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Omicron-stricken Possibly, South Africa represents a glimpse into the future

In his Botswana lab, Dr. Sikhulile Moyo was analyzing -19 samples when he noticed that they were strikingly different from the others. He decided to investigate further.

Within days, the was ablaze with the news that the had mutated into a new strain of concern — one that appears to be driving a dramatic increase in the number of cases in South Africa and providing a glimpse of where the pandemic might be heading.

’s new variant

Cases in South Africa have increased from about 200 per day in mid-November to more than 16,000 on Friday, according to the latest figures. In South Africa’s most populous province, Gauteng, the virus was discovered more than a ago and has since spread to the country’s other eight provinces, according to the country’s health minister, Joe Phaahla.

Despite the rapid increase, infections remain below the 25,000 new cases per day that South Africa reported during the previous surge, which occurred in June and July of this year.

Little is known about the new variant, but the increase in cases in South Africa suggests that it may be more contagious, according to Moyo, the scientist who may have been the first to identify the new variant, despite the fact that researchers in neighboring South Africa were right on his heels, said. Omicron has more than 50 mutations, and scientists have described it as a significant step forward in the virus’s evolution.

It is unclear whether the variant causes more severe illness or if it is capable of evading the provided by vaccines. In her report, Phaahla noted that only a small number of people who have been have become ill, with the majority of cases being mild, whereas the vast majority of those admitted to hospitals had not been .

South African scientists, on the other hand, discovered that omicron appears to be more likely than earlier variants to cause reinfections in people who have already been infected with -19. This is a concerning development.

A researcher from the of Witwatersrand stated at a Health Organization briefing on Thursday that “previous infection used to protect against delta, but now it doesn’t seem to be the ,” referring to the presence of omicron.

Von Gottberg believes vaccination will continue to protect against severe disease, despite the fact that the study did not examine the protection provided by vaccination.

The findings, which were published online on Thursday, are preliminary and have not yet been subjected to a formal scientific review.

So far, South Africa’s hospitals, including those in Gauteng province, which accounts for more than 70 percent of all new infections, have been able to cope with the influx, according to Phaahla.

Because the majority of those infected thus far have been younger people, who, on average, do not get sick as badly as older patients, the picture could change. Moyo, on the other hand, expressed optimism that vaccines would continue to be effective against the variant.

From what we’ve seen so far, “I have a lot of confidence in the fact that those who have been immunized should be provided with a great deal of protection.”

That dovetails with what from WHO in Asia said Friday.

Dr. Takeshi Kasai, WHO regional director for the Western Pacific, cautioned that the number of cases could increase rapidly as a result of the omicron virus. However, he stated that the measures taken against the delta variant, which caused outbreaks around the world, should remain at the forefront of the .

According to Kasai, “the good news in all of this is that none of the we currently have about omicron suggests that we need to change the directions in which we are responding.”

According to Dr. Babatunde Olowokure, WHO Regional Emergency Director, continuing to push for higher vaccination rates, adhering to social-distancing guidelines, and wearing masks are just a few of the measures that must be implemented.

Despite the fact that omicron infections have been reported in more than three dozen countries around the world, the numbers are still small outside of South Africa. In response, many countries are racing to implement travel for visitors from southern Africa — a that WHO officials believe will buy them some time, despite the agency’s previous warnings against closing border crossings.

In response to the travel restrictions, South Africa has expressed outrage, claiming that it is being punished for being transparent and for acting so quickly to the to the presence of omicron. The World Health Organization (WHO) said it was notified by the country on November 24 about the new variant.

“What we must reemphasize is that while our scientists and those in Botswana were the first to discover and report on the variant, no one knows where it originated,” Phaahla said.

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