Omicron variant is “worrying”, the first case in Europe

Located in Belgium. The variant has a large number of mutations on the Spike protein, “some of which are troubling,” WHO experts explain

In the midst of the fourth wave of coronavirus, the spotlight is now also on the new South African variant covid, the B.1.1.529, called Omicron by the WHO. The variant has a large number of mutations on the Spike protein “some of which are troubling” explain WHO experts. Scientists are working to study Omicron, the spotlight is on the contagiousness and effectiveness of vaccines.

WHO – WHO has designated the new variant of SARS-CoV-2 detected in South Africa as a variant of concern (VOC). “Based on the evidence presented indicative of a negative change in the epidemiology of Covid-19,” the World Health Organization’s technical group on virus evolution, Tag-Ve, “advised WHO that this variant should be designated as Voc “and the WHO followed the indication, choosing the letter of the Greek alphabet that will identify it from now on.

Variant B.1.1.529 was first reported to WHO from South Africa on November 24, the agency explained. The epidemiological situation in the country was characterized by three distinct peaks in the reported cases, the last of which was mainly from the Delta variant. In recent weeks, however, “infections have increased dramatically – retraces the WHO – coinciding with the detection of variant B.1.1.529. The first known confirmed infection from B.1.1.529 came from a sample collected on November 9th. 2021 “.

“Preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection” with the new variant of Sars-CoV-2 detected in South Africa. The mutant has a large number of mutations, experts explain, “some of which are troubling.”

“The number of cases of this variant appears to be increasing in almost all provinces of South Africa.” WHO experts point out that current molecular test-based diagnostics “continue to detect” the Omicron variant. Several laboratories have indicated that with a widely used PCR test one of the three target genes is not detected and this test can therefore be used as a ‘marker’ to identify this variant, pending sequencing confirmation. Using this approach this variant was detected at higher rates than previous peaks of infection, suggesting that Omicron may have a growth advantage, in addition to the aforementioned higher risk of reinfection than other variants of concern. “Numerous studies are underway”, finally informs WHO, and the Tag-Ve expert group following the evolution of the virus “will continue to evaluate this variant. WHO will communicate the new findings to member states and the public,” if necessary”.

FIRST CASE IN EUROPE – The first confirmed case in Europe of the new variant B1.1.529 was identified in Belgium. The patient, a young woman positive for variant B.1.1.529, comes from Egypt after having made a stopover in Turkey. The test result was confirmed by the UZ Leuven University Hospital. The unvaccinated woman developed symptoms 11 days after the trip to Egypt, broadcaster RTBF reported.

EU COMMISSION – The European Commission has recommended that EU countries use an “emergency brake” for travel from South Africa, to stem the variant of the virus detected in that region. According to President Ursula von der Leyen, who recommended the suspension of all flights with the countries concerned, the move will help “limit the spread” of the variant. Travelers returning from the region, he added, will have to “respect strict quarantine rules”.

“The news regarding the new Covid variant is very worrying. I have spoken with the scientists and with the producers” of vaccines. “They share the concern: please get vaccinated quickly if you haven’t done so already and follow the rules to protect yourself,” von der Leyen said. “European Union contracts with manufacturers stipulate that the vaccine should be immediately updated to new variants emerging. Europe has taken precautions “.

STOP ENTRY IN ITALY – Health Minister Roberto Speranza has signed an ordinance banning entry into Italy to anyone who has been in South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia, Eswatini in the last 14 days. “Our scientists are working to study the new variant B.1.1.529. In the meantime, we are following the path of maximum precaution,” explained Speranza. “It would be irresponsible not to be worried” in the face of the news on the new variant detected in South Africa, underlined the minister guest of ‘Zapping’ on Rai Radio 1. “I think we are in a difficult phase of managing this pandemic. especially in our part of the world, in Europe, these are the numbers of a rather significant wave in progress “. And this new variant “has numerous mutations, over 30 of the Spike protein, and must be taken with great care.”

CONTAGIOSITY – The new Covid variant “worries me because it spread in a very short time and therefore means that it is very contagious” said Walter Ricciardi, councilor for the pandemic of Minister Speranza and professor of hygiene at the Catholic University of Rome, to the microphones of SkyTg24. “Based on the available evidence, it is likely that” the new variant detected in South Africa, B.1.1.529, “is associated with a very high level of transmissibility and significant immune leakage.” So far, however, “there is no evidence of changes in the severity of the infection” is one of the updates that the European Center for Disease Control and Prevention (ECDC) has released in its weekly update on infectious diseases.

The African Covid variant was detected in just over 80 samples. And what is worrying is the presence of over 30 mutations in the Spike protein region alone, responsible for the entry of the coronavirus Sars-CoV-2 into human cells. What is known so far about the new variant labeled as B.1.1.529 and intercepted in South Africa is explained by experts from the African CDCs, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. On November 25, they explain in a statement, “the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) in South Africa announced the detection of a new variant of the Sars-CoV-2 virus, following genomic sequencing. Its emergence coincides with a sudden increase in cases in Gauteng province in recent days and is therefore closely monitored by the South African health authorities. “

As of November 25, the variant was present in 77 samples collected between November 12 and November 20 from the South African province of Gauteng, 4 samples instead come from Botswana and 1 sample in which the new variant is present was reported in Hong Kong. “The variant B.1.1.529 shows more mutations in the genome of the virus”, reiterate the experts of the African CDC. “Some have been detected in earlier variants, such as Alpha and Delta, and have been associated with increased transmissibility and immune evasion.”

Many of the other mutations identified, however, the Cdc point out, are not yet well characterized and have not been identified in other variants currently in circulation. Further investigations are therefore underway to determine the possible impact on the ability of the virus to spread more efficiently, to affect vaccine efficacy and evade the immune response, and to the ability to cause more severe or milder diseases.

VACCINES – The German company BioNTech, which together with the American Pfizer has guaranteed to be able to produce a vaccine against any variants of the coronavirus that escape the product currently in circulation in 100 days, has confirmed that it has started studying B.1.1. 529 and expects to see results within two weeks. Research has begun to understand if the obvious mutations of the virus will require a new version of the vaccine. “We understand the fears of the experts and have launched, without delay, a search in variant B.1.1.529,” reads a statement from the company based in Mainz.

Moderna aims to develop “rapidly” a specific booster effective to cope with the new variant of the Covid Omicron. This was announced in a note by the US laboratory. “From the beginning, we have said that as we try to defeat the pandemic, it is imperative to be proactive as the virus evolves. Mutations in the Omicron variant are concerning and for several days we have been moving as fast as possible to implement our strategy to addressing this variant “states in a note is the CEO of Moderna, Stéphane Bancel. “We have three lines of defense that we are pursuing in parallel: we have already evaluated a higher dose booster of mRNA-1273 (100 µg), and secondly, we are already studying two multivalent booster candidates in the clinic that have been designed to anticipate mutations such as those that have emerged in the Omicron variant and data are expected in the coming weeks, and thirdly, we are rapidly advancing an Omicron-specific booster candidate (mRNA-1273.529). “