Why is this so troubling?

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.

It is due to the fact that so many changes in B.1.1.529 depend on spike protein.

The body recognizes the current vaccines as the original spike in 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. In the present vaccines, the body is able to distinguish the variant of the spike protein in older viruses. 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.

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. 

How many mutations is the variant susceptible to? 

Botswana has over 50 mutations, with more than 30 on the spike protein.

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

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.  

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 Q477K, T478K. Q493K. Q496S. Q498R. Y505H. Their significance, however, is unclear. 

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.

Experts at WHO have determined that its mutations can spread more quickly, cause severe illnesses and hinder vaccine protection. 

Is this where B.1.1.529 was first discovered?

On November 23, Hong Kong uploaded the first case to GISAID’s international variant database 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.  

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 is a University College London geneticist who told MailOnline that the virus probably emerged as a lingering infected patient with immunocompromised, or 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 the new strain of Covid could render vaccines 40% less effective in preventing infections. However, the effects on severe illnesses are still unclear.

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 the latest variant is to have neutralizing antibodies produced when vaccines are administered. Experts agree that the greater the number of antibodies, the 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 hospitalizations or deaths.

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.

Is this the name of the variant?

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.