What do we know about the Omicron variant?

Since the arrival of the delta, no new form of the virus has caused much concern on the planet. What do we know about this “disturbing” new alternative called Omicron? Journalism Ask the question to the experts.

Susan Colbronne

Susan Colbronne

Why is it “alarming”?

Because it has a greater number of mutations than the delta variant, some of them are considered “of concern” by the World Health Organization. “It could allow for increased transmission or escape from vaccination, but there’s nothing proven so far,” said Caroline Quach, a pediatric infectious disease specialist and medical microbiologist at CHU Sainte-Justine in Montreal. Another source of concern: The number of cases and the proportion attributed to this new variant is increasing very rapidly in South Africa, where it was first discovered on November 24. “Within two weeks, in parts of South Africa, up to 75% of all strains were sequenced. Progress appears to be very rapid,” explains Alan Lamarie, professor and researcher in immunology and virology at the National Institute of Scientific Research.

What is its effect on vaccines?

Currently, the effectiveness of vaccines against this new form of the coronavirus is under investigation. Pfizer and Moderna have begun testing vaccine resistance, but it will take a few weeks to see results. However, Moderna has already announced its intention to develop a specific booster dose for the new Omicron variant.

Can it replace delta?

“It might happen if it was more contagious, because it would spread more quickly and affect more people,” says Roxanne Borges da Silva, a professor in the University of Montreal’s School of Public Health. “It is not impossible,” adds Alain Lamarie, given what has been observed in the southern African region where cases have emerged. Most experts expected the next troubling variant to be the result of delta evolution, but the Omicron is an entirely separate breed.

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Is there a risk of reaching Quebec?

“Absolutely! There is no doubt that he will reach Quebec by international travel,” asserts the master.I Borges da Silva. One would have to live in a state of self-sufficiency, as New Zealand and Australia did at the beginning of the crisis, in order to have any chance of not being in the territory. But that seems impossible to me. It is best to put in place safety nets and screening tools, so that everyone is involved in managing their own risks. For his part, Alain Lamarie believes that this new alternative may already exist. “He may have been traveling in South Africa for more than three weeks. He has had time to spread to other places on the planet and is likely already in Canada,” he says. One case was reported in Hong Kong, one in Israel for a person returning from Malawi and another in Belgium.

Can we take cover?

Its appearance and spread in Canada can be slowed. “But if it becomes mainstream, we won’t be able to stop it from coming here,” says Alain Lamarie, who advises reactivating our monitoring mechanisms, including PCR assays. “There might also be a way to increase the coverage of the sequence a little bit more to make sure we don’t miss it,” he adds. And then, once we find it, if we find it, we have to be very quick to isolate and isolate people, and run PCR tests to confirm potential cases of those who are close to those detected. ”

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Should we adopt measures in anticipation of the holidays?

In the opinion of experts, we must remain vigilant and continue to respect health instructions. “There is a clear rise in the number of cases at the moment,” Mr. Lamarie recalls. It has yet to translate to more hospitalized patients and more deaths, but now is not the time to let our guard down. To those planning to meet during the holidays, mr.I Da Silva advises opening the windows for 10 minutes, every hour, to change the air, and trying as much as possible to keep your distance. “What has to be remembered is to remain vigilant, but do not panic, it sums up. We must also be precautionary, for example by deploying rapid tests as quickly as possible to prevent infection.”

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