Early global response to omicron variant could save lives, says Saudi virologist

Early global response to omicron variant could save lives, says Saudi virologist
As of Sunday, Saudi Arabia's Health Ministry said that no omicron cases had been detected in the Kingdom so far. (File/AFP)
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Updated 09 December 2021

Early global response to omicron variant could save lives, says Saudi virologist

Early global response to omicron variant could save lives, says Saudi virologist
  • As of Sunday, Saudi Arabia's Health Ministry said that no omicron cases had been detected in the country so far
  • Kingdom suspended flights from 14 African countries

JEDDAH: With the COVID-19 omicron variant prompting renewed concern about the pandemic, a virologist has told Arab News that its early detection is a positive first step to overcoming the mutation.

omicron, or the B.1.1529 strain of the coronavirus, was marked a variant of concern on Nov. 26 by the World Health Organization, the fifth variant of concern to date.

But, as of Sunday, Saudi Arabia's Health Ministry said that no omicron cases had been detected in the country so far.

All viruses, including SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, change over time. Most changes have little to no impact on the properties of the virus. 

However, some may affect the transmissibility rate, associated disease severity, or the performance of vaccines.

Speaking to Arab News, Dr. Abdullah Algaissi, a virologist and assistant professor at the college of medical sciences at Jazan University, said: “The interesting thing about omicron is that it accumulated a very high number of mutations compared to other VOCs. The total number of mutations in the spike, the most important part of the virus, was 32, 10 of which were detected that bind to receptors on human cells. That's more than the delta variant, hence the concern.”

The WHO called for increased surveillance of the variant and laboratory experiments to better understand its biology.

The delta variant had nine mutations in the spike gene. According to Algaissi, there are shared mutations between the two, but what makes omicron more of a concern is the additional mutations.

HIGHLIGHT

Saudi Arabia suspended inbound and outbound flights from 14 African countries: South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Lesotho, Eswatini, Malawi, Zambia, Madagascar, Angola, Seychelles, Mauritius, and Comoros.

“Based on what we know from the genetic sequencing, we don't have information that could tell us if these mutations will make the virus more lethal, more transmissible, if it will impact the immune response either after infection or vaccination. As of now, we don't know.”

Data shows that most of the infected patients in South Africa were unvaccinated, indicating that the vaccine's efficacy may still protect against omicron, but further studies are needed to determine by how much vaccine efficacy is reduced.

“Of the many concerns when it comes to VOCs is the effect it has on the diagnostic tool, in this case, the PCR tests,” added Algaissi. “Looking at the omicron mutation, early analysis shows that the current PCR used, especially here in the Kingdom, will still detect the variant.”

According to the Global Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data database, more than 5.5 million COVID-19 genome sequence submissions have been made so far.

Last month, Saudi Arabia urged residents to get their booster shots to increase herd immunity further. Currently, 70 percent of the Kingdom's 34.8 million population has received at least one dose of the vaccine.

As of Sunday, Saudi Arabia temporarily suspended inbound and outbound flights from 14 African countries: South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Lesotho, Eswatini, Malawi, Zambia, Madagascar, Angola, Seychelles, Mauritius, and Comoros.

Saudi Arabia announced on Sunday it would extend the validity of resident permits and exit and re-entry visas from countries facing entry suspension. The General Directorate of Passports said the move was the implementation of directive from King Salman.

The visas are extended until Jan. 1, 2022, without fees or charges. People were notified by email, where an e-visa form was attached.

Another concern is transmissibility. Algaissi noted the difficulty of measuring an increase in the transmissibility rate by the number of infected cases. Multiple factors could increase reported cases, such as the ease of restrictions and low vaccination rates.

“Further studies and experiments are needed to determine if the mutations in omicron enhance its binding to cells, thus becoming more transmissible, and it’ll take scientists weeks to understand the omicron variant, including how quickly it can spread and what the illness that results from infection looks like.”

According to South African health experts, omicron symptoms have been “pretty mild” so far.

In a joint press conference on Sunday, the acting CEO of Saudi Arabia’s Public Health Authority Dr. Abdullah Algwizani said the variant was being monitored and residents were urged to complete their vaccination schedule, to be wary of large gatherings, and adhere to precautionary measures.

The Kingdom’s Health Ministry said that 24 new cases of COVID-19 were recorded on Sunday, raising the total number of cases to 549,695. There have been 32 further recoveries, raising this total to 538,856.

There are currently 2,006 active cases, 48 of which are in critical care. One death was reported.


Tuwaiq Mountains: The most popular sightseeing spot an hour away from Riyadh

Tuwaiq Mountains: The most popular sightseeing spot an hour away from Riyadh
Updated 26 January 2022

Tuwaiq Mountains: The most popular sightseeing spot an hour away from Riyadh

Tuwaiq Mountains: The most popular sightseeing spot an hour away from Riyadh
  • The Edge of the World, which offers an astonishingly dramatic view, is located at the end of a windy desert path that continues along the ridge of this escarpment

RIYADH: The Tuwaiq Mountains, which are said to be familiar to every citizen of Saudi Arabia, are among the most fascinating mountain ranges in the world.

This mountain range is a narrow escarpment that cuts through the plateau of Nejd in central Arabia, running from the southern border of Al-Qasim in the north to the northern edge of the Empty Quarter desert near Wadi ad-Dawasir in the south. It is located approximately 120km from the capital, with the trip taking about an hour and a half by car.

Given that this spot is particularly popular among adventurers and tourists, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman compared the disposition of the Saudi Arabian people to the Tuwaiq Mountains during his speech at the Future Investment Initiative Conference.

