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Omicron—a very dangerous new strain of coronavirus: What is known about it

The new variant of the coronavirus was named "omicron". Photo: inform.kz

The new variant of the coronavirus was named "omicron". Photo: inform.kz

The B.1.1.529 coronavirus strain recorded in South Africa and Hong Kong has gained "variant of concern" status—the same as that of the delta strain and its predecessor Brazilian and British strains, the World Health Organization (WHO) reports. The new strain of coronavirus has been named with the Greek letter omicron.

The B.1.1.529 strain was first entered into the databases on November 11. The first case of infection with it was recorded in Botswana, and after that several more were recorded in RSA. A couple of days later, one case of infection was recorded in Hong Kong in a man who had arrived from South Africa.

Belgium became the first European country to announce the detection of the omicron variant in humans.

Features of the new strain of coronavirus "omicron"

The example of RSA has shown that this virus variant is spreading faster than its predecessors and can affect more people, including those who have previously had other strains, the WHO assumes.

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According to François Balloux, director of the University College London Genetics Institute, the new variant could have formed in a person with a weakened immune system (presumably, an HIV/AIDS patient who did not get proper treatment). The chronic course of coronavirus infection that the immune system could not cope with could allow the virus in the patient's body to accumulate a large number of mutations at once in a long time.

According to the results of the first studies carried out in South Africa, it was found that the new strain has 50 mutations. Of these, 34 are in the protein compounds of the spikes whereby the coronavirus enters human cells. According to Tulio de Oliveira, virologist and director of South Africa’s centre for epidemic response and innovation, this actually refers to the evolutionary leap of the coronavirus. "It has a whole set of mutations that we did not expect," the specialist says.

The properties of a number of new mutations have not yet been studied, some of them have not yet been known at all, and therefore scientists warn that the full scale of the B.1.1.529 threat is still difficult to assess.

Detecting and combating the omicron variant

The symptoms of infection with B.1.1.529 are similar to those recorded in patients with the delta strain. Several cases of asymptomatic course of the disease have also been recorded which makes the new strain similar to its predecessors.

The B.1.1.529 variant is detected by the existing PCR tests.

Given the increased resistance of the new strain to the antibodies produced by the human body, it is likely that current vaccines will not be less effective against it.

American Moderna reports that it is working on a more potent booster vaccine to protect against the omicron strain. According to the company's experts, the combination of mutations in the new variant carries a "significant risk to accelerate the waning of immunity" developed after vaccination.

The company states it developed a comprehensive strategy earlier this year to anticipate new COVID-19 variants. This strategy has three steps. First, Moderna has already tested a higher dose booster vaccine. Second, it is studying a multi-valent booster vaccine designed to fight some of the virus's mutations. As a third measure, a more potent booster vaccine is being developed.

Response of countries and markets to the new omicron virus

Several dozen countries have already banned air traffic with South Africa and neighboring countries.

The Netherlands was the first to impose a ban on travelers from South Africa. The ban came into effect on Friday noon, November 26. At the time of the ban imposing, there were two flights in the air. Their passengers had 61 positive tests for covid. Approximately one in ten was infected. Doctors are trying to figure out what kind of virus people are infected with.

Brent crude oil took a beating of about 10% during trading on November 26. By the close of trading, the price was $74 per barrel. The price of WTI crude oil dropped to $69 (-11.6%).

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The new strain of coronavirus has led to the sales in global markets. Due to fears of a new wave of restrictions, investors began to get rid of risky assets and stock up on dollars and gold.

An attempt by investors to move away from risky assets led to the fall of some cryptocurrencies. The cost of bitcoin dropped below $55,000 per coin.

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