How Dangerous is Omicron and how is Africa prepared to deal with it.
Since a new variant of SARS-CoV-2, known first as B.1.1.529 and now named omicron, was first detected in South Africa, the continent has been through in to limbo.
It is now when and which country will be the next casualty after the variant had an unusually high number of mutations and appears to have triggered a recent surge in cases in South Africa.
According to experts, Omicron carries 32 mutations and that is why it is considered more dangerous and highly transmissible.
It was first detected on 23 November in South Africa using samples taken between 14 and 16 November.
The same day, the UK Health Security Agency (HSA) designated it a variant under investigation, triggering travel restrictions for people travelling to the UK from South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Namibia.
The World Health Organization had listed B.1.1.529 as a variant under monitoring, but its Technical Advisory Group on SARS-CoV-2 Virus Evolution decided on 26 November to class it as a variant of concern. The WHO has now named it omicron after the Greek letter.
According to Sharon Peacock, a researcher at the University of Cambridge, “The variant has a “very unusual constellation of mutations”, there are more than 30 mutations in the spike protein, the part of the virus that interacts with human cells.
More countries are now to shut the borders on certain routes or take other measures to restrict travel. This comes even as international travelers started to test positive for the new variant.
Researchers are now expressing concern about the new variant because they say it shows an "extremely" high number of mutations of the coronavirus.
While the number of mutations in the spike protein is not an exact indication of how dangerous a new variant is, it does suggest that the human immune system may find it harder to fight the new variant. There are indications that omicron can escape an immune response, leaving people at a greater risk.
And what does this mean to Sub-Saharan Africa?
Scientists worried that the restrictions like closing of borders by other neighboring countries would discourage other nations from reporting variant cases, out of fear of being slapped with travel bans.
Border closures have provoked debate during a succession of public health crises, including the Ebola outbreak in 2014, with global health officials warning that such bans can interrupt the flow of medical supplies and do economic damage that makes countries reluctant to report health threats.
As scientists continue to find the breakthrough for a possible vaccine, the continent, especially these that the variant has been detected should ramp up testing and vaccinations and help infected people isolate, especially given the difficulties they were already having containing the Delta variant.
There should also be a global effort, including with aid to southern Africa for their health systems and vaccination and variant-tracking efforts.