Weeks before answers to risk posed by Omicron - WHO

Weeks before answers to risk posed by Omicron - WHO

The number of mutations in the Omicron variant was reason for concern, WHO's Dr Margaret Harris said.

World Health Organisation spokesperson Dr Margaret Harris has said that it will be weeks before there are answers to the risks posed by the new Omicron variant of Covid-19.

The reason the WHO had described it as a variant of concern was because it remained unknown how easily it could be transmitted, if it could evade vaccines and if people were being reinfected with it.

The number of mutations in the variant was another reason for concern, she said.

In the meantime countries should do everything they could to double down on non-pharmaceutical measures to stop transmission such as cutting down on socialisation, wearing masks and ensuring there is good ventilation when indoors.

This was echoed by Ireland’s Chief Medical Officer last night, who said the incidence of the Delta variant of Covid-19 “remains too high” here.

“We all know the actions to prevent the spread of Covid-19 – good hand hygiene, wearing a face covering, meeting others outdoors where possible and, when indoors, opening windows and ensuring good ventilation, keeping your distance and, of course, coming forward for vaccination and booster dose when eligible,” said Dr Tony Holohan.

Governments across the globe have taken steps to tighten their borders as cases of the Omicron variant of appeared in countries on opposite sides of the world.

Japan was the latest to take action as it said it will suspend the entry of all foreign visitors from around the world as the variant spreads.

Scientists in several places — from Hong Kong to Europe to North America — have confirmed its presence. The Netherlands reported 13 Omicron cases on Sunday, the UK has three reported cases and both Canada and Australia each found two.

Vaccines

Dr Harris also highlighted vaccine inequity as another issue as it gave the virus an opportunity to reproduce itself and develop stronger variants.

Speaking on Newstalk Breakfast, Dr Harris urged that South Africa not be punished for doing great research. 

She also encouraged vaccine manufacturers to share the vaccines with countries that need them so every country could be vaccinated.

“This is not the big one, but it will come if we don’t have vaccine equity,” she warned.

Meanwhile, Nphet’s Epidemiological Surveillance Team has been meeting over the weekend to monitor the situation in relation to the new variant.

Government leaders will meet with Nphet today to discuss how the new variant changes the public health landscape in Ireland.

Dr Holohan said that any who has travelled from Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa or Zimbabwe to Ireland since November 1 is being advised that they should isolate and present for PCR testing, regardless of symptom status.

On Sunday, some 3,735 cases of Covid-19 were recorded in Ireland.

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