Three syllables spreading panic around the world. Omicron, the name of the new variant of Covid-19, was classified by the World Health Organization on Friday as “of concern”.

The Omicron variant was identified in South Africa in the middle of the week, and has already been spotted in several European countries. “We can fear that this variant is at least as infectious as a delta,” Health Minister Olivier Veran responded this Sunday. Can an omicron replace a delta variable? Is it more ferocious? And should we expect another turn of the nail from the health authorities? 20 minutes This new variant measures.

Where is the Omicron variant traded?

“The B.1.1.529 variant was first reported to the World Health Organization in South Africa on November 24,” the WHO said. It has been highlighted by a team from the Krisp Research Institute, with support from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, already at the origin of the discovery of the Beta variant. Jean-Francois Saluzzo, a virologist at the World Health Organization, said that an event is “predictable, as a variant can only be born when it can be extensively generalized”. However, in Africa, there is practically no immune barrier due to vaccination, so it is logical “that this variant left from South Africa. But before that, cases were detected in Hong Kong and Botswana.

And quickly, Omicron spread. At the end of the week, cases were detected in Belgium, Great Britain, Germany, Italy and the Czech Republic, in travelers returning from South Africa or neighboring countries in South Africa. The health authorities announced, Sunday, in the Netherlands, that among the 61 passengers who left South Africa and tested positive for the Covid-19 virus when they arrived in Amsterdam on Friday, there were 13 carriers of this type. Two cases were identified in the same circumstances in Australia, as well as one case in Israel.

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Is it already in France?

“Once it has been circulated among our neighbors, it is likely that it is already circulating at home,” the health minister said on Sunday during a trip to one of the vaccination centers in the capital’s 18th arrondissement. But he clarified that “so far, this type of variant has not been identified on national territory, but it is very likely that it will be a matter of hours.”

On CNews, a government spokesperson, Gabriel Attal, announced “possible cases” in France. “We are still in the triage stage. We have many potential cases. Dozens.”

Is this alternative to Omicron more virulent and does it cause specific symptoms?

Dr. Angelique Coetzee, president of the South African Medical Association, which has treated about thirty patients with this type, notes that this causes “different and milder symptoms.” For most men under the age of 40, just under half have been vaccinated. In addition to “extreme fatigue”, she told AFP, they had muscle aches, a dry cough, an “itchy throat” and no loss of taste and smell. or “Clinical picture inconsistent with delta”.

This alternative shouldn’t be a major concern, according to Dr. Coetzee. “So far, even patients we’ve seen who haven’t been vaccinated have had mild symptoms,” says Dr. Coetzee, convinced that a lot of people in Europe have [déjà] This virus.” The Minister of Health added on Sunday that “the new alternative does not mean a new wave or a more dangerous variable.”

Is it more contagious or resistant to Covid vaccines?

If Omicron is classified as worrisome by the World Health Organization, it is because it presents a “very unusual constellation” of about thirty mutations, the “largest number of mutations we have seen so far”, as Professor Musa Mushabella, an official, explained to AFP. Research and Innovation at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. and “Some of the previously expressed mutations have been shown to allow the virus to spread easily and rapidly.”

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And based on some cases of re-infection “more than in previous waves”, it is possible that this variant could escape immunity, which the researcher fears, which could reduce the effectiveness of vaccines. Hence the need to “check whether the antibodies produced by our current vaccines are still working, at what level they are working and whether this still prevents serious cases,” as Vincent Enoff described it.

For their part, manufacturers of Covid-19 vaccines AstraZeneca, Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Novavax announced that they are confident in their ability to fight the Omicron strain. The German laboratory BioNTech, which is allied with Pfizer, expects the first results “at the latest within two weeks”.

Is there a way to stop the spread of this alternative?

Even if pollution numbers remain low in South Africa, the Omicron variant has already become the dominant strain there, before Delta. Therefore, without delay, on all continents, especially in Europe, many countries have already suspended flights from South African countries including South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Mozambique or even Zambia and Angola.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen responded on Sunday to a “race against time” against alternative Omicron. But “it’s almost too late,” Judge Vincent Enoff, deputy director of the National Respiratory Virology Reference Center in India. Pasteur Institute. It is a measure that makes it possible to slow down the “expansion of a highly contagious variable” but will not make it possible to stop it completely.”

The United States, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Morocco have also suspended their relations with these countries. From Tuesday, the UK will tighten entry procedures into the territory.

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Should we expect new health restrictions in France?

In France, less than three weeks before the Christmas holidays, many people fear a screw-up from health authorities due to Omicron. Assumptions at present swept away by the Minister of Health. Olivier Veran emphasized: “Whether there are one, two or ten cases of people infected with this type in Europe, or even in France, it does not affect the picture of the epidemic wave that we are witnessing.”

“What we want is to curb the circulation of this alternative,” the minister added, while France announced on Saturday “isolating contacts with even vaccinated cases.” However, the new alternative “does not change the situation in our strategy”, which is based on the widest possible vaccination coverage, recalls Olivier Veran: “The more we are protected by the vaccine. […] And the more we slow the wave.”

A situation shared by the World Health Organization, where vaccination remains essential, as does poor countries’ access to vaccines. “The more the virus spreads, the higher the chances of it evolving and the more mutations we see,” warned Maria Van Kerkhove, a WHO official.


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