How South African scientists discovered Omicron

Majority of cases in the capital and business hub are driven by the highly transmissible variant.

Raquel Viana, Head of Science at one of South Africa's largest private testing labs, sequenced the genes on eight coronavirus samples on Friday, November 19th 2021, and received a tremendous shock. The samples were all found to have a substantial number of mutations in the Lancet laboratory, especially in the spike protein that the virus uses to enter human cells. "I was quite shocked at what I was seeing. I questioned whether something had gone wrong in the process," she told a source, a thought that quickly gave way to "a sinking feeling that the samples were going to have huge ramifications". She promptly dialed her colleague, gene sequencer Daniel Amoako, at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) in Johannesburg.

"I didn't quite know how to break it to them," she recalls. She told Amoako, "To me, it looks like a new lineage." The discovery of the Omicron variant in Southern Africa has sparked worldwide concern, with countries limiting travel from the region and implementing other restrictions to prevent the rapid spread even among vaccinated populations. Amoako and his colleague Josie Everatt initially assumed it was a mistake as well. However, they recalled that over the previous week, a significant increase in COVID-19 cases were noted, which could suggest the emergence of a new mutant. According to data retrieved from the Africa CDC, South Africa has fully vaccinated only 24.4% of its population with the African continent standing at 7%.