Omicron spreads easily, allowing reinfection: Experts

Health experts have warned that although the Omicron variant may seem less severe than the Delta variant, it adheres to human cells more easily allowing more transmission among people, who can also be re-infected with it.

According to an Infectious Diseases Epidemiologist and Covid-19 Technical Lead at the World Health Organisation (WHO), Maria Van Kerkhove, there was “definitely” an increasing growth rate of Omicron where it was detected, as it was reported in more than 106 countries to date.

Kerkhove was recently addressing a conference on why the Omicron variant is infecting so many people.

“Less than one percent each of the sequences uploaded to platforms like GISAID ( a platform that showcases real-time communication in disease prevention) happen to have been Alpha, Beta and Gamma (some of the Covid-19 variants), 96 percent of the sequences that are available are still Delta. About 1.6 percent of sequences that have been shared in recent weeks is Omicron,” she said recently in a brief publicised on Twitter.

The epidemiologist said there was a combination of factors that experts had come up with to show why the Omicron variant was leading to this increasing transmission.

“First are the mutations that are identified in the Omicron variant and we know something about these mutations because some of these are present in other variants of concern. So for example in Omicron there are mutations that allow the virus to adhere to the cell more easily and infect the cell more easily,” Kerkhove said.

“We also see immune escape where we see increasing rates of reinfection. And there’s some preliminary data that’s looking at the efficiency and replication of the Omicron variant in the upper respiratory tract as opposed to the lower respiratory tract in the lungs. So this combination of factors is likely leading to why we are seeing increased growth rates in a number of countries.”

Kerkhove warned that the increasing numbers of cases would mean increased hospitalisations “even if” Omicron is less severe than Delta, emphasizing that it was still too early to conclude this notion.

“Increasing hospitalisations will burden already overburdened health systems and lead to more deaths. Please play your part and keep safe. If you test positive, take good care, contact your medical provider and isolate. Let your contacts know so they can quarantine. We will get through this. Together,” she said.

Meanwhile in Zimbabwe, 207 655 cases of Covid-19 have so far been recorded as of December 29, 2021 and of the 207 655, 173 916 people have recovered while 4 967 have died.

From the 7 734 tests done on the day, there was a 27.3 percent positivity rate.

However, local doctors have noted that the country was not conducting genome sequencing for every test so could not tell how widespread the Omicron variant was.

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