Let bygone be bygone: not Omicron!  | By Dr Asif Channer

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THIS is not an end of a beginning rather it is a bend towards new beginning as World Health Organization has notified a new variant of corona virus (B.1.1.529) from South Africa on November 26, 2021 and by declaring a virus of concern, named it Omicron.

WHO took this step on the recommendations of The Technical Advisory Group on SARS-CoV-2 Virus Evolution (TAG-VE), a panel of professionals who intermittently monitors and assesses the mutative changes in Corona virus and evaluates any specific mutation or blend of mutations that exhibit the virus behavior?
Omicron is showing very high transmissibility as there is a sharp and rapid rise of the cases in South Africa over the last few weeks and all its provinces have been infected especially city of the Pretoria.

It also exhibits high virulence with variable clinical presentation due to which therapeutic and preventive measures like vaccination are becoming ineffective hence the scenario is posing complicated challenges.

Not amazingly, in a short span of time Omicron has also been surfaced in Botswana, Hong Kong, Belgium and Israel and it may spread to other regions as all countries are vulnerable to Omicron’s characteristics irrespective of Covid-19 vaccination and immunity statuses. As compared to previous variants including last variant the Delta variant.

It has got a large number of mutations hence probably due to this mutation it can spread very rapidly but also they may infect the human cells quiet easily.

Besides, it may attribute to high risks of reinfection. In addition, some characteristics in the Omicron’s gene may makes vaccines less effective against it.

Some other mutations which have been noted, demonstrate that it can evade the human immune system thus resist antibodies formation against it and it can easily escape from the body’s defense system.

This desperate condition is calling into question the role of on-going global vaccination campaigns. However. The scientific evidence is still lacking regarding Omicron’s vaccine resistant feature and needs future studies.

Nevertheless the public should receive the vaccines at every cost. The good news is that by the existing PCR test, this variant can be easily detected with authenticity and reliability which makes it an effective and productive diagnostic tool worldwide

Considering the threatening situation the countries across the globe are shutting down African region, like the UK, Germany, Italy, Israel including Some more countries from European Union and other parts of the globe are among the top countries that have restricted or suspended travel to the region, but it looks premature and hastily decision, simultaneously the US is also putting travel restrictions, taking effect from Monday November 29, 2021 onwards.

US has already announced fresh travel limitations on countries like South Africa, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia Mozambique and Lesotho, in addition its policy is relaxed for American residents who are rooted in Africa on permanent basis but they should ensure negative Coronavirus Reports before any travelling to the US.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has announced that no case of Omicron has been identified in the U.S to-date but the active surveillance systems is in place and the variant would not be escaped.

Contrarily, World Health Organization recommends that countries should reinforce their safe travel and other precautions, guidelines and policies and adopt only logically risk analysis based measures to limit and minimize the spread of this variant to other part of the globe avoiding pure travel bans at this moment.

As the on-going Covid Pandemic has been effecting the global economy over the last more than two and half years, now once again due to emergence of Omicron the Stocks and oil prices are dropping as a reaction and may drop more speedily in the coming days and weeks around the world, and the globe may face another economic and social standstill with all its sequels including human sufferings as a result of any potential lockdown, if the effective preventive measures are not taken at all levels.

WHO has been keenly observing these changes but vigilant and reliable surveillance mechanism is inevitable for the Corona variants around the world, along with genetic sequencing to detect and assess these ominous threats timely and accurately.

Needless to mention people should follow all the prophylactic steps like wearing mask keeping social distancing, avoiding huge gatherings, maintaining hand hygiene, respiratory etiquettes and ventilating environment along with getting the vaccination at every cost.

The other dilemma with the African nations who have already poor socio-politico-economic conditions and week Health infrastructure is that the only about 7% of their population have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19 so far and now with the emergence of this Omicron variant, a huge devastation and human misery may be predicted thus necessitating remedial and preventive measures by domestic, international agencies and partners on the war footing basis.

However, there are also growing concerns of Omicron spread in areas despite higher vaccination rates not only in Africa but also in other regions and territories of the world.

Though it would take several weeks to examine the variant’s characteristics including therapeutics and vaccines efficacy against Omicron but Word health Organization is high alert to communicate new findings to its Member countries and to the public. Fortunately, Omicron has not been detected in Pakistan to-date.

The alarming fact is that the more circulation the virus avails, the more chances are there for the virus to get mutations
Lastly, the NCOC, Health Authorities, Provincial Governments and all the stakeholders including public In Pakistan must reinforce all the guidelines and SOPs already in practice, to combat this highly transmissible emergent Omicron variant in the fifth populous country of the world, amidst severe sociecomic crisis and poor health care conditions already compromised and overburdened due to Dengue and Smog.

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