Omicron: Everything we know about the new Covid variant
independent– The World Health Organisation (WHO) has named the new B.1.1529 coronavirus variant omicron and designated it a variant of concern just weeks after it was first detected in southern Africa.
Scientists believe it could take months before we have a more complete understanding of the scale of the threat it poses.
What is known is that the variant, which descends from the B.1.1 lineage, is “unprecedented” and “very unusual” in the number of its mutations as it has 32 in its spike protein.
Where did omicron emerge?
The variant was first detected in Botswana on 11 November, where 19 new infections of the omicron variant have been found, as of Friday.
The country’s president Mokgweetsi Masisi said on Thursday that some of these first cases were in diplomats who had travelled to Botswana from Europe and elsewhere, without detailing which countries.
South Africa’s first case was spotted on 14 November, and the country reported the variant to the WHO on 24 November.
Professor Francois Balloux, the director of the Genetics Institute at University College London, said that the variant’s mutations are in “an unusual constellation” that “accumulated apparently in a single burst”.
He suggested that the variant might have emerged from an immunocompromised person who harboured the virus for a long period of time, “possibly in an untreated HIV/AIDS patient”.
How prevalent is omicron in the UK?
In the week after the first omicron cases were detected in England, the UK has discovered 150 infections in total.
Twenty-nine of the cases are in Scotland, where first minister Nicola Sturgeon said on Saturday that cases are no longer linked to a single event, but to several different sources including a Steps concert in Glasgow.
“This confirms our view that there is now community transmission of this variant within Scotland,” Ms Sturgeon said, warning that cases are expected to rise in the days ahead, “perhaps significantly”.
The first-known case in Wales was discovered on Friday, and Northern Ireland has said it expects to discover an instance of the variant in a matter of days.
How did omicron reach the UK?
According to health secretary Sajid Javid, the two cases initially found in England – in Brentwood, Essex, and in Nottingham – were “linked” and were traced to southern Africa.
While targeted sequence testing of other cases was launched in those areas, Mr Javid admitted that air passengers from South Africa who arrived in the UK last Friday were not tested, despite fears they could be carrying the omicron variant.
The travellers left airports in normal ways – including on public transport – and were only then asked to take Covid tests and to go into isolation if they tested positive, the health secretary said.
It means the UK does not know how many arrivals from South Africa were infected – after a staggering 10 per cent of people on one flight into the Netherlands tested positive for the omicron variant.
Where else are omicron cases being detected?
New infections linked to the omicron variant have been confirmed in at least 38 countries, including Belgium, Canada, Australia, the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, Israel, Italy, the Czech Republic and Hong Kong.
How transmissible and dangerous is omicron?
Urging countries on Friday not to panic, but rather to prepare for the likely spread of omicron worldwide, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said it would likely take another fortnight to establish how transmissible and dangerous the variant is.
While scientists believe it may be considerably more infectious than the delta variant, the UN health agency stressed that the data is still only preliminary.
The variant’s 32 mutations include E484A, K417N and N440K, which are associated with helping the virus to escape detection from antibodies.
Another mutation, N501Y, appears to increase the ability of the virus to gain entry to our cells, making it more transmissible.
In South Africa, where approximately 42 vaccine doses have been administered per 100 people, the WHO said there had been a 311 per cent surge in coronavirus cases in the last seven days of November, compared to the previous week.
South Africa is seeing more cases of re-infection than with previous variants, the health agency said, citing a microbiologist from the country’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases.
But despite cases of the new variant emerging in dozens of countries around the world, not a single death has yet been attributed to it, the WHO said.
Of the 150 cases identified in the UK, none are reported to have been hospitalised, although the UK Health Security Agency noted that the infections are recent and there tends to be “a lag between onset of infection and hospitalisation and death”.
“We need to be prepared and cautious, not panic, because we’re in a different situation to a year ago,” top WHO scientist Soumya Swaminathan said, suggesting that omicron could become the globally dominant variant, in the same way that delta now accounts for 99 per cent of cases.
Is omicron resistant to vaccines?
The spike proteins coating the Covid virus allow it to attach and gain entry to human cells. Vaccines train the body to recognise these spikes and neutralise them.
The 32 mutations in the omicron variant’s spike protein will change the shape of this defence structure and make the spike protein less recognisable to antibodies.
Antibodies then won’t be as strong in attacking the virus, which would then be able to slip past immune defences and cause infection.
However, WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan said on Friday that there was no evidence to back changing existing vaccines to tailor them to the new omicron variant, suggesting that the focus should be on distributing jabs more widely.
What are scientists saying about omicron?
