Omicron Ain’t Your Mother’s Coronavirus
The Omicron variant of Covid — 19 was reported by Dr. Angelique Coetzee in Pretoria, South Africa on November 18. A stream of coronavirus-positive patients in their 20s and 30s with intense prolonged fatigue with headache and no loss of smell or taste. Dr. Coetzee recognized several likely conclusions:
- Omicron had broken through the hammerlock of the dominant Delta variant, at least in Pretoria, indicating increased infectivity.
2. Omicron presented without the hallmark symptoms — loss of smell and taste — of all previous Covid-19 variants, representing changing function.
3. A few of the patients had been vaccinated, raising the prospects of vaccination failure.
4. Cases had risen from 200/wk. to 2000/wk. Omicron could be the start of a new surge.
She alerted the public health department, who confirmed all her suspicions and notified the World Health Association.
Omicron has thirty-two major mutations, most found in the areas affecting the “spike protein” which the virus uses to attach to human cells and create the infection. The same spike protein that our vaccines, monoclonal antibodies, and convalescent serum target to fight Covid-19.
The billion-dollar question is what the symptoms of severe fatigue and headache in a twenty-year-old become in a senior citizen or other high-risk patients? Is this the real society collapsing variant — many serious infections collapsing the healthcare system, and then the economy.? Or are we morphing towards the bothersome endemic virus, with similarities to influenza?
Should we quake with fear? Or just stock up on Kleenex?
The 2003 SARS epidemic killed 10% of patients; the 2014 MERS epidemic killed nearly 30% (camels as a reservoir so went nowhere), and South Africa has yet to report one death.
We have seen spike mutations before. The Beta and Lambda variants, both from South Africa, had highly infective spike mutations but failed to establish a foothold against the Delta variant, which reproduced more efficiently and simply crowded out the other virus.
The likelihood is our vaccines are either fully or partially effective. If not, we can modify the present vaccine in weeks, and produce them through a supply chain that can produce doses by the billions.
We very painfully learned the correct playbook for this event over the last two years. Dr. Coetzee knew what to look for, the South African authorities selflessly declared an emergency, knowing full well they would bear the economic consequences. Covid testing and sequencing were readily available, patients and travelers could be tested, and air travel promptly curtailed. Make no mistake, Omicron is already here. The air travel ban slows down the velocity in which it is introduced at multiple locations, and buys us time.
In the meanwhile, ventilation, masking, and social distancing prevents exposure. Covid physical properties remain similar to smoke or air pollutants. Manage your local air quality and Omicron/Covid-21 is just another coronavirus.
There are Five Million Dead from COVID-19
In comparison, in 2018, the Chinese physicians had no playbook, the Chinese government suppressed medical communication, testing was barely available, and China continued to let planes full of infected people leave China while restricting 1,000 flights per day inside China. They only had an epidemic in Wuhan while the rest of the world took flame.
The virus will cross every border, but travel restrictions will gain us time. Science is on the march; I am confident solutions will be found.