The hyper mutated Omicron variant of Covid-19 has now spread to about 89 countries, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Saturday. Omicron is a highly divergent variant with a high number of mutations, including 26-32 in the spike protein, some of which are concerning and may be associated with immune escape potential and higher transmissibility.
"As of December 16, 2021, the Omicron variant has been identified in 89 countries across all six WHO regions," the WHO said in its latest update. It added that there is "consistent evidence" Omicron will soon outpace Delta where community transmission occurs.
It is because "Omicron is spreading significantly faster than the Delta variant in countries with documented community transmission, with a doubling time between 1.5-3 days", WHO said.
The WHO also noted it is uncertain whether the observed rapid growth rate can be attributed to immune evasion, intrinsic increased transmissibility or a combination of both.
Moreover, on severity of Omicron, the UN health body stated that the data is "still limited".
However, hospitalisations in the UK and South Africa due to the variant continue to rise, and given rapidly increasing case counts, it is possible that many healthcare systems may become quickly overwhelmed.
Preliminary data suggest that there is a reduction in neutralising titres against Omicron in those who have received a primary vaccination series or in those who have had prior SARS-CoV-2 infection, which may suggest a level of immune evasion.
"There is still limited available data, and no peer-reviewed evidence, on vaccine efficacy or effectiveness to date for Omicron," the WHO said.
Meanwhile, preliminary findings from South Africa, the US and the UK and even China on Covid vaccines such as Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson and Johnson, AstraZeneca as well as Sinovac have shown vaccine ineffectiveness with two doses. However, a booster dose has shown to be much effective.