Woman visits multiple sites on central NSW coast before testing positive for Omicron Covid variant

What is so concerning about the variant?

Experts say it is the “worst variant they have ever seen” and are alarmed at the number of mutations it carries.

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 fear the changes will make vaccines 40% less effective at best.

This is because so many of the changes on B.1.1.529 are on the peak protein of the virus.

The current harvest of vaccines prompts the body to recognize the peak version from older versions 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 prompts the body to recognize the spike protein version of older versions of the virus. But mutations can make the spike protein so different that the body’s immune system has trouble recognizing and fighting it. And three of the advanced mutations (H665Y, N679K, P681H) help it more easily enter body cells. Meanwhile, it lacks a membrane protein (NSP6) that has been seen in previous iterations of the virus, which experts say could make it more infectious. And it has two mutations (R203K and G204R) which have been present in all of the variants of concern so far and have been linked to infectivity.

But because the spike protein looks so different on the new strain, the body’s immune system may have a hard time recognizing and fighting it off.

It also includes mutations found on the Delta variant that allow it to spread more easily.

Experts warn they won’t know how more infectious the virus is for at least two weeks and may not know its impact on hospitalizations and deaths from Covid for six weeks.

What mutations does the variant have?

The Botswana variant has over 50 mutations and over 30 of them are on the spike protein.

He carries the P681H and N679K mutations which are “rarely seen together” and may make him even more jab resistant.

These two mutations, along with H655Y, can also make it easier for the virus to enter body cells.

And the N501Y mutation can make the strain more transmissible and has already been seen on the Kent ‘Alpha’ and Beta variant, among others.

Two other mutations (R203K and G204R) could make the virus more infectious, while a mutation absent from this variant (NSP6) could increase its transmissibility.

It also carries the K417N and E484A mutations which are similar to those of the South African “Beta” variant which made it more apt to dodge vaccines.

But it also has N440K, found on Delta, and S477N, on the New York variant – which was linked to a spate of cases in the state in March – which has been linked to the antibody leak.

Other mutations it has include G446S, T478K, Q493K, G496S, Q498R, and Y505H, although their significance is not yet clear.

Is this a variant of concern?

The World Health Organization has classified the virus as a “variant of concern,” the label given to strains at greatest risk.

This means that WHO experts have concluded that its mutations allow it to spread faster, cause more serious illness or interfere with protection against vaccines.

Where did B.1.1.529 first appear?

The first case was uploaded to the international GISAID variant database by Hong Kong on November 23. The person wearing the new variant was traveling to the country from South Africa.

The UK was the first country to identify that the virus could be a threat and has alerted other countries.

Experts believe the strain may have originated in Botswana, but mainland Africa does not sequence many positive samples, so it may never be known where the variant first appeared.

Professor François Balloux, a geneticist at University College London, told MailOnline that the virus likely arose in a persistent infection in an immunocompromised patient, possibly someone with undiagnosed AIDS.

In patients with weakened immune systems, infections can persist for months because the body is unable to fight them off. This gives the virus time to acquire mutations that allow it to bypass the body’s defenses.

Will I be protected if I have a booster?

Scientists have warned that the new strain could make Covid vaccines 40% less effective at preventing infection – but the impact on serious illness is still unknown.

But they said the emergence of the mutant variant makes it even more important to get a booster shot the minute people become eligible for one.

The vaccines trigger neutralizing antibodies, which are the best available protection against the new variant. So the more of these antibodies a person has, the better, the experts said.

UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid said: “The wake-up call was already big before we knew about this variant – but now it couldn’t be more important.”

When will we know more about the variant?

Data on the transmissibility of the new variant and its effects on hospitalizations and deaths are still weeks away.

The UK has offered assistance to South Africa, where most cases are concentrated, to gather this information and believes they will know more about communicability in two to three weeks.

But it can take four to six weeks before they know more about hospitalizations and deaths.

What is the variant called?

The strain was scientifically named B.1.1.529 on November 24, a day after it was spotted in Hong Kong.

Variants that have received an official name so far include Alpha, Beta, Delta, and Gamma.

Experts from the World Health Organization named the Omicron variant on November 26.

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