Omicron still poses danger in Africa – WHO official

Omicron still poses danger in Africa – WHO official
Facemask (photo credit: Healthline)

An epidemiologist, Dr Opeayo Ogundiran of the World Health Organisation, has said that despite the Omicron variant being considered less severe than Delta, it remains dangerous and potentially fatal, especially among vulnerable Africans.

Dr Ogundiran said the variant, which has already been identified in at least 171 countries, has rapidly outpaced the Delta, driving an upsurge of cases in all-region, and ‘‘vaccine remains one of the major projective measures to contain the pandemic.’’  

He added that with its significant growth advantage, higher secondary attack rates, coupled with a higher observed reproduction number compared to Delta, Omicron continues to strain the health care system in most countries and could lead to significant morbidity.

The senior WHO official emphasised that vaccination is still the key because even if Omicron could infect the vaccinated, the jab protects against severe illness and this eases the burden on healthcare institutions.

“Despite a lower risk of disease and death following infection than previously reported for SARS-CoV-2, the very high levels of transmission nevertheless have resulted in a significant increase in hospitalisation.”

“With growing evidence that Omicron is less severe compared to other variants, there are people claiming COVID-19 is just the flu. But COVID-19 is still a clear and present danger. The virus is still evolving, and variants will keep emerging. The next mutation could be more lethal, ” Dr Ogundiran said.

He added: “Until we reach herd immunity, COVID-19 will remain a public health threat. Vaccines have the greatest impact on reducing the severity of disease, hospitalisation, deaths, and lowering the risk of new variants emerging.”

Speaking during the recent conference on five things to know about Omicron and a tour of the COVID-19 Behavioural Dashboard held virtually, Dr Ogundiran talked about the long-term effects of COVID, the long-term effects of the disease that we still do not know enough about.

“We expect that the Omicron variant will not be the last, the next will be more transmissible for it to displace Omicron and might be more severe, and that is why we need to keep the narrative going,” Dr Ogundiran.

According to the WHO, while vaccination is the most effective immune builder, other protective measures such as maintaining physical distance, wearing the mask correctly at all times, wearing a hands sash, and sensitising were equally important in combating the variants.