There’s a grim inevitability to the fact that the latest concerning strain of the Covid-19 virus — known as B.1.1.529, and now nicknamed the Omicron variant* — should have been first identified in South Africa.

So far, SARS-CoV-2’s most devastating impacts have been in developed countries. The US, UK and European Union have accounted for about a third of deaths, compared to their roughly 10% share of the world’s population. However, it’s been in the BRICS grouping of fast-growing middle-income nations where an outsized share of new variants of concern have been isolated and analyzed for the first time.

From the original strain in China, to the Delta lineage picked up in India, the Gamma variety isolated in Brazil and the Beta and latest Omicron strains from South Africa, only the UK-related Alpha variant has emerged outside these countries.

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