The Edge of the World, which offers an astonishingly dramatic view, is located at the end of a windy desert path that continues along the ridge of this escarpment.

Tuwaiq is the diminutive form of the term for collar, and the Tuwaiq Mountains were given this name because they are shaped like a 800km-long cordon that surrounds the Riyadh Region.

Visitors who come to the Tuwaiq Mountains for hiking can take various routes to reach the summit. Since the topography features sharp inclines, while the path is made of loose gravel, there is a need to climb steep slopes, and comfortable walking shoes are recommended.

You can enjoy seeing camels and ancient ruins along the riverbed cutting through the valley below, as well as fossils that are a relic from back when this area used to be on the sea floor.

It usually takes 15 to 30 minutes to reach the edge of the cliff, but there are many places along the way where you can stop to enjoy the views.

Since the gates to go outside close at 6 PM, you must make sure to give yourself enough time for the way back, unless you are planning to camp overnight in the Acacia Valley.

Because you will need a high-sensitivity GPS receiver and a sports utility vehicle to access areas where you can enjoy the distinctive sunset and night sky that is full of stars, it would be ideal to join a group of multiple people traveling by car.

* This story originally appeared on arabnews.jp, read it here.


Police thwart attempt to smuggle 1 million amphetamine pills into Saudi Arabia

Major Muhammad Al-Nujaidi of the General Directorate of Narcotics Control said the drugs were found in the possession of two citizens. (SPA)
Major Muhammad Al-Nujaidi of the General Directorate of Narcotics Control said the drugs were found in the possession of two citizens. (SPA)
Updated 26 January 2022

Police thwart attempt to smuggle 1 million amphetamine pills into Saudi Arabia

Major Muhammad Al-Nujaidi of the General Directorate of Narcotics Control said the drugs were found in the possession of two citizens. (SPA)
  • Two citizens were arrested in Taif, initial legal measures have been taken against them

RIYADH: Police in Saudi Arabia thwarted an attempt to smuggle more than a million amphetamine tablets into the Kingdom, a spokesman said on Wednesday.

Major Muhammad Al-Nujaidi of the General Directorate of Narcotics Control said the drugs were found in the possession of two citizens.

Al-Nujaidi said they were arrested in Taif, initial legal measures have been taken against them and they have been referred to the Public Prosecution.


Prince Khalid bin Salman discusses cooperation with Chinese defense minister

Prince Khalid bin Salman discusses cooperation with Chinese defense minister
Updated 26 January 2022

Prince Khalid bin Salman discusses cooperation with Chinese defense minister

Prince Khalid bin Salman discusses cooperation with Chinese defense minister
  • Prince Khalid and Wei Fenghe reviewed the historic ties between Saudi Arabia and China

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia's Deputy Defense Minister Prince Khalid bin Salman and China’s Minister of National Defense discussed defense cooperation on Wednesday.

During a virtual meeting, Prince Khalid and Wei Fenghe reviewed the historic ties between Saudi Arabia and China.

The officials also explored ways to strengthen their military coordination. 


Saudi Arabia reports 4,526 new COVID-19 cases, 3 deaths

Saudi Arabia reports 4,526 new COVID-19 cases, 3 deaths
Updated 26 January 2022

Saudi Arabia reports 4,526 new COVID-19 cases, 3 deaths

Saudi Arabia reports 4,526 new COVID-19 cases, 3 deaths
  • The total number of recoveries in the Kingdom has increased to 617,114
  • A total of 8,927 people have succumbed to the virus in the Kingdom so far

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia announced three deaths from COVID-19 and 4,526 new infections on Wednesday.

Of the new cases, 1,489 were recorded in Riyadh, 472 in Jeddah, 198 in Hofuf, 194 in Makkah, 139 in Madinah, 137 in Dammam, and 119 in Jazan. Several other cities recorded less than one hundred new cases each.

The total number of recoveries in the Kingdom increased to 617,114 after 5,772 more patients recovered from the virus.

A total of 8,927 people have succumbed to the virus in the Kingdom so far.

Nearly 56 million doses of a coronavirus vaccine have been administered in the Kingdom to date.


Saudi justice minister discusses cooperation with British counterpart

Saudi justice minister discusses cooperation with British counterpart
Updated 26 January 2022

Saudi justice minister discusses cooperation with British counterpart

Saudi justice minister discusses cooperation with British counterpart
  • Al-Samaani said that the Kingdom has achieved great qualitative leaps during the past years through its transformational projects and developing and improving all sectors

LONDON: Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Justice Dr. Walid Al-Samaani has met his British counterpart Dominic Raab in London to discuss ways to enhance cooperation in the judicial and justice fields between the two ministries.

Al-Samaani said that the Kingdom has achieved great qualitative leaps during the past years through its transformational projects and developing and improving all sectors.

He told Raab that “the interest and support of the Kingdom’s leadership contributed to a qualitative developmental shift in the judicial and justice sector in the Kingdom at its substantive and procedural levels,” Saudi Press Agency reported.

Al-Samaani said this included applying the concept of institutional justice, activating the specialized judiciary, supporting human rights, and digitizing judicial services in courts and notaries.

He also touched on Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s recent announcement to develop the specialized legislation system through four basic systems, including the system of evidence that was issued and will be implemented soon.

“This qualitative legislative development will achieve more justice, enhance judicial guarantees, will be consistent with international conventions, and responds to the digital and economic changes the world is witnessing by developing legal and preventive tools,” he said.

A number of British judicial leaders also attended the meeting and the visit is aimed at boosting mutual cooperation between the two countries in light of a memorandum of understanding signed between the two sides.