Is the new variant of COVID-19 ‘Omicron’ a possible threat for third wave? The World Health Organization (WHO) classified a new variant of SARS-CoV-2, currently circulating in South Africa as a ‘variant of concern’ by the health agency named as ‘Omicron’.
The Network for Genomics Surveillance in South Africa (NGS-SA) had identified the variant on Monday. It had detected a group of related SARS-CoV-2 viruses, which belong to a lineage named B.1.1.529.
At the time when the world is slowly trying to get rid of the pandemic with relaxations in various places after the first and second wave of COVID-19, the new variant Omicron has brought a threat amongst the people again with its emergence first in South Africa and then in United Kingdom, Botswana and Hong Kong. There are apprehensions that it might have travelled to other countries like Germany and the Czech Republic. However, India has not reported any case of the new variant so far.
Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya on Tuesday said the Parliament that although two returnees from South Africa have tested positive for COVID-19, their samples have been sent for testing if there is any presence of Omicron variant. But till date, no cases of the new variant has been reported in the country so far, the health minister said adding that the Centre is taking all precautionary measures to tackle the infection.
The health minister said that they are immediately checking suspicious cases and conducting genome sequencing. “We learnt a lot during the pandemic. Today we have a lot of resources and laboratories to manage any situation,” he added.
How Dangerous is ‘Omicron’
The available epidemiological and clinical evidence so far shows that the new variant is highly infectious and that it is not clear that this new variant has the capability to escape the antibody present in a vaccinated or naturally recovered person.
According to researchers, there is not enough data on this variant to know its immune evading or severity property, as it will take 10-15 days to understand the true mortality of a variant. Although it will take days to understand the exact mortality, the data from South Africa shows that the infectivity is very high.
The R0 (rate of infection) of this variant is calculated to be 2 which is higher than the delta variant (1.64), says expert.
Though the health experts and scientists in India have advised caution yet they feel that the current immune profile of the majority of the population in India makes them less vulnerable to Omicron as compared to any other country in the world.
Centre Reviews Preparedness to Deal the New Variant
Centre reviews Public Health Preparedness with States/UTs in view of new COVID19 Variant (OMICRON) classified as ‘Variant of Concern’ by WHO.
States advised not to let their guards down- Test, Track, Treat, Vaccinate strategy re-emphasized.
The OMICRON Variant doesn’t escape RTPCR and RAT and states have been advised to ramp up Testing for prompt and early identification. States have been asked to keep a strict vigil on emerging clusters and hotspots for timely and effective management.
All COVID-19 positive samples to be promptly sent for genome sequencing to INSACOG Labs, Centre says states.
Possibility of Third Wave
Experts and scientists are of the view that according to the present information about the new variant of COVID-19, there is a low probability that it will drive a third wave as big as the second wave in India.
Expert says that in India a large percentage of the population is naturally-recovered and has acquired a beautiful natural antibody.
Public health experts also say that with over 120 crore doses of vaccine administered to people, vaccine-acquired antibodies is also widely present among Indians.