Expert virologists have said that if the new variant is more infectious than the delta variant, it will become the second most contagious disease after measles.
“What we have always feared is a mutant that emerges which can spread faster than delta and which may have the characteristics of the beta which is more immune-evasive,” said the university virologist. from Sydney, Tony Cunningham.
“I think the risk here is that the international travel code could end with devastating effects on Qantas and the entire travel industry.
Professor Cunningham said the high number of mutations was surprising.
“It really belies the first thoughts we had that this is not a particularly mutant virus.”
“While it’s more transmissible than the delta, it’s approaching the second most transmissible virus we have, which is chickenpox. Number one is measles. delta was number three.
“But if omicron beats delta then it’s a real problem for the world.
Professor Cunningham said the effectiveness of the beta vaccine has increased from 90% to 60%.
“I don’t think we’ll get a complete loss of efficiency, but partial efficiency may mean it only lasts for a shorter period of time.”
He said modeling studies were underway to see if the variant could escape or partially escape these antibodies.
“That’s what’s going to happen over the next few weeks. That’s why people like (US Chief Medical Advisor) Tony Fauci and UK Chief Medical Officer of Health Chris Woody are saying – it’s going to take us a few weeks to fix this.
Professor Cunningham said he was unsure of the virulence of the variant. “It’s possible that the tip is a little loose, like the key in the lock, and that could mean it’s a little different in terms of illness.”
“This is the scenario we all want, is that if you don’t immunize the world, new variants will appear.”
WHO adviser and UNSW epidemiologist Mary-Louise McLaws said the fact that a case in Hong Kong was not selected for eight days meant a very careful approach was needed. She said the increased binding of omicron made it more transmissible.
“One can only hope that it will, that it will not be worse than delta because taking over from delta is simply breathtaking because delta is already 60% more contagious than alpha,” said Prof McLaws .
She said that if vaccines were less effective, the unvaccinated would no longer be “reserved” by the vaccinated, meaning they were more at risk.
“We need to be more careful and demand that everyone returning from everywhere has at least five days of quarantine.
“Keeping everyone in quarantine for five days, even double vaccines, because asking them to be isolated at home requires a lot of cooperation.”
“Let’s be very careful just for a few days and ask everyone to quarantine themselves as soon as they arrive, test again on the fourth and fifth day, and then let them go.” “
The declaration of the worrying variant from the WHO also sparked a call for a more aggressive approach to boosters.
“Even an increase in transmissibility without a change in virulence will be problematic,” said Professor Robert Booy, an infectious disease expert at the University of Sydney.
“So far these have been young people, so we can’t say how bad it is,” Prof Booy said.
“We need to watch the whole world and stop this virus as quickly as possible. We need to check the current adequacy of our quarantine.
Prof Booy said it was right to block flights from southern African countries as it would find people vulnerable.
“It has spread very quickly and it seems to be more contagious [than delta]. It doesn’t have to be more than more contagious to be a big deal. Because even if it is also a little less virulent, it will find people at risk it will find them with its high transmissibility.
“We must therefore maximize the boosters now in each person at risk. “
As the NSW Department of Health confirmed two positive cases of omicron, Professor Sutton agreed with experts it would be difficult to steer clear of Australia
“It’s going to be impossible to stay away,” said Professor Sutton.
“If it is more transmissible than delta, then it is sure to become the global variant,” said Professor Sutton.
Professor Sutton said he hoped the question of the severity of the variant could become clearer over the next few days, suggesting that one scenario was that it could be more contagious but less virulent than delta.
Professor Sutton said the variant flourished due to the unevenness of vaccines.
“Immunization coverage across Africa is in single numbers, it’s appalling.”
He said the variants arose when they had the possibility of spreading across large populations and this was a “direct result” of the lack of vaccines.
Victorian Health Minister Martin Foley said the new variant “precisely underscored” the need for the pandemic powers for which the state government is seeking interbank support.
“I am confident that legislative counsel will recognize the importance of the pandemic-specific provisions.
“What the global omicron variant is now highlighting is … the global pandemic is not over.”
Members of the Upper House met on Sunday evening to try again to work out a final resolution. Mr Foley said if the bill is not supported, the government would have to expand the emergency powers it currently relies on, for an additional three months.