Omicron alert: WHO South-East regional director advises increased surveillance


Hours after India’s very first cases of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, which is said to be highly contagious and capable of undergoing frequent mutations, was detected in Karnataka, Poonam Khetreapal Singh, the regional director of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) South-East Asia region, advised caution and increased surveillance over all variants of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19).

Highlighting that all countries in the region should remain alert, Dr Singh said that the priority, as always, remains on taking all Covid-19-related precautionary measures and adhering to social protocols instituted by the respective governments.

“The confirmation of Omicron Variant of Concern today by India, the first two cases in WHO South-East Asia Region, was not unexpected in view of the interconnected world that we live in,” said the regional director of the WHO South-East Asia region. “This emphasises the need for all countries to step up surveillance, to be on alert and rapidly detect any importation and take measures to curtail further spread of the virus. The response measures for all variants, including Omicron, is the same as those for SARS-CoV-2.”

Dr Singh said that comprehensive, tailored public health and social measures by governments, and strict adherence to preventive and precautionary measures by individuals, is a must.

“People must wear well-fitting mask which covers their nose and mouth well, keep distance, avoid poorly ventilated or crowded spaces, keep hands clean, cover cough and sneeze and get vaccinated,” she said. “And continue to take all precautionary measures even after getting vaccinated. All travellers must adhere to public health and social measures at all times and remain vigilant for signs and symptoms of Covid-19.”

The WHO regional director pointed out that the Omicron variant of the coronavirus has a large of mutations, some of which are “concerning”. “Researchers around the world are conducting studies to better understand the transmissibility, severity and immune escape capabilities of Omicron,” she said. “WHO commends countries which have been able to quickly detect and report cases of the new Variant of Concern.”

The Union health ministry on Thursday confirmed two cases of the Omicron variant of coronavirus. Two men from Karnataka, aged 66 and 46, tested positive for the variant on Wednesday, Lav Agarwal, joint secretary at the Union health ministry told reporters at a press briefing. The health ministry official also gave other information about the Omicron, which since its detection in southern Africa on November 24, has spread to 30 countries (India included).

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