The Omicron COVID-19 Variant: Everything We Know So Far

It is safe to say the COVID-19 virus has been traveling a lot more than many of us have since the start of the pandemic. With so many variants developing, it can be difficult to stay on top of the reports of where a new strain of the virus develops and how quickly it spreads. 

Not so long ago, the world was faced with a new COVID variant referred to as the Delta variant. According to Yale Medicine, it was first identified in India, traveling through Great Britain before entering the United States. At one point, the Delta variant accounted for over 99% of the COVID cases reported in America.

It's too early to say for certain, but the US and the rest of the world could be facing a fresh wave of outbreaks with the most recent evolution of the COVID virus. According to the World Health Organization, a new strain of the coronavirus was announced as a variant of concern on November 26, 2021.

Research is in the early phases and there is little known about the Omicron variant

The new variant, B.1.1.529, has received the designation Omicron due to its status as a variant of concern. Currently, it is still unknown as to whether the Omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus infects individuals with more serious symptoms. In addition, it is still unclear whether it is easier or more difficult to transmit than previously identified COVID-19 variants, reports the World Health Organization.

Despite the fact that research on the recently identified variant is still in its early phases, governments around the world are already taking swift measures to ensure the safety of their citizens. According to ABC News, Japan has closed its doors to all foreign visitors, while other nations have started banning travelers from certain southern African countries. As of writing, the Omicron variant, which was first discovered by South African scientists, has been detected in Australia, Belgium, Botswana, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Hong Kong, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, and United Kingdom (via CNN).

Omicron has yet to be identified in America

So far, the Omicron variant has yet to be found in the United States. However, Chief Medical Advisor to the President Dr. Anthony Fauci believes it is only a matter of time. "I would not be surprised if it is," said Fauci when asked if he thought the virus could already be in the US (via CNN). "We have not detected it yet. But when you have a virus that is showing this degree of transmissibility[...] it almost invariably is ultimately going to go essentially all over."

With all of its variants, the COVID-19 pandemic may feel like it's dragging on. However, the continued evolution of the virus is no surprise to infectious disease specialists. "All viruses evolve over time and undergo changes as they spread and replicate," says Inci Yildirim, a Yale Medicine pediatric infectious diseases specialist and vaccinologist (via Science Alert). That said, there's currently no reason to panic about a potentially catastrophic wave of COVID infections. According to the World Health Organization, preliminary research on Omicron does not suggest that its symptoms would be different or more severe than previously identified strains.