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New variant 'Omicron' sparks concern nationwide Updated: 2021-11-29 11:26:50 KST

For more I have Kim Yeon-seung here in the studio.
Yeon-seung welcome back.

Thank you for having me.

Let's begin with what has been shared thus far about OMICRON.

It's been classified as a new variant of concern by the WHO.
South Africa first notified the global health body regarding this new strain on November 24th.
But the earliest cases were actually detected in Botswana weeks ago.
Already, the virus has spread to at least 13 countries, including the UK, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Australia and Israel.
The strain has also landed in North America, with Canada detecting its first two cases on Sunday local time. Since then, a growing number of countries have reported the presence of Omicron within their borders.
Governments around the world are scrambling to draw up new prevention guidelines to counter this emerging threat.

And what are health experts saying about this new variant?

There are still many unknowns.
Some say it could be more vaccine-resistant AND more transmissible compared to other strains.
Doctors in South Africa though, reported very mild symptoms among the Omicron patients there.
Most suffered from fatigue and muscle pain that lasted a few days, while none have yet reported the more disturbing COVID-19 symptoms like the loss of smell or taste.
Still, countries are on edge about the possibility of Omicron slipping through their borders.
Top U.S. health official Anthony Fauci, said that although no Omicron cases have been reported in the U.S. as of yet, it will inevitably come and possibly spark a fifth wave of COVID.

And before we move on do tell us a bit about the background behind the name OMICRON.

Well, the WHO is going down the Greek alphabet to name the variants, and Omicron is the 15th letter of the alphabet.
WHO has skipped over the letters Nu and Xi for reasons unspecified.
You know earlier this year, I remember interviewing an expert on the emergence of the Lambda variant, which was the 10th mutant strain to be detected.
And the expert said that eventually,.. there are going to be so many COVID-19 variants that there are not going to be enough letters in the Greek alphabet to name them all.
Take a listen to the interview I did more than three months ago.

"There's already more than 10 types of known variants. There are 24 letters in the Greek alphabet, with Omega as the last. But there will be so many variants that we will need to use all 24 letters naming them,.. and perhaps need another alphabet for the new strains."

Now, seeing as there are only 9 letters in the Greek alphabet left, his prediction is close to being realized.

Hopefully not.
So how are officials here responding to this latest challenge?

Well, they've sealed off borders to eight countries in Southern Africa, deemed to be at highest risk.
This includes Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Malawi.
Detecting this new variant is said to be a challenge for many PCR test kits that we have currently available.
So right now authorities are trying to bide their time to figure out what to do when the virus eventually arrive on the country's shores.

All right Yeon-seung thank you for now but do stay for the broader talks.
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