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Omicron, new highly transmissible Covid-19 variant, detected in Ukraine

December 18, 2021 1:20 pmby Toma Istomina
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A medical worker exits an ambulance on Oct. 28, 2021 in Kyiv. (kyivcity.gov.ua)

Ukraine has detected Omicron, a new highly transmissible Covid-19 strain, on Dec. 18.

According to the Health Ministry, Ukraine's first patient infected with Omicron recently returned from the United Arab Emirates, where they had come into contact with Covid-19 patients.

The ministry is now conducting case investigation and contact tracing.

It is not clear where exactly in Ukraine this first Omicron case was registered.

Ukraine banned entry for foreigners traveling from eight African countries where the Omicron variant of Covid-19 has been detected starting Dec. 3. The government also ruled that Ukrainians returning from these countries must self-isolate for 14 days.

The ministry advised against traveling to "countries where the Omicron strain has spread." As of Dec. 18, Omicron was detected in 80 countries.

Health Minister Viktor Lyashko once again encouraged everyone to get vaccinated.

As of Dec. 18, Ukraine has fully vaccinated over 12.9 million people, or 34% of its general population and 42% of its adult population.

All adult Ukrainians and foreigners with residence permits can get vaccinated for free at one of the mass vaccination centers or a local clinic. See the list here.

Vaccine efficiency against the new Omicron strain is still being studied.

What we know about Omicron

Since it was first identified in South Africa and Botswana in November, Omicron has spread across 80 countries. The World Health Organization (WHO) named Omicron a new “variant of concern.” 

The new strain has a combination of more than 50 mutations, which, early studies show, might increase transmissibility and partially escape infection- or vaccine-induced immunity. 

Some studies suggested that Omicron may be the fastest transmissible Covid-19 strain to date.

According to researchers from The University of Hong Kong, Omicron multiplies around 70 times faster than Delta, previously known as the most contagious variant, in the human bronchial tubes. Omicron, however, multiplies less efficiently (more than 10 times lower) in the human lung tissue, the researchers discovered.

A Dec. 10 report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also suggests that the new variant may be less susceptible to vaccines. Out of the first 43 patients infected with Omicron in the U.S., the majority – 34 people – were fully vaccinated.

Though some early reports suggested that Omicron might be less severe, a recent UK study found no evidence of the variant’s lower severity.

Director-General of the WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said on Dec. 14 that the organization is concerned about people dismissing Omicron as mild.

"Omicron is spreading at a rate we have not seen with any previous variant,” he said. “Even if Omicron does cause less severe disease, the sheer number of cases could once again overwhelm unprepared health systems."

Toma Istomina
Author: Toma Istomina

Toma Istomina is the deputy chief editor of the Kyiv Independent. She previously worked for the Kyiv Post from 2017-2021, first as a staff writer, later taking editor roles. For co-founding the Kyiv Independent, Toma was selected as one of the Forbes 30 Under 30 Europe in 2022. She holds a master’s in international broadcasting from Taras Shevchenko University.

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