The Emergence of a New COVID-19 Variant: Omicron
The Emergence of a New COVID-19 Variant: Omicron
  • Reporter Song Geun-seok
  • 승인 2022.01.07 00:38
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▲Omicron, a new COVID-19 variant / Dongascience
▲Omicron, a new COVID-19 variant / Dongascience


Entering 2022, it has been two years since the COVID-19 pandemic broke out. For two years, there have been so many changes in our lives, and things such as wearing masks outside, writing a visitor log, or being aware of the number of people in gatherings, are now parts of our daily routine. With the development of COVID-19 vaccines in the middle of 2021, people hoped that the pandemic would be eased and go back to those normal days. However, for now, the pandemic seems to persist longer with daily confirmed cases still rising and new variants emerging, including Omicron.
The new COVID-19 variant Omicron was confirmed in Botswana, a South African country, in Nov. 2021. The new variant has drawn attention  all around the world for being extremely contagious, as it spread around Africa and Europe in a very short time. Experts have stated that Omicron’s spread rate overwhelms that of any previous variants, including Delta which caused the fourth COVID-19 wave in South Korea in July 2021. In addition, it has been argued that the effectiveness of current vaccines would decrease significantly in treating Omicron as its characteristics are revealed.
Structurally on a virus, there are membrane proteins called spike proteins which behave like spikes to attack and enter the human body. For Omicron, 32 mutations have been found in this part, of which 15 are identified as mutations at the receptor binding sites, where the first contact between human and virus is made. Also, parts related to the vaccine’s antibody neutralization are mutated in 19 places. Thus, there has been analysis that Omicron has evolved to avoid the immune function of the vaccines, as the vaccination process expanded around the world. In fact, some of the major vaccines, such as the ones made by Pfizer and Moderna, have been reported to have significantly decreased effects in preventing infection. Experts say they remain unsure whether booster shots may ease the problem, but fast action is in need.
According to Angelique Coetzee, a South African doctor who first identified Omicron,  that the symptoms include fatigue and headaches, but were generally milder than previous variants. She reported that the patients did not experience loss of senses or any serious symptoms. However, she warned that more data has to be collected to be more certain.
The South Korean government decided to tighten border controls on Nov. 28, 2021, such as inhibiting foreigners entering from nine countries, including Nigeria, and implementing 10-day quarantine regulations for any Korean citizen entering its borders. However, the first case in South Korea was confirmed on Dec. 6, 2021, and the cases and daily COVID-19 confirmed cases are rising, signifying the fifth COVID-19 wave. 
Meanwhile, the emergence of Omicron has sparked the global vaccine imbalance problem between rich and poor countries. As new variants are emerging from relatively poor countries in South Africa, there has been criticism that such variants stemmed from vaccine imbalance, that the world would not be able to escape from the pandemic unless this problem is solved. In fact, the vaccination rate in South Africa is still less than 10%, while Europe and the U.S. are approximately 70% and 60%. Also, due to Omicron, it is worried that rich countries may disrupt the supply of vaccines in poor countries.