The world should not panic with the omicron variant, but rather be cautious and prepare to deal with it, declared the World Health Organization (WHO).
During a conference held on Friday (3/12), the organisation’s chief scientist, Indian physician Soumya Swaminathan, said that the situation is now very different from what happened a year ago.
Reports suggest that omicron has been found in about 40 countries so far.
It is still unclear whether this variant, which carries a high number of mutations, is more transmissible or has the ability to escape vaccines.
The first data collected by scientists in South Africa — where the strain was first detected — suggest that the omicron may escape some previous immunity, although experts caution that this analysis is not definitive.
During the Reuters NEXT conference, Swaminathan explained that the variant is “highly transmissible” and said it could become dominant worldwide — although that’s hard to predict at the moment. Currently, the delta is responsible for 99% of cases on the planet, added the expert.
“How worried should we be? We need to be prepared and cautious, not panic, because we are in a different situation than a year ago,” he said.
Meanwhile, WHO director of emergencies, Mike Ryan, mused that the world has “highly effective vaccines” against covid-19 and that the focus should be on distributing them more widely. He also stated that, so far, there is no evidence that it is necessary to change the dose schedule or adapt the immunizers to the new variant.
Countries across the world announced bans on flights from African countries shortly after detection of the omicron.
US authorities have made it mandatory for all international travelers to complete a covid test 24 hours prior to travel.
The omicron has already been detected in at least six US states, including Hawaii, where authorities said the case has no recent travel history, suggesting local transmission of the variant there.
India also reported its first two cases related to the variant. Authorities said one of them — a 66-year-old South African — had already left the country in the past few days, while the second — a 46-year-old doctor from the southern Indian city of Bengaluru — had no history of international travel.
A second wave of covid-19 infections left India’s healthcare system in a delicate state between April and May of this year, with hospitals without beds, oxygen and drugs.
So far, Brazil has six confirmed cases: three in São Paulo, two in the Federal District and one in Rio Grande do Sul.
The emergence of the new variant comes at a time when European countries are already struggling with an increase in the number of infections, observed in recent weeks.
On Thursday (2/12), Germany announced major restrictions on the unvaccinated. The local government declared that only those who received the recommended doses (or who recovered from the covid recently) will be able to circulate in restaurants, cinemas and stores.
Chancellor Angela Merkel also said vaccines could become mandatory until February.
In Austria, vaccination became mandatory for residents of the country from February 1, 2022, while countries such as Belgium and the Netherlands brought back or tightened measures to combat the spread of cases, such as prevention of agglomerations and the use of masks in closed places.
UK health authorities are working to speed up booster shots. The government purchased another 114 million units of vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna and announced that all adults will receive a booster of the immunizing agent by the end of January.
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