The World Health Organization declared Friday a new mutation of the coronavirus to be a variant of concern, citing potential increased transmissibility and possible increased resistance to immune protections and vaccinations.
Dubbed the omicron variant, the strain was first detected in South Africa. A number of countries instituted travel bans from the region; however, by yesterday the variant had been detected in the UK, Hong Kong, Australia, and elsewhere. Average daily cases in South Africa have jumped by roughly 600% over the past two weeks.
Omicron has around 50 mutations, including more than 30 on the virus’ spike protein (see 101), the structure used to connect to human cells. Some of the individual mutations have been linked to decreased protection against general infection.
There is no evidence to date of an increased risk of severe illness or death.
Scientists noted thousands of mutations of the SARS-CoV-2 virus have been observed as they spread around the world (see visualization), with most strains emerging and quickly fading.
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