On November 26, 2021, the World Health Organization identified B.1.1.529, known as Omicron, as a Variant of Concern. The decision was grounded by the evidence presented by WHO’s Technical Advisory Group on Virus Evolution. This independent expert group monitors and evaluates viruses’ potential mutations and evolution. Omicron was first identified in Botswana and South Africa and has surged in more than 110 countries worldwide.
Scientists determined that Omicron carries a combination of more than 50 mutations, including earlier variants like Alpha and Beta. While researchers have yet to understand and gain insights into the nature of this variant, the number of cases is continuously increasing, which causes fear of higher transmissibility and evasion of immunity. As of December 21, 2021, there are 12,947 confirmed cases of the Omicron variant in Europe, and 10,866 are from the United Kingdom.
One of the parameters used by the experts is the transmission rate. Early studies show that the doubling time for the Omicron variant is about 2.5 to 3 days, which is shorter than the Delta variant. It implies that Omicron is likely to spread more quickly and outpace the transmission of the Delta variant. A higher transmission rate can lead to an increased number of infected and overwhelmed healthcare capacity.
Early studies show that Omicron is less severe than the other variants. However, WHO warns the public not to underestimate its severity as a high rate of transmission can saturate healthcare capacity and result in higher death cases.
Vaccination aims to reduce the gravity and continuous circulation of variants. Additionally, breakthrough infections in people are increasing significantly. Despite being vaccinated, Omicron can evade neutralizing antibodies in people who have received just two vaccine doses. Individuals, either vaccinated or not, are still at risk. Therefore, experts advise taking a booster shot to supplement the vaccine’s efficacy.
The symptoms of Omicron are milder compared with the other variants. Several patients have not reported any loss of taste or smell, and there has been no significant drop in oxygen levels. The COVID Symptoms Study, run by the health science company Zoe and King’s College London, listed the top five symptoms of Omicron, which include runny nose, headache, fatigue, sneezing, and sore throat. However, the mediocrity of symptoms should not be dismissed, as warned by the WHO.
How do you protect yourself and others?
Omicron is a reminder that the world is still fighting to eliminate the COVID-19 pandemic. Everyone must follow certain health safety practices to reduce the virus’s risk. Here are ways to protect yourself and others.
1. Regardless of your vaccination status, always wear a mask.
2. Encourage a physical distance of about one metre.
3. Make it a habit to wash your hands.
4. Stay at home, especially if you are sick.
5. Get plenty of water. Start a healthy lifestyle.
6. Get vaccinated to acquire e-vaccination certificates.
7. Give yourself a booster shot.
8. Take coronavirus test before attending a gathering, especially when you have symptoms.
Are you looking for a testing provider?
Harley Medic International is a government-approved testing provider and an expert in COVID-19 testing. They have many locations across the UK, ensuring that a testing centre is near you. Getting a test is as easy as booking online and finding the closest clinic. Visit their website at harleymedic.co.uk to learn more.