Omicron causes many countries to change their anti-epidemic strategies

Within a few weeks of its appearance, Omicron prompted many countries to accelerate their booster injections, consider using vaccine passports and re-impose travel restrictions.

Rich countries, with abundant vaccine resources that once expected the pandemic to have receded, must now reassess the situation. Many countries have been accused of overreacting. The head of the South African Medical Association, Angelique Coetzee, warned Britain was creating a “chaotic situation” because of its fear of mutations.

“You need to take precautions, but don’t hype them up,” she said on December 14.

There are many streams of information surrounding the new strain. Some experts predict Omicron could be a sign that the pandemic is coming to an end, because the strain causes less severe symptoms than Delta. This argument is based on the theory that nCoV is less deadly when it spreads rapidly, as was the case with the 1918 flu pandemic. It is too early to say this, but Omicron has changed many regulations. anti-epidemic in some countries.

The first, The mutation seems to spread quickly, many countries re-imposed restrictions. On December 15, the UK recorded more than 78,000 new nCoV infections, the highest number since Covid-19 began, surpassing all previous peaks. The number of deaths has also increased, but at a slower rate. The number of Omicron infections in the UK is currently 10,017, possibly higher when full data is released.

Some experts predict the UK could record about a million Covid-19 cases by the end of December, surpassing the country’s testing and tracing capacity. After many months of “cage registration”, the UK for the first time required people to wear masks in public places and must show vaccination certificates at some locations, and urged to work from home if possible.

The situation is similar in South Africa, where Omicron first appeared. Scientists say the virus spreads widely and quickly, especially in unvaccinated people.

“The Omicron wave (on the epidemiological chart) has a significantly steeper trajectory than previous outbreaks. National data show that the rate of positivity and new infections increased exponentially in three weeks. The first shows a highly transmissible variant that spreads rapidly in the community,” said Ryan Noach, head of Discovery Health, South Africa’s largest insurance group.

Currently, this country maintains a curfew lasting from midnight to 4 am, businesses and places of mass gathering must close before 11 pm, people must wear masks in public and practice distance. . Outdoor sporting events are limited to less than 2,000 spectators and funerals to no more than 100 people.

South Korea also changed its reopening plan due to the record high number of nCoV infections, including the appearance of the Omicron strain. The government requires restaurants, cafes and bars to close at 9pm; private meetings are limited to no more than 4 people; Unvaccinated people can only dine alone or buy takeout or order delivery.

Experts at the African Institute of Health Research in Durban, South Africa, examine samples of the Omicron variant, December 15. Photo: AP

Monday, Current vaccination regimens may be less effective against strains. Research by Discovery Health, in collaboration with the South African Medical Research Council, found that the effectiveness of preventing the infection of the Omicron mutant was only 33%. Even so, the ability to protect users from severe symptoms and hospitalization is 70%.

Last week, the UK Health Security Agency reported that two standard doses of AstraZeneca or Pfizer were effective in preventing symptomatic infections caused by the Omicron strain. Pfizer’s protection level is 30-40%, AstraZeneca’s level drops to 0 after 15 weeks.

However, according to experts, most vaccines are effective enough against Omicron and strains in general, especially when given in booster doses. On December 15, after reviewing the data, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said that there is no need to develop a new vaccine specifically for the Omicron strain.

“The booster injection regimen is enough to prevent mutation. At this point, there is no need to have a separate vaccine. If you have not been vaccinated, you are very susceptible to Covid-19 because both Delta and Omicron are spreading at the same time,” Fauci said. said at a press conference at the White House.

The need for booster doses also accelerates the pace of global vaccination. Throughout 2021, the Covax initiative experienced continuous interruptions. Increased injection regulations in developed countries could result in tighter supply. The World Health Organization (WHO) projects a global shortage of about three billion doses of vaccine next year.

Final, Even if Omicron causes milder symptoms than other strains, it could still change the current anti-Covid-19 strategy. Preliminary data from South Africa shows that the mutation leads to less severe infections and hospitalizations than Delta. However, experts are not sure if this is the result of herd immunity and the young population structure in South Africa. They need to consider whether the same trend is occurring in other countries.

If Omicron causes mild symptoms, public health professionals remain concerned about its ability to spread and evade immunity. To explain this, in an interview with the Times, three scientists Gavin Yamey, William Hanage and Tom Moultrie proposed a scenario where the whole world was infected with nCoV with symptoms like a common cold.

“The number of deaths among the elderly and vulnerable (such as those living in nursing homes) will increase. With a high number of people infected with nCoV, even a small hospitalization rate becomes a large number,” three writing expert. In this context, how to protect vulnerable groups becomes a top priority for countries.

Thuc Linh (Follow Washington Post, SCMP)


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