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According to the latest threat assessment from the United Kingdom’s Health Security Agency (which has conducted some of the most precise and rapid characterizations of coronavirus variants around the globe) The genetic changes in the Omicron variant suggest it could be passed more easily than Delta.
Another report from the Network for Genomic Surveillance in South Africa supports this assessment. It reveals that Omicron has surpassed Delta in South Africa.
In October, 80% of all coronavirus samples that were sequenced in South Africa were from the Delta lineage. Omicron was not even part of the mix. Omicron was responsible for 75% of sequenced virus in November, whereas Delta accounted for 22%.
Researchers from the UK have reported that Omicron’s mutations could enable the virus to replicate faster and may aid it in binding to the ACE2 receptor on cells.
“Structural modeling suggests that the mutations that are present could increase the human ACE2 binding affinity to a higher extent than that seen for any other variant,” the report states.
The genetic linkage of Omicron to other variants suggests it was recently discovered in humans.
The structural modeling of viral genetic changes has shown that the virus may have mutations that alter the shape of the four locations where neutralizing antibodies bind to the virus. This makes it possible that the virus could evade natural immunity.
Initial research in South Africa suggests that Omicron could be affecting people who have been infected by the coronavirus.
Based on the same structural model, it’s highly likely that Omicron has been able to escape at least some of the protection that people get from COVID-19 vaccines, however, laboratory tests and epidemiological studies are required before we can say for sure.
The research suggests that monoclonal antibodies may not be effective against this variant, but lab tests are needed for clarity on this as well.
UK Health Security Agency, Risk Assessment of SARS-CoV2 Variant Omicron Dec. 3 2021
Network for Genomic Surveillance South Africa: “SARS CoV-2 Sequencing Update 3 December 2021.”
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