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Four numbers that outline why Omicron is causing so much concern

Cases are climbing and officials across Canada are rushing to announce new restrictions and recommendations, spurred on by fear of the new COVID-19 variant of concern, Omicron.

It’s been only three weeks since scientists in South Africa first alerted the world that they had identified a new variant of the novel coronavirus. Since then, cases have cropped up in multiple countries, including Canada, which has 276 cases of Omicron as of Wednesday.

So, why is this variant causing so much fear?

THE MUTATIONS

Previous variants have had around 10-12 spike protein mutations, while Omicron has around 26-32 spike protein mutations, according to the World Health Organization. These mutations could make it more capable of infecting those who have been vaccinated, the agency warned.

THE R-VALUE

The reproductive rate of a virus, also known as its R-value, refers to how quickly the virus can transmit through populations.

In Ontario, which tracks the R-values of variants, Omicron’s R-value was 4.55 as of last Thursday — almost four times higher than Delta’s current R-value of 0.97.

This means Omicron is reproducing four time as fast as Delta, and will soon take over as the most dominant strain of the virus in the province, a pattern that is being repeated in other regions and countries.

THE EXAMPLE FROM OTHER COUNTRIES

On Wednesday, the U.K. reported a staggering daily case count, logging 78,610 new COVID-19 infections. Although Omicron is not the dominant variant there yet, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said at a news conference Wednesday that the doubling rate of Omicron is now down to less than two days in some regions.

In South Africa, which is currently battling a surge of Omicron, this new wave has infected more than 90,000 people in the past month, Minister of Health Joe Phaahla said last Friday.

VACCINE COVERAGE

In Canada, around 80 per cent of the population is considered fully vaccinated — meaning that they’ve received two doses of the vaccine.

But just under 3,400,000 third doses, or booster shots, have been delivered to the population, which means only around nine per cent of the population has had three doses in total.

In the hopes of protecting against Omicron better, Ontario announced Wednesday that booster shots would be available for anyone over the age of 18, with appointments opening up on Monday.

Pfizer said last week that preliminary research suggests that a booster shot of their vaccine provides more protection against Omicron than the initial two doses, although this had not yet been confirmed.

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