‘Omicron’ May Be A Wake-Up Call: WHO’s Dr Soumya Swaminathan

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Vaccine equity still hasn’t been achieved, Dr Soumya Swaminathan said.

New Delhi:

The new variant of Covid-19 may act as a “wake-up call” for Covid appropriate behavior in India, Dr Soumya Swaminathan, Chief Scientist at the World Health Organization, told NDTV.  Stressing the need to be careful and keep using masks, she said that masks have been called “vaccines in your pocket” and have been found to be highly effective, especially in indoor settings. Fully vaccinating all adults, avoiding mass gatherings, wider genome sequencing, and closely monitoring any unusual uptick in cases are some other suggestions by the scientist on fighting ‘Omicron’ – the new variant of concern. “We need a science-based strategy to battle ‘Omicron’ she said. 

Ms Swaminathan added that this variant could be more transmissible than Delta, though one can’t say anything authoritatively yet. We will know more about the strain in a few days, she said. 

‘Omicron’, dubbed a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization, is potentially more contagious than previous variants of the disease, although experts do not know yet if it will cause more or less severe COVID-19 compared to other strains, news agency Reuters reported. Its emergence has caused global concerns, with a fresh wave of travel restrictions and sell-off in financial markets over fears that it will halt economic recovery from the two years of the pandemic. 

We need more studies to pinpoint the new variant’s characteristics, Ms Swaminathan said about comparisons with other Covid variants. 

Vaccination continues to remain a priority and public health measures must remain in place, she said and pointed out that ‘Omicron’ has a large number of mutations. Vaccine equity still hasn’t been achieved, she added.

Genome sequencing – the process of finding out the genetic makeup of an organism – will remain important in the fight against Covid, she said. Regarding travel bans, she said that we need a risk-based approach to it as they have not stopped Covid in the past. “Travel bans should be temporary and reviewed often,” she said. 

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