What do we know about COVID-19 OMICRON Variant?
With the emergence of Omicron variant, uncertainty seems only certain at this point of time. However, with the proactive approach of searcher and scientists across the globe, some sort of conclusion appearing. On 5th December, Ministry of Health, Singapore shared some information. Though some questions are answered, the organisation warns that many questions remain with no clear answers. Here is summary:
Does Antigen rapid tests (ART) sensitive enough?
Based on ongoing study and analysis, in addition to the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, ARTs are also effective as a method of detecting COVID-19 infection, including Omicron cases. Testing therefore is still key to early detection and initial containment of transmission.
How much is OMICRON variant transmissible?
Early clinical observations from South Africa and globally suggest that the variant may have increased transmissibility. It may also be associated with a higher risk of re-infection, compared to the Delta and Beta variants. This means that there is a higher likelihood of individuals who have recovered from COVID-19 to be re-infected with the Omicron variant.
Does the OMICRON variant cause severe disease?
Cases who have been detected around the world have mostly displayed mild symptoms, and no Omicron-related deaths have been reported so far. Common symptoms reported include sore throat, tiredness, and cough.
While there were more Omicron-related hospitalisations among young adults and children in South Africa, this could be contributed by two factors. First, high infection rates amongst the population. Second, there have been reports that these are also due to existing patients who were being hospitalised for non-COVID-19 related illnesses being tested positive for the Omicron variant, and the patients mostly experienced mild symptoms.
It is warned that it is early days to conclude on the severity of the disease. The outbreak was first detected in a university town with a younger demographic. According to the South African health experts, any hospitalisation stays for this demographic thus far have been short, of about one to two days. In the coming weeks, we will need to obtain more information about infections in older individuals to assess if the variant is more severe than the Delta variant.
Is Vaccination effective against OMICRON variant?
There is an emerging view amongst scientists around the world that existing COVID-19 vaccines will still work on the Omicron variant, especially in protecting people against severe illness. However, studies on vaccine effectiveness for infection and severe disease compared to previous variants are ongoing. More information on the variant’s biological behaviour is expected to become available in the coming weeks. In the meantime, there is strong scientific consensus that we should take our vaccinations and boosters to protect ourselves against any existing and future variants of COVID-19.
Advisory and update can be accessed here.