SA scientists identify new Covid strain, Omicron
New Covid strain, Omicron: what do we know?
- The variant was first identified in SA and contains a high number of mutations within its spike protein, some of which may help the virus to evade vaccine-induced immune protection.
- Although the full implications of the discovery are currently unclear, scientists have emphasised the need for continued surveillance, and stressed that protective measures (social distancing, mask-wearing and vaccinations) would help to limit its spread.
- The Omicron variant has been detected at faster rates than previous surges have seen, suggesting it may have advantages over other variants.
- Scientists believe that the fast spread of the new strain has to do with its mutations of over 30 that are known to boost transmissibility and others that can help the virus infect cells more easily.
- They have, however, cautioned that there isn't enough data yet to know for sure whether that's the case.
- But symptoms linked to this strain have been mild so far.
- There are some signs in the virus's genes that indicate that vaccines could be less effective against Omicron and that there could be a higher risk of reinfection.
- The concern is due to the Omicron mutations which are ones that are already known to help the virus evade the immune system.
- Moderna is testing the current vaccine against the new strain and is studying two booster candidates. A reformulated vaccine could be available early next year.
- Researchers in SA and elsewhere are working to understand whether Omicron could evade immunity; they hope to have more data in a few weeks.
International travel tracker:
Bloomberg tracks international travel rules (including restrictions), vaccination rates and local public health guidelines of over 70 global business and leisure destinations as the world re-opens. The results are summarised below:
- Most accessible destinations overall: Madrid, Barcelona, Paris, Mexico City
- Least accessible destinations: Sydney, Jakarta, Hong Kong and Lagos
- Most restricted destinations: Beijing, Shanghai, Macau
- Public health measures – moving from “more open to least open”: Vienna; moving from “more open to moderately open”: Munich
- The UK temporarily banned flights from SA and 5 other southern African countries until Sunday; these countries have now moved to Britain’s list of “red countries” requiring all travellers to isolate in hotels upon arrival.
- Singapore will not allow entry to foreign travellers from SA effective 27 November.
- The EU, US and several other countries followed suit. Switzerland has restricted travel from Israel, Hong Kong and Belgium.
- The WHO has cautioned against implementing travel curbs and urged countries to implement a risk-based and scientific approach when implementing such measures.
- The WHO further said that countries which report cases of the new strain should not be penalised.
- SA President Ramaphosa has called on countries that have imposed travel bans to lift them with immediate effect.
Global cases update:
- Cases have surpassed 261.76 million, while the death toll has surpassed 5.21 million; recoveries are at 236.39 million.
- The US has 49.09 million cases, accounting for 18% of global cases; the US death toll is 799,414.
- India has 34.58 million cases and 468,790 deaths; Brazil has 22.08 million cases and 614,314 deaths.
- Further cases of the Omicron variant were found around the world yesterday.
- The US, the EU, the UK, Australia, Saudi Arabia, South Korea and many others have limited travel and/or imposed quarantines on individuals travelling from southern Africa.
- Singapore and India and others are assessing restrictions.
- Switzerland has restricted travel to non-African nations where cases have been detected.
- Denmark and Malaysia have introduced mandatory tests and quarantines for travellers from affected countries.
- US infectious disease specialist Anthony Fauci has said that the new variant’s number of mutations were “troublesome”.
- Globally, over 7.91 billion doses have been administered across 184 countries at a rate of 36.9 million doses a day.
Africa cases update:
- Africa’s Covid-19 cases are at 8.71 million; fatalities are at 223,354.
- Morocco has 949,732 reported cases, Nigeria 213,982, Ghana 130,920, Kenya 254,951.
- Several countries have banned travel from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi.
- SA has started discussions with countries that have imposed bans with the view to reconsider.
- The WHO has appealed to world leaders not to engage in “knee-jerk reactions”, and cautioned against travel bans.
South Africa cases update:
- SA currently has the 18th highest caseload, at 2.961 million; 2,858 new cases were reported yesterday.
- Active cases are at 23,838; Gauteng leads the way, with 12,312 active cases, followed by KwaZulu-Natal with 4,711.
- The identification of Omicron has coincided with a sudden rise in infections in SA, predominantly in Gauteng. Infections have also been rising in other provinces.
- Cases have increased by an average of 1,600 in the last 7 days, compared to 500 new infections in the previous week, and 275 in the week before that.
- Covid-19 deaths rose by 6 yesterday, to 89,797; 2.847 million people (or 96.2%) have recovered from the virus.
- 19.413 million tests have been conducted since 5 March 2020; 29,245 tests were conducted yesterday.
- The SA positivity rate increased to 9.8% from 2% in less than a week, which signals an extremely sharp rise in infections in a short space of time.
- If infections continue to increase at this rate, a 4th wave is imminent.
- 25.288 million vaccines have been administered in SA to date; 11,898 vaccines were administered yesterday.
- The president has announced a task team to look at making vaccinations mandatory for certain sectors.
- SA remains on lockdown Level 1; the curfew from midnight to 4am remains in place; this will be reviewed in a week.