Researchers in South Africa and around the world are engaging in various studies to understand the different aspects of the newly discovered Coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) variant, Omicron.

They are studying its transmissibility, clinical presentation, virulence, diagnostics, the effectiveness of vaccines against it, treatments, etc., and will continue to share their findings as and when they become available.

What is Known About Omicron (B.1.1.529) [Last Updated on 31st Dec 2021]

1. First detected: The B.1.1.529 variant of the SARS-CoV-2 (novel Coronavirus) was first reported to WHO (World Health Organization) from South Africa on 24th November 2021.

On 26th November 2021, the WHO classified this new variant as a 'Variant of Concern (VOC)' and  named it  'Omicron'. 

2. Change in the structure: This variant has a large number of mutations, some of which are concerning, including 50 mutations in the spike protein of the virus alone. 

3. Transmissibility: The WHO believes that Omicron is spreading at a rate that has not been seen with any previous variant. However, there are many questions unanswered about its growth rate and/or transmission.

According to a study conducted in South Africa, Omicron showed exponential growth over a 4-week period in Gauteng and spread with an estimated doubling time of 3.2 to 3.6 days. 

More such studies are been carried out in different parts of the world to collect more data.

4. The severity of the disease: At this moment, it is still unclear if infection by Omicron is more severe as compared to infection by the original SARS-CoV-2 virus and its variants, including Delta. 

According to the initial data, the reported infections with Omicron were among university students, and younger individuals presented with a milder form of the disease.

5. Diagnostics: The current SARS-CoV-2 PCR tests continue to detect infection with Omicron, as seen with other variants as well. 

Studies are ongoing to determine the reliability and effectiveness of other available tests, including rapid antigen detection (RAT) tests and the target genes/markers for PCR tests. 

6. Effectiveness of currently available COVID-19 vaccines and reinfection: As per the data reported, there has been an increased risk of reinfection with Omicron (i.e. people who were previously infected with COVID-19 could become reinfected more easily with Omicron), as compared to other variants of concern. 

However, the information available presently is limited and more information will become available in the coming days or weeks. 

WHO is coordinating with a large number of researchers and technical partners to understand the potential impact of this variant on the existing preventive and other countermeasures, including vaccines. 

However, vaccines still remain critical to reducing the severity of the disease and deaths.

Recommended Actions For The General Public

The most effective steps one can take to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus or its variants is to follow COVID-Appropriate Behaviour (CAB):

  • Maintain social distancing (at least 2 metres from others).

  • Stay indoors and communicate using online tools as much as possible.

  • Wear a well-fitting mask (preferably practice double masking in crowded areas).

  • Keep hands clean, wash or sanitize regularly.

  • Cough or sneeze carefully into a bent elbow or tissue (discard it safely).

  • Get vaccinated when it is your turn.  

Stay safe, smart and strong! 


1. 2021. Update on Omicron. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 29 November 2021].

2. CDC. 2021. CDC Newsroom. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 29 November 2021].

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