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Will omicron outperform delta? It’s a question for scientists

Scientists who were part of a network that was the first to sequence the omicron variant are watching to see if the coronavirus variant will dictate the course of the pandemic.

Will future variants stem from your lineage, or will other variants displace it?

Initial findings in South Africa, where omicron is driving the fourth wave of infections, show that the new variant is easily transmitted and has largely outpaced delta, which had declined after an intense third wave of infections in mid-2021.

That means that, in South Africa at least, omicron is likely to form the basis from which new mutations emerge, said Richard Lessells, an infectious disease specialist at the Durban-based KRISP genomics institute.

“The jury is still out on whether the omicron variant will replace delta worldwide,” Lessells said in an interview Tuesday. “Or if delta is still evolving in some way and then we’ll see this kind of co-circulation.”

The omicron discovery was announced by Tulio de Oliveira, director of KRISP, at a state press conference held on November 25.

Scientists, including Lessells, a close associate of De Oliveira, are conducting a series of tests to better understand the risks of omicron, and its importance will only be known in the coming weeks.

The other possibility is that, like omicron, “something comes out of nowhere, that does not come from any of these variants, but that again has different properties. These are all things that we must take into account, ”he said.

In South Africa, where it is estimated that at least 70% of the country’s 60 million inhabitants have been exposed to COVID-19 during the last 18 months and around 26% have completed their vaccination schedule, the symptoms of the variant omicrons have been lighter than previous variants. That may not be the case in countries where the coronavirus has been less invasive.

This virus “just wants to survive, nothing more,” Lessells said. “So it is evolving to continue surviving now in the context of populations with high levels of immunity. It is the evolution of the virus in action ”.

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