How South African scientist first found out about Omicron Variant: “It was scary”

By November 23, after testing 32 more samples from around Johannesburg and Pretoria, "it was clear," said Daniel Amoako, a gene sequencer at NICD. "It was scary."

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A massive rise in Covid-19 cases, a continuous oddity in test samples and a troubling feeling of fear in the gut were the opening of the Omicron variant which has triggered the alarm all over the world.

A South African scientist who first sequenced the mutated genomes of the B.1.1.529 variant, now known as Omicron, said she knew about the samples that were going to have “huge consequences”

Raquel Viana, Head of Science at a Lancet lab in South Africa, then stated, “I was quite shocked at what I was seeing. I questioned whether something had gone wrong in the process.”

She informed, the unusual samples had a thing in common—an S-gene dropout, one of the mutations that now distinguishes the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus from the globally dominant Delta one.

She alerted the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) in Johannesburg, they started testing more samples in November 20-21 weekend.

By November 23, after testing 32 more samples from around Johannesburg and Pretoria, “it was clear,” said Daniel Amoako, a gene sequencer at NICD. “It was scary.”

That very day, the NICD team labeled the oddity to the department of health and other labs across South Africa doing sequencing, and they too came across similar results.

In a matter of days, the Omicron variant began to emerge as the dominant strain in South Africa’s Gauteng province, where two-thirds of Covid positive tests had the S-gene dropout.

Scientists are working around the clock to find the answers to several pressing questions — how good the new variant is at evading immunity from vaccines or past infections, how virulent it is compared to other know strains, and how it will effect different age groups.

With so much yet to be known about Omicron, and what we do know sparking concern and panic everywhere, the world is once again see-sawing between hopes of returning to normal and fears that the worst is yet to come.

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