Omicron vs Delta: The battle of coronavirus mutants is critical

Omicron vs Delta: The battle of coronavirus mutants is critical

As the omicron coronavirus variant spreads in southern Africa and pops up in countries all around the world, scientists are anxiously watching a battle play out that could determine the future of the pandemic. Can the latest competitor to the world-dominating delta displace it?

Some scientists, poring over data from South Africa and the United Kingdom, suggest omicron could emerge the victor.

“It’s still early days, but increasingly, data is starting to trickle in, suggesting that omicron is likely to outcompete delta in many, if not all, places,” said Dr. Jacob Lemieux, who monitors variants for a research collaboration led by Harvard Medical School. “Certainly, it’s potentially alarming.”

But others said Monday it’s too soon to know how likely it is that omicron will spread more efficiently than delta, or, if it does, how fast it might take over.

“Especially here in the U.S., where we’re seeing significant surges in delta, whether omicron’s going to replace it I think we’ll know in about two weeks,” said Matthew Binnicker, director of clinical virology at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

Many critical questions about omicron remain unanswered, including whether the virus causes milder or more severe illness and how much it might evade immunity from past COVID-19 illness or vaccines.

On the issue of spread, scientists point to what’s happening in South Africa, where omicron was first detected. Omicron’s speed in infecting people and achieving near dominance in South Africa has health experts worried that the country is at the start of a new wave that may come to overwhelm hospitals.

The new variant rapidly moved South Africa from a period of low transmission, averaging less than 200 new cases per day in mid-November, to more than 16,000 per day over the weekend. Omicron accounts for more than 90% of the new cases in Gauteng province, the epicenter of the new wave, according to experts. The new variant is rapidly spreading and achieving dominance in South Africa’s eight other provinces…Read more>>