Confirmation of a New Variant of Concern means there is a persisting risk and there is a need to continue to do our best to protect against the Covid virus and prevent its spread, said WHO South-East Asia Region Regional Director Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh here on Saturday.
At no cost should we let our guards down,” she said
The B.1.1.529 variant was first reported to WHO from South Africa on November 24, 2021.
The epidemiological situation in South Africa has been characterized by three distinct peaks in reported cases, the latest of which was predominantly the Delta variant. The first known confirmed B.1.1.529 infection was from a specimen collected on November 9, 2021.
“Though COVID-19 cases have been declining in most countries of our Region, the surge in cases elsewhere in the world, and said Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia Region.
Countries must enhance surveillance and sequencing. They should assess the risk of importation through international travel based on updated information on circulating variants and response capacities, and take measures accordingly.
“Comprehensive and tailored public health and social measures to prevent transmission must continue. The earlier the protective measures are implemented, the less restrictive they would need to be in order to be effective. The more COVID-19 circulates, the more opportunities the virus will have to change and mutate, and the pandemic will last longer,” the Regional Director said.
The most important thing people must do is reduce their risk of exposure to the virus – wear a mask and wear it properly covering nose and mouth; keep distance; avoid poorly ventilated or crowded spaces; keep hands clean; cover cough and sneeze, and get vaccinated.
“As of today 31% of the Region’s population is fully vaccinated, 21% partially vaccinated while nearly 48% or about a billion people are yet to receive even a single dose of the COVID-19 vaccine,” she said, adding that they continue to be at risk of contracting severe disease due to the virus and spreading it further.
Even after getting vaccinated, everyone must continue to take precautions to prevent becoming infected and infecting someone else who may get severely affected by the virus.
WHO’s Technical Advisory Group on Virus Evolution met yesterday and designated B.1.1.529 as a variant of concern and named it Omicron.
“We must not forget that the pandemic is far from over. As societies open up, we should not get complacent. Festivities and celebrations must include all precautionary measures. Crowds and large gatherings must be avoided. The current situation warrants further stepping up efforts on all fronts,” the Regional Director said.