What you need to know about the Omikron variant

Can it be assumed that Omikron will completely take over the infection process?

Sibylle Anderl

Editor in the feuilleton, responsible for the “Nature and Science” department.

Joachim Müller-Jung

Editor in the feuilleton, responsible for the “Nature and Science” department.

Eva sleeper

Editor in the “Life” department of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sunday newspaper.

Lucia Schmidt

Editor in the “Life” department of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sunday newspaper.

Omikron has already become the leading variant on different continents. In some countries, Delta and other previously existing variants only occur sporadically. According to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, Omikron has been the leading variant in Europe since mid-January 2022. Professor Sandra Ciesek, Head of the Institute for Medical Virology at the University Hospital Frankfurt, explains that Omicron is different from a virological point of view than the previous variants due to its many mutations: “The vaccine optimized for the original SARS-CoV-2 virus protects less against infection with Omicron than was the case with Delta or other variants. As a result, many more people, even if they have been vaccinated, are again potential hosts for Omikron, even if they are less likely to become seriously ill after full vaccination.” So far, it has not been conclusively investigated whether an infection with the Omikron variant provides long-term protection against renewed omicron or delta infection. “If, for example, an omicron infection did not lead to long-term protection against Delta infection, it would be conceivable that unvaccinated people in particular could subsequently become infected with Delta. That would make it easier for variants like Delta to continue to circulate,” says Ciesek.

What do you know about the new subvariant of Omicron?

The Omicron sister variant BA.2 has been spreading for a few weeks and has now been detected in almost 50 countries – including Germany. Here, however, at just over 2.3 percent of the virus detections, the proportion is far behind the globally dominant omicron variant BA.1. In Great Britain, where three different sister variants of Omikron are now being closely observed, and especially in Denmark, BA.2 is now displacing the first Omikron.

Half of the soaring Danish case numbers are caused by BA.2. The Danish epidemic authority estimates a one and a half times higher infectivity than BA.1, but there is still no data to prove this. A comparison of contagions by the UK Health Authority shows: Vaccination and boosters work very similarly in BA.1 and BA.2, suggesting that immune escape is comparable despite some differences in mutations. Conclusion: It is still undecided whether the sister variant will take over the Omikron regiment.

Where are people getting infected right now?

Professor Bodo Plachter, head of virology at the Mainz University Medical Center, says that there is currently almost no data on this. Shopping in the supermarket is probably less of a problem, since the mask requirement is usually observed there and distances are observed. He sees a risk in the private sphere: “Where no masks are worn, for example at family celebrations, but also in restaurants, where there is a lot of laughter, loud talking and people sitting close together.”

How contagious is omicron in the fresh air?

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