Omicron quickly spread around the world after its first detection in November 2021. The variant made waves as it was found to be more fast-spreading than delta and the other earlier strains. But as experts continue to examine its characteristics, they are drawn to believe that the SARS-CoV-2 variant might have been created in a lab.
Origins Of Omicron
The variant that took over after the delta wave was first detected in Botswana, South Africa. However, the strain was reportedly brought in by a foreign delegation from a country that public officials did not identify. Because of this, it has been a challenge to identify the origins of omicron.
Investigative journalist Sharyl Attkisson revealed in an exclusive report published late last month what scientists told her about the variant. According to her, many scientists surmised that omicron might have been mistakenly or purposefully developed and released from a lab.
The reason scientists thought omicron could have been mad-made had something to do with the variant’s characteristics. The vast number of mutations it has was unlikely to be a product of a natural evolution of the novel coronavirus.
“There was a large number of mutations in this variant — many more than we would expect from the normal evolution of the virus,” virologist Andrew Pekosz, of the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, told Attkisson in an interview.
The molecular microbiology and immunology professor added that there’s something suspicious about the mutations in the spike protein of the virus since this is the part that SARS-CoV-2 uses to bind and enter human cells. It is also the target of the COVID-19 vaccines.
Other characteristics suggesting that omicron might have been from a lab include the genetic features “that didn’t exist or don’t have a precedent historically, suddenly appear in a very short timeframe” and the drastic changes that came with the variant beyond what was expected, another scientist interviewed by Attkisson said.
The Spread Of The Variant
When medical doctors first stumbled upon the omicron variant late last year, the initial verdict was the newer strain could be more contagious than the delta variant. Early predictions on how omicron could outnumber delta proved to be true in a short period, with clinical trials showing that omicron had about six times higher potential to spread compared to the delta strain.
By December, the World Health Organization (WHO) dubbed omicron a variant of concern after researchers discovered the extensive mutations it featured. The jaw-dropping characteristic of omicron made experts believe that the virus had a significant and sudden evolutionary leap. WHO said that after analyzing genetic sequencing data, it was clear that omicron had a growth advantage over the other variants.
As omicron started to dominate in many parts of the world, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continued to encourage everyone to follow its four transmission prevention strategies: to wear masks, wash hands frequently, practice social distancing, and get vaccinated or boosted. Pubic health experts also pointed out that there was no reason to panic because omicron’s symptoms were mostly mild.
But in late January, news about omicron’s subvariant, BA.2, revived the notion that the COVID-19 pandemic was far from over and the worst might be yet to come. Dubbed “stealth” omicron, BA.2 presented mutations comparable to the delta variant, making it hard to tell apart from the latter via a PCR test.
Last month, the WHO announced that the BA.2 subvariant was already the main cause of COVID-19 worldwide. In the U.S., the CDC reported that based on its genomic surveillance, stealth omicron was responsible for up to 59% of all new infections for the week ending March 26, surpassing the estimated 39% from the week before.