What to Know About the COVID-19 Omicron Variant So Far

Everything We Know About the COVID-19 Omicron Variant So Far

Don't panic. Just be knowledgeable and follow scientific advice.

Is it time for the Delta variant to move over and pass the torch of “most deadly variant” to Omicron? Well, we don’t know that yet. What we do know is that the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared Omicron a variant of concern. Blame this new COVID-19 variant on the selfish hoarding of COVID-19 vaccines combined with the resistance of anti-vaxxers. We shouldn’t be surprised at this point, to be honest. 

As the days go on, this article will be updated with findings on the new variant. Currently, this is what to know about Omicron. All of this information comes from WHO. 

Also read: Japan Reverts to Banning Entry to International Travellers Due to Omicron

What to know about the Omicron COVID-19 variant so far

Image credit: Mufid Majnun

Where did it come from?

It was first detected by South African authorities. However, this does not mean that the mutation started in South Africa. In fact, on 1 Dec 2021, Dutch health authorities discovered that the Omicron variant was already in western Europe as far back as 11 days before it was detected in South Africa. 

The Dutch research institute called National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) reported that they found Omicron samples dating from 19 to 23 Nov 2021. According to RIVM, “It is not yet clear whether the people concerned [in the earlier cases] have also been to southern Africa. In the coming period, various studies will be conducted into the distribution of the Omicron variant in the Netherlands.”

Is it highly transmissible?

Image credit: Viki Mohamed

According to WHO, researchers are still studying the Omicron variant, so they can’t say for sure if it is more transmissible than the Delta variant right now. The WHO website elaborates, “The number of people testing positive has risen in areas of South Africa affected by this variant, but epidemiologic studies are underway to understand if it is because of Omicron or other factors.”

Preliminary studies also suggest that Omicron may trigger an increased risk of reinfection (meaning, those who have previously contracted the virus might be more susceptible to this variant). However, information is still limited and more will be revealed in the coming days. 

Note: We also encourage you to regularly check WHO’s official website to be up to speed on what to know about the Omicron variant.

How severe is the Omicron variant?

WHO maintains that the severity of the Omicron variant is not yet clear. They also stated that there’s still no evidence to suggest that the symptoms brought by the Omicron variant are any different from those brought by other COVID-19 variants. 

However, there were initial findings that showed that university students or younger individuals, who usually get mild COVID-19 symptoms, were the majority of those who contracted the Omicron variant. That said, WHO reminds everyone that understanding more about Omicron can take days to several weeks; hence, this is not the time to be complacent.

As of now, WHO is coordinating with several researchers around the world to get more studies on Omicron. They are monitoring transmissibility, severity of the variant, performance of COVID-19 vaccines, and effectiveness of treatments. 

COVID-19 vaccines are still effective

Image credit: Jeremy Bezanger

In a statement issued by AstraZeneca regarding the new variant, the public was assured that vaccines were still effective regardless of the variant. “Despite the appearance of new variants over the past year, vaccines have continued to provide very high levels of protection against severe disease and there is no evidence so far that Omicron is any different. However, we have the necessary tools and processes in place for rapid development of an updated COVID-19 vaccine if it should be necessary,” the company shared.

According to CBS News, vaccine producers are ready to adjust the current vaccines to fight this new variant, if the situation calls for it. “All the major Western vaccine makers, in addition to the producers of Russia’s domestic Sputnik vaccine, have said they are already working on, or ready to work on, tailoring their formulas specifically for the new variant, if it should prove necessary.”

WHO suggests that governments take the following countermeasures: 

  • Enhance surveillance and sequencing of cases.
  • Share genome sequences on publicly available databases, such as GISAID.
  • Report initial cases or clusters to WHO.
  • Perform field investigations and laboratory assessments to better understand if Omicron has different transmission or disease characteristics, or impacts the effectiveness of vaccines.

Of course, the basic health protocols still apply in light of this new variant. Always practice social distancing, wear your mask whether you’re indoors or outdoors, open windows to improve ventilation, and — most importantly — get vaccinated!

Also read: USA Entry Requirements: What to Know When Travelling During COVID-19

We hope this list of what to know about the Omicron variant answered your questions thus far. Or at least, set the record straight amidst confusing news. This article will continually be updated. Till then, stay safe.

Featured image credit: Arya Pratama | Unsplash

About Author

Therese Sta. Maria
Therese Sta. Maria

Therese's close friends know that if they haven’t seen her around recently, then she’s probably having an adventure with her luggage and camera in hand. Though she loves staying at home and spending lazy afternoons with friends, there are times when she has to be "away from home to feel at home," — that’s when she’s bitten by the travel bug. See her travels on Instagram @reesstamaria.