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What We Know About the Omicron Variant

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The World Health Organization has declared that this version of the coronavirus poses a very high risk to public health. How did they come to that conclusion?
The story of the Omicron variant began a week ago, when researchers in southern Africa detected a version of the coronavirus that carried 50 mutations. Thirty of these mutations are on the spike protein — arguably the most important part of the virus — and of those,26 were unique mutations we hadn’t seen before. By contrast, the Delta variant had 10 unique mutations and Beta had 6. When scientists look at coronavirus mutations, they worry about three things: Is the new variant more contagious? Is it going to cause people to get sicker? And how will the vaccines work against it? We explore when we will get the answers to these three questions, and look at the discovery of the variant and the international response to it.

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