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Omicron variant dominant strain in Malta

Omicron variant dominant strain in Malta

According to the health minister Chris Fearne, at least 67% of new COVID-19 cases registered in Malta are caused by the Omicron variant.

“Vaccination with booster doses remains vitally important,” said Chris Fearne in a tweet, urging the local population to get vaccinated with booster shots. The latest data from the health authorities shows that until Sunday evening, 227,648 people aged 18 and over had received their booster doses, representing more than half of the adult population.

At the same time, authorities are moving forward with the drive to vaccinate kids between the ages of 5 and 11. These children are receiving two doses, three weeks apart, which are a third of the adult dose.

Where did Omicron come from?

The Omicron variant was first identified by South African scientists, who reported it to the World Health Organisation (WHO). However, that doesn’t mean that Omicron started in South Africa. In fact, authorities in the Netherlands said retests of samples taken towards the end of November 2021 found that Omicron was already in the Netherlands before South Africa reported it.

It’s unclear where the variant actually emerged, and some countries may have spotted it earlier than others primarily due to the strength of their genetic sequencing networks by comparison to others.

Fast forward to 30 November, by which time the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control had confirmed no less than 33 Omicron cases across eight countries in Europe, including the Netherlands, Austria, Belgium, Czechia, Denmark, Germany, Italy and Portugal. It was also found in other areas of the world, ranging from Israel to Hong Kong.  

As the variant spread across the world, scientists raced to find out more. They were able to determine that Omicron evolved from a strain that was circulating in mid-2020, though they were not able to trace any intermediate versions, which they expected to find as Omicron morphed into its current form, reported NPR.

Therefore, where could it have come from, really? Scientists have three possible hypotheses, these being either an animal source, a spread in an unmonitored region or incubation in an immunocompromised person.

According to Trevor Bedford, a computational virologist and professor at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre in the US, it is possible that the mid-2020 strain infected an unknown animal population, mutated its spread among them and then started infecting humans again. The second theory is that the strain started circulating somewhere that has minimal monitoring and would allow the virus to evolve, undetected.

“Eventually, by the time you get to 2021, it’s picked up enough mutations that it has become much more transmissible and then kind of explodes onto the scene at that point,” he said.

Finally, the incubation theory. The virus may indeed have incubated and evolved inside a singe person – likely evading detection by health officials. Scientists have theorised that the virus may have mutated inside an immunocompromised person. “It creates this kind of cat-and-mouse game where the immune response is chasing and the virus is running,” added Bedford.

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