Experimental and clinical data from across the world have confirmed that the Omicron variant of coronavirus has a high potential of evading the immune system, the country’s genome sequencing panel Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium has said.

In its latest weekly bulletin, the panel also said that the ability of vaccines to protect against symptomatic infection caused by the new variant has reduced.

“While Delta continues to be the most prevalent VOC [variant of concern] globally, the Omicron variant has completely displaced it in southern Africa and is on track to become the dominant variant in the UK [United Kingdom] and elsewhere,” the Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomics Consortium, or INSACOG, said.

A “variant of concern” has the highest threat perception among other coronavirus variants because of its increased transmissibility, infectivity, or resistance to vaccines. The threat perception for a “variant of interest” is comparatively lower.

Omicron was categorised as a variant of concern by the World Health Organization on November 27.

INSACOG stated in its bulletin that the severity of the illness caused by the Omicron variant has been lower than the earlier outbreaks. “Whether these initial observations are generalisable to older non-immune subjects is not clear and the threat level is still considered high,” it said.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization on Tuesday said that the Omicron variant continued to pose a “very high risk” to the healthcare systems. The global health body also said that there was consistent evidence showing Omicron’s “growth advantage” over the Delta variant with a doubling time of two to three days.

However, the WHO noted that daily Covid-19 cases have been declining in South Africa, where the Omicron variant was first detected. Citing early data from the United Kingdom, South Africa and Denmark, the health body also said that the risk of hospitalisation among patients infected by the Omicron variant was lower than those who contracted Delta.