Omicron variant: It is not yet clear

Published December 8, 2021, 12:02 AM

by Rikki Mathay


Rikki Mathay

As nations eagerly aspire for the full re-opening of their borders and economies, a new variant of the corona virus puts all these laid out plans in jeopardy. By now, you may have heard that the Omicron variant poses much milder symptoms than its predecessors which may leave us feeling more complacent particularly with standard health protocols.

Little is still known about the variant which was discovered at the latter part of last month, but the striking difference we see now as compared to when COVID-19 first appeared is how the populace seems to be reacting to it. Some blame it on human nature’s frustration after nearly 20 months of severe lockdowns and restrictions, but it is imperative to understand that despite the reported milder symptoms of Omicron, scientists still need at least two more weeks to obtain more conclusive data on the long term impacts of this variant, not only on the human body, but on its impact on the efficacy of the COVID vaccines and treatments. Till then, several countries have taken a step back and are not taking any risk as their governments have re-imposed border restrictions even in highly vaccinated areas.

And until we receive the more comprehensive evidence on Omicron, here are pertinent data from the World Health Organization (WHO) we need to keep in mind.

1. It is not yet clear if it is more transmissible compared to other variants which we have survived, but noteworthy that there has been a rise in Omicron positive patients in South Africa where it was first detected.

2. It is not yet clear whether the infections caused by Omicron will result in severe diseases or death particularly for those with comorbidities.

3. It is not yet clear what the “potential impact” of Omicron on vaccines and treatments are. But at this point, vaccines are the most effective measure against severe illnesses including death.

4. PCR tests that are being used to detect infection including infection with Omicron are still effective in detection but further studies are needed to determine the efficacy levels of rapid antigen detection tests which have been widely used due to its accessibility and affordability.

At this point, what is clear is that data on Omicron are not yet clear. It will be unwise to let our guards down just because it seems to be a milder variant. What is clear at this point has been the tried and tested health protocols and prevention is still key.