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Omicron Variant Spreads Throughout the World; Five Quarantined in Greece

Omicron variant
Five sailors who arrived in Athens from southern Africa have been quarantined over fears of spreading the new omicron variant of the coronavirus. Credit: Greek Reporter

The Omicron Covid variant, first discovered in South Africa, has been detected around the world over the weekend raising fears of new lockdowns.

Omicron has now been detected in Belgium, Botswana, Germany, Hong Kong, Israel, Italy, and the United Kingdom. First reported to the World Health Organization (WHO) by South Africa on Wednesday, early evidence suggests it has a higher re-infection risk than all other strains of the virus. It has been categorized by the WHO as a “variant of concern”.

On Sunday, 13 cases of omicron were found in the Netherlands and two each in Denmark and Australia, even as more countries imposed travel restrictions to try to seal themselves off.

The Dutch National Institute for Public Health announced the 13 Omicron cases among people who arrived in the Dutch capital of Amsterdam on two flights from South Africa.

Dutch Health Minister Hugo de Jonge made an “urgent request” for people who have returned from southern Africa to get tested for Covid “as soon as possible.”

He told reporters “It is not unthinkable that there are more cases in the Netherlands.”

Five Greeks quarantined

Greece announced on Friday tough measures to keep the country open for this year’s Christmas festivities against the inroads of the latest variant.

According to the latest measures, foreign travelers coming into Greece from South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, Eswatini, and Zambia will have to get special permission from the Greek consulate to enter the country, and they must be fully vaccinated.

Meanwhile, five Greek citizens who arrived in Athens from south African countries, have now been placed in a ten-day precautionary quarantine, according to the new protocol due to the Omicron variant.

The five Greeks, who are all sailors, came from South Africa and Zimbabwe via a stopover in the United Arab Emirates.

Omicron has mutated 32 times

Omicron had already mutated a total of 32 times when it was first discovered in Botswana, a country in Southern Africa.

Omicron’s many mutations have led scientists to believe that the strain could potentially resist coronavirus vaccines and evade antibodies formed against the virus.

Experts around the world are sounding the alarm over the sheer number of mutations in the variant’s spike protein: “the incredibly high amount of spike mutations suggest this could be of real concern,” said virologist Dr. Tom Peacock.

Halfway through Greek alphabet with new Covid strain Omicron

The decision from WHO to name this new mutation of the coronavirus after a letter from the Greek alphabet follows a precedent. In fact, the organization adopted the practice a year into the pandemic, deciding to name each new variant of concern after a Greek letter in May of 2021.

WHO believes that using letters from the Greek alphabet gives variants memorable and easily pronounceable names. Each variant still retains its “scientific” name, which is comprised of letters and numbers: Omicrons is B.1.1.529.

But WHO hopes that using the Greek alphabet will make the variants visible and recognizable across cultures, making for names that laypeople can retain effortlessly.

But the Greek alphabet is finite, only containing 24 letters, and the Covid variants seem to keep coming: WHO has already gotten halfway through the entire list of letters, with twelve variants of concern being given Greek names.

The 12 variants include Alpha, Beta, Delta, Delta plus, Gamma, Epsilon, Eta, Iota, Kappa, Lambda, Mu, and now, Omicron. Nu and Xi were left out of the list of possible names for the variants.

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