Scientists have mixed opinions over whether or not we should be worried about the latest variant.
Dr Tom Peacock, a virologist at Imperial College London, warned that the variant could be “of real concern” due to its 32 mutations.
He wrote on Twitter that the variant “very, very much should be monitored due to that horrific spike profile” which could mean that it is more contagious than any other variant so far.
Meanwhile, Prof Balloux of UCL said that at the moment there is “no reason to get overly concerned”, and also said that “it is difficult to predict how transmissible it may be at this stage.”
Professor Andrew Pollard, of the Oxford Vaccine Group, said it is “extremely unlikely” to trigger a new wave in the pandemic in the UK.
Professor Calum Semple, who sits on the Sage advisory group, said: “The headlines from some of my colleagues saying ‘this is horrendous’ I think are hugely overstating the situation.
“Immunity from the vaccination is still likely to protect you from severe disease,” he said.
“You might get a snuffle or a headache or a filthy cold but your chance of coming into hospital or intensive care or sadly dying are greatly diminished by the vaccine and still will be going into the future.”
Dr Meera Chand, the Covid-19 incident director at the UK Health Security Agency, said that the status of new Covid variants worldwide is constantly being monitored at random and that a small number of cases with “new sets of mutations” were “not unusual.”
She explained: “As it is in the nature of viruses to mutate often and at random, it is not unusual for small numbers of cases to arise featuring new sets of mutations. Any variants showing evidence of spread are rapidly assessed.”
What is the UK doing to curb the spread?
Boris Johnson announced on Saturday evening that people will be ordered to wear masks in shops and on public transport in England from 30 November in response to the omicron variant.
The prime minister also said that contacts of omicron cases must isolate for 10 days. All international arrivals must also take a day 2 PCR test and isolate until they receive a negative result.
Mr Johnson told the press conference that the rules will be reviewed before Christmas in three weeks’ time.
Meanwhile, southern African nations have also been added to the UK’s red list for international travel.
South Africa’s health minister, Joe Phaahla, said travel restrictions placed on his country were “uncalled for”.
He claimed they would not prevent the virus’ spread and suggested regular testing and mask-wearing to prevent surges of infections.
Which countries are closing their borders?
While the WHO has repeatedly warned against implementing blanket travel bans except in nations whose health systems are unable to withstand a surge in infections, Japan, Morocco, and Israel have decided to shut their borders to all overseas citizens.
A number of nations, including the UK, US and some in the European Union, have placed restrictions on travel from nations in southern Africa.
The UK has added Botswana, Angola, Eswatini, Namibia, Lesotho, South Africa, Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe to its travel red list.
Australia announced a two-week delay to its plans to reopen borders to skilled migrants and students from 1 December.
In response to the various travel bans, the president of South Africa Cyril Ramaphosa urged nations to “urgently reverse” these decisions as they could spook economies.
The emergence of omicron is a wake-up call for the world to realise the impact of “vaccine inequality”, Mr Ramaphosa said, warning that further variants are inevitable until everyone is vaccinated.
How does overeating affect the immune system?
Overeating is a common problem that affects millions of people worldwide. While it is widely understood that excessive eating leads to obesity and other health problems, many people are unaware of the impact that overeating has on the immune system. In this article, we will explore how overeating affects the immune system and what can be done to prevent or mitigate the damage.
The immune system is the body’s defense mechanism against harmful substances and infections. It is responsible for identifying and eliminating harmful pathogens and other invaders that may cause harm to the body. When the body is functioning normally, the immune system works efficiently to keep us healthy. However, when the body is subjected to chronic stress, such as from overeating, it can become weakened, making it less effective at protecting the body against illness and disease.
One of the ways in which overeating affects the immune system is by increasing inflammation. Inflammation is a natural response of the body to injury or infection, but when it becomes chronic, it can have a negative impact on the immune system. Chronic inflammation is associated with a range of health problems, including heart disease, diabetes, and certain types of cancer. When the body is constantly exposed to high levels of glucose and other harmful substances as a result of overeating, it can lead to chronic inflammation, which can weaken the immune system and increase the risk of illness.
Another way in which overeating affects the immune system is by altering the gut microbiome. The gut microbiome is the collection of microorganisms that live in the digestive tract and play a crucial role in maintaining good health. When the body is exposed to a high-fat diet, the balance of gut bacteria can become disrupted, leading to the overgrowth of harmful bacteria and the suppression of beneficial bacteria. This can result in decreased gut function and reduced immune function, making it more difficult for the body to protect itself against harmful pathogens.
