Is there anything so alarming about this variant?

Experts claim it’s the most dangerous variant and they are worried about the many possible 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 worry that vaccines may be 40 percent less effective under the worst-case scenario.

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

Current vaccines cause the body’s recognition of older strains of the virus.

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 has approximately 50 variants. More than 30 mutations are on spike protein. The body can recognize older strains of the virus with 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. Three of its spike mutations, H665Y and N679K (P681H), allow it to enter cells faster. Experts believe it could be more contagious because it lacks a membrane protein (NSP6), as was the case in previous iterations. It also has two mutations, R203K (or G204R), that were present in every variant of the virus and have been associated with infectiousness. 

However, because of the different appearance of the spike protein on this new strain, your immune system may not be able to recognize it or fight it.

You can also find mutations on the Delta version that make it more spreadable.

Experts say they will not be able to determine how infectious this virus is until at least 2 weeks. They also warn that the impact it has on Covid deaths and hospitalizations may take up to 6 weeks. 

How many mutations is the variant susceptible to? 

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

It is mutated P681H, N679K that are “rarely seen together” and might make it more resistant to jabs.

This mutation, together with H655Y may make it more difficult for viruses to enter the cells.

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.  

Additionally, it has mutations K417N & E484A similar to South African variants of the ‘Beta’ variety. These made it easier to resist 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), Q493K (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 exhibits are capable of spreading faster and causing more severe diseases or preventing vaccines from being administered.

Is the variant known? 

This variant was spotted so far in South Africa, Botswana and Hong Kong as well as Israel, Israel, and Belgium. 

The majority of cases were found in Gauteng in North East South Africa, where Johannesburg is located.

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.

In the UK, no cases of Covid have been reported. However, scientists don’t sequence all positive Covid samples in the UK. Not everyone who gets the virus will be tested.

The variant could also be spread to people outside of Britain.

What can the UK do about this variant?

Last night the Health Secretary declared that six additional countries will be included in the red list starting Friday, November 26, at 12 noon.

Red-listed countries include South Africa, Botswana Eswatini Lesotho Namibia, Botswana and Botswana. All direct flights between these countries and the UK will be banned.

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.

Anybody arriving in these countries after Sunday 4am must be kept for 10 days at a quarantine hotel. They will also need to take the Covid test within the first day and another one on day 8.

B.1.1.529 was also classified by the UK Health Security Agency as a Variant Under Investigation. That means it is susceptible to 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. This person was travelling from South Africa to obtain the variant.

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

Two cases were confirmed in South Africa and two others in Hong Kong. Three in Botswana have also been confirmed.

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 as a lingering illness in an immunocompromised person, perhaps someone suffering undiagnosed AIDS.

Because the immune system is weak, infections can persist for many months in patients who have weakened immunity. This allows the virus to evolve mutations which allow it to bypass the body’s defenses.

Can I feel protected by a booster?

Researchers have said that Covid vaccines could be 40% less effective due to the new strain.

They said that the emergence of the mutant version makes it more crucial to obtain a booster shot as soon as people are eligible.

You have the greatest protection possible against any new virus by having vaccines that trigger neutralizing antibodies. 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.’ 

What will be the next step in learning more information about this variant?

It is currently weeks before data on the transmissibility of this new variant and its impact on deaths and hospitalizations are available.

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?

One day after its discovery in Hong Kong, the strain was named scientifically as B.1.1.529.

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.