Omicron v. delta: The battle for coronavirus mutants is crucial
As the omicron coronavirus variant spreads in southern Africa and emerges in countries around the world, scientists are anxiously watching a battle that may determine the future of the pandemic. Can the newest competitor of the world-ruling delta overthrow it?
Some scientists have carefully studied data from South Africa and the United Kingdom, and believe that omicron may be the winner.
“It’s still too early, but more and more data is starting to flow in, which shows that omicron may outperform delta in many (if not all) local competitions,” said Dr. Jacob Lemieux, who works for Harvard A research led by the university collaborates to monitor the medical school of mutation.
But others said on Monday that it is too early to know how likely it is that omicron will spread more effectively than delta, or, if it does, how quickly it might take over.
Matthew Binnick, director of clinical virology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, said: “Especially in the United States, we have seen a significant increase in delta, and I think we will know in about two weeks whether omicron will replace it.”.
Many key questions about omicron remain unanswered, including whether the virus can cause milder or more severe illnesses, and to what extent it might evade past COVID-19 disease or vaccine immunity.
On the issue of transmission, scientists pointed out what is happening in South Africa, where omicron was first discovered. Omicron’s rate of infecting people and its almost dominance in South Africa has made health experts worry that the country is at the beginning of a new wave that could overwhelm hospitals.
The new variant quickly moved South Africa from a period of low transmission (less than 200 new cases per day on average in mid-November) to more than 16,000 cases per day on weekends. According to experts, in Gauteng, the epicenter of the new wave, Europe and the United States accounted for more than 90% of new cases. The new variant is rapidly spreading and dominating in eight other provinces of South Africa.
Willem Hanekom, director of the African Institute of Health, said: “This virus spreads very fast.” “If you look at the slope of the wave we are currently in, it’s higher than the first three waves that South Africa has experienced. The slope of is much steeper. This shows that it is spreading rapidly, so it may be a very easy to spread virus.”
But Hanekom, who is also the co-chair of the South African COVID-19 Variation Research Alliance, said that when omicron appeared, there were so few delta cases in South Africa, “I don’t think we can say” that it surpassed delta.
Scientists said that it is unclear whether omicron will behave in other countries as it does in South Africa. Lemieux said there are already some hints about how it might behave; he said that in places like the United Kingdom where a lot of genome sequencing is done, “we are seeing signs of exponential growth of omicron on delta.”
In the United States, as in the rest of the world, “there is still a lot of uncertainty,” he said. “But when you put the early data together, you start to see a consistent picture: that omicron has already appeared, and based on what we have observed in South Africa, it is likely to become in the next few weeks and months. Major strains and may cause a surge in the number of cases.”
What this means for public health remains to be seen. Hanekom said that early data from South Africa shows that omicron has a much higher reinfection rate than previous variants, indicating that the virus evades immunity to some extent. It also shows that the virus appears to be infecting young people, mainly those who have not been vaccinated, and that most cases in the hospital are relatively mild.
But Binnick said the situation may be different in other parts of the world or in different patient groups. “When older people or people with underlying health problems may have more infections, it’s really interesting to see what happens,” he said. “What is the result of those patients?”
While the world is waiting for answers, scientists advise people to protect themselves as much as possible.
“We want to ensure that people have as much immunity as possible to vaccination. Therefore, if people are not vaccinated, they should be vaccinated,” Lemieux said. “If people are eligible for boosters, they should get them and do all the other things we know are effective in reducing transmission-wearing masks and maintaining social distancing, avoiding large indoor gatherings, especially not wearing masks.”