WHO says experience gained in tackling Delta variant will help fight Omicron

3 December 2021, 11:24

Dr Takeshi Kasai
Virus Outbreak Philippines. Picture: PA

A senior medic warned that ‘every country and every community must prepare for new cases’.

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.

Virus Outbreak New York
Patients wait to receive a Covid-19 vaccine booster shot in New York (AP)

Thus far, four countries and regions in the Western Pacific – Australia, Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea – have reported cases of the Omicron variant, said WHO regional emergency director Dr Babatunde Olowokure.

That number is likely to go up as more cases are discovered globally, Dr Olowokure said.

Singapore and Malaysia have also reported their first cases in the last 24 hours, along with India, which falls just outside the WHO Western Pacific Region.

In the Philippines, government epidemiology bureau director Althea de Guzman said on Friday that one of 71 people located by authorities after arriving in the country from South Africa in the last two weeks had tested positive for the coronavirus, and still more tests are under way to determine if it is the Omicron variant.

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.

China has adopted a zero-tolerance policy for Covid-19 transmission and has some of the world’s strictest border controls.

Games participants will have to live and compete inside a bubble and only spectators who are residents of China and have been vaccinated and tested will be permitted at venues.

Beijing’s measures would seem to be adequate for now.

Dr Olowokure said in Manila that in terms of what countries should be doing now, our experiences over the last few years, especially in responding to delta, provides a guide of what we need to do, as well as how to cope with future surges in a more sustainable way.

Coronavirus graphic
(PA Graphics)

Those include full vaccination coverage, social distancing, mask wearing and other measures.

The goal is to “ensure we are treating the right patients in the right place at the right time, and so therefore ensuring that ICU beds are available, particularly for those who need them,” he said.

Despite the positive trends in handling the pandemic in the Western Pacific region, largely through high vaccination rates, “we cannot be complacent”, Dr Kasai 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.

He warned especially about the likelihood of surges due to more gatherings and movement of people during the holiday season.

The northern winter season will likely bring other infectious respiratory diseases such as influenza alongside Covid-19, Dr Kasai said.

“It is clear that this pandemic is far from over and I know that people are worried about Omicron,” he said.

“But my message today is that we can adapt the way we manage this virus to better cope with the future surges and reduce their health, social and economic impacts.”

The WHO Western Pacific Region includes 37 countries and areas from Palau to Mongolia.

By Press Association

Latest World News

See more Latest World News

Elon Musk has said he is buying Manchester United, although it is unclear whether he was serious

Elon Musk says he is not buying Manchester United and he was 'joking'

Liz Cheney

Donald Trump critic Liz Cheney loses Wyoming Republican primary

Sarah Palin

Sarah Palin seeks political comeback in Alaska

Wolfgang Peterson (Alamy)

Das Boot filmmaker Wolfgang Petersen dies aged 81

Biden

Biden signs massive climate and healthcare legislation

Western Drought Colorado River

Drought-stricken states to get less water from Colorado River

Police Boat Saves Wedding

Police boat comes to rescue of stranded groom

Lebanon Banks

Officials release Beirut gunman after bank drops charges

Jill Biden

US first lady Jill Biden tests positive for Covid-19

Norway Walrus

Campaign under way in Norway to erect statue of euthanised walrus

Russia Putin

Putin blasts US ‘hegemony’ and predicts the end of a ‘unipolar’ world order

Estonia Soviet Monument

Estonia to remove Soviet monument which is ‘public order risk’

Germany Drought

German industry at risk as Rhine falls, lobby group warns

Over 5,000 cases of wild cherry Capri Sun drinks have been recalled after a cleaning product was added to a production line

Over 5,000 cases of Capri-Sun recalled over cleaning solution contamination fears

Lost Mural

Long-hidden rare synagogue mural restored

Taiwan US China

China sets sanctions on Taiwan politicians in wake of US visits