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Countries Must Enhance Surveillance & Sequencing Efforts To Understand Omicron: Top WHO Official

As of December 13, India reported 38 cases of Omicron – the variant of concern that has spread to over 60 countries in the world

Countries Must Enhance Surveillance & Sequencing Efforts To Understand Omicron: Top WHO Official
WHO Regional Director for South East Asia Dr Poonam Khetrapal talks about the new COVID-19 variant - Omicron
Highlights
  • Omicron the new variant is highly transmissible: WHO
  • As per official data, in India there are 38 Omicron cases as of December 13
  • Omicron reduces vaccine efficacy but causes less severe disease: WHO

New Delhi: Omicron, a new Covid variant said to be “highly transmissible”, has spread to at least 63 countries as per World Health Organization data as of December 9. In India, the new variant has sparked fresh worry over a possible third wave. As per the official data, Omicron cases in India rose to 38 on December 13. NDTV spoke with WHO Regional Director for South East Asia Dr Poonam Khetrapal to understand more about the variant of concern and what it means for India.

Highlighting that the variant is a cause of concern for all countries globally, Dr Poonam Khetrapal said,

The pandemic is still around, the risk of COVID-19 remains high globally. Though we are witnessing a decline in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks in WHO’s South Asia region, we should not let our guard down. We must continue to strengthen surveillance, public health and social measures and rapidly scale up vaccination coverage.

Also Read: WHO’s New Update On Omicron: “Highly Unlikely” To Fully Dodge Vaccine Protection

Highlighting that the new variant doesn’t mean that there will be the emergence of third wave, she said,

New variant doesn’t mean things will be worse, but it definitely means that it will have certain uncertainties. We need to be patient till the time we have more data and continue to take the necessary COVID-19 precautions.

Further talking about Omicron – the variant which has a large number of mutations and the variant that prompted countries around the world to impose travel bans on southern African countries and reintroduce domestic restrictions to slow its spread, Dr Poonam Khetrapal said,

What we know about the variant is that Omicron spreads at a faster rate, it has large number of mutations and overall, these things can have a major impact on the course of the pandemic. Exactly what impact it will have is still difficult to answer. We will know a clearer picture in few weeks’ time when we have some good amount of data with us.

Highlighting the current data from South Africa, Dr Poonam Khetrapal added that the emerging data suggests an increased risk of reinfection and there is some evidence that suggests that Omicron develops milder disease than Delta, however more data is needed to be definitive and come out with firm conclusions.

Also Read: How Big Is The Threat Of The Omicron Variant Of Coronavirus?

Dr Poonam Khetrapal added,

What we know so far is that our existing diagnostics work – both PCR and antigen based rapid test and the tools to respond to the pandemic work against the COVID-19 virus and its variants, including Omicron.

Talking about actions countries should take to tackle Omicron spread, Dr Poonam Khetrapal added,

Countries must enhance surveillance and sequencing efforts to better understand this circulating variant. They should submit genome sequence and data. All the countries should be quick to report their initial cases and clusters associated with Omicron. Where the cases are high, field investigation and laboratory assessments is necessary to understand the variant in terms of severity, immune response and other characteristics.

Also Read: India’s Omicron Patient #2 – A Bengaluru Doctor Shares His Experience

NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via Banega Swachh India initiative, which is helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. The campaign aims to highlight the inter-dependency of humans and the environment, and of humans on one another with the focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It stresses on the need to take care of, and consider, everyone’s health in India – especially vulnerable communities – the LGBTQ populationindigenous people, India’s different tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (WaterSanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness on the same along with focussing on the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children, fight malnutrition, mental wellbeing, self care, science and health, adolescent health & gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign has realised the need to also take care of the health of the eco-system. Our environment is fragile due to human activity,  that is not only over-exploiting available resources, but also generating immense pollution as a result of using and extracting those resources. The imbalance has also led to immense biodiversity loss that has caused one of the biggest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity.” The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollutionwaste managementplastic banmanual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and the country can become a Swasth or healthy India.

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