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New covid variant: Omicron is an intestinal check of the pandemic


But when South Africa’s Health Minister announced on Thursday the discovery of variant B.1.1.529, which appears to be spreading rapidly in parts of the country, it was the most powerful reminder that the pandemic Translation is not over yet.

Within hours of that Thursday’s announcement, several countries – including the US and UK – banned travel from South Africa and surrounding African countries.

The new travel restrictions announced by President Joe Biden on Friday will give the US federal government more time to investigate the new Omicron variant that has emerged in South Africa, officials said. official said. But not much.

Inside the government, it is expected that the new variant will emerge in the US at some point, but the new restrictions will give federal health agencies and their global partners more time. to learn about variation, including disease severity. reason. Officials do not believe, based on current surveillance, that this variant is still in the US.

Officials acted quickly to implement the new restrictions. Although the appearance of the variant has been flagged for the past few weeks, it is only in recent days that they have learned of its severity.

American officials are expected to speak with scientists in South Africa again on Sunday.

Growing interest

The World Health Organization promptly convened an advisory group and designated strain B.1.1.529 as a “variation of concern“give it the Greek name Omicron. WHO also called on countries to step up surveillance and sequencing efforts to better understand coronavirus variants.
What we know about the Omicron . variant

Vaccine manufacturers were quick to identify the variant as a concern. Moderna says the Omicron variant represents a ‘significant potential risk’ to its Covid-19 vaccine.

“The recently described Omicron variant includes mutations seen in the Delta variant that are thought to increase transmissibility and mutations seen in the Beta and Delta variants that are thought to promote escape. The combination of mutations presents a potentially significant risk of accelerating the decline of Moderna, said Friday in a press release.

Omicron also quickly created an economic hit. The new Covid variant sent oil plummeting 13% on Friday as investors worried about new government restrictions and slower economic growth. US crude ended the day at a two-month low of $68.15 a barrel, down 13.1% from Wednesday’s close. It was the worst day for oil since April 27, 2020, when Covid spread rapidly in the United States.

Now, as scientists work quickly to learn more about this variant, global health officials are encouraging people to wear masks, avoid crowded places, and get vaccinated if they haven’t already. Omicron is another example of how Covid-19 is here to stay.

‘Variations will be continuously created by this virus’

“We understand that people are concerned. The good thing is that we have surveillance systems around the world to detect these variations very quickly. This variant was discovered a few weeks ago and scientists Science is sharing research with us, information with us, so that we can take action,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO technical lead on Covid-19, said in a video statement Friday.

“It’s really important as an individual to reduce your exposure,” says Van Kerkhove. “These proven public health measures have never been more important: look away, wear a mask, make sure it’s through your nose and mouth with clean hands, make sure you avoid crowded spaces, Stay in a well-ventilated room, and when it’s your turn, get vaccinated.”

And as the world learns more about the Omicron variant, current guidance on mitigation measures – such as wearing a mask – may change.

What the end of the Covid-19 pandemic might look like
Even as the pandemic nears an end and the coronavirus becomes endemic – that is, it can appear consistently but without affecting an alarmingly large number of people – there is still a chance that new variations will continue to emerge.
Dr Amesh Adalja, Senior Scholar at Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security, wrote in an email to CNN on Friday.

“There will never be a zero COVID threat once this virus enters the endemic stage,” Adalja writes. “Once the virus is tamed – by losing its ability to threaten hospital capacity through high-level population immunity and treatments – I think the public health recommendations will be more easing, although some people may voluntarily choose to continue using them in a high-risk setting.”

Vaccine scientists tested Omicron

As we consider what the future might hold, the manufacturers of the Covid-19 vaccine have said that they are prepared to update their coronavirus shots to target emerging variants.

Scientists at BioNTech have begun investigating the impact of the Omicron variant on vaccines developed with Pfizer, with data expected within the next few weeks.

“We understood the experts’ concerns and immediately began investigating variant B.1.1.529,” BioNTech said in a statement Friday. “We expect more data from laboratory trials in two weeks at the latest.”

Moderna announced in a statement Friday that it is “working rapidly” to test the ability of the current vaccine dose against the Omicron variant, and data is expected in the coming weeks.

If current vaccines and boosters aren’t enough to combat the variant, one possible solution is to boost people’s health in larger doses, Moderna says, which it is testing.

The company is also evaluating two multivalent enhancement candidates to see if they provide superior protection against Omicron. Both candidates include some of the viral mutations present in the new variant.

Moderna is also evaluating an Omicron-specific enhancement candidate.

“Since the beginning of 2021, Moderna has advanced a comprehensive strategy for anticipating new variants of interest,” the company statement said, adding that “the strategy includes three level of response” if the currently authorized dose of booster vaccine is not sufficient to strengthen weakened immunity. against the Omicron variant.

In response to the emergence of the Omicron variant, Johnson & Johnson said in a company statement on Friday: “We are closely monitoring emerging strains of the COVID-19 virus with variations in the protein. mutated SARS-CoV-2 and are testing the effectiveness of our vaccine against the new and rapidly spreading variant discovered for the first time in southern Africa.”

Vaccine maker AstraZeneca is looking to understand the impact of the Omicron variant on a coronavirus vaccine, and it is also testing an antibody combination therapy against the new variant, a company spokesman said today. Friday.

The spokesperson said that the platform used in the vaccine allows the company to respond quickly to new variants.

“AstraZeneca is also conducting studies in locations where the variant has been identified, namely in Botswana and Eswatini, which will allow us to collect actual Vaxzevria data against the variant,” they said. this new virus.

The company’s antibody treatment, AZD7442, is also being tested against the variant, and AstraZeneca said “hopefully AZD7442 will stay effective because it consists of two potent antibodies with different and complementary activities.” supplement against the virus.”

CNN’s Kaitlan Collins, Virginia Langmaid and Naomi Thomas contributed to this report.

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