The Omicron COVID-19 variant is sparking global concern. Here’s everything you need to know

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Passengers check-in at a Lufthansa counter at OR Tambo Airport in Johannesburg on November 29, 2021. The World Health Organization urged countries around the world not to impose flight restrictions on southern African countries because of concerns over the new Omicron variant.Jerome Delay/Associated Press

Omicron, the new COVID-19 variant that was first detected last week in South Africa and Botswana, has triggered global alarm as governments around the world scrambled to impose new travel restrictions and markets plunged. Scientists, who are still studying the potential effects of this new type of coronavirus, and economic experts fear it could resist vaccination and trigger a nascent economic reopening after a nearly two-year global pandemic. could.

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On Monday, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned that the global risks posed by the Omicron variant are “very high” based on preliminary evidence, although there are important questions about the variant itself. The agency warned that the mutated coronavirus could lead to a future surge of “serious consequences” of COVID-19.

Where are the new Omicron cases in Canada? What are the symptoms? What is being done to slow the spread? Here’s what we know about the new COVID-19 version so far.

What is the new version, and why is it called Omicron?

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The new COVID-19 variant, previously known by its lineage designation B.1.1.529, and declared a “type of concern” by the WHO on 26 November. Its first known appearance was in a sample collected on 9 November.

The United Nations health agency chose to name the variant “Omicron” – continuing its use of the Greek alphabet for naming notable forms of the virus. After a version labeled “mu” on 30 August, WHO dropped the letters “nu” (because it sounds like “new”) and “she” (because it’s a common last name).

Omicron has been described as the most complex and important version ever. It contains about 50 mutations, including more than 30 in the spike protein that coronaviruses use to enter human cells. This is almost twice the number of such mutations in the delta variant. Scientists warn that it may be more permeable than other types, and there is a risk that vaccines will be less effective against it – although the evidence is limited at this time.

Where did the new COVID-19 version originate?

People wait to receive a dose of a COVID-19 vaccine at a center in Soweto on November 29, 2021. The World Health Organization has urged countries not to impose flight restrictions on southern African countries because of concerns over the new Omicron variant. ,Dennis Farrell / The Associated Press

Omicron was first reported to WHO by scientists in South Africa and has now been identified in 10 countries outside Africa. Some of the earliest cases of the new variant were detected in Hong Kong and Israel among travelers from countries in southern Africa.

New findings from the Netherlands’ RIVM Health Institute, however, found omicrons in samples from November 19 and 23. The World Health Organization said that South Africa first reported such information to the UN health agency on 24 November.

It’s unclear where or when the version first emerged, and the Dutch announcement further messed up the timeline. Earlier, the Netherlands said it had found the variant on Friday among travelers from South Africa – but the new cases predate that.

South Africa has by far the largest number of confirmed cases of the type at around 100, and neighboring Botswana has detected four cases, including one of the first known cases. The new variant is believed to be the likely cause of the recent dramatic increase in South Africa’s Gauteng province, a populated region that includes Johannesburg and Pretoria.

Nearly a year after global vaccine shortages and long delays in sharing vaccines with low-income countries, there is concern about the emergence of the variant in an African country with a low vaccination rate. So far only 7 percent of Africans have been fully vaccinated. Even in middle-income South Africa, only 24 percent of people have been fully vaccinated.

Where else is the Omicron version found?

Cases of Omicron have been confirmed in at least 16 countries, including Canada, since the virus was first detected by scientists in South Africa last week. Canada, the Netherlands, Israel, Australia, Germany, Belgium, the United Kingdom and Hong Kong are among those that have reported cases.

Spain confirmed its first case on Monday in a traveler from South Africa. Officials said Britain has recorded 11 cases, including six in Scotland, that have not been linked to travel from South Africa – a sign that the virus has spread to the community.

Where are the new Omicron type cases in Canada?

Passengers wait for testing at Toronto’s Pearson Airport on February 15, 2021. On Monday, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health Kieran Moore asked the federal government to require all incoming travelers to be tested for the Omicron version of COVID-19. ,Carlos Osorio / Reuters

So far, there are at least five confirmed cases of the variant in Canada – four in Ontario and one in Quebec – and officials are investigating two more.

Canada confirmed its first two positive cases on Sunday, according to the Omicron edition. The cases are in Ottawa and linked to recent travel from Nigeria – detected after random testing at Montreal airport when they first arrived in Canada.

Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore said Monday that two more cases have been confirmed in Ottawa. Two individuals in the Hamilton area are still awaiting the results of whole-genome sequencing to determine whether they also have the Omicron variant. Dr Moore said it would not be surprising to see more cases, adding the province is performing genome sequencing on all positive COVID-19 tests to help detect variants.

The province and federal government are working to contact a total of 375 people who arrived in Ontario from seven African countries in the past two weeks who have reported omicron activity.

Health Minister Christian Dubey told a news conference on Monday that a single case of the Omicron variant had been confirmed in Quebec. The government has contacted 115 travelers who have recently gone to southern African countries to undergo another PCR test and isolate themselves.

What is being done to slow the spread?

Countries around the world have banned flights from southern Africa following the discovery of the variant, including Canada, the United States, Australia, Thailand, Brazil and several European countries. The main countries targeted by the shutdown include South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini (Swaziland), Lesotho, Namibia, Zambia, Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe. Meanwhile, Japan and Israel have banned all foreign visitors.

However, a growing number of scientists and health analysts are cautioning that travel restrictions are unlikely to be effective against stopping the spread of the variant. He says that better distribution of vaccines would have been a better preventive measure.

“We will continue to see variants until there is a more coordinated global vaccine strategy and a consistent global pandemic response,” said Professor Donna Patterson from Delaware State University.

“There is a need for greater vaccine equity,” she said. “By the time travel restrictions are put in place, as we see with Omicron, the variant has already migrated.”


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