Omicron ‘possibly dominant variant’ by end of January, Van Gucht says

Omicron ‘possibly dominant variant’ by end of January, Van Gucht says
Covid-19 test lab. Credit: Belga

An increasing number of coronavirus infections in Belgium are being linked to the Omicron variant, which could become the dominant strain by the end of January 2022, according to virologist Steven Van Gucht.

Currently, some 30 cases of the new Omicron variant – which was first reported by South Africa at the end of November – have been officially confirmed in Belgium. This is more than three times the number officially confirmed last week Saturday.

“Omicron adds uncertainty to this pandemic, and we should certainly not relax the measures too quickly,” Van Gucht stressed, although Belgium seems to have passed the peak of the fourth wave of infections.

The situation in the UK

Van Gucht emphasised that the Delta variant is responsible for the vast majority (up to 99%) of infections. However, he warned that the number of infections from the new variant is rapidly increasing. This is also the case in neighbouring countries such as the United Kingdom, where the total number of infections linked to the Omicron variant exceeded 800 on Thursday and are increasing by almost 3% per week.

The UK was later to implement strict measures in response to the new variant – among the new measures announced on Wednesday, face masks are now mandatory in most indoor public places. But Van Gucht expects that Belgium’s tighter restrictions should soften the impact of Omicron in Belgium.

He added that the Omicron variant is expected to be dominant in the UK by the end of January and that this will probably be the same for Belgium.

Omicron circulation and impact

Three clusters have been identified that link the circulation of the new variant to travel from foreign countries. These include Egypt, Turkey, Dubai and the Czech Republic. But another outbreak was linked to a student at a Flemish school who had no recent travel history, indicating that that the strain was already circulating in Belgium earlier than was previously thought.

The European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (ECDC) stated last week that the Omicron variant could be responsible for more than half of all Covid-19 infections in Europe within the next few months.

A total of 402 cases of the variant have been confirmed in the European Union, according to the latest ECDC update. However, the organisation emphasised that all those with the variant have so far either been asymptomatic or experienced only mild symptoms.

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Early reports from hospitals where patients infected with the Omicron coronavirus variant are being treated – mainly in South Africa where the variant is spreading quickly – also indicate that the variant is not as severe as other strains of Covid-19.

Van Gucht was careful not to understate the importance of the Omicron variant: he stressed that it still poses a significant threat and that more information about the variant is needed.

Meanwhile, research has found that three doses of the Covid-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech “effectively neutralise” the Omicron coronavirus variant.


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