No, it is not a character from the famous cartoon series Transformers. In fact, it is the latest COVID-19 variant with multiple mutations, named after the 15th letter of the Greek alphabet.
Since its revelation by South African scientists on November 25, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has dubbed Omicron as posing a "very high" risk globally.
Although many facts are yet to be known about the virus so far, here are some quick facts that you might want to know:
- It was first discovered in Botswana, and then in South Africa. In a matter of days, cases have been detected in Hong Kong, Spain, Austria, Canada, Belgium, Israel and the United Kingdom, among others.
- Many countries, including Malaysia, imposed travel bans to South Africa and its neighbouring countries, as a containment measure.
- According to scientists, the new variant has a "very unusual constellation of mutations" that may give it higher transmissibility and immune evasion.
- The mutations seen in Omicron are nothing like what scientists have seen in the Delta and Beta variants of the coronavirus.
- Omicron is suspected to spread very quickly, even faster than the Delta variant, as seen in the massive spike in the number of infections in South Africa since last week.
- WHO has said that it would take weeks for them to fully study and understand the new variant.
- Thankfully, no Omicron case have been reported in Malaysia yet. Nevertheless, Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin has urged continued vigilance and adherence to standard operating procedures from the public, and to get their COVID-19 vaccine booster shots.
- Scientists believe that the existing vaccines should be able to hold well against the new variant in preventing hospitalisation and severe disease.
- Despite this, several drugmakers, including Pfizer and Moderna, are already working on vaccines specifically targeting the new Omicron variant.
- Dr Angelique Coetzee, the first South African doctor who raised the alarm over Omicron, said that so far, she has attended to patients with the virus who has only displayed "extremely mild" symptoms, and did not require hospitalisation.
There is no need to panic, yet. At the same time, it is advisable to continue following the set COVID-19 procedures, in order to stay safe.
Source: AFP, CNBC
Photo source: The Guardian