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Omicron variant poses very high global risk: WHO

Context:

In light of the increasing case numbers of the Omicron coronavirus variant, the World Health Organization (WHO) has come out with its advisory on the new variant.

Omicron was first reported from South Africa and has since spread to more than a dozen countries. A few countries have begun imposing travel restrictions in a bid to counter the threat of spread of the new variant.

Relevance:

GS-III: Science and Technology

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Significance of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus
  2. Why is it named Omicron?
  3. What do spike mutations do?
  4. About the WHO advisory on Omicron variant

Significance of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus

  • The Omicron variant is interesting due to the fact that it has a large number of mutations compared to other prevalent variants circulating across the world.
  • This includes 32 mutations in the spike protein.
  • Many of these mutations lie in the receptor-binding domain of the spike protein, a key part of the protein required for binding to the human receptor proteins for entry into the cell.
  • It can thus play an important role in recognition by antibodies generated due to a previous infection or by vaccines.

Why is it named Omicron?

  • The WHO has been using Greek letters to refer to the most widely prevalent coronavirus variants, which otherwise carry long scientific names.
  • It had already used 12 letters of the Greek alphabet before the newest variant emerged in South Africa this week.
  • After Mu, the 12th named after a Greek letter, WHO selected the name Omicron, instead of Nu or Xi, the two letters between Mu and Omicron.
  • The WHO said Nu could have been confused with the word ‘new’ while Xi was not picked up following a convention.

What do spike mutations do?

  • Many of the mutations in the spike protein have been previously suggested to cause resistance to antibodies as well as increased transmission.
  • Thus, there is a possibility that this variant could be more likely to re-infect people who have developed immunity against previous variants of the virus.
  • The behavior of the virus is not yet accurately predictable based on the evidence on individual mutations.

About the WHO advisory on Omicron variant

  • The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that the heavily mutated Omicron coronavirus variant is likely to spread internationally and poses a very high risk of infection surges.
  • The impact is likely to be more severe on vulnerable populations, particularly in countries with low vaccination coverage.
  • WHO has urged all the nations to accelerate vaccination of high-priority groups and device plans to tackle any surge in infections from the new variant.

-Source: The Hindu

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October 2022
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