New COVID-19 threat, the “Omicron variant”


  • A new coronavirus variant is potentially more dangerous than the one that has fuelled relentless waves of infection for nearly two years.
  • The World Health Organization (WHO) classified this new variant of SARS-CoV-2, named Omicron, currently circulating in South Africa, as a ‘variant of concern’.


  • The new variant had been identified by the Network for Genomics Surveillance in South Africa (NGS-SA). It had detected a group of related SARS-CoV-2 viruses, which belong to a lineage named B.1.1.529.

Highly transmissible:

  • Early indications are that this variant is possibly even more transmissible than the highly infectious Delta variant and that current vaccines may be less effective against it.

Worrisome genetic changes:

  • Omicron (B.1.1.529) has multiple spike protein mutations, and preliminary analysis suggests it is highly infectious.
  • B.1.1.529 has “very unusual constellations of mutations” — with 30 in the region that encodes the spike protein, which is responsible for the virus’s entry into human cells.

Travel restrictions:

  • In response to the omicron variant’s discovery in southern Africa, the United StatesCanadaRussia and a host of other countries joined the European Union in restricting travel for visitors from that region, where the variant brought on a fresh surge of infections.

Black Friday for stock markets:

  • Fears of more pandemic-induced economic turmoil caused stocks to tumble in Asia, Europe and the United States.

First European Union country to announce a case:

  • Belgium

Flights halted:

  • The 27­nation EU imposed a temporary ban on air travel from southern Africa.
  • EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said, flights will have to “be suspended until we have a clear understanding about the danger posed by this new variant, and travelers returning from this region should respect strict quarantine rules.”
  • However, India will resume international flights to all countries from December 15, after a gap of 20 monthsthough there will be restrictions on the number of flights permitted from a country depending on its health risk status.

Global Vaccinations:

  • Israel, one of the world’s most vaccinated countries, announced that it also detected its first case of the new variant in a traveler who returned from Malawi.
  • American President Joe Biden said the new variant was “a great concern” that “should make clearer than ever why this pandemic will not end until we have global vaccinations.

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