The world isn’t what we had known it to be a few years back. Since the arrival of COVID-19, almost everything — from the way we work to the way we interact — has changed. And, as 2021 is nearing its end, South African scientists announced a new variant on 25 November 2021. After South Africa made the announcement, Hong Kong, Botswana, Israel and Belgium also detected the variant.

The heavily mutated COVID-19 variant, named Omicron by the World Health Organization (WHO), has reignited fear across the world with many countries — like Singapore, Japan, Israel and Morocco — shutting their borders and placing new restrictions.

Here’s what citizens and nations can do to restrict the spread of the Omicron variant

What can we do to keep ourselves safe?

Image: Courtesy Dollar Gill/Unsplash

A well-fitted mask still remains the strongest weapon against COVID-19. Apart from this, always follow social distancing and maintain a distance of at least one metre from those around you. Even better if you can avoid poorly ventilated and crowded areas.

Sanitise your hands as many times you can and sneeze into a tissue or your bent elbow. Last but not least and most importantly, get vaccinated.

How can countries help?

Apart from ensuring effective public health measures to protect their citizens from Omicron, countries should aim at enhancing both public health services and medical capacities to combat the spike in cases. Nations are also urged to ensure that citizens, especially frontline workers and aged people, receive both doses of vaccines.

Image: Courtesy Louis Reed/Unsplash

WHO also recommends countries to do the following:

  • Enhance surveillance and sequencing efforts to better understand circulating SARS-CoV-2 (Coronavirus) variants.
  • Submit complete genome sequences and associated metadata to a publicly available database such as GISAID.
  • Report initial cases/clusters associated with Variant of Concern (VOC) infection to the WHO through the International Health Regulations (IHR) mechanism.
  • Where capacity exists and in coordination with the international community, perform field investigations and laboratory assessments to improve understanding of the potential impacts of the VOC on COVID-19 epidemiology, severity, the effectiveness of public health and social measures, diagnostic methods, immune responses, antibody neutralization, or other relevant characteristics.

What we know currently?

Image: Courtesy Julia Koblitz/Unsplash

Although Omicron’s ease of spread in comparison to other variants is still doubtful, the latest variant is affecting more and more people in South Africa. Epidemiologic studies are being conducted to decipher the reason behind this steady rise in affected people — if it is indeed Omicron or other factors.

Currently, there is no data that suggests the symptoms that accompany Omicron are any different in comparison to other variants. But, according to WHO, it will take time to understand the severity of Omicron, and it’s always better to be cautious at all times.

Also, those who had been infected by COVID-19 earlier stand a higher chance of getting reinfected by the latest variant.

Hero and Featured image: Courtesy Fusion Medical Animation/Unsplash

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