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Too Early To Answer Queries Of New Omicron Variant; Focus On Testing, Tracking &Tracing: WHO Expert

Dr Swaminathan informed that typically it would take three to four weeks for the initial sets of data to start coming in from the laboratory studies

Mumbai: As the threat of the new COVID variant rises, experts say that it is still too early to answer and it will be a few more weeks, perhaps another three to four weeks before there is more information to answer the various questions emerging around the new variant.

Last week, the World Health Organisation had classified Omicron as a ‘Variant of Concern’, indicating that it may be far more dangerous than its predecessors. The chief scientist at the World Health Organisation (WHO), Dr Soumya Swaminathan, “Caution monitoring and early response is yet again going to be critical in dealing with the new virus variant.”

Speaking to Financial Express online on Saturday, Dr Swaminathan, informed that typically it would take three to four weeks for the initial sets of data to start coming in from the laboratory studies. She stressed that the focus at the moment needs to be on testing, tracking and tracing, especially those entering the country.

She added, “We feel countries need to strengthen their genomic surveillance and those doing so already to step it up further by reviewing their sampling strategy and perhaps increase their sampling to ensure all cases are broad-based and more representative and not narrow in their choice of hospital or a geographical location.”

Emphasising representative sampling, she also favoured increased sequencing with at least 5% of the samples, if not more, getting sequenced and the data getting submitted as quickly as possible to the public database called GISAID (that aims to help researchers understand how viruses evolve and spread).

Dr Swaminathan felt the need to be backed by research within each country as there could be other variants too and this needs to be tracked, adding “We hope the vaccines will continue to stay effective against different variants because the vaccines are eliciting a broad-based immunity and therefore the focus all-around has to be to increase the vaccination coverage.”

Highlighting the need for constant monitoring to check if there is any case of waning immunity, she added, “The new variant is, therefore, a wake-up call yet again at what viruses do and for all of us to be one step ahead, out preparedness has to be really strengthened.”

Ensuring people take the precautionary measures of masking and inoculation, she seemed to suggest that the cases are rising and it is high on transmissibility and perhaps not very virulent but then we do not know this as yet and need to wait for more data and with it greater clarity on the way ahead.

India’s highly regarded virologist Dr Gangandeep Kang, who is also the professor at the Christian Medical College, Vellore, said, “The new virus variant is raising many unanswered questions, Since the virus is impacting those in the age group of between 18 and 34 what needs to be seen is whether it is because they are not vaccinated or this is the target age group that is more vulnerable to this variant.”

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