Outbreaks of the Ominous Omicron

Matt Jones, Contributor

Outbreaks of unique strains of the coronavirus, like the delta variant, continue to cause international concern. One of the more recent mutations, the South African omicron variant, has caused organizations, like the World Health Organization (WHO) distress. The omicron variant was first spotted spreading rapidly through South Africa.

Currently, the WHO does not have much information on the omicron variant. However, it states that it, “has several mutations that may have an impact on how…easily it spreads or the severity of the illness that it causes.” Data taken from affected South African populations indicate that there might be an increased infection risk compared to previous coronavirus strains. Though, the WHO admits that there are several other factors that may have caused increased hospitalizations. Epidemiologists continue to observe and investigate the omicron variant.

After the WHO identified the variant in South Africa, many nations scrambled to secure their boarders from infection. Several international travel restrictions (including travel from the United States to South Africa) have been instated. However, due to the highly transmissible nature of the coronavirus, and the possible increased transmissibility of the omicron variant, it quickly spread internationally.

Omicron has reached many European countries, the United Kingdom, China, Japan, Mexico, the United States, and several other nations. This is especially concerning for the WHO when they consider the future of this virus. A secondary concern for the WHO is the possibility of omicron mutating and producing more severe symptoms. Initial data reports symptoms of the omicron variant are mild, amounting to runny noses and some coughing.

There are very few cases of omicron within the US. In the United Kingdom, however, the situation is much more dire. In the UK, the omicron variant is spreading rapidly, much like in South Africa, and infected patients consistently overwhelm UK hospitals. The first death from the omicron variant was recorded in the UK on Dec. 13, 2021.

Our students were surveyed regarding their concerns about omicron and the WHO.  71.4 percent of students polled reported that they are, “very concerned” about the spread of omicron. In an interview with junior, Alexander Bates, shared his concern that “it has been shown to be resistant towards the current COVID vaccines.” A study conducted by Discovery Health, South Africa’s largest health insurance firm, concluded that the omicron was indeed resistant to the Pfizer vaccine.
42.9 percent of students polled believe that the spread of omicron will result in a pandemic, and another national lockdown will take place.

When asked whether international travel restrictions should be extended beyond South Africa, 42.9 percent said they disagreed, while 28.6 percent said they agreed. The WHO is just as unsure about containment procedures, as the behavior of the virus is still being studied.

In the same omicron survey, students were asked to provide their feedback on this statement: The government is doing enough to prevent the spread of omicron.  57.1 percent were neutral about the statement, while 42.9 percent disagreed with it. A less common opinion among participants was for the government to instate more strict travel restrictions in order to combat international transmission of omicron.

However, the WHO believes these restrictions might not be enough to effectively stop a pandemic. In the UK, for example, even with travel restrictions to South Africa, omicron was still introduced into the English population. In other words, the travel restrictions came too late, and if more expansive travel restrictions had been instated, this may have delayed the arrival of omicron. In the end, it is hard to speculate over these repercussions but the good news is that the surge in omicron may only be only temporary- time will tell.  All in all, the hope is that more effective steps are taken to prevent another pandemic from happening.

“Update on Omicron.” World Health Organization, World Health Organization, 28 Nov. 2021, https://www.who.int/news/item/28-11-2021-update-on-omicron.

Lovelace, Berkeley. “Omicron Variant Cases Found in 25 States. Most Are Mild, CDC Says.” NBCNews.com, NBCUniversal News Group, 10 Dec. 2021, https://www.nbcnews.com/health/health-news/cdc-report-omicron-finds-first-handful-cases-us-mostly-mild-rcna8352.

Picheta, Rob. “Britain Battles Omicron ‘Tidal Wave,’ as Infections Rise and First Death from Variant Is Recorded.” CNN, Cable News Network, 13 Dec. 2021, https://www.cnn.com/2021/12/13/uk/uk-omicron-infections-tidal-wave-gbr-intl/index.html.

Wroughton, Lesley. “Omicron Variant More Resistant to Vaccine but Causes Less Severe Covid, Major South African Study Concludes.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 15 Dec. 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2021/12/14/south-africa-omicron-coronavirus/.