In addition, overeating can also lead to obesity, which is a major risk factor for a range of health problems, including heart disease, diabetes, and certain types of cancer. Obesity is associated with a range of physiological changes, including insulin resistance and the release of cytokines, which are signaling molecules that play a crucial role in the immune response. When the body is constantly exposed to high levels of cytokines, it can lead to a state of chronic inflammation, which can weaken the immune system and increase the risk of illness.
Finally, overeating can also affect the immune system by causing oxidative stress. Oxidative stress occurs when the body is exposed to an excessive amount of free radicals, which are highly reactive molecules that can cause damage to cells and tissues. When the body is constantly exposed to high levels of glucose and other harmful substances as a result of overeating, it can lead to oxidative stress, which can weaken the immune system and increase the risk of illness.
In conclusion, overeating can have a profound impact on the immune system. By increasing inflammation, altering the gut microbiome, causing obesity, and inducing oxidative stress, overeating can weaken the body’s ability to protect itself against harmful pathogens and other invaders. To maintain a healthy immune system, it is important to eat a balanced diet, engage in regular exercise, and avoid overeating. By taking these simple steps, you can help protect your immune system and reduce your risk of illness and disease.
Homelessness and mental illness are two intertwined issues that have a complex relationship. Homelessness can cause or worsen mental illness and, conversely, mental illness can contribute to homelessness. It is a vicious cycle that can be difficult to escape, and it is important to understand the ways in which these two issues are interconnected.
Homelessness can have a significant impact on a person’s mental health. Living on the streets can be a traumatic experience, with a constant fear of violence, theft, and disease. Homeless individuals often face stigma, discrimination, and a lack of privacy, which can lead to feelings of shame, hopelessness, and isolation. The stress and unpredictability of homelessness can trigger or exacerbate mental health problems, including depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Mental illness, on the other hand, can also contribute to homelessness. Mental illness can make it difficult for individuals to maintain employment, manage their finances, and maintain stable housing. Individuals with mental illness may struggle with accessing treatment and support, and the stigma and discrimination associated with mental illness can also contribute to feelings of shame and isolation. These challenges can lead to a cycle of homelessness and mental illness, where each issue exacerbates the other.
There is a need for a coordinated and comprehensive approach to addressing homelessness and mental illness. This includes providing safe and stable housing, access to mental health treatment and support, and addressing the underlying social determinants of health that contribute to homelessness, such as poverty, lack of education and job opportunities.
Housing First, a program that prioritizes providing permanent housing to homeless individuals before addressing any other issues, has been shown to be effective in reducing homelessness and improving mental health outcomes. This approach recognizes that stable housing is a critical foundation for addressing other issues, including mental health.
In conclusion, homelessness and mental illness are complex and interrelated issues that require a comprehensive and coordinated approach to address. Providing stable housing and access to mental health treatment and support is critical for breaking the cycle of homelessness and mental illness and improving outcomes for individuals experiencing these issues. It is important to continue to address the root causes of homelessness, including poverty and lack of access to education and employment opportunities, to reduce the prevalence of homelessness and improve outcomes for those experiencing it.
Improving Reception For Children With Cancer – Basque Family Support Association
The association “Tous avec Agosti” wants 2023 to rhyme with new dynamics. For nine years now, the structure has been working to welcome families of hospitalized children in Bayonne. Since 2018, 47 families have been able to find some respite in an apartment in Anglet.
Apartment in Anglet
Since she has benefited from an apartment in Anglet, the association “Tous avec Agosti” has enabled nearly 50 families of patients hospitalized at the Center Hospitalier de la Côte Basque to stay close to their loved ones. This represents 600 overnight stays, 47 families from 23 departments and even from Belgium and Spain. At the beginning of 2023, the structure has just had its prefectural approval renewed and sees things big.
“We have been working in our area for years,” notes Frédéric de Arroyave, the association’s president, but “in 2023, we will show ourselves much more, on the markets for example, but also in acts. The apartment we have in Anglet is a haven of peace for families going through terrible times, but for some it is difficult to access”. The apartment is located on the alleys of the Jardins d’Arcadie, near Biarritz – Pays Basque airport. We want to get closer to the Bayonne hospital.
The association “Tous avec Agosti” was born in 2015. Agosti, 10 years old, is suffering from cancer and taken care of at Bordeaux hospital for 6 months. His father, Frédéric de Arroyave, living in Ahetze, has the possibility of integrating a parents’ house and can stay with his child. Such a structure did not exist in Bayonne, so he launched the project and the association which lives today thanks to donations from contributors and the dozen (very) active volunteers. Each year, approximately 4,000 children are hospitalized in Bayonne.
This article is originally published on francebleu.fr
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