Scientists in the UK have identified an “invisible” version of a new variant of the coronavirus – omicron – The Guardian reported on Tuesday. As shown, this version is tentatively indistinguishable from other MERS-CoV variants by PCR assay. The researchers explained that at this point in time, it is not possible to predict whether the new version of the omicron will spread in the same way as the standard version.
Scientists use genome-wide analysis to confirm the type of coronavirus that caused the infection, as described in the British daily The Guardian, but the PCR test can sometimes give a clue. About half of the PCR machines in the UK are looking for three viral genes, but the omicron, like the alpha variant, tests positive for only two of them. This is because the omicron, like alpha, has a genetic change called a deletion in the spike gene. Detection of this deletion by PCR indicates that it is an omicron variant. The new version, however, does not contain this change, so scientists informally called it the “invisible omicron”.
The “invisible” version of omicron
The “invisible” version shares many mutations with the standard omicron, but lacks a specific genetic change that would allow the use of a PCR-type assay to distinguish the virus as a potential omicron variant and subject it to full genetic sequencing to confirm it. The Guardian explained that this version is still detected as a corona virus through all standard tests, and it can be identified as an omicron by genetic sequencing, but the discovery of possible cases through a polymerase chain reaction test has accelerated the identification of the omicron variant.
The researchers point out that it is too early to predict whether the new version of the omicron will spread in the same way as the standard version, but they say it is genetically distinct and may behave differently.
This copy was first spotted among coronavirus samples shipped in recent days from South Africa, Australia and Canada, but it may already be spreading further. Of the seven cases identified so far, none have come from the UK. The discovery of a new form of omicron prompted researchers to divide the line B.1.1.529 into a standard omicron, referred to as BA.1, and a newer variant – BA.2. There are two lines within the omicron, BA.1 and BA.2, which are completely genetically different. These two lines might behave differently – the professor thinks. François Ballou, Director of the Institute of Genetics at University College London.
One of the main unknowns is how the new version was created. Although it is still classified as an omicron, it is so genetically distinct that if it spreads rapidly, it could be considered a variant of concern. According to the researchers, it would be troublesome to produce two separate copies, BA.1 and BA.2, with a rapid pace of joint mutations, the journal writes.
Variant of the new Corona virus in the United Kingdom
Meanwhile, the UK Health Safety Agency (UKHSA) on Tuesday announced another 101 cases of Omicron variant coronavirus, which have been confirmed in the UK. In total, 437 have already been discovered in the UK, of which 333 are in England, 99 in Scotland and five in Wales. On Monday, Health Minister Sajid Javid said in the House of Commons that new cases were no longer limited to those returning from abroad, but broadcasts were also taking place locally.
With the number of infections increasing, members of the government received updated information on the situation on Tuesday morning. A spokesman for Boris Johnson said: “The prime minister said it was too early to draw conclusions about the properties of Omicron, but according to preliminary indications, the transfer is easier than the transfer of the delta.”
He added that it is also too early to determine whether the new alternative has greater immunity to vaccines and whether it causes more serious disease. The spokesperson also said ministers had not discussed whether to introduce a virus “Plan B” for the winter, which would reimpose more restrictions. Due to the new variant, the obligation to wear masks in shops and public transport has been restored, in addition to conducting pre-arrival and PCR tests upon arrival.
“Social omicron infection”
The omicron variant is also spreading to other European countries. “We now have community-wide infection using the omicron variant,” Annette Lake Petrie, director of the Danish Patient Safety Authority, told reporters. Denmark has so far recorded 398 cases of Omicron.
Denmark’s Minister of Health, Magnus Heuneck, announced on Tuesday that he had tested positive for the coronavirus and was being quarantined in his hotel room in Brussels, where he is due to meet European Union health ministers. Hyunick, 46, wrote on his Facebook account that he contracted the infection despite receiving two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, but had “mild symptoms, mostly a sore throat.” “I had to cancel (attend) the ministerial meeting, and now I’m waiting for my immune system to take care of the rest,” the minister wrote.
According to information from his ministry, Heunicke used the Copenhagen metro and regional trains in the last days before coming to Brussels, and on Friday attended his ministry’s Christmas dinner.
Main image source: PAP / EPA / NEIL HALL
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