Omicron is a rapidly mutating COVID-19 variant succeeding the Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta variants. On 24 November, 2021 South Africa reported to the World Health Organization (WHO) the identification of B.1.1.529, a new SARS-CoV-2 variant. B.1.1.529 was first identified in samples collected in Botswana on November 11, 2021 and South Africa on November 14, 2021. On 26 November 2021, WHO designated the variant B.1.1.529 a variant of concern, and named it Omicron. Scientists were able to identify the variant thanks in large to its distinctive combination of more than 50 mutations. The first rapid surges of the variant were from South Africa. The rapid transmission of the variant has prompted governments all over the world to reintroduce containment measures to prevent the spread of the variant.
The Omicron variant has surged around the world, spreading faster than the original SARS-CoV-2 virus and the Delta variant. The rapid doubling rate of the Omicron variant is slowly but surely becoming the dominant variant in many countries. The Omicron variant can cause infections to people already vaccinated. This variant has been found to evade immunity with at least 70 per cent of people in South Africa with the Omicron variant have at some point survived COVID-19. The same case has been witnessed in the United Kingdom, where the risk of reinfection of Covid from the variant is about five times than other variants. This ability of the variant to evade immune defenses explains it’s rapid spread.
Are vaccines effective against Omicron variant?
Studies have shown that vaccines that were effective against other variants are less effective on Omicron variant, thus requiring fully vaccinated people to get booster shots. The variant mutations allow it to dodge some protective antibodies that are generated by COVID-19 vaccines. This does not mean that the variant evades vaccines entirely, rather the variant is somewhat resistant to vaccines.
How severe is Omicron variant?
Research shows that the incubation period, the time it takes for an infected person to show symptoms after being exposed, is shorter for Omicron than the previous variants. Whereas Omicron variant is highly transmissible, it appears to be less severe that other previous variants, according to studies. However, it’s important to note that severity of the variant depends not only on its own biology, but also on the biology of its host. The variant results in mild illness, with running nose, cough, fatigue and congestion as the most common symptoms. The severity of these symptoms differs in vaccinated and unvaccinated people.
Omicron variant in Kenya
Kenya confirmed the presence of the Omicron variant in the country on 15 December, 2021. The first three cases of omicron variant were detected among travelers; two Kenyans and a South African national. One of the travelers had travelled from South Africa, another one from Ghana, while the other had no recent international travel history.
Statistics and infections in Kenya
Since the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Kenya, the country has so far recorded 274,645 cases. Of this number 249,617 have recovered and 5,356 have died, while the rest are still active cases. Over 9.3 million Kenyans have been vaccinated against Covid. Of the small number of patients being admitted to various critical care units in the country, 67 per cent are not vaccinated against COVID-19. The Omicron variant has already overtaken the Delta variant as the predominant strain in Kenya.
Around 76 per cent of positive cases being recorded in the country are those of Omicron variant while Delta variant accounts for 18 per cent. The COVID-19 infection rate in Kenya has reached all-time high, with the positivity rate hitting 32.5 per cent. This implies that of all Covid tests done, a third turn out to be positive. This is way above the 5 per cent labelled by WHO as a high-risk positivity rate. The surge in the positivity rate in the country is largely attributed to the highly transmissible Omicron variant.
Thanks to this variant, Kenya is battling the fifth wave of COVID-19, which seems to have higher number of infections than the previous variants. Despite the high positivity rate and high number of infections, Kenya is seeing low rate of hospitalizations, oxygen requirement, ICU-HDU and deaths. Kenya is yet to reintroduce stringent measures like curfew and lockdown, despite numerous countries all over the world doing so.