Tuesday, 25 January, 2022

Threat Of Omicron

The entire world is once again worried about the emergence of Omicron, a newer strain of SARS-CoV-2. Classified as B.1.1.529, Omicron is considered to be more transmissible than its previous variants. What is more worrying is that the variant, which was first detected in South Africa on November 24, has already been found transmitted to several countries, including Australia, Belgium, Botswana, Germany, Israel and India. Hong Kong has also reported two cases related to this variant. No sooner had the World Health Organisation (WHO) termed Omicron as the 'Variant of Concern' on November 26 than health scientists from around the world started carrying out researches on it. They are working to find out the transmissibility of the variant and how it could impact diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines.

However, according to media reports, the South African doctor who first raised the alarm on the Omicron variant, disclosed that its symptoms are 'unusual but mild' in healthy patients. But she is fretful that the variant could trigger complications in the elderly and unvaccinated. The doctor also said that those infected did not lose taste or smell. As of now, it has also not been necessary for those infected with the Omicron variant to get hospitalised. Unlike this, the Delta variant that had broken out a couple of months back had gripped the world with an unprecedented increase in the number of infections and deaths. But bearing in mind that the new variant could be more contagious, deadlier and may cause an increased risk of reinfection, many nations throughout the globe have stepped up measures to prevent its spread. They have imposed travel restrictions for people from South Africa as well as its neghbouring countries.

Nepal government has also made a week-long quarantine mandatory for people travelling from or via South Africa. With this prompt step, the government aims to stop the new variant from entering the country. Since two cases of this variant have already been detected in India, Nepal too is at a high risk of Omicron as the two neighbours share open yet unregulated border. Meanwhile, the WHO has appealed to countries in South-East Asia Region to increase surveillance, strengthen public health and social measures, and boost vaccination coverage with the detection of the new variant. The WHO South-East Asia Region has stated that the rise in COVID-19 cases elsewhere in the world and confirmation of Omicron shows that the risk still persists. It has also requested the countries continue to do their best to protect against the virus and prevent its spread.

The Ministry of Health and Population (MoHP) has also cautioned the relevant authorities about the new variant and asked them to strengthen surveillance. It has also decided to set up health desks at all the entry points, including the Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA), as a prevention measure. As the vaccination drive against the COVID-19 pandemic has been going on across the country in a successful manner, it is not necessary for people to get panicked. Instead, they must observe all the public health protocols such as wearing a face-mask, maintaining social distance and washing hands with soap and water frequently. Everyone must also avoid crowds such as political meetings and rallies, and religious and cultural gatherings. We must not let our guards down at any cost.