Discussion: What researchers have learned about the omicron variant

The World

The omicron variant of COVID-19 continues to surge across parts of the globe, while other places seem to be approaching or passing the peak of its spread.

Researchers are still studying the omicron variant and its effects. As part of our regular series of conversations about the pandemic, The World’s reporter Elana Gordon moderated a discussion with epidemiologist Bill Hanage of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health about what researchers have learned so far and how that could inform our preparations for the next variant.

"The pandemic is far from over"

In the United States, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci announced on Sunday that parts of the northeast and upper midwest were already headed for a decline. It follows similar trends seen in the United Kingdom and South Africa. And researchers are projecting a lower spread of the virus in many countries by the end of March.

Related discussion: The pandemic, women's health and pregnancy

The World Health Organization’s Regional Director for Europe Dr. Hans Kluge released a statement on Monday stating, “The pandemic is far from over, but I am hopeful we can end the emergency phase in 2022.” He added that it’s too early for nations to drop their guard given the number of people who remain unvaccinated around the world. But the highly contagious omicron variant may also leave behind high levels of immunity.

But the head of the WHO, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, is still emphasizing the risks posed by newer variants.

Related discussion: Children's mental health during COVID

“It’s dangerous to assume that omicron will be the last variant or that we are in the endgame. On the contrary, globally, the conditions are ideal for more variants to emerge,” he said.

Meanwhile, a new subvariant of omicron, known as BA.2, has in fact been found in about 40 countries, including the US, UK, India, Germany and Australia. It was flagged as a “variant under investigation” on Friday, with more than 10,000 cases officially reported worldwide.

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