According to health officials in Queensland, Australia, a new omicron lineage has been discovered in a tourist who arrived from South Africa.
According to the state’s interim chief health officer Peter Aitken, the new lineage contains about half the gene mutations of the original and cannot be found by standard screening. He said it was discovered in a passenger who had come from South Africa on Saturday and tested positive for the coronavirus.
“We know enough about it to be able to label it as omicron,” Aitken said, “but we don’t know enough about it to know what that means in terms of clinical severity, vaccine effectiveness.” “Omicron and omicron-like are now available.”
The discovery comes as Queensland prepares to reopen its border to the rest of Australia ahead of schedule next Monday, after more than 80% of the eligible population has been properly vaccinated.
Scientists rushing to grasp the entire implications of the omicron variant, including how virulent the strain is and whether immunizations are useful at reducing the risk of severe sickness, may be set back by the finding. Although most genetic changes that occur as viruses mutate are harmless, some can make the mutant more adept at infecting cells or evading antibodies, for example.
The new lineage contains half as many genomic changes as the traditional omicron form, or 14, and lacks the s-gene dropout trait, making it more difficult to trace through PCR testing, according to Aitken. According to him, the discovery will “increase people’s recognition of the possible spread of omicron in all societies.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) cautioned that the risk of Omicron, a new strain of Covid-19, is “very high.” The B.1.1.529 strain, which was first discovered in South Africa, is “extremely divergent,” according to the WHO, and is “expected to spread internationally at a very high rate,” with potentially serious repercussions.
However, the Omicron-like variants can be more dangerous and can reduce the effectiveness of vaccines, the experts said.