On Nov 26, the World Health Organization has officially designated a new strain of novel coronavirus as the Omicron variant and categorized it as a Variant of Concern.
The strain has a large number of mutations and was first reported to WHO from South Africa on Nov 24.
So, what do we know about the Omicron variant?
1. How widespread is the Omicron variant?
As of Tuesday, the Omicron strain had spread to at least 17 countries, with South Africa as the most affected country, where the confirmed number of cases has reached 77.
2. How potent is the Omicron variant?
According to the announcement made by WHO, it is not yet clear whether Omicron is more transmissible compared to other variants, including Delta.
3. What are the symptoms of the Omicron variant?
While symptoms linked to the variant have been described as "extremely mild" by the South African doctor who first raised attention over the new strain, it is currently still unknown whether this strain will cause severe symptoms
Reported symptoms include body aches, pains, headache, "scratchy throat", and feelings of extreme tiredness.
However, symptoms that have been associated with previous strains of the virus, such as cough and loss of taste or smell, are not present.
4. How is the Omicron variant transmitted?
Like previous strains, the Omicron variant is spread via respiratory droplets, close contact and aerosolized particles.
5. In what environments does the Omicron variant spread?
Like previous strains, closed indoor environments are most conducive to transmission of the variant.
6. What can we do to protect ourselves from the Omicron variant?
- Keep a physical distance of at least 1 meter from others
- Wear a well-fitting mask
- Open windows regularly to improve ventilation and indoor air quality
- Avoid poorly ventilated or crowded spaces
- Keep hands clean
- Cough or sneeze into a bent elbow or tissue
- Get vaccinated in accordance with personal needs, work requirements, and local regulations
7. Do current vaccines protect against the Omicron variant?
Omicron contains many mutations to the spike proteins.
Whether these mutations have heightened infectivity and increased the ability to evade infection-blocking antibodies remains to be tested.
At present, vaccines remain effective against severe symptoms and death, as well as against other dominant circulating variants.
8. Are China's pandemic prevention tactics still effective against the Omicron variant?
China's tactics for preventing COVID-19 case import and domestic resurgence remain effective for the Omicron variant of the virus.
9. Can nucleic acid tests still detect the Omicron variant?
The mutation of the Omicron variant will not affect the sensitivity and specificity of the current nucleic acid testing reagents in China, said Xu Wenbo, an official with the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, at a press conference on Tuesday.