U.S. Officially Classifies Omicron As A “Variant Of Concern” Alongside Delta

Three days after the World Health Organization declared Omicron a “variant of concern,” the U.S. SARS-CoV-2 Interagency Group followed suit.

In doing so, it cited multiple factors including the rapid spread of the new Covid-19 variant, its large number of mutations and that it has caused the “displacement of Delta in South Africa.” That last is concerning because Delta had outcompeted other variants in much of the world. The fact that Omicron has supplanted it in one region suggests that could happen in others. Delta is the only other variant of concern recognized by the CDC.

The CDC statement also confirms that, as of today, the new variant has not been detected in the U.S., but President Biden and others have recently said it is only a matter of time.

In an announcement posted to the CDC Twitter page, the group stated the following:

On 11/30, U.S. government SARS-CoV-2 Interagency Group classifies #OmicronVariant as Variant of Concern (VOC), a decision based on multiple factors. No cases of this variant have been identified in U.S. to date. CDC is closely following details.

Here is a section of the WHO announcement from this weekend:

More from the WHO Report:

In recent weeks, infections have increased steeply, coinciding with the detection of B.1.1.529 variant. The first known confirmed B.1.1.529 infection was from a specimen collected on 9 November 2021.

This variant has a large number of mutations, some of which are concerning. Preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this variant, as compared to other VOCs. The number of cases of this variant appears to be increasing in almost all provinces in South Africa. Current SARS-CoV-2 PCR diagnostics continue to detect this variant. Several labs have indicated that for one widely used PCR test, one of the three target genes is not detected (called S gene dropout or S gene target failure) and this test can therefore be used as marker for this variant, pending sequencing confirmation. Using this approach, this variant has been detected at faster rates than previous surges in infection, suggesting that this variant may have a growth advantage.

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