South African scientists identified a new and potentially more transmissible coronavirus variant, prompting a fresh round of travel restrictions worldwide. The World Health Organization (WHO) designated Omicron as a new strain of concern on Friday, November 26. Counselors are keeping an eye on the situation as studies of the variant are underway. Scientists stress that information about Omicron is still inconclusive, including whether the variant is indeed more contagious, if it causes more severe infection, or what its effects on vaccine efficacy may be. National Institutes of Health director Dr. Francis Collins says that the Omicron variant was highly infectious in South Africa, but it does not indicate that the strain will spread abroad. He also notes that Covid-19 cases are uncommon in South Africa. However, according to Salim Abdool Karim, former co-chair of the South African Ministerial Advisory Committee on COVID-19, Omicron contains similar alterations to the Delta version, therefore it should transmit more rapidly.

Still, Karim said in a statement that more answers may be available in a few weeks. A South African doctor says the Omicron cases she has dealt with thus far have been minor. Symptoms include fatigue for one or two days, followed by headaches and body aches. “Some of them will have what they call a scratch throat, and some will have a cough, a dry cough. But it’s not a constant cough. It comes and goes,” the doctor added. High temperatures have been reported in several individuals, including one seriously ill child with a rapid pulse. After roughly 48 hours of treatment at home, the child’s condition had improved.