At a time when nearly most of humanity was about to come out of the crisis of the Delta variant, the initial rapid expansion of the new Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 in Africa has shaken the world with another possible wave.
This was not just because of the detection of a new variant, it was due to its high R0 value (2.0) and multiple mutations that it carries. The R0 value indicates the ability of a virus to spread from one person to another and 2.0 is the highest infectivity value till now of any variant.
The previous variant, Delta, which created havoc in India had a 1.64 R0 value. Hence, scientists advise extreme caution against Omicron as they are uncertain about its impact. This is also notable keeping in mind the low impact of previous variants (including delta) in Africa.
“The preliminary clinical data coming for the Omicron indicates that it has different sort of symptoms which is mainly ‘intense fatigue’. Nevertheless, the number of days needed to understand the infection dynamics of a virus after the surge of infection (November 23) is at least two weeks,” Gyaneshwar Chaubey, professor of genetics at Banaras Hindu University (BHU), said.
He added, “So, this crucial time of two weeks will be the indicator of a future pandemic. It is also interesting to note that in South Africa just a single surge was seen on November 23, when 18586 cases were reported, thereafter less than 5k cases are accumulating daily.”
Dr Sanjay Rai, Professor, Community Medicine in All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi, says that in another 15 days or so, it will become clear that if the outbreak of this variant is really a cause for serious concern or not?
“The preliminary evidence suggests that it might not be able to escape the natural immunity of those persons who are already recovered from Covid-19. But anything can happen and the monitoring data of the next 15 days will clear the picture,” Dr Rai said.
He added, “We need not panic at all. We should continue to proceed on the path of normalcy. The only thing is that we need to be observant and cautious.”
Health experts also say that since mortality takes place almost seven to fifteen days after the infection in an individual, it will at least take that much time to understand if the new variant is deadly or escaping vaccine-acquired immunity.
Dr Jayaprakash Muliyil, Chairman of the Scientific Advisory Committee of the ICMR’s National Institute of Epidemiology is of the view that multiple mutations in a virus don’t mean that it will become life-threatening.
“Many mutations are not dangerous. This virus has been mutating and as of now thousands of mutations have happened. All the mutations are not a cause for any concern. You have to keep it watching. If it will escape all immunity then the world will face another epidemic. If it will not, then nothing will happen. So we have to be watchful for some time so that we know the exact position,” Dr Muliyil said.