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Omicron now in 171 countries, will soon replace Delta globally: WHO

The omicron variant of Covid-19 has been identified in 171 countries, the World Health Organization (WHO) said.

In its latest technical brief, the global healthcare agency said Omicron is soon ready to replace Delta globally as a result of its immunity-stripping potential.

It stated that Omicron has been shown to have a significant growth advantage, higher secondary attack rates and a higher observed reproduction rate compared to Delta.

“As of January 20, the Omicron variant has been identified in 171 countries. The variant has quickly surpassed Delta in most countries, leading to an increase in cases in all regions.

“Omicron has a significant growth advantage over Delta, and it is rapidly replacing Delta globally,” the brief said.

The World Health Organization said there was “substantial evidence” to show that immune evasion is contributing to the rapid spread of Omicron.

However, the WHO said further research is needed to better understand the relative contribution of inherently increased transmissibility and immunosuppression to explain transmission dynamics.

Although the infection caused by the highly contagious strain has been hailed as mild, WHO said current evidence shows that the overall risk related to Omicron remains very high and its spread in the community is much greater than under previous Covid variants.

Despite a lower risk of serious illness and death after infection than previous SARS-CoV-2 variants, the very high levels of transmission have also resulted in significant increases in hospitalizations.

It continues to place overwhelming demands on health systems in most countries and can lead to significant morbidity, especially in vulnerable populations, the global health agency said.

The WHO also found “evidence that the Omicron variant infects human bronchial tissue faster and more effectively than Delta”.

However, it has shown a predominance of viral replication in the upper respiratory tract, in contrast to Delta.

In addition, the technical brief also noted the increasing presence of Omicron variants.

While the BA.1 genus has previously been the most dominant, recent trends from India, South Africa, the UK and Denmark suggest that BA.2 is on the rise, the WHO said.

It added that the drivers for transmission and other features of BA.2 are under investigation but remain unclear to date.

“Studies are needed to better understand the properties of BA.2, including comparative assessments of BA.2 and BA.1 for key characteristics such as transmissibility, immune release and virulence,” the WHO brief said. IANS

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