New coronavirus variant named Omicron; PM Modi to chair meet
The World Health Organization (WHO) has designated the new B.1.1.529 strain of the coronavirus as a Variant of Concern (VOC). It has been named "Omicron" by the global health body, which had held a key meeting on Friday to discuss the new variant. The variant is most prevalent in South Africa and has been found in several other countries, too. Here are more details.
Why does this story matter?
Omicron is the most heavily mutated version of the coronavirus discovered so far. Experts are calling it the "most concerning" since the Delta variant, which triggered deadly outbreaks around the world earlier this year. They say there are already signs the new strain spreads fast and possibly evades immunity. It has also caused markets to fall and countries to impose sweeping air travel curbs.
WHO issues statement on new strain
"The Technical Advisory Group on SARS-CoV-2 Virus Evolution met today to review what is known about the COVID-19 variant B.1.1.529. They advised WHO that it should be designated a Variant of Concern. WHO has named it Omicron, in line with naming protocols," the WHO tweeted.
What do we know about it so far?
B.1.1.529 has some 50 mutations, including more than 30 in the spike protein alone. South Africa has reported just above 50 cases of the strain but there are concerns the actual tally could be higher. Cases have also been detected in Botswana, Hong Kong, Israel, and Belgium. Early evidence suggests the strain poses an increased risk of reinfection, the WHO said.
Countries rush to impose travel curbs
Many countries have restricted travel to and from South Africa and neighboring nations. They include the European Union, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Australia, among others. South Africa, on the other hand, has criticized the restrictions calling them "unjustified." The WHO has also warned countries against hastily enforcing travel curbs saying they should consider a "risk-based and scientific approach."
PM Modi's meet at 10:30 am
Meanwhile, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will chair a meet on the COVID-19 situation in the country at 10:30 am. Top ministers and government officials will attend the meeting, NDTV reported. The central government had earlier this week written to states asking them to rigorously screen passengers coming from countries where the new strain has been detected.