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The Guardian view on the Omicron variant: caution needed | Editorial

We do not yet know how much of a threat it poses, but the pandemic has already shown it is better to act early

Hearts are sinking. Many had hoped the worst of the pandemic was over, enjoying a return to quasi-normality despite warnings that this winter could prove punishing. Now Covid cases are surging across Europe; rates are rising in the UK again after a half-term dip; and the new Omicron variant detected in South Africa is ringing alarm bells across the world.

At present we have a limited understanding of how much of a threat this variant poses, though the World Health Organization has classified it “of concern”. The fear is that its multiple mutations – 32 on its spike protein, the key it uses to unlock our body’s cells – could mean antibodies from previous infections or vaccination may not counter it so well. Scientists are also looking at its interaction with another aspect of the immune system: T-cells. A surge of cases in South Africa’s Gauteng province is increasing anxiety about its transmissibility. We do not yet know whether it may cause more severe disease. Dr Susan Hopkins, the chief medical adviser of the UK Health Security Agency, described it as “the most worrying we’ve seen”, while the health secretary, Sajid Javid, warned: “It may be more transmissible than the Delta variant and current vaccines may be less effective against it. It may also impact the effectiveness of one of our major treatments.”

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Read the original article at The Guardian

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