Italian scientists have presented an image showing the mutations of the new Omicron coronavirus variant. Believed to have originated in southern Africa, the variant has already triggered alarm in multiple countries worldwide.
The illustration of the new strain, unveiled by Italy's Bambino Gesu hospital on Saturday, presents Omicron in comparison with the Delta variant, one of the most contagious strains of Covid-19.
The Omicron variant boasts significantly more mutations than Delta, particularly in the areas directly interacting with human cells. The hotspots of mutations are highlighted in red in the image unveiled by the scientists.
"This is a 'photo' in a very broad sense, it's a model made in a laboratory," a representative of the hospital said, as quoted by RIA Novosti.
The changes suggest the virus might have become well-adapted to humans, the scientists noted. Still, it's too early to say whether these mutations combined actually make Omicron more dangerous compared to the previous iterations of Covid-19.
The new strain, officially designated a "variant of concern" by the World Health Organization on Friday, was first detected in Botswana earlier this month. The strain is believed to have already become dominant in one of the South African regions, wrestling out other variants of Covid-19.
The new variant has already spread beyond the African continent, with Hong Kong, Israel, Belgium, Germany and the UK confirming their first cases, and other nations investigating suspected infections. The emergence of Omicron has already prompted new restrictions, with all 27 EU member states suspending air travel from seven southern African countries. Nations outside of the bloc, including the US and the UK, are imposing similar curbs, while Israel went ahead with the world's harshest restrictions so far, effectively banning all foreign nationals from entering the country.