Omicron variant arrives in Estonia from Dubai and South Africa

Estonia has identified two positive coronavirus tests that could represent the new Omicron variant of the virus. PHOTO: Shutterstock

Estonia has identified two positive coronavirus tests that could represent the new Omicron variant of the virus. One passenger suspectedly carrying the new strain arrived in Estonia from Dubai and the other from South Africa via Frankfurt. Both are vaccinated and have been isolating since testing positive on Friday.

The Estonian Health Board said that the passengers’ tests exhibited the s-gene mutation associated with the Omicron variant, while the samples will be sequenced for final confirmation. The board contacted both patients to map their journey and possible close contacts.

The passenger who visited South Africa came to Estonia on December 1 on flights LH573 and LH882 via Frankfurt and exhibited Covid-related symptoms the next day. They got a PCR test on December 3 that returned positive. The Health Board urges people who were on said flights to monitor their health and get a PCR test.

The person flying in from Dubai arrived in Estonia on December 2, while their flight was neither scheduled nor chartered and there were no close contacts among passengers. The passenger developed mild symptoms on the day of arrival and tested positive after getting a PCR test on December 3.

Virologist Aare Abroi said that the Omicron variant is quite different from other recent mutations of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, adding that the spectrum is quite extensive. “There is some consensus on whether it can be considered dangerous,” the virologist emphasized.

Virologist Irja Lutsar said that doctors in South Africa have suggested that most patients have been young and whichever variant of the coronavirus tends to go easy on younger people. “We can say just how easygoing it is once it spreads to older people,” she remarked.

Initial data suggests that both vaccinated and recovered patients have been infected in South Africa. “There is very little data as not much is coming from South Africa,” Lutsar admitted. “It is likely we will get more information from the outbreak in Norway.”

Commenting on hospitalizations spiking in RSA, Lutsar said that in addition to the age and complaints of patients, it would be useful to know their PCR testing cycle thresholds. A lower count indirectly indicates a greater quantity of the virus in the person’s system.

However, Lutsar said that the reference base was very low in South Africa, which is characteristic to the appearance of new strains. “New strains always develop where the virus is not widespread,” the virologist said, adding that were the infection rate as low in Estonia as it is in South Africa, it wouldn’t even make the news.

It is too soon to predict what Omicron will do in Europe that is currently in the throes of the Delta variant of the virus.

Lutsar said that Omicron includes mutations that are associated with faster spread and the ability to dodge vaccines but added that the virus being able to ignore vaccines altogether seems very unlikely. “A high antibody count should still help prevent illness,” she said.