. The Polish Academy of Sciences presented its position to the growing concern.
As reported by scientists from the Polish Academy of Sciences, sequence analysis showed that the new omicron variant (B.1.1.529) is characterized by an accumulation of mutations that may be disturbing. For the earlier variants, there were usually only one of these changes, and they were still associated with an increasing ability to move between people and avoid an immune response. It is not yet known to what extent these changes will affect the characteristics of this variant – its ability to transmit, avoid immune responses, or cause severe disease. Although the sequence of the viral genome is known, the virus has not been fully isolated, which would allow the first data to be obtained on its exact properties.
“Certain types of immunodeficiencies may favor long-term, even months-long replication of SARS-CoV-2. The virus, by long-term replication, learns how our immune system works and successively creates variants that escape its pressure. We can only assume that such a situation may have contributed to it. the creation of the omicron variant “- experts from the Polish Academy of Sciences wrote.
The PAN researchers added that what is worrying about the new variant B.1.1.529 is that in South Africa it became the majority variant in just a few days, replacing the earlier delta variant. This may indicate better transmissivity, but at present a small number of cases are observed in the region, so even a single outbreak caused by a given variant may significantly disturb the proportion of individual variants in the population. The emergence of such variants has already been observed in the past, which, despite initial concerns, did not cause pandemic waves or a real global threat (e.g. gamma or lambda variants).
Air traffic restrictions
With researchers unable to estimate the real severity of the threat, there is debate about how to respond adequately to it. The European Commission is considering limiting air traffic with countries where the option is starting to dominate, the researchers note.
“Such an early response may delay the onset of a potential wave of infections and thus allow time for analyzes or even the development of a new version of the vaccine. Although the largest focus is currently in South Africa, reports are also coming from other parts of the world,” wrote the PAN.
The first information about the clinical picture of the infection and the amount of virus in the respiratory tract of patients can be expected in the coming days. At the same time, information about its spread in different countries will appear. In the next step, scientists will check whether the immune response produced in the body after vaccination or after disease protects against a new threat. They will also check how changes in the virus’s RNA are reflected in its properties – the ability to infect, the speed at which it multiplies, and the ability to produce progeny viruses.
“Comparing these clinical data with laboratory data will allow for a more accurate risk assessment, but now it is necessary to prepare for the risk, which, if necessary, will allow for quick and decisive action” – said the scientists from the Polish Academy of Sciences. “From the beginning of the pandemic, we were afraid that the SARS-CoV-2 variant would be easily transferred between people and bypassed post-vaccination or post-vaccination immunity” – emphasizes the PAN COVID-19 group.
In the past, scientists have signaled such a threat on several occasions, and perhaps this time the fears are premature. “But it is certain that by allowing the virus to spread freely, we increase the risk of this variant developing. What can we do now? Anyone who has not yet been vaccinated should seriously consider vaccination, and those who have already been vaccinated should take a third dose whenever possible. vaccines “- experts calculate. Widespread vaccination significantly reduces the risk of the emergence of new variants. If we come back from another country, we should carry out a virus test. Let’s follow the rules of distance, wearing masks and airing the rooms – these actions protect us against all, even the most dangerous variants of SARS-CoV-2 and more.
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