Omicron variant cases spread and countries rush to impose travel bans


Based on early evidence seen in South Africa, the Omicron variant is transmitting faster than the Delta variant, says Salim Abdool Karim, an epidemiologist and former head of South Africa’s Ministerial Advisory Committee on Covid-19.

While little is known about the new variant and studies are underway, there are a few things that Karim says we can extrapolate and expect.

“Put very simply, this new variant, Omicron, has mutations that are common to the other four previous variants of concern. So it has mutations that are similar to the Delta variant. So we are expecting it to transmit faster,” he told CNN Monday. 

“And based on the early evidence we see in South Africa, it is certainly transmitting faster than the Delta variant. And based on what we have seen with the overlap of the Beta variant, we are seeing some evidence of immune escape from antibodies. There will probably be some partial escape. And that’s what we are expecting,” Karim added.

“The data for that to confirm exactly those points that I’ve raised probably will take another two to three weeks.”

Symptoms of this variant in patients are also harder to pin-point, he said.

Meanwhile, Karim heavily criticized new travel restrictions around the world as scores of nations have shut their borders for South Africa and other neighboring countries.

“It’s outrageous that South Africa and southern Africa is being punished for having good surveillance and ensuring we wanted to be completely transparent and to share this data with the rest of the world as soon as we knew it and confirmed it,” he said. “This kind of early knee-jerk reaction to block travel is probably just going to slow the seeding slightly at best but will probably have little, if any, impact.”

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