As India confirmed two cases of Omicron, the World Health Organization said today countries in the Southeast Asia region should further strengthen COVID-19 response measures to curb the spread of the virus and its variants.
“Strengthen surveillance to rapidly detect the importation of any new variant and transmission of the existing virus and its variants; implementing calibrated public health and social measures and expanding immunization coverage must remain our priority, ”said Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, regional director for the WHO South-East Asia Region.
Less than a week after Omicron was announced as a new variant of concern, India on Thursday confirmed the variant in two people detected with COVID-19, the first cases in the WHO South Asia Region. East.
Studies are underway to assess transmissibility, severity, risk of re-infection, potential for immune leakage, clinical presentation, response to other available countermeasures, etc. from Omicron. Preliminary evidence suggests higher transmissibility and potential immune leakage that could lead to an increase in cases. Regardless of how the severity changes, the increase in the number of cases alone can place an overwhelming demand on health systems and can lead to increased morbidity and mortality.
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Dr Khetrapal Singh said As part of enhanced surveillance, countries should ensure that they have early warning systems comprised of several indicators such as a rapid increase in cases and test positivity rates. It is also important to monitor indicators related to the severity of the disease and the strain on health systems, such as bed occupancy in wards and intensive care units.
Event-based surveillance needs to be improved, for example – the rapid spread of epidemics in health facilities or communities that may be triggered by a variant that spreads more easily from person to person. Or an increase in cases among populations believed to have a high level of immunity with previous infections or high vaccine coverage, which may indicate the presence of a variant capable of evading the immune response.
Even though studies are underway to understand the effectiveness of vaccines and therapies in light of the multiple mutations in Omicron, it is reasonable to assume that the vaccines currently available offer protection against serious illness and death, the Minister said. regional director, adding that efforts should be intensified to accelerate COVID 19 vaccination coverage in all eligible populations but as a priority for populations at high risk of serious illness who remain unvaccinated or not yet fully vaccinated. These include the elderly, healthcare workers and those with underlying conditions that put them at risk of serious illness and death.
National authorities should apply a tiered risk mitigation approach to potentially delay the export or import of the new variant. General travel bans will not prevent international spread, on the contrary, they place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods. Additionally, such bans can negatively impact global health efforts during a pandemic by discouraging countries from reporting and sharing epidemiological and sequencing data, Dr Khetrapal Singh said.
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The use of masks, physical distancing, ventilation of indoor space, crowd avoidance and hand hygiene remain essential to reduce the transmission of COVID-19, even in the context of emerging variants, a she declared. These measures may need to be strengthened, to further limit interpersonal contact, to control transmission with a more transmissible variant. Countries must be prepared to scale up public health and social measures in a timely manner to avoid excessive demand for health services.
Regarding the option of imposing lockdown to limit transmission of the virus, the regional director said that while effective, these measures are very expensive and should be used as a last resort. “We cannot and must not allow the virus and its variants to spread and mutate further and continue to challenge us. We must do all we can to limit their spread. We know what to do. The pandemic has lasted too long and is draining our precious human and other resources. We have to stop this, ”said Dr Khetrapal Singh.