Connect with us

Health

WHO says measures against delta work for omicron variant too

Published

on

World Health Organization officials in the Western Pacific say border closures adopted by some countries may buy time to deal with the Omicron coronavirus variant, but measures put in place and experience gained in dealing with the delta variant should remain the foundation for fighting the pandemic.

While a few regional countries are facing surges, COVID-19 cases and deaths in many others have decreased and plateaued, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific Dr. Takeshi Kasai told reporters Friday in a virtual news conference broadcast from Manila, Philippines.

For more coronavirus news, visit our dedicated page.

“Border control can delay the virus coming in and buy time. But every country and every community must prepare for new surges in cases,” Kasai said. “The positive news in all of this is that none of the information we have currently about omicron suggests we need to change the directions of our response.”

Much remains unknown about the new variant, including whether it is more contagious, as some health authorities suspect, or if it makes people more seriously ill, and whether it can thwart the vaccine.

Kasai said omicron has been designated a variant of concern because of the number of mutations and because early information suggests it may be more transmissible than other variants of the virus. More testing and observation is necessary, he said.

Thus far, four countries and regions in the Western Pacific — Australia, Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea — have reported cases of the omicron variant, said WHO Regional Emergency Director Dr. Babatunde Olowokure. That number is likely to go up as more cases are discovered globally, Olowokure said.

India, Singapore and Malaysia have also reported their first cases in the last 24 hours.

“In terms of what countries should be doing now, our experiences over the last few years, especially in responding to delta, provides a guide of what we need to do, as well as how to cope with future surges in a more sustainable way,” he said.

Those include full vaccination coverage, social distancing, mask wearing and other measures. Those can then be calibrated in response to the local context, Olowokure said.

The goal is to “ensure we are treating the right patients in the right place at the right time, and so therefore ensuring that ICU beds are available, particularly for those who need them,” he said.

Despite the positive trends in handling the pandemic in the Western Pacific region, largely through high vaccination rates, “we cannot be complacent,” Kasai said.

Globally, cases have been increasing for seven consecutive weeks and the number of deaths has started to rise again too, driven largely by the delta variant and decreased use of protective measures in other parts of the world, he said.

“We should not be surprised to see more surges in the future. As long as transmission continues, the virus can continue to mutate as the emergence of omicron demonstrates, reminding us of the need to stay vigilant,” Kasai said.

He warned especially about the likelihood of surges due to more gatherings and movement of people during the holiday season. The northern winter season will likely bring other infectious respiratory diseases such as influenza alongside COVID-19, Kasai said.

For all the latest headlines follow our Google News channel online or via the app.

“It is clear that this pandemic is far from over and I know that people are worried about omicron,” he said. “But my message today is that we can adapt the way we manage this virus to better cope with the future surges and reduce their health, social and economic impacts.”

The WHO Western Pacific Region includes 37 countries and areas from Palau to Mongolia.

Read more:

UAE doctors urge uptake of COVID-19 booster shot after Omicron variant discovery

South Africa’s Ramaphosa slams COVID-19 ‘health apartheid’

Canada declares COVID-19 outbreak at Toronto East Detention center

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Health

Saudi Arabia reports 5,591 new COVID-19 infections, two deaths in 24 hours

Published

on

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia reported 5,591 COVID-19 cases and two new deaths in 24 hours, according to the Ministry of Health.

This brings the total number of cases in the Kingdom to 638,327.

Developing

Continue Reading

Health

Thailand to resume quarantine-free travel from Feb. 1 after pause due to omicron

Published

on

Thailand will resume its quarantine-free travel scheme from February 1, officials said Thursday, after the program was suspended due to the fast-spreading omicron COVID-19 variant.

Read the latest updates in our dedicated coronavirus section.

Pandemic travel curbs have hammered the kingdom’s tourism-dominated economy, sending visitor numbers dwindling to a trickle.

Fully vaccinated travelers will now be able to enter under the “test and go” scheme as long as they take COVID-19 tests on the first and fifth days after arriving, spokesman for the country’s COVID-19 taskforce Taweesin Visanuyothin told reporters.

Visitors will have to isolate at a hotel while waiting for their test results and will be required to download a tracking app to ensure they comply with the rules.

Seeking to bounce back from its worst economic performance since the 1997 Asian financial crisis, Thailand launched the “test and go” scheme in November as an alternative to two weeks’ hotel quarantine.

The program was suspended late last month over fears about omicron, but with deaths and hospitalizations not spiking, Taweesin said it could resume, though the authorities will keep it under review.

“In case there are more infections or the situation changes, there will be a re-assessment for inbound travelers and adjust toward the sandbox scheme,” Taweesin said.

Under the sandbox program launched last year as a first step towards resuming tourism, fully jabbed visitors spend seven nights in certain designated locations, such as the resort island of Phuket, before being allowed to travel on to the rest of Thailand.

In a further relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions, restaurants will be allowed to serve alcohol until 11:00 p.m. – easing the current 9:00 p.m. cut-off.

The tourism ministry estimates that some five million foreign visitors will come to Thailand in 2022 — down from nearly 40 million in the year before the pandemic.

Read more:

Thailand bans entry of people traveling from eight African countries

Thai prison set on fire during riot over COVID-19 cluster

COVID-19 cases rose by more than 50 percent, deaths stable: WHO

Continue Reading

Health

Prior COVID-19 infection more protective than vaccine during delta surge: US study

Published

on

People who had previously been infected with COVID-19 were better protected against the delta variant than those who were vaccinated alone, suggesting that natural immunity was a more potent shield than vaccines against that variant, California and New York health officials reported on Wednesday.

Protection against delta was highest, however, among people who were both vaccinated and had survived a previous COVID infection, and lowest among those who had never been infected or vaccinated, the study found.

For more coronavirus news, visit our dedicated page.

Nevertheless, vaccination remains the safest strategy against COVID-19, according to the report published in US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

The results do not apply to the omicron variant of the virus, which now accounts for 99.5 percent of COVID-19 cases in the United States.

“The evidence in this report does not change our vaccination recommendations,” Dr. Ben Silk of the CDC and one of the study’s authors told a media briefing.

“We know that vaccination is still the safest way to protect yourself against COVID-19,” he said.

For the study, health officials in California and New York gathered data from May through November, which included the period when the delta variant was dominant.

It showed that people who survived a previous infection had lower rates of COVID-19 than people who were vaccinated alone.

That represented a change from the period when the Alpha variant was dominant, Silk told the briefing.

“Before the delta variant, COVID-19 vaccination resulted in better protection against a subsequent infection than surviving a previous infection,” he said.

In the summer and fall of 2021, however, when delta became the predominant circulating iteration of the virus in the United States, “surviving a previous infection now provided greater protection against the subsequent infection than vaccination,” he said.

But acquiring immunity through natural infection carries significant risks. According to the study, by November 30, 2021, roughly 130,781 residents of California and New York had died from COVID-19.

The analysis did not include information on the severity of initial infection, nor does it account for the full range of illness caused by prior infection.

One important limitation to the study was that it ended before administration of vaccine booster doses was widespread.

Dr. Erica Pan, state epidemiologist for the California Department of Public Health, said in an email that the study “clearly shows” that vaccines provide the safest protection against COVID-19 and they offer added protection for those with prior infections.

“Outside of this study, recent data on the highly contagious omicron variant shows that getting a booster provides significant additional protection against infection, hospitalization and death,” Pan said.

Silk said the CDC is studying the impact of vaccination, boosters and prior infection during the omicron surge and expects to issue further reports when that data becomes available.

Read more: COVID-19 pandemic ‘nowhere near over’: WHO chief

Continue Reading

Trending