The Latest on the Omicron Variant

A round-up of news about the new variant of the coronavirus.

Cases in Netherlands, Australia

Dutch health officials confirmed that 13 people who had traveled from South Africa tested positive for omicron, and Australian said two cases were identified in that country among people who arrived in Sydney from Africa, AP reported this morning. The Wall Street Journal reported that both of the Australian travelers were asymptomatic and fully vaccinated.

First case detected in Italy

Italy identified its first case of omicron variant from a traveler arriving from Mozambique, the Wall Street Journal reported

New York State requires booster availability

On Saturday, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul required New York state nursing home and adult care facility operators and administrator to make booster shots available to all residents of those facilities.

Israel tightens rules for travelers

Vaccinated Israelis had been required to take a coronavirus test upon landing and remain in isolation until receiving a negative result. The Times of Israel said new rules going into effect today required quarantining for 72 hours and take another COVID test on the third day after arrival. Unvaccinated travelers are now required to quarantine for at least a week, the newspaper reported.

Vaccine maker gearing up omicron booster strategy

Moderna issued a statement Friday afternoon that listed three steps it is taking to respond to omicron: testing a high-dose booster in clinical trials that might provide more protection, testing a booster that was designed to anticipate some of the mutations in the omicron, and “advancing” a booster that would be tailored to omnicron.

Not an offshoot of delta

Stat reported on Friday that the omicron is, somewhat surprisingly, not an offshoot of the delta variant. Because the delta variant has become so prevalent, scientists had thought that future “variants of concern” would stem from delta, the biotech website reported.

Ashish Jha: Answers to these 3 questions will be telling

On Twitter and in a New York Times op-ed piece today, Ashish Jha, dean of Brown University School of Public Health, said answers to these three three key questions will help researchers and public health scientists decide whether omicron is a major health threat or perhaps just another variant of virus of which there will be many. First, is it more transmissible (“the data, while early, look worrisome” Jha said); second, will it cause more severe disease (Eric Topol tweeted a link to story in The Telegraph, a British newspaper, that suggests that omicron may be less likely to cause severe disease than other variants,); and third, will omicron evade immune defenses from vaccines and prior infections (jury seems to be out on that).

Not this movie

WHO officials named the B.1.1.529 variant omicron after a letter in the Greek alphabet. Omicron is also the name of an 1963 Italian science fiction movie about an alien that takes over the dead body of an “earthling."