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Washington: As the Omicron variant hits more states in the US, scientists are studying how contagious it is and whether it can thwart vaccines.
The Delta variant is still Americans’ leading coronavirus health threat even as more US states reported cases of the Omicron strain amid concern that winter and holidays may further the spread, experts said.
Scientists are investigating the impact of the highly contagious Omicron coronavirus strain, with some questioning whether it may cause milder illness than its predecessors, including the Delta variant.
Five more US states, Missouri, Utah, Nebraska, Maryland and Pennsylvania, reported on their first cases of the Omicron strain on Friday.
In France, officials imposed new rules on travellers from outside the European Union to slow the spread of the Omicron variant and German Chancellor Angela Merkel devoted her last weekly message to a plea to the unvaccinated.
She warned that the country faced difficult weeks ahead as deaths and hospitalisations from coronavirus rise.
“Go and get vaccinated,” Merkel said in her last weekly podcast as chancellor. “Whether it’s your first vaccination or a booster, every vaccination helps.”
A health worker takes a nasal swab sample from a patient to test COVID-19 in Gaza. Credit:
The Washington Post reported that researchers had found a link between the Omicron variant and the common cold. It said a new study by Nference found the variant is likely to have picked up genetic material from another virus that causes the common cold in humans.
The researchers found a snippet of genetic code from the Omicron variant that is also present in a virus that can bring about a cold, a link undetected in other coronavirus strains.
Nebraska had six confirmed cases, the state’s health department said. Only one of the six people was vaccinated and none have needed to be hospitalised with COVID-19, the department added.
Maryland Governor Larry Hogan announced the first three cases of the Omicron variant in his state, adding that none of the three individuals were hospitalised. And in Pennsylvania, a Philadelphia man in his 30s tested positive for Omicron, city health officials said.
Walensky and other health experts said the best way to fight the spread of COVID-19, regardless of the strain, remains to get vaccinated.
Former FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb said US states with higher vaccination rates would likely be better protected against Omicron, saying unvaccinated people who survive Delta could find their immunity is not protective against the new variant.
“The risk for the future is that states that are relying on a lot of Delta infections to provide immunity to their populations … they could be more susceptible to this new variant,” Gottlieb, now a member of vaccine maker Pfizer’s board, told CNBC.
Omicron has been detected in about 40 countries.
Reuters, AP and Bloomberg
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