KAMRAN ALISHOV WRITES — The latest, most mutated strain of coronavirus, known as the Omicron, now casts a shadow over Asia’s gradual reopening. According to research, this new version has a higher infection rate, posing a threat to nations around the world.

Officials in South Africa first reported Omicron (B.1.1.529) to the World Health Organization on November 24, following a rapid increase in cases in Gauteng province in previous weeks. Yet the main threat of this strain is not its infection rate, but the number of mutations it contains. The director of the Centre for Epidemic Response and Innovation (CERI) in South Africa said that the strain contained an “unusual constellation of mutations” and that it was “very different” from other variants that have circulated. Professor Tulio de Oliveira (the director of CERI) has stated that the new strain contains over 50 mutations and more than 30 on the spike protein that is the target of all currently developed vaccines.

Countries across Asia, including Singapore, South Korea, and the Philippines, began to cautiously impose new domestic and travel restrictions for travelers from South Africa, Omicron’s point of origin. Due to the variant’s evidently enhanced resistance to immunity generated by infections or vaccines, Japan banned all foreigners from entering, becoming the second, after Israel, to shut its borders. In addition, widespread fear of another lockdown caused turmoil in Asia’s stock market, which makes up 40% of the world’s GDP.

Now, then, the newly emerged Omicron has posed a threat to the lockdown-free life. Despite this unfortunate news, numerous companies across the world, including Moderna and Pfizer, have already announced plans to make a new vaccine in the effort to prevent a repeat of the scenarios played out with the introduction of the first virus in 2020.

The world is facing yet another threat and once again the resolve of people will be tested. World leaders will need to communicate with the people of their nations so that they can enhance safety measures. Still, fears of new lockdowns will unquestionably affect the global economy, and collective psyches, at this holiday time.

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