A clinical virologist at the laboratory in South Africa where the Omicron variant was detected has said that people who have tested positive for the variant are showing mild symptoms so far.
Dr Allison Glass of the Lancet Laboratory in Johannesburg said there is no evidence that the new variant causes more severe disease.
"From what we've seen so far, from the patients and doctors we have been in discussion with, the symptoms are mild currently. They are similar to symptoms we've seen from other Covid-19 variants," Dr Glass told RTÉ's Morning Ireland.
“We are starting to see some hospitalisations but that is probably just a factor of the number of cases we’re seeing but as yet, there’s no evidence to suggest Omicron causes more severe disease than previous variants.”
She expressed disappointment that travel restrictions had been imposed on South Africa when the reality was that such information was important to plan for a possible surge.
She said that reactions as had been seen in the past few days could make the scientific community reluctant to be transparent “when there is this type of backlash”, she said.
Many countries do not carry out genome sequencing and just because they were not aware did not mean there were no variants.
“It’s disappointing that we’re being punished for being on top of what’s happening.”
Dr Glass said that it was the vigilance of a junior scientist that identified the new variant.
As a virologist Dr Glass said that she knew that the virus was going to continue to change. “That’s their nature - to evolve, it’s not unexpected.”
It was good to be aware of what was happening. Knowledge was important for capacity planning, but it was early days, she said. “We shouldn’t jump to any conclusions.”
Variants were a way of showing that the virus “will stick around,” but they should not cause panic, she said.
A South African doctor who was one of the first to suspect a different coronavirus strain among patients said on Sunday that symptoms of the Omicron variant were so far mild and could be treated at home.
Dr Angelique Coetzee, a private practitioner and chair of South African Medical Association, told Reuters that on November 18th she noticed seven patients at her clinic who had symptoms different from the dominant Delta variant, albeit "very mild".
Dr Coetzee said a patient reported at her clinic being “extremely fatigued” for two days with body aches and headache.
On the same day, more patients came in with similar symptoms, which was when she realised there was “something else going on.” Since then, she’s seen two to three patients a day.
The new coronavirus variant appears to be more transmissible than its predecessors although most cases have been mild so far, according to scientists advising the South African government.