Transmissibility, severity of Omicron still unclear - Dr. Jeewandara
With cases of the Omicron COVID variant on the rise, Director of the Department of Immunology and Molecular Medicine at the University of Sri Jayewardenepura, Dr. Chandima Jeewandara offers knowledge about the new variant to ease public curiosity and doubt.
Addressing the main concern surrounding the new variant, Dr. Jeewandara said it is still unclear whether Omicron is more transmissible and severe compared to other variants, including Delta.
"Effectiveness of prior SARS-CoV-2 infection Preliminary evidence suggests there may be an increased risk of reinfection with Omicron (people who have previously had COVID-19 could become re-infected more easily with Omicron), as compared to other variants of concern," he said.
Dr. Jeewandara said vaccines remain critical to reducing severe disease and death, including against the dominant circulating virus, Delta.
However, more research is underway.
"The widely used PCR tests continue to detect infection, including infection with Omicron, as we have seen with other variants as well. Studies are ongoing to assess any impact on other types of tests, including rapid antigen detection tests."
Speaking on the effectiveness of current treatment methods, Dr. Jeewandara said Corticosteroids and IL6 Receptor Blockers will still be effective for managing patients with severe COVID-19.
Other treatments will be assessed to see if they are still as effective given the changes to parts of the virus in the Omicron.
He added that the Allergy Immunology and Cell Biology Unit are enhancing surveillance and sequencing of cases.
Dr. Jeewandara recommended the following actions to be undertaken by the public in an attempt to avoid a severe outbreak of Omicron in the country:
- A physical distance of at least one m from others
- Wear a well-fitting mask
- Open windows to improve ventilation
- Avoid poorly ventilated or crowded spaces
- Keep hands clean
- Cough or sneeze into a bent elbow or tissue
- Get vaccinated