Is there anything so alarming about this variant?

It is said to be the worst variant of the genome they’ve ever seen and experts are concerned by its many mutations.

The variant — which the World Health Organization has named Omicron — has 32 mutations on the spike protein — the most ever recorded and twice as many as the currently dominant Delta strain. 

Experts are concerned that the new vaccines could be 40% less effective than they were in the best case scenario.

Because so many of B.1.1.529’s changes are dependent on virus spike protein

Current-generation vaccines make it possible for the body to distinguish the strain of virus from the older ones.

The Botswana variant has around 50 mutations and more than 30 of them are on the spike protein. The current crop of vaccines trigger the body to recognize the version of the spike protein from older versions of the virus. But the mutations may make the spike protein look so different that the body's immune system struggles to recognize it and fight it off. And three of the spike mutations (H665Y, N679K, P681H) help it enter the body's cells more easily. Meanwhile, it is missing a membrane protein (NSP6) which was seen in earlier iterations of the virus, which experts think could make it more infectious. And it has two mutations (R203K and G204R) that have been present in all variants of concern so far and have been linked with infectiousness

Botswana’s variant contains around 50 mutations, and over 30 are spike proteins. The body recognizes the older version of the virus’ spike protein with the current vaccines. However, the changes may change the appearance of the spike protein so that the body’s immune systems is unable to fight off the virus. It can also enter your cells easier thanks to three spike mutations: H665Y (N679K), P681H (P681H). Experts believe it could be more contagious because it lacks a membrane protein (NSP6), as was the case in previous iterations. Two mutations (R203K, G204R) have been identified in the virus. These two mutations have been found in all known variants and are associated with infectiousness. 

The new spike protein may look different, so the immune system might have trouble recognizing it and fighting it.

There are also mutations that can be found in the Delta variant, which allow for it to spread faster.

Experts caution that they may not discover how infective the virus really is until after at least two weeks. 

Which mutations can the variant be subject to? 

There are more than 50 variants of the Botswana version, and over 30 mutations that occur on spike protein.

The mutations N679K and P681H are rarely found together and may make the organism more resistant to jabs.

The virus may be able to slip into your cells by using these mutations and H655Y.

N501Y, a mutation that may increase the transmissibility of the strain, was first seen in Beta and Kent’s Alpha variants.

R203K, G204R and G204R could also make it more contagious. A mutation missing in this variant (NSP6) may increase its transmissibility.  

The mutations K417N, E484A in this variant are very similar to the South African “Beta” variant. This made it more able to avoid vaccines.

But it also has the N440K, found on Delta, and S477N, on the New York variant — which was linked with a surge of cases in the state in March — that has been linked to antibody escape. 

The mutations that it also contains are Q478K (G446S), Q497K (Q493K), G496S and Q498R, but their significance remains elusive. 

Do you think it is a concern variant?

The World Health Organization has classified the virus as a ‘variant of concern’, the label given to the highest-risk strains.

The WHO has concluded that the mutations it causes can cause greater disease severity, faster spread and hinder protection against vaccines.

Is the variant known? 

It has been detected in South Africa (Botswana), Hong Kong (Israel) and Belgium so far. 

Many cases have been found in Gauteng (a north-east South African province where Johannesburg is situated).

Hong Kong uploaded the first case to GISAID’s international variant database. It was discovered by someone who had traveled to South Africa from Hong Kong.

There have not been any cases in the UK. Scientists don’t test every Covid positive sample from the UK.

It is possible that there are people living with this variant in Britain.

What can the UK do about this variant?

Six countries were added to the red-list by Health Secretary last night, starting at noon on Friday 26 November.

Red-listed countries include South Africa, Botswana Eswatini Lesotho Namibia, Botswana and Botswana. These countries are prohibited from flying direct to the UK.

Anyone arriving in England between midday today and 4am on Sunday from these countries — or who has been in the countries in the 10 previous days — must complete a passenger locator form, quarantine at home and should take a PCR test.

Arriving from these countries on Sunday after 4 am, anyone must remain in managed quarantine hotels for 10 nights and submit to a Covid testing on the second or third day.

The UK Health Security Agency also classified B.1.1.529 a Variant Under Investigation. This means that it contains worrying mutations.

If it proves to be more dangerous, more serious or to make medicines and vaccines less effective, experts will conduct an assessment. 

Is this where B.1.1.529 was first discovered?

Hong Kong posted the first case on November 23 to its international variant databank GISAID. Person carrying this variant traveled to Hong Kong from South Africa.

The UK was first to recognize that this virus might be dangerous and alerted all other countries. 

Since then, seventy-eight cases of HIV/AIDS have been reported in South Africa. Two in Hong Kong were also confirmed, as well as three in Botswana.

Today, Israeli health chiefs announced that they had two confirmed cases and one suspected case of B.1.1.529 in Israel. In Belgium, there are currently two cases.

Experts think the strain could have been originated in Botswana. However, there are not many positive samples from continental Africa so we may never know where it came from.

Francois Balloux from University College London said that the virus was likely to have emerged in a lingering condition in an immunocompromised person, perhaps someone suffering undiagnosed AIDS.

Patients with weak immune systems can have infections that last for several months. This is because their bodies are unable to combat it. This allows the virus to evolve mutations which allow it to bypass the body’s defenses.

Can I feel protected by a booster?

Scientists warn that the new strain of Covid could render vaccines 40% less effective.

However, they stated that the mutations make it all the more critical to have a booster jab as soon people can be eligible.

The best defense against new mutations is provided by neutralizing antibodies that are activated when vaccines are administered. Experts say that more antibodies are better.

Britain’s Health Secretary, Sajid Javid, said: ‘The booster jab was already important before we knew about this variant – but now, it could not be more important.’ 

We will soon learn more about the variant.

Weeks remain before we have data about how transmissible this variant is, and the impact it has on deaths and hospitalizations.

South Africa is the most affected country in South Africa’s cases. The UK offered to help them gather information. They believe that they can learn more about transmissibility within two or three weeks.

It could take them up to six weeks before they learn more about deaths and hospitalizations.

Which variant is it called?

On November 24, the strain was officially named B.1.1.529, one day after being spotted in Hong Kong.

Alpha, Beta and Delta are the variants that have been given official names so far.

On November 26, experts from the World Health Organization named Omicron the variant.