Covid-19: what is known so far of the Ômicron variant

Scientists rush to decipher virus genome with 50 mutations

Published in 28/11/2021 - 10:56 By Agência Brasil - Brasília

The emergence of a variant in the new coronavirus confirmed in regions of Africa worries international health experts. Named Ômicron - a Greek letter corresponding to the letter "o" of the alphabet -, strain B.1.1.529 was identified in Botswana, a country neighboring South Africa, in mid-November. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the variant may be responsible for most new records of infection by the new coronavirus in South African provinces.

Where was the variant identified?

In addition to countries neighboring Botswana - South Africa, Lesotho, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Eswatini (formerly Swaziland) -, cases of the Ômicron variant were also registered in other regions: Hong Kong, in China, was the first of them. Israel and Belgium also had records, cases that remain isolated.

What's different?

In the cases analyzed, it was found that the variant carries dozens of genetic mutations that can affect the rates of contagion and lethality. The WHO, however, stated that there are still not enough studies to affirm the properties of Ômicron, but that there are already accelerated scientific efforts to study the samples. A team of scientists from South African universities is decoding the Ômicron genome, along with dozens of other variants of the new coronavirus.

Tulio de Oliveira, director of the Center for Epidemic Responses and Innovations at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, said at a press conference that the Ômicron variant has "an unusual constellation of mutations." The Delta variant, for example, had two mutations in relation to the original strain of the new coronavirus, while Ômicron has about 50 - 30 of them located in the Spike protein, responsible for infecting healthy cells, explained the Brazilian.

At an emergency meeting held on Friday afternoon (26), WHO representatives classified Ômicron as a variant of concern (VOC) - the same category as the Delta and Gamma variants.

Are there cases in Brazil?

Brazil has not yet registered any case of the new variant. To try to stop the arrival of Ômicron in the country, the minister of the Civil House, Ciro Nogueira , determined that flights originating from countries in southern Africa cannot land in Brazil. Other countries, such as England, have also banned the arrival of flights from the region .

Pfizer, responsible for one of the innovative vaccines against the new coronavirus, said it hopes to be able to put on the market a new version of the immunizing agent that is effective against the micron variant within a period of up to 100 days. The effectiveness of existing vaccines has not yet been tested against the new variant.

Why Ômicron?

WHO uses letters of the Greek alphabet to name the important variants of the new coronavirus. The last recorded variant was Mu, which was to be followed by the Greek letters Nu (equivalent to N) and Xi. The letters, however, could cause confusion, as Nu in English is almost identical in pronunciation to the word new. While the letter Xi corresponds to the first name of the current president of China, Xi Jinping. WHO then decided to skip the two letters.

Text translated using artificial intelligence.

Edition: Aécio Amado

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