World Health Organization officials said Friday that measures used to tackle the delta variant should remain the basis for tackling the coronavirus pandemic even in the face of the new omicron virus, while acknowledging that travel restrictions imposed by some countries could win some time. …
While about three dozen countries around the world reported omicron infections, including India on Thursday, numbers are still small outside South Africa, which is facing a rapid increase in COVID-19 cases and where a new variant may become dominant. However, much remains unclear about the omicron, including whether it is more contagious as suspected by some public health authorities, whether it causes more serious illness, or whether it can escape vaccine protection.
“Border control can delay the spread of the virus and buy time. But every country and every community must be prepared for new outbreaks of infection, ”Dr Takeshi Kasai, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific, told reporters Friday during a virtual press conference. from the Philippines. “The good news about all of this is that none of the information we have about omicron suggests that we need to change the direction of our response.”
According to WHO Regional Director for Emergencies, Dr Babatunde Olovokure, this means, among other things, continuing to push for higher vaccination rates, adhere to social distancing principles and wear masks.
He added that health systems must “ensure that we treat the right patients in the right place at the right time, and therefore ensure that intensive care beds are available, especially for those who need them.”
Kasai warned, “We cannot calm down.”
WHO has previously called for border closures not to close, noting that they often have limited effects and can cause serious disruptions. Officials in southern Africa, where the omicron variant was first discovered, have denounced the restrictions on travelers from the region, saying they are being punished for alerting the world to the mutant strain.
According to Kasai, scientists are furiously working to learn more about the omicron, which has been identified as a variant of concern due to the number of mutations and early information suggesting it may be more transmissible than other variants. …
Several countries in the Western Pacific region have experienced spikes in growth that began before the omicron was identified, Kasai said, although COVID-19 cases and deaths in many others have declined or stabilized. But that could have changed.
Locations where this variant has been found in the region are Australia, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Malaysia – and it is likely to appear in more locations.
The emergence of the omicron is of particular concern to the organizers of the Winter Olympic Games in Beijing, which are about two months away.
Beijing is taking a number of measures to reduce the risk of the virus spreading during the Games, organizing committee spokesman Zhao Weidong told reporters at a press briefing on Friday.
China has a zero-tolerance policy for the transmission of COVID-19 and has some of the world’s strictest border controls. Participants in the Games will have to live and compete inside the bubble, and only spectators who are residents of China, have been vaccinated and tested, will be admitted to the competition venues.
Globally, the number of cases has been on the rise for seven consecutive weeks and the number of deaths has started to rise again, mainly due to the delta variant and the declining use of protective measures in other parts of the world, Kasai said.
“We shouldn’t be surprised to see new upsurges in the future. As long as transmission continues, the virus can continue to mutate, as the emergence of the omicron demonstrates, reminding us to remain vigilant, ”Kasai said.
He especially warned of the potential for power surges due to more gatherings and movement of people during the holiday season. The northern winter season is likely to bring other infectious respiratory diseases such as influenza along with COVID-19.
“It’s clear that this pandemic is far from over and I know people are worried about the omicron,” Kasai said. “But today, my point is that we can adapt the way we deal with this virus to better cope with future outbreaks of disease and reduce their health, social and economic impact.”