Strategy May Not Change for Omicron

WHO official says target should remain the delta variant
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Dec 3, 2021 4:45 PM CST
Strategy May Not Change for Omicron
People who just received their jab against COVID-19 on Friday wait for their vaccine card to be processed at the Orange Farm, South Africa, multipurpose center.   (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

(Newser) – Dr. Sikhulile Moyo was analyzing COVID-19 samples in his lab in Botswana last week when he noticed they looked startlingly different from others. Within days, the world was ablaze with the news that the coronavirus had a new variant of concern—one that appears to be driving a dramatic surge in South Africa and offering a glimpse of where the pandemic might be headed. New COVID-19 cases in South Africa have burgeoned from about 200 a day in mid-November to more than 16,000 on Friday, the AP reports. Omicron was detected over a week ago and is now present in all nine provinces, Health Minister Joe Phaahla said.

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Even with the rapid increase, infections are below the 25,000 new daily cases that South Africa reported in the previous surge, in June and July. Little is known about the new variant, but the spike in South Africa suggests it might be more contagious, said Moyo, the scientist who may have been the first to identify the new variant, though researchers in neighboring South Africa were close on his heels. Omicron has more than 50 mutations, and scientists have called it a big jump in the evolution of the virus. In a worrisome development, South African scientists reported that omicron appears more likely than earlier variants to cause reinfections among people who have already had a bout with COVID-19.

"I have a lot of hope from the data that we see that those vaccinated should be able to have a lot of protection," Moyo said. That dovetails with what officials from WHO in Asia said Friday. While warning that cases could well rise quickly because of omicron, Dr. Takeshi Kasai, WHO regional director for the Western Pacific, said the measures used against the delta variant should remain at the core of the response. "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," Kasai said. That means continuing to push people to be vaccinated, follow social distancing, and wear masks, officials said.

(Read more omicron variant stories.)

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