Omicron unlikely to cause a grave situation, hopes Union health ministry

A healthcare worker collects swab sample of a woman for COVID-19 test in view of the threat of the new variant (Omicron) of the virus, at a railway station in Patna. Photo: PTI

New Delhi: On Saturday, India reported its third case of COVID-19 caused by the recently identified Omicron variant of the coronavirus that causes the disease that has been raging across the world since its outbreak erxactly two years ago.

With many people having been exposed to Delta variant of the coronavirus and vaccination against COVID-19 still progressing in India, the Union health ministry expects the severity of the new Omicron variant to be less in the country.

Even if there is a spread of the new Omicron variant it will not lead to a grave situation, the Union health ministry states.

Excerpts from the Union health ministry's explanatory note:

What is Omicron?
The new variant B.1.1.259 was detected in South Africa on November 24. When compared to the SARS-CoV-2 which causes COVID-19, Omicron has several mutations that may have an impact on how it behaves and how easily it spreads. There have been over 30 changes in the spike proteins through which the virus gains entry into the host cells.

Why Omicron is creating apprehension?
The World Health Organisation (WHO) declares a virus as dangerous after considering various factors. The predictions regarding multiple mutations, capability of spreading fast, possibility of overcoming immunity, makes Omicron a virus having severe characteristics. There may be increased risk of reinfection with Omicron for people who previously had COVID-19.

Why variants develop?
It is only a natural result of the spread of virus in community. This will continue to happen. As long as Coronavirus spreads through population, mutations will continue to happen and the Delta variant family will continue to evolve. The possibility of spreading fast the chance of reinfection are creating more apprehension about the new variant. The only way to avoid more variants is to bring down the COVID-19 cases drastically in the community.

Are the current testing methods effective?
The current RT-PCR test is effective. It continues to detect infections including infection with Omicron and other variants. The virus is diagnosed by the presence of spike (S), nucleocapsid (N), membrane (M) and envelope (E) proteins. Since significant changes have taken place in S gene of Omicron virus this cannot be confirmed in the test. At the same time E and N genes can be identified. The confirmation is possible through genetic classification.

Will the vaccine be effective?
It has not been proved yet that the vaccines being used currently are effective in preventing Omicron. The genetic changes can be lessened to a certain extent with the help of vaccine. Vaccines remain critical to reducing severe diseases and death, including those caused by Delta which is the dominant variant now in circulation.

The central government is monitoring the situation closely. The guidelines are being issued in a time-bound manner.

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