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Updated on: Friday, December 03, 2021, 08:14 PM IST

Omicron variant 'quite infectious', must not panic, says WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan

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The World Health Organization's chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan on Friday amid the outbreak of Omicron variant said the right response was to be prepared, cautious and not panic adding that the new coronavirus variant appeared to be very transmissible.

According to Reuters report, Swaminathan said, "How worried should we be? We need to be prepared and cautious, not panic, because we're in a different situation to a year ago."

The global health body has urged countries to boost healthcare capacity and vaccinate their people to fight a surge in COVID-19 cases driven by the Omicron variant, saying travel curbs could buy time but alone were not the answer.

While the emergence of the new variant was unwelcome, the WHO chief scientist said the world was much better prepared given the development of vaccines since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We need to wait, lets hope it's milder ... but it's too early to conclude about the variant as a whole," Swaminathan said of what was known about Omicron.

Soumya said the Omicron variant seemed to be causing three times more infections than experienced previously in South Africa, meaning "it does seem to be able to overcome some of the natural immunity from previous infection".

"The fact that they're not getting sick .... that means the vaccines are still providing protection and we would hope that they would continue to provide protection," Swaminathan said.

"Natural infection acts as a booster," the WHO scientist said, adding that while the new variant "could have originated in a country where there isn't a great deal of genome sequencing", its origins were not known.

Today, the global health body also said that imposing lockdown to curtail transmission of Omicron could prove to be very costly and should be used as a last resort.

The new super mutant Omicron Covid variant, which contains more than 30 mutations on the spike protein that the virus uses to infect human cells, has rapidly spread in South Africa and to more than 24 countries including India, Sri Lanka, the US, Australia, Belgium, the Netherlands, and the UK.

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Published on: Friday, December 03, 2021, 08:14 PM IST
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