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A little sense of normalcy had just begun to set in since the Covid-19 pandemic happened to the world. Schools opened up to an extent, offices welcomed staff in hybrid attendance models, theatres opened their doors to cinema lovers, and restaurants felt the buzz again. And then came the latest Covid-19 variant Omicron, leaving people with a whole lot of questions about the likely impact.
“Will there be a third wave” is one question that is perhaps currently on everybody’s mind! And luckily, it is one of the multiple FAQs that the Union ministry of health and family welfare along with The World Health Organization (WHO), has answered via a press release.
The ministry statement came after two confirmed cases and several more suspects of Omicron emerged in India. Authorities have ramped up measures to contain the coronavirus variant from spreading further, and even the WHO has urged people to mask up and get vaccinated.
Omicron, named based on Greek alphabets (like alpha, beta, delta), is a Covid-19 variant first reported in South Africa. This variant has shown a very large number of mutations, especially more than 30 on the viral spike protein, which is the key target of the immune response.
“Given the collection of mutations in Omicron, which earlier individually have been associated with increased infectivity and/or immune evasion, and the sudden rise in number of positive cases in South Africa, World Health Organization has declared Omicron as a Variant of Concern (VoC),” said the statement.
The precautions and steps to be taken remain same as before. It is essential to mask yourself properly, take both doses of vaccines (if not yet vaccinated), maintain social distancing and maintain good ventilation to the maximum possible.
“There is no evidence to suggest that existing vaccines do not work on Omicron,” the Centre noted amid speculations that vaccination does not put up an effective fight against this variant.
According to studies, the new strain may cause reinfection even among vaccinated citizens, the government maintains that “vaccines are expected to still offer protection against severe disease”.
The emphasis is on the fact that “vaccination with the available vaccines is crucial” and “if eligible, but not vaccinated, one should get vaccinated”.
Omicron cases are increasingly being reported from countries outside of South Africa and given its characteristics, it is likely to spread to more countries. including India. However, the scale and magnitude of rise in cases and most importantly the severity of disease that will be caused is still not clear.
The government notes that “the fast pace of vaccination in India and high exposure to Delta variant as evidenced by high seropositivity, the severity of the disease is anticipated to be low”. Having said that, they caution that scientific evidence is still evolving.
The situation is being monitored by the Centre closely, and the scientific and medical community is geared up for developing and deploying diagnostics, carrying out genomic surveillance, generating evidence about viral and epidemiologic characteristics, and development of therapeutics.