Srinagar: The Omicron variant of COVID-19 may be more transmissible and have a higher risk of reinfection compared to the Delta and Beta variants of the virus, World Health Organisation reveals in its latest report.
This means that there is a higher likelihood of individuals who have recovered from COVID-19 to be re-infected with the Omicron variant.
“Emerging data from South Africa suggests increased risk of reinfection with Omicron,” World Health Organisation chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told reporters, adding that “there is also some evidence that Omicron causes milder disease than Delta”.
Although less dangerous, the virus can consequently affect a large number of people and overwhelm the healthcare set up which is already facing the brunt of the virus for the last two years. Therefore, more surveillance and sticking to Covid appropriate behaviour is required, WHO emphasised.
The new variant was found in the last week of November and since then it has now spread to around 57 countries. No death has been linked to this variant and patients are recovering without hospitalisation, without requiring oxygen support.
What do we know about Omicron so far?
1. The variant of concern has so far been detected in 57 countries across all WHO regions. While majority of the cases identified in these countries are currently travel-related, this may change as more information becomes available, it said.
2. Even though the variant is probably more efficiently transmitting than Delta, it does not mean the virus is unstoppable, WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan said.
3. The variant, though less dangerous, could still affect more people, overburden the health system, as it transmits rapidly, WHO said.
4. Even if vaccines prove less effective against Omicron, as some data indicates, they are still expected to provide significant protection against severe disease, it said.
5. Regarding Omicron’s impact on vaccines, WHO said, “There is a need for more data to assess whether the mutations present on the Omicron variant may result in reduced protection from vaccine-derived immunity and data on vaccine effectiveness, including the use of additional vaccination doses.”
6. In South Africa, seroprevalence is 60 to 80% while vaccination coverage is 35%. But Omicron has spread rapidly as it poses reinfection threats.
7. On the severity of Omicron, WHO said even if the severity is equal or potentially even lower than for the Delta variant, it is expected that hospitalizations will increase if more people become infected and that there will be a time lag between an increase in the incidence of cases and an increase in the incidence of deaths.
8. Providing data of 212 confirmed Omicron cases identified in 18 EU countries till December 6, WHO said all these were mild cases. South Africa saw an 82% increase in hospital admission between November 18 and December 4, but it is not known whether Omicron is the reason.
9. WHO cited the forecast of the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control that if 1% of SARS-Cov-2 infections are due to the Omicron variant, it will become dominant in Europe by January 1, 2022.
10. Though there has been no report of any severe disease from Onicrom, WHO said Interleukin-6 Receptor Blockers and corticosteroids are expected to continue to be effective in the management of patients with severe disease.