Health advisory and update on Omicron

ITANAGAR, 30 Nov: On 26 November, 2021, the WHO designated the variant B.1.1.529 a ‘variant of concern’, named Omicron, on the advice of the WHO’s Technical Advisory Group on Virus Evolution (TAG-VE).

This decision was based on the evidence presented to the TAG-VE that Omicron has several mutations that may have an impact on how it behaves – for example, on how easily it spreads or the severity of illness it causes. Here is a summary of what is currently known.

Current knowledge about Omicron: Researchers in South Africa and around the world are conducting studies to better understand many aspects of Omicron and will continue to share the findings of these studies as they become available.

Transmissibility: It is not yet clear whether Omicron is more transmissible (eg, more easily spread from person to person) compared to other variants, including Delta. The number of people testing positive has risen in areas of South Africa affected by this variant, but epidemiologic studies are underway to understand if it is because of Omicron or other factors.

Severity of disease: It is not yet clear whether infection with Omicron causes more severe disease compared to infections with other variants, including Delta. Preliminary data suggest that there are increasing rates of hospitalization in South Africa, but this may be due to increasing overall numbers of people becoming infected, rather than a result of specific infection with Omicron. There is currently no information to suggest that symptoms associated with Omicron are different from those from other variants.

All variants of Covid-19, including the Delta variant that is dominant worldwide, can cause severe disease or death, in particular for the most vulnerable people, and thus prevention is always the key.

Effectiveness of vaccines: The WHO is working with technical partners to understand the potential impact of this variant on our existing countermeasures, including vaccines.

Vaccines remain critical to reducing severe disease and death, including against the dominant circulating variant, Delta. Current vaccines remain effective against severe disease and death.

Effectiveness of current tests: The widely used PCR tests and rapid antigen tests (RAT) continue to detect infection, including infection with Omicron, as we have seen with other variants as well.

Effectiveness of current treatments: Corticosteroids and IL6 receptor blockers will still be effective for managing patients with severe Covid-19. Other treatments will be assessed to see if they are still as effective, given the changes to parts of the virus in the Omicron variant.

Recommended actions for people: The most effective steps individuals can take to reduce the spread of the Covid-19 virus is to keep a physical distance of at least one metre from others; wear a well-fitting mask; open windows to improve ventilation; avoid poorly ventilated or crowded spaces; keep hands clean; cough or sneeze into a bent elbow or tissue; and get vaccinated when it’s their turn.

The state’s health & family welfare department will continue to monitor the situation and implement all guidelines and advisories of the union health & family welfare ministry to prevent and contain the transmission of the disease in the state.

In this regard, we appeal to the general public of the state to continue to practice the measures outlined above to reduce the spread of the Covid-19 virus. (Issued by Directorate of Health Services, Naharlagun)