One year since the emergence of COVID-19 virus variant Omicron – World Health Organization

It was 26 November 2021 that WHO declared that the world was facing a new variant of concern: Omicron. It would go on to change the particular trajectory associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Emerging evidence has been quickly shared by scientists from Botswana, Hong Kong and South Africa and discussed in a special meeting of WHO’s Technical Advisory Group for Virus Evolution (TAG-VE).

Experts at the meeting worried about the large number of mutations present in this variant, which differed greatly from the particular other variants that had been detected so far. Early data showed Omicron’s rapid spread in some provinces in South Africa
and an increased risk associated with reinfection compared to the previously circulating variants.

Just hours later, WHO declared this new variant a variant of interest: we were dealing with something new, something different, and some thing that this world had to quickly prepare for.

Dr Maria Van Kerkhove

Who is COVID-19 technical lead, Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, records a video announcing the classification of Omicron as variant or worry. As soon as the variant was classified, staff rushed to inform and prepare WHO offices around the globe before the news became public. Photo: THAT


The Omicron effect

Omicron was rapidly identified as being significantly more transmissible than Delta, the preceding variant of concern. Within 4 weeks, as the Omicron wave travelled around the globe, it replaced Delta while the dominant variant.

Countries which usually had up to now been successful in keeping COVID-19 at bay through public health and social measures now found themselves struggling. For individuals, the greatest price had been paid by those who were at risk of severe disease but not vaccinated,
plus we saw hospitalizations and deaths rise in a number of places around the particular world.

A graph comparing COVID-19 cases and deaths

This graph shows reported COVID-19 cases within gray plus deaths in blue; the impact of Omicron is clear. While Omicron was less severe compared to Delta, there were still a significant number associated with deaths due to this particular variant worldwide. The recent decline in COVID-19 testing around the world has meant that we are underestimating the true number cases, now more than ever.

By March 2022, WHO and partners estimate that almost 90% of the global population had antibodies against the particular COVID-19 computer virus, whether via vaccination or infection.

Overall, though, this new variant caused less severe disease than Delta upon average. Scientists worked to understand why this was so. A number of factors likely played a role. For example, the virus replicated more efficiently within the upper airway, plus
population immunity had been steadily increasing worldwide because of to vaccination and infections.

While vaccines reduced the impact of Omicron, they themselves were impacted: studies have shown that will vaccine effectiveness against infection, disease, hospitalization and death waned (though at different rates) over time. However , protection against hospitalization
and death have got remained high, preventing millions of people from dying.

A woman sits alone at home, and a COVID-19 self test kit

Health worker and long COVID patient Nazibrola Bidzinashvili looks by means of results from recent lab tests at her home in Tbilisi, Georgia. Georgia, like many other countries, noticed a big wave of Omicron bacterial infections, that peaked at the end of January 2022. Photo: WHO/Hedinn Halldorsson

The next version of interest?

Since the emergence of Omicron, herpes offers continued to evolve. Today, there are more than 500 sublineages of this variant circulating, but not one has been designated as the new version or worry.

So far, these sublineages associated with Omicron have much in common: they are all highly transmissible, replicate in the upper respiratory tract and tend to cause much less severe illness compared in order to previous variations of concern, plus they all have mutations that make
them escape built-up defenses more easily. This particular means that they are similar in their effect on general public health, and the response that is needed to deal with them.

If the virus were in order to change considerably – like if a new variant triggered more severe condition, or if vaccines no longer prevented severe disease and dying – the world would need to reconsider its response. In that will case, we would have a brand new
variant of interest, and with it, brand new recommendations and strategy through WHO.

A lab worker in a mask and lab coat

A lab employee prepares samples at the National Public Health Laboratory within Singapore, part of the network of WHO reference labs with regard to COVID-19. Countries like Singapore have played an important role in tracking the virus plus sharing their findings along with WHO and the larger global community. Photo: WHO/Blink Media – Juliana Tan


WHO, together with scientists plus public health professionals around the particular world, continues to monitor the circulating versions for signs of the next variant associated with concern. Nevertheless , there is apprehension because testing and sequencing are usually declining globally
as well as the sequences that are available aren’t globally representative (most sequences are shared from high-income countries).

WHO plus partners also remain concerned that surveillance in the human-animal interface is limited, where the next variant of concern could come from.

While it might be difficult to stop a new version from emerging, quick detection and information sharing mean its influence on our lives can become minimized.

WHO remains grateful to open public
wellness professionals all over the world for their own continued monitoring
from the COVID-19 virus and the sharing of sequences and analyses.

Several people in masks watching a demonstration in a lab

WHO ELSE Director-General Doctor Tedros visits the Centre for Epidemic Response & Innovation outside of Cape Town, South Africa. Scientists from the institute were among the first to share crucial data on Omicron with WHICH. Photo: Twitter/@drtedros

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