After being first detected in South Africa last November, Omicron has swiftly overthrown Delta as the most dominant variant of Covid-19.
Its fast-paced spread rendered record waves of cases in the U.S., Asia and Europe and despite the high transmissibility, Omicron is not as deadly as the former variant, reporting hospitalization rates relatively lower in vaccinated people.
However, the World Health Organization (WHO) has recently raised concerns suggesting that the next variant will not be so forgiving.
Maria Van Kerkhove, Technical Lead on Covid-19 at WHO, mentioned that the next variant of concern showcases higher transmissibility in order to overthrow what currently circulates and the major question is to determine if the future variants will be less or more deadly.
According to WHO, “variant of concern” involves any new mutated strain capable of hampering the effectiveness of vaccines, enhancing transmissibility or endangering global public health.
WHO’s ranking of Delta and Omicron was followed by other variants of Covid-19 including Lambda and Mu, which the agency categorized into “variants of interest”, as these variants did not spread rapidly enough to be considered as “variants of concern”
As of now, Omicron remains the singular variant of concern labeled by the WHO after Delta owing to its powerful ability to invade the protection of vaccines and its increased transmissibility somewhere between twice to four times higher than that of Delta.
Therefore, the next variant of concern for WHO is expected to possess virulence greater than Omicron currently displays.
On the other hand, several experts predict that the future Covid-19 strains will be relatively low-impact and eventually weaken, even if the virus itself continues to become more infectious.
Speculations have it that health authorities will probably be able to determine the severity and fatality level of Omicron’s successor sooner than expected.
Moreover, WHO is calling upon an independent investigation of a new Omicron subvariant, known as BA.2 or “stealth Omicron”, separating it from the study of the globally dominant subvariant, BA.1.