Stay alert, say experts

PETALING JAYA: Malaysians should continue following Covid-19 standard operating procedure (SOP) with the emergence of the Omicron variant, says virologist Dr Kumitaa Theva Das.

Although medical professionals are not able to, for now, estimate whether this new variant is transmissible, more data is expected to be available within the next few weeks.

“We should keep practising our SOP – maintaining physical distancing, wearing masks, avoiding large groups and being continuously vigilant to protect ourselves and our loved ones.

“As with any other variant, we can play our part to reduce the spread and transmission as much as we can,” she said in an interview.

Kumitaa said whenever someone was vaccinated, there was an increase in overall antibodies.

“While antibody levels are important for protection, the immune system has other defences in place that are built up after vaccination.

“This keeps us protected. We saw this with Delta and it should be similar with Omicron too.

“Although we do not have sufficient data to conclude whether our vaccine efficacy is compromised against Omicron, even if there is a slight reduction in vaccine efficacy, getting booster shots will help,” she added.

Kumitaa said global data from various countries on booster shots seemed to suggest that they gave people additional protection for at least a few months.

“This helps us to buy time as researchers find out more information about this new variant, and if needed, produce a new vaccine that works more efficiently against Omicron.

“We should stay calm in the face of this new variant while WHO (the World Health Organisation) and health experts obtain all necessary information,” she added.

Penang Hospital infectious disease consultant Datuk Dr Chow Ting Soo said there were some indications that Omicron might be heavily mutated but not necessarily virulent.“The symptoms reported so far are moderate such as headache and fatigue. What we can do now is to be vigilant by avoiding crowded public areas and strictly following the SOP.

“The medical authorities are still investigating if current vaccines are strong enough to fight the variant. More studies are needed, and we are waiting for more details,” she said.

Dr Chow, who is Penang state infection control coordinator, also urged the public to get their booster shots to raise their protection efficacy as much as possible.

Alliance for Safe Community chairman Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye said the government’s arsenal to fight the new strain would not be very effective if the people failed to take remedial measures.“People must be prepared for stricter SOP if the new strain is somehow able to escape our vigilance and ‘outwit’ our border controls.

“It’s only a matter of time before travel restrictions to these countries are imposed.We cannot afford to take any chances even if the symptoms are less severe, as some experts believe they will be,” he added.

WHO has declared the new strain a Variant of Concern (VOC).

Several countries have banned flights from over half a dozen southern African nations, including South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Lesotho and Eswatini, over fears of the new variant.

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