COVID-19: Is Omicron travelling faster than Delta? An analysis

Omicron was detected in 16 countries across 4 continents in 5 days  

By Kiran Pandey
Published: Tuesday 30 November 2021

Omicron, the latest variant of SARS-CoV-2 that causes COVID-19, was isolated in South Africa November 24, 2021. Two days later, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared it a ‘variant of concern’ (VOC), a label given to a variant if it is more contagious, deadlier than previous strains and more resistant to vaccines and treatments. 

In the first few days of its circulation, Omicron may be spreading faster than Delta, an analysis of the global transmission of the two variants showed. 

The Delta variant of the virus was first detected in India in December 2020. It was termed a ‘variant of interest’ (VOI) on April 4, 2021 and re-categorised as VOC on May 11, 2021. 

The latest variant, on the other hand, went from being a ‘variant under monitoring’ to VOC in just two days. 

The Delta variant was confirmed in 48 countries as of May 18, 2021, five months after the first case in India, according to WHO. 

Thereafter, it was detected in six-nine new countries every week, according to the health agency’s weekly updates. The widest geographical spread was seen between August 17 and August 24, 2021, when 15  new countries reported the strain.

In another 5 months, by the first week of October 2021, the Delta variant was found in at least 191 countries across all continents. 

Date Total no of countries with Delta variant  Countries with Delta variant added in a week 
18-May-21 48  
25-May-21 54 6
1-Jun-21 62 8
8-Jun-21 74 12
15-Jun-21 80 6
22-Jun-21 85 5
29-Jun-21 96 9
6-Jul-21 104 8
13-Jul-21 111 7
20-Jul-21 124 13
27-Jul-21 132 8
3-Aug-21 135 3
10-Aug-21 142 7
17-Aug-21 148 6
24-Aug-21 163 15
31-Aug-21 170 7
7-Sep-21 174 4
14-Sep-21 180 6
21-Sep-21 185 5
28-Sep-21 187 2
5-Oct-21 192 5
12-Oct-21 191 -1

The Omicron variant, in comparison, was detected in 16 new countries across four continents in just five days since it was first isolated. 

These include Austria, Australia, Belgium, Botswana, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Israel, Netherlands, Portugal, Scotland, South Africa, Switzerland (probable case) and the United Kingdom.

The likelihood of the potential further spread of Omicron at the global level has been defined as “very high” by WHO. 

Gauteng indicates that Omicron” is more infectious

The number of COVID-19 patients in South Africa’s Gauteng, where the first case of Omicron infection was found, rose over 360 per cent between November 21, 2021 and November 28, 2021. 

The province, with 52 per cent of the active cases in South Africa, is being considered a hotspot of the new variant. Gauteng’s share of cases in the country’s total active cases was around 14 per cent as on November 21.

The surge has been linked to Omicron by experts, even as epidemiological studies are underway to verify the role of the new variant. 

Omicron, although likely to be highly transmissible, may not be clinically worse, cautioned Dr Salim S Abdool Karim, director, Centre for the Aids Programme Of Research In South Africa (CAPRISA) and professor at Columbia University.

WHO lauded the African countries for sharing “life-saving” public health information about the new variant with the rest of the world as quickly as they did. The organisation discouraged international travel bans being imposed or considered by governments across the world. 

Subscribe to Daily Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.