What we know about the new COVID-19 variant Omicron

With the new variant blamed for the recent rise in new cases, a growing list of questions emerge.

As new COVID-19 cases surging across the country due to a new variant, called Omicron, more questions have been asked, importantly being whether the variant was deadlier than previous variants and whether current vaccines are effective. First discovered in South Africa last week, the variant has dominated headlines over the world and led to a growing list of countries banning travel from South Africa and neighbouring countries, sparking condemnation from the African Union and the World Health Organization. While information regarding the new variant is still somewhat limited, according to leading experts, what is known so far is that it has more mutations than previous variants, appears to be more transmissible and was also more likely to infect people who have immunity from prior vaccinations or infections.

While there were earlier reports that the vaccines currently being administered where unlikely to be effective against the virus, leading scientist Salim Abdool Karim also pointed out that the vaccines were probably effective. However, sounding caution, he also alluded that it was still too early to say with certainty whether the new variant led to more severe clinical symptoms than previous variants. Angelique Coetzee, who was the first doctor to spot the new variant, has pointed out that symptoms associated with Omicron were likely to be extremely mild. She believes children under the age of 13 will likely ‘have a sore throat, a bit of headache, high temperature and not feeling well’, while adults were likely to present with ‘extreme tiredness, scratchy throat and no major drop in oxygen saturation levels’.