The new Covid-19 variant ‘Omicron’ has sparked global concern, with countries around the world scrambling to impose new travel restrictions. The new strain, first detected in South Africa, has now spread in more than 10 countries, including Canada, the UK, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Australia.
Concerns are emerging around the world that the pandemic and associated lockdown measures will last significantly longer than expected. Based on the report released by the WHO on 28 November, this is what is known so far about the new variant.
It is unclear whether Omicron is more transmissible compared to the COVID-19 variants. However, South Africa, where the variant has been discovered, has seen an increase in people testing positive for COVID-19. Studies are taking place to identify whether this is due to the Omicron variant or other factors.
It is uncertain whether the new variant is more severe compared to other COVID-19 variants. Hospitalization rates have certainly increased in South Africa, yet it’s ambiguous whether it is directly a result of the Omicron variant.
According to the WHO, preliminary evidence has suggested there may be an increased risk of reinfection with Omicron (ie, people who have previously had COVID-19 could become reinfected more easily with Omicron), as compared to other variants of concern, but the information is limited.
WHO is currently analyzing whether current countermeasures, including vaccines, are adequate to counter Omicron. RT-PCR tests continue to be used to detect the Omicron infection.
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 1 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.