What has happened?
- The World Health Organization on November 26 declared the recently-discovered B.1.1.529 strain of COVID-19, first detected in southern Africa, to be a variant of concern and renamed it Omicron.
- The classification puts Omicron into the most-troubling category of COVID-19 variants, along with the globally-dominant Delta, plus its weaker rivals Alpha, Beta and Gamma.
Greek alphabet names
- All viruses mutate over time, including SARS-CoV-2, the virus which causes COVID-19 disease.
- During late 2020, the emergence of variants that posed an increased risk to global public health prompted the WHO to start characterising them as variants of interest, and the more-worrying variants of concern, to inform the response to the pandemic.
- The U.N. health agency decided to name the variants after the letters of the Greek alphabet, to avoid the countries that first detected them being stigmatised.
Why omicron declared as VOC?
- The change in classification came after a quickly-assembled virtual meeting of the WHO’s Technical Advisory Group on SARS-CoV-2 Virus Evolution.
- The variant was first reported to the WHO from South Africa on November 24.
- The first known confirmed Omicron infection was from a specimen collected on November 9.
- In recent weeks, infections in South Africa have increased steeply, coinciding with the detection.
- The ‘concern’ in VOC comprises three sinister properties – transmission efficiency, disease severity and escape from immunity cover of vaccination.
- “This variant has a large number of mutations, some of which are concerning,” the WHO said, pointing to worrying characteristics.
- “Preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this variant, as compared to other VOCs.”
- It said the number of Omicron cases appeared to be increasing in almost all provinces of South Africa.
- As for testing for the strain, the WHO added: “Current SARS-CoV-2 PCR diagnostics continue to detect this variant.”
- The WHO said it could take several weeks to complete studies of Omicron to see if there are any changes in transmissibility, severity or implications for COVID-19 vaccines & treatments.
- A top UK health official warned that vaccines would “almost certainly” be less effective against the new variant.
- Despite countries scrambling to ban flights, the WHO earlier cautioned against imposing travel restrictions due to Omicron.
- The organisation said countries should take a risk-based and scientific approach when considering travel curbs in light of the variant —but cautioned against restrictions.
- “At this point, again, implementing travel measures is being cautioned against,” spokesman Christian Lindmeier told reporters.
Stock market shock
- The benchmark indices at BSE and NSE fell sharply by nearly 3 per cent on Friday as concerns mounted over the new Covid variant.
- There was anxiety around US central bank likely to wrap up its stimulus programme and raise interest rates earlier than expected in the wake of rise in inflation.
- These factors led to a sharp outflow of funds from Indian stock markets resulting in the decline in indices.
- Over the last three trading sessions FPIs have pulled out a net of Rs 14,700 crore from Indian equities and thereby resulting in the sharp decline in indices.
- While the broad domestic economic fundamentals remain intact and markets may rise in the medium to long term, they are expected to remain under pressure over the coming weeks.
- Experts say that it should not bother investors too much.
- The long term investors should not sell their holdings in panic but only do so if their investment targets have been met and they are in need of funds.
- Besides Delta, Omicron and the three other VOCs, there are currently two lower variants of interest and below that, a further seven under monitoring.
- Delta, which is more transmissible than the original strain, is now overwhelmingly dominant around the world, having all but out-competed other variants.
- Of 845,000 sequences uploaded to the GISAID global science initiative with specimens collected in the last 60 days, 99.8 percent were Delta.
Q) Which among the following is the defining characteristic of living beings?
- They reproduce
- They can digest their food
- They respond to external stimuli
- They regenerate