NEWS DIGEST 05.12.2021: The Omicron variant in news

Good morning. This Sunday our news is from NewsNow and covers the topic of the new Omicron coronavirus strain that has started becoming widespread across the globe. Stay safe!

For the past week virologist Sarah Palmer and her colleagues at The Westmead Institute’s Centre for Virus Research in Sydney have been working overtime to unlock the secrets of COVID-19’s Omicron variant. Like detectives solving a crime, Professor Palmer and post-doctoral fellow Eunok Lee have gathered evidence from a collection of Omicron sequences taken from patients across the globe since November. Catch up on the main COVID-19 news from December 5 with a look back at our blog “Omicron includes a spike protein mutation that makes it more infectious, but also includes a mutation on the spike protein that may allow it to reduce vaccine effectiveness,” Palmer says. How worried should Australians be? With Omicron now found in 40 countries, including Australia where cases have hit the teens, the seriousness of Palmer’s investigation requires little elaboration. The speed with which South Africa passed on its knowledge of Omicron has been helpful but Palmer points out there is still no confirmation that it originated there – As COVID’s Omicron variant spreads, an Australian research team is ‘very concerned’ about discovery on its origins (ABC News)

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The South African Medical Research Council has published the first clinical report on hospitalized patients since the advent of the Omicron variant. The report from early experience with Omicron describes the profile of patients at the Steve Biko / Tshwane District Hospital in Pretoria, in the heart of the Tshwane district. “It is essential to recognize that the patient information presented here represents only the first two weeks of the Omicron wave in Tshwane. The clinical profile of the admitted patients may change significantly in the next two weeks, and until then we will be able to draw conclusions about the severity of the disease with greater accuracy,” the authors of the report said. Thirteen patients were dependent on supplemental oxygen, of whom 9 were diagnosed with COVID-19 pneumonia based on a combination of symptoms, clinical manifestations, CXR, and inflammatory markers. “At the beginning of the three previous waves and in the course of these waves, there were always only a few patients in the room air in the COVID ward, and these patients were usually in the recovery phase and waiting for concomitant disease to resolve before being discharged. The COVID ward was recognizable by the fact that most patients were on some form of oxygen therapy with the continuous sound of high-flow nasal catheters or the beeping alarms of ventilators.”First Clinical Information on Omicron from South Africa is Encouraging (novinite.com Sofia News Agency – Society Β» HEALTH)

As our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, at this stage the Prime Minister can do no more than the rest of us – cross his fingers. Results of a trial published in the medical magazine The Lancet last week suggest booster jabs ‘massively’ strengthen the body’s defences against Covid. Which is why ministers are already splashing out big time on a hundred million doses of a fourth inoculation, the idea being to ‘future proof’ the lot of us. Back to mainstream politics, ministers have also been doing their stuff to make sure they didn’t lose last week’s by-election in Old Bexley and Sidcup. Ministers face more trouble this week over the migrant crisis/non-crisis, depending on your point of view. Unlike, going back to where this piece started, what we’ve been getting from ministers grappling with the Omicron threat. Commentators have been deliberating endlessly about whether it’s appropriate for ministers to use an informal term like ‘snog’ – Are we Nearly There Yet? (The Malestrom)

Covid-19 coronavirus: Why one expert says Omicron variant ‘may signal the end of Covid’ – NZ Herald. Dr Richard Friedland is CEO of the Netcare Group, which operates South Africa’s largest private healthcare network, including more than 50 hospitals. “If we can get a variant that overtakes Delta that doesn’t cause severe illness, I think we’ll be dealing with a flu-like pandemic,” he said. For now there is a dearth of solid data on the Omicron variant. The World Health Organisation swiftly declared it a variant of concern, based on preliminary evidence that it spreads more quickly than other strains. “Some variants of concern eventually turned out to be not as severe as feared, and so were no longer classified as a variant of concern” “We are monitoring the evolving situation overseas and working closely with the WHO. We have very strong networks with medical and scientific experts around the world, and we are learning about this new variant in real time” “Preliminary evidence indicates that Omicron may only lead to mild symptoms among most people who contract it.” There is no evidence to date that the vaccines Australians have been given are any less effective at preventing severe illness, hospitalisation or death from Omicron – Covid-19 coronavirus: Why one expert says Omicron variant ‘may signal the end of Covid’ (nzherald.co.nz – World)

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