The Omicron variant, feared to spread faster and partially reduce vaccine protection, was identified in South Africa earlier this week and classed as a variant of concern by the World Health Organisation (WHO).
A “variant of concern” is the WHO's top category of worrying COVID-19 variants.
The variant was identified days ago by researchers in South Africa, and much is still not known about it, including whether it is more contagious, more likely to cause serious illness or more able to evade the protection of vaccines.
Countries around the world are currently racing to introduce travel bans and restrictions on southern African countries in an effort to contain Omicron's spread.
European countries along with the UK have banned travel to and from South Africa and neighbouring countries of Namibia, Zimbabwe and Botswana, as well as Lesotho and Eswatini (formerly Swaziland), both of which are landlocked within South Africa.
The Indian government has also reviewed its guidelines and rules for incoming international travellers and is yet to take a call on receiving its decision to allow international flights to resume from December 15.
The sudden emergence of the virus has led to a flurry of international healthcare experts and epidemiologists taking to social and legacy media platforms to share their thoughts on the various aspects of the phenomena.
Former WHO chief Tedros drew the world's attention to the importance of global vaccine sharing. "The Omicron variant reflects the threat of prolonged vaccine injustice. The longer we take to deliver vaccine equity," he said.
The Omicron variant reflects the threat of prolonged vaccine injustice. The longer we take to deliver #VaccinEquity, the more we allow the #COVID19 virus to circulate, mutate and become potentially more dangerous. pic.twitter.com/tfN5SlBiA5— Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (@DrTedros) November 28, 2021
Award-winning physician and popular healthcare personality on social media, Dr Fheem Younis said tweeted that he did not "believe omicron will not outspread delta". While not enough information is as yet available about the Omipcron variant, researchers are trying to determine how fast the virus transmits as opposed to previous variants like Delta.
Current global frequency of delta vs. omicron variants. Due to many factors, I believe omicron will not outspread delta
(and that would be good news)November 29, 2021
Dr Julia Grace Patterson of the Every Doctor UK foundation gave a rebuttal to the critics and naysayers dismissing expert advice and caution as "panic". Since the discovery of the Omicron strain of the virus in South Africa, many people have ridiculed the warning of doctors, healthcare experts, epidemiologists and even governments as as alarmism.
There’s a lot of rubbish on Twitter saying scientists are ‘panicking’ about Omicron. They’re not panicking. Scientists and doctors exercise caution; they observe and formulate opinions based on evidence when the evidence becomes available.— Dr Julia Grace PattersonðÂÂÂ (@JujuliaGrace) November 29, 2021
Kotak Mahindra Bank CEO Uday Kotak threw in an economic perspective on the hue and cry around Omicron.
Omicron variant scare today, something else tomorrow. People, markets and policy makers world wide will shoot from the hip in crisis management without data. Welcome to the ‘never’ normal world we live in!— Uday Kotak (@udaykotak) November 29, 2021
English broadcaster Piers Morgan slammed those who were referring to the Omicron variant as the 'South Africa' variant, drawing attention to the racist undertones of such usage.
Omicron is not a 'South African variant', it's a variant that was spotted & reported by brilliant South African scientists so fast the world has a chance to get on top of it. Could have originated anywhere.— Piers Morgan (@piersmorgan) November 27, 2021
Author Eric Topol also defended the South Africans even as posts highlighting the problem of referring the Omicron was a 'virus from South Africa' went viral.
Besides South Africa and Botswana, 12 countries have now reported confirmed cases of Omicron. And many more will do so in the next few days.— Eric Topol (@EricTopol) November 29, 2021
Had it not been for the sequencing and transparency efforts of South African scientists, how many countries would have found Omicron?
Omicron has been detected in UK, Belgium, Italy, Germany, Hong Kong, Israel, Australia, South Africa. South Africa did the genome sequencing, and shared its data immediately - for which we have punished them by singling out southern Africa for a travel ban.— Owen Barder (@owenbarder) November 28, 2021
I’m not sure who is going to need to hear this again but this is your daily reminder that it is not the “South Africa” variant…
It was isolated and sequenced in South Africa because they have some of the worlds best epidemiologists and infectious disease capabilities https://t.co/nJonbRjrCg— Ayman (@AymanM) November 28, 2021
This. Simply this.
Put some RESPECT on South Africa’s name. pic.twitter.com/nT3v4FqCtr— yvette nicole brown (@YNB) November 28, 2021
Journalist Jim Mallo tweeted about the travel bans that several countries have put in place against travellers from South Africa and nearby countries. The travel restrictions have led to debate with South Africa terming the bans as 'draconian'. The South African Prime Ministe on Monday said that the travel restrictions would also hurt the economies of the nations in the region which are already suffering due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Not just Mallo, many others raised questions about travel restrictions.
I'm gonna die mad about how we've blocked travel to a bunch of African countries, some of which don't have Omicron, but are still allowing travel from wh*te countries that do have it— Jim Malo (@thejimmalo) November 29, 2021
If omicron is more transmissible than delta, travel restrictions are pointless. It will spread here – and everywhere – anyway.
If omicron is less transmissible than delta, travel restrictions are pointless.
Sadly logic is no match for hysteria and knee-jerk authoritarianism.— Oliver Smith (@ollysmithtravel) November 29, 2021
In India, where no cases of the Omicron variant have been detected yet, many on social media sought more clarity about the variant and how dangerous it truly was. However, in lack of scientific data so far, even experts remain in the dark.
There have been 12 Covid variants before this. The reason we only heard one letter of the Greek alphabet, Delta, before Omicron, is because it was a killer. Mutations, spike proteins, blah blah are of academic importance. For ordinary people the question is: How deadly is it?— Samrat X à¦¸à¦®à§Âà¦°à¦¾à¦Â (@MrSamratX) November 29, 2021
Yet, many like CAIT Chairman Subhas Agarwalla took to social media to remind people of the importance of staying safe and continuing to maintain Covid-19 protocol.
Omicron variant is making news. Theoretically, it can be a lot more contagious than previous variants but scientists are still studying it. Until then CAUTION should be the word. Not fear. Mask up, maintain social distance and wash your hands. #Omicron @CMofKarnataka pic.twitter.com/FTj90Y22PT— Dr Sudhakar K (@mla_sudhakar) November 29, 2021
Omicron Covid variant is the single-biggest disrupter that can upend all plans and we need to stay alert more than ever!
Please, please stay safe, double your mask discipline and be alarmed. Better safe than sorry.— Subhas Agarwalla (@AgarwallaSc) November 29, 2021