The renewed Covid-19 surge and Omicron - GulfToday

The renewed Covid-19 surge and Omicron


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It is tempting to confuse the surge in Covid-19 cases across countries, from South Africa to Europe, to India and China, as the result of the new variant, which in World Health Organisation’s (WHO) terminology means a ‘variant of concern’ (VOC), which was first detected in Botswana in late November and then in South Africa.

According to experts who have studied the Omicron in South Africa, it is indeed a mutation. According to a research article published in the British science journal, Nature, on Omicron, “The lineage is characterised by the presence of about 32 mutations in the spike, located mostly in N-terminal domain (NTD) and the receptor binding domain (RBD), which may enhance viral fitness and allow antibody evasion.” The laboratory tests show that the antibodies produced by the vaccines or those by the Covid infection offer little resistance to Omicron. The suggestion is that there is need for a booster vaccination dose. On the other hand, it has been found, based mainly on epidemiological evidence from South Africa, that Omicron does not lead to hospitalistation or to death as did the earlier Delta variant.”

With these facts about Omicron in mind, if we look at the surge in Covid-19 cases in this month, it seems that the Omicron is not significant though it is predicted that it is more easily transmissible than the Delta variant. Now look at the numbers in various European countries.

In France, there have been 208,000 fresh cases on December 29, which increased from 180,000 on December 28. France’s Health Minister Olivier Veran said, “We have two enemies, As for Omicron, I would never talk about a wave. This is a groundswell, where several waves combine to form one massive wave.” In Germany, there were 40,043 new cases on December 29, of which according to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), 2,686 were the Omicron variant. In Britain, there have been 183,037 cases in a day, and in the United States, 240,400 per day.

In the United States, there have been 9,000 hospitalisations per day and ,1,100 deaths. According to Rochelle Walensky, director, Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) in the United States: “In a few short weeks, Omicron has rapidly increased across the country, and we expect will continue to circulate in the coming weeks. While cases have substantially increased from last week, hospitalisation and deaths remain comparatively low right now.”

There is need for caution in assessing the numbers of fresh Covid-19 cases. We are not sure how many of them are of Omicron variant. Earlier this year, the second wave of Covid-19 caused by the Delta variant was the major trigger. This time the exact figures for the Omicron variant are not always there, except in Germany. It seems likely as indicated by the French health minister that it is a combination of variants. So, greater care in identifying the symptoms and the medication will be needed.

If the Omicron variant displays comparatively milder symptoms compared to the Delta variant, then the two cannot be treated in a similar way. Consequently, the restrictions to be imposed by the civic authorities will have to vary as well. Lockdowns that came in handy at the outbreak of Covid-19 in early 2020 and then again in early 2021 may not be necessary in the face of Omicron variant if it is considered to be a milder version. The warning of the Director-General of WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, mentions the danger posed by Delta and Omicron: “Delta and Omicron are now twin threats driving up cases to record numbers, leading to spikes in hospitalisation and deaths.” The Covid-19 challenge turns into a multi-front one, and the vaccination drive has to be more aggressive than ever.

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