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Scientists reveal the potential real origin date for the omicron variant

The omicron variant may have been around longer than we thought

Families watch planes on the tarmac at O.R. Tambo airport in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Families watch planes on the tarmac at O.R. Tambo airport in Johannesburg, South Africa, on Monday Nov. 29, 2021.
Jerome Delay, Associated Press

The omicron variant of the coronavirus might have been spreading for months before experts announced its discovery.

What is the omicron COVID-19 variant?

Over the weekend, experts announced the discovery of a new coronavirus variant called B.1.1.529, which was reported to have at least 30 mutations in the spike protein and 10 mutations in the ACE2 receptor, which are parts of the virus that can help the virus infect humans, as I wrote for the Deseret News.

  • Experts have been surprised by the variant’s massive amount of changes, seeing them as a sign that the coronavirus will continue to evolve.

Per The Associated Press, the omicron variant was originally discovered in Botswana, where there were four reported cases among fully vaccinated people, which prompted worry that the variant can evade COVID-19 vaccines.

When did the omicron variant start spreading?

Kristian Andersen, an infectious disease researcher at Scripps Research in San Diego, recently told Science that she found the variant quite surprising because of the evolutions and mutations of the strain.

  • Her early analysis of the omicron genomes suggest that the virus likely emerged sometime in September or October, meaning it might be spreading around the world already.
  • But, Anderson said, this might mean that the omicron variant “might be spreading more slowly than it appears to have.”

Experts are still unclear about how the omicron variant will impact our society. Several experts said there isn’t enough data right now to assess if the variant can evade COVID-19 vaccines or if it is more contagious.