Border closures adopted by some countries may buy time to deal with the omicron coronavirus variant, according to World Health Organization officials in the Western Pacific, but the measures put in place and experience gained in dealing with the delta variant should remain the foundation for fighting the pandemic.
While a few nations in the area are seeing spikes, COVID-II is not.
Dr. Takeshi Kasai, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific, told reporters Friday in a virtual news conference webcast from Manila, Philippines, that 19 cases have reduced and many others have plateaued.
“Border control can gain time by delaying the virus’s entry. “However, every country and community must be prepared for new instances,” Kasai added. “The good news is that none of the information we presently have regarding omicron indicates that we need to adjust our reaction directions.”
Much about the new variation is unclear, including if it is more infectious, as some health officials believe, or if it causes individuals to become more gravely ill, as well as whether it may prevent the vaccination.
According to Kasai, omicron has been recognized as a variety of concern due to the large number of mutations and early indications that it may be more transmissible than other viral variants. He believes that more testing and observation is required.
According to WHO Regional Emergency Director Dr. Babatunde Olowokure, four nations and areas in the Western Pacific have reported instances of the omicron strain so far: Australia, Hong Kong, Japan, and South Korea. According to Olowokure, this figure is expected to rise as additional instances are uncovered throughout the world.
In the last 24 hours, Singapore and Malaysia, as well as India, which is barely outside the WHO Western Pacific Region, have reported their first cases.
In the Philippines, government epidemiology bureau director Althea de Guzman said Friday that one of 71 people found by authorities after arriving in the country from South Africa in the last two weeks tested positive for the coronavirus, and more tests are being conducted to see if it’s the omicron variant.
“We’re prepared and bracing our health system in case omicron arrives here and, second, we observe a significant rise in cases,” de Guzman added.
The rise of omicron is causing special anxiety among organizers of the Beijing Winter Olympic Games, which begin in just a few weeks.
Beijing is implementing a “series of comprehensive prevention and control measures to reduce the risk of imported outbreaks, effectively protect the health of all participants and residents of the hosting cities, and ensure that the competition runs safely and smoothly as planned,” according to the Beijing Olympic Committee. Zhao Weidong, a spokeswoman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry,
China has a zero-tolerance stance for COVID-19 transmission and arguably of the harshest border restrictions in the world. Only spectators who are Chinese citizens who have been vaccinated and tested will be allowed at sites, and athletes will have to live and compete inside a bubble.
For the time being, Beijing’s steps appear to be sufficient.
In terms of what countries should do today, Olowokure stated in Manila that “our experiences over the previous few years, particularly in reacting to delta, give a guidance of what we need to do, as well as how to manage with future surges in a more sustainable way.”
Full vaccine coverage, social separation, mask wearing, and other measures are among them. He explained that the purpose is to “ensure that we are treating the appropriate patients in the right place at the right time, and that ICU beds are available, particularly for those who need them.”
Despite good developments in the Western Pacific region’s response to the pandemic, partly due to high vaccination rates, Kasai warned that “we cannot be complacent.”
Globally, cases have risen for seven weeks in a row, and the number of deaths has begun to climb again, he added, owing mostly to the delta variant and less usage of preventative measures in other regions of the world.
“In the future, we shouldn’t be shocked to see additional surges.” As seen by the advent of omicron, the virus can continue to change as long as transmission continues, reminding us of the need to be cautious,” Kasai stated.
He also warned about the possibility of spikes over the Christmas season owing to increased gatherings and migration of people. Along with COVID-19, additional infectious respiratory disorders like as influenza are anticipated to emerge in the northern winter season, according to Kasai.
“It’s apparent that this epidemic is far from done, and I realize that omicron is causing concern,” he added. “However, my message today is that we can adjust how we handle this virus in the future to better cope with future outbreaks and decrease their health, social, and economic consequences.”
From Palau to Mongolia, the WHO Western Pacific Region encompasses 37 nations and territories.