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Covid-19 variant Omicron is here; let’s not panic - EDITORIAL

6 December 2021 12:02 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Since the Covid-19 epidemic broke in early 2020 we have gradually become used to living in uncertainty. During the early days of the epidemic the question we asked each other was, if there was someone known to us who had definitely caught the virus. Even though a travel ban was implemented, a number of persons violated the ban using persons of influence they knew to get curfew passes etc. 


Then the second waves struck during the Sinhala and Tamil New Year festivities, thanks to the lifting of preventive measures governing congregation of numbers of persons and lifting of travel bans. The number of persons contracting the virus soared as did their number of fatalities. The country was well and truly caught up in the grip of the pandemic. 
Thanks to the frontline health workers, the immunization campaign carried out by the government together with the health sector and the armed forces, numbers of those contracting the virus and those dying of it began to fall rapidly. Many felt normalcy was beginning to return.


Then, on December 2, South African scientists announced that they had sequenced the genome of a new and potentially more contagious variant of SARS-CoV-2, the deadly virus wreaking havoc around the world since January 2020. 


With the emergence of the Omicron variant of Covid-19, the uncertainty is back. The World Health Organisation (WHO) said Saturday that 40 countries across the world have reported cases of the highly mutated Omicron Covid-19 variant. It adds that the variant poses a very high global risk of infection surges. It emphasized however, the world should not panic about the new Omicron variant. Today it is said that one or more persons in this country too has been infected with the Omicron variant, but details are scarce.


Dr. Angelique Coetzee, the South African doctor who first spotted the new Covid variant Omicron, says the patients seen so far have had “extremely mild symptoms” - but more time is needed before we know the seriousness of the disease for vulnerable people.
The ‘Guardian’ reported that it would take around a fortnight before the extent of the threat the Omicron variant poses becomes clearer, in terms of how much it sickens those it infects and how well existing vaccines perform against it.


The good news however, is that the world is no longer at square one in the fight against the virus. The new variant is not likely to fully escape the vaccines and it is for these reasons, government is counting on the power of the vaccines to minimise the effect of the new variant and is emphasizing the need for the booster drive. 
On Thursday, Germany announced major restrictions on the unvaccinated, declaring that only those inoculated or who had recently recovered from the virus will be allowed in restaurants, cinemas and many shops. Austria announced compulsory jabs for residents from February 1, while countries including Belgium and The Netherlands have brought back or tightened measures aimed at tackling the spread of cases.


However, medical experts the world over have repeatedly warned of the danger of counting on vaccines alone to halt the spread of the virus. Jenny Harries, Chief Executive of the UK Health Security Agency, suggested “not socializing when we don’t particularly need to”.
WHO Emergencies Director Mike Ryan has said the world currently had “highly effective vaccines” against Covid-19, and the focus should be on distributing them more widely. He said there was no evidence to back changing these jabs to tailor them to the new Omicron variant.


Back here at home, Prof. Neelika Malavige, Head of the Department of Immunology and Molecular Medicine at Sri Jayawardenepura University reiterated that Sri Lankans should not worry about the new Covid-19 variant – Omicron - but rather should continue with the immunization programme and follow strict health guidelines recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) as they were of vital importance. 
In the end it will be up to each and every one of us Sri Lankans to stick to health guidelines if we want to protect ourselves and the country from Covid-19 and all its variants.


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