JOHANNESBURG — Researchers in South Africa are tracking the rise of omicron, a new COVID-19 variant of concern, within the context of a large spike in cases in the South African province of Gauteng[e], 90 percent of which were from the new, highly mutated variant, according to Deutsche Welle.
The Guardian reports that scientists in South Africa and Botswana separately submitted discovery of the variant on November 23, and the journal Nature notes that many of the 30-plus mutations to the coronavirus spike protein that characterize it are linked to the ability to evade infection-blocking antibodies and heightened infectivity.
Penny Moore, a virologist in Johannesburg, told Nature there are also hints the variant could dodge herd immunity conferred by T cells, though omicron’s effect on vaccine efficacy and disease virulence is not yet clear.
Richard Lessells, an infectious-diseases physician, said at a press briefing organized by South Africa’s health department on November 25 that there is concern the variant may already be circulating widely in South Africa.
Since it was sequenced the variant has now also been discovered in Britain, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Denmark, Belgium, Israel, Australia and Hong Kong, according to Reuters.