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The hope for normalcy to return in the post Covid-19 world seems a far cry, especially with Omicron, the new kid on the Covid-19 block. While scientists say that this variant seems to have as many as 30 mutations impacting the extent of its spread and severity, the panic across the world is imminent.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has designated the variant B.1.1.529 a variant of concern, and named it Omicron.
Just days after being identified in South Africa, this new and potentially more contagious variant of the coronavirus, has been reported in the UK and more European countries. According to reports, this variant has already been detected in Belgium, Botswana, Hong Kong, Britain and Israel, sparking global concern.
While many countries have already imposed travel restrictions on flights from South Africa amid fears, the WHO has stated that researchers in South Africa and around the world are conducting studies to better understand many aspects of Omicron.
Is it more transmissible than other Covid-19 variants like Delta?
Whether the Omicron variant spreads more easily from person to person as compared to other variants, is not clear as of now. “The number of people testing positive has risen in areas of South Africa affected by this variant, but epidemiologic studies are underway to understand if it is because of Omicron or other factors,” said WHO.
Everybody wants to know whether the Covid-19 infection with Omicron causes more severe disease. However, the WHO has stated that as per preliminary data suggests that the rising rates of hospitalization in South Africa may be due to increasing overall numbers of people becoming infected, rather than a result of specific infection with Omicron.
The understanding of the severity of the Omicron variant could take days to several weeks. Prevention is the only key, says WHO, while acknowledging that all variants of Covid-19, including the Delta variant that is dominant worldwide, can cause severe disease or death, in particular for the most vulnerable people.
As per preliminary evidence, people who have previously had Covid-19, could become reinfected more easily with Omicron. Yes, there may be an increased risk of infection. But if it gives you some relief to know, the WHO says that information is limited on this front as of now.
The WHO has said that it is working with technical partners to understand the potential impact of this variant on the existing counter measures, including vaccines. “(Current) Vaccines remain critical to reducing severe disease and death, including against the dominant circulating variant, Delta,” the statement read.
Yes, the widely used PCR tests continue to detect infection, including infection with Omicron. Studies are ongoing to determine whether there is any impact on other types of tests, including rapid antigen detection tests.
The WHO says that Corticosteroids and IL6 Receptor Blockers will still be effective for managing patients with severe Covid-19. “Other treatments will be assessed to see if they are still as effective given the changes to parts of the virus in the Omicron variant,” WHO added.
Studies are being undertaken and data is being assessed to ascertain how mutations in Omicron can alter the behaviour of the virus.
Countries have been urged to contribute to the collection and sharing of hospitalized patient data through the WHO COVID-19 Clinical Data Platform to rapidly describe clinical characteristics and patient outcomes.
According to Dr Rahul Pandit, Director-Critical Care, Fortis Hospitals Mumbai, “It is important to note that the coronavirus evolves as it spreads and many new variants, including those with worrying mutations, often die out in the course of time. Scientists are currently monitoring for possible changes that could be more transmissible or deadly. However, sorting out whether new variants will have a public health impact can take time.”
“Although we are left with a variant that raises significant concerns despite huge gaps in our knowledge, we need to be watchful and not let our guards down,” he adds.
What are the recommended actions for people against the Omicron variant?
Remember that prevention is the first step to cure. The WHO recommends these effective steps to reduce the spread of the Covid-19 virus: