A Russian scientist has claimed that the latest Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) “variant of concern” could spell the end of the pandemic. The expert said the B11529 omicron strain’s multiple mutations work against it.
Dr. Anatoly Altstein put forward this claim in an interview with Moscow tabloid KP. The virologist at the Gamaleya National Center of Epidemiology and Microbiology – which developed the Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine – said it would take months before omicron becomes the dominant SARS-CoV-2 variant.
Despite this, Altstein said it remains unclear how infectious the new strain might be. The question of omicron causing more COVID-19 fatalities than the B16172 delta variant also remains unclear, he added.
“Right now, there are reasons to think that the omicron variant could be less pathogenic. We already see omicron has many mutations – more than 30 in a single gene of its spike protein. This is too many, and it means the virus has an unstable genome. As a rule, this sort of infectious agent becomes less dangerous because evolutionarily, an overwhelming number of mutations leads to a weakening of the virus’s ability to cause disease.”
If his argument holds true, Altstein said omicron infections would be fatal in only a small fraction of cases – and would become like other common seasonal infections.
“We shouldn’t be afraid that the omicron variant is spreading widely, but that it could turn out to be the most pathogenic variant, making infection worse.”
Altstein’s argument followed a less-than-dismal report about the omicron strain that contradicts the mainstream media’s fear-mongering narrative. South African Medical Association Chairwoman Dr. Angelique Coetzee said that the omicron variant only causes mild disease.
“It presents mild disease with symptoms being sore muscles and tiredness for a day or two. So far, we have detected that those infected do not suffer loss of taste or smell. They might have a slight cough, [but] there are no prominent symptoms. Of those infected, some are currently being treated at home.” (Related: Top South African doctor says COVID-19 omicron variant symptoms are “mild”.)
Countries close their borders to keep omicron out
First identified in South Africa, the omicron strain reportedly spreads faster than the earlier delta variant first identified in India. The omicron variant possesses 32 mutations in its spike protein alone, more than delta’s 13 to 17 mutations. The virus’s spike protein lets it latch onto human cells and multiply inside them.
However, many countries have moved quickly to close their borders in order to prevent the omicron strain from entering the country. Japan and Israel are two such nations that closed themselves off.
A Japan Times report said the Japanese government had announced a ban on incoming foreign travelers on Nov. 29. The ban, which will last for a month, became effective the next day on Nov. 30. However, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida clarified that Japanese nationals or foreign residents returning home would be exempted from the ban.
“This is a preventative, emergency measure to avoid a worst-case scenario. Research is needed to determine how contagious the omicron variant is globally. It’s crucial that we respond to the situation quickly and flexibly,” Kishida told reporters.
Israel also followed suit, announcing a ban on incoming travelers last Nov. 27. Returning Israelis – including those injected with the COVID-19 vaccine – would be isolated for three days. They would also be tested upon arrival and after the quarantine period, only being permitted to leave once a negative result is obtained.
Travelers coming from 50 “red” countries in Africa declared by the Israeli government would be subjected to a longer period of isolation and more frequent testing, the Jerusalem Post reported. (Related: Highly vaccinated Israel closes borders amid fears of the omicron variant spreading.)
“We are not taking any chances. We want to stop this early. We want to prevent or delay the entrance of this variant into Israel,” the country’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said. He added that Israel will “act fast, early, hard and strong” to keep Israelis safe.
Pandemic.news has more articles about the B11529 omicron strain.