Some very bad news happened today. There is a new Covid-19 variant called Omicron (B.1.1.529) that is said to be highly contagious. Cases were already identified in several countries in Africa, Hong Kong, Israel and Belgium. Several governments, including the U.S government, already imposed travel restrictions to and from some of these countries. The stock market had the worst day in 2021 today. If this new mutation is as contagious as the early data suggests, we’re in for another rough ride…
I came across this blog post by Dr Katelyn Jetelina, an epidemiologist and I thought it would be helpful for anyone that wants to learn about this:
B.1.1.529 was first discovered in Botswana on November 11. It was then quickly identified in South Africa three days later and identified in two cases in Hong Kong. This morning Israel and Belgium announced that they have cases. The Belgium case was a young, unvaccinated woman who developed flu-like symptoms 11 days after travelling to Egypt via Turkey. She had no links to South Africa. This means that the virus is already circulating in communities. As of yesterday, 100 cases have been identified across the globe (mostly in South Africa). As I write this, no cases have been identified in the United States.
B.1.1.529 has 32 mutations on the spike protein alone. This is an insane amount of change. As a comparison, Delta had 9 changes on the spike protein. We know that B.1.1.529 is not a “Delta plus” variant. The figure below shows a really long line, with no previous Delta ancestors. So this likely means it mutated over time in one, likely immunocompromised, individual.
The rate in which these cases are spreading are far higher than any previous variant. Disease modeling scientist Weiland estimated that B.1.1.529 is 500% more transmissible than the original Wuhan virus. (Delta was 70% more transmissible). John Burn-Murdoch (Chief Data Reporter at Financial Times) also found that B.1.1.529 is much more transmissible than Delta.
I hope the positive notes Dr Jetelina has in the end will come through and we will not be sucked back in one more phase of this never-ending pandemic.