Experience gained in tackling Delta variant will help fight Omicron - WHO
World Health Organisation (WHO) officials in the Western Pacific have said border closures 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 countries in the region 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.
In a virtual news conference broadcast from Manila, Philippines, Dr Kasai said: "Border control can delay the virus coming in and buy time. But every country and every community must prepare for new surges in cases.
"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, if it can make people more seriously ill, or whether it can thwart the vaccine.
Dr 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.
The emergence of Omicron is of particular concern for organisers of the Beijing Winter Olympic Games, now just weeks away.
Beijing is adopting a "series of comprehensive prevention and control measures to minimise the risk of the spread of imported outbreaks, effectively protect the health of all participants and people of the hosting cities, and ensure that the competition runs safely and smoothly as scheduled," Beijing Games spokesperson Zhao Weidong 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,” Dr Kasai said.
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