WHO: Prevent Omicron case surge, get vaccinated

The World Health Organization (WHO) has urged countries to prepare for a possible surge of cases due to the Omicron variant, by getting their nationals vaccinated against Covid-19 and strictly observing health protocols.

In an online media forum, WHO Western Pacific Region director, Dr. Takeshi Kasai said “things are trending in the right direction in the region” as Covid-19 cases and deaths have decreased. He, however, said countries – including those that have successfully suppressed the virus – cannot be complacent.

“Globally, cases have been increasing for seven consecutive weeks,” he noted, and warned countries against possible surges of infections in the future.

WHO Regional Emergency director Dr. Babatunde Olowokure, for his part, said the number of countries reporting detection of Omicron is increasing daily. He cited three states and an island in the region with Omicron cases — Australia, Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea.

Citing that Omicron is more transmissible than other variants, Olowokure said the WHO is currently working with research institutions to better understand the variant as more information is needed.

“We know that Omicron will eventually come to most of the countries in the region. We need to start preparing now,” he added.

Kasai said making adjustments in the management of the Omicron variant could help countries “better cope with the future surges and reduce health and economic impact, and government cannot simply rely on border controls.”

Olowokure agrees and noted that “travel bans can delay but not prevent the entry of the Omicron variant to countries.”

Kasai said the two best tools in suppressing the transmission of any variant of the coronavirus are the strict adherence to public health and social measures, and inoculation. “Where there is high vaccine coverage, we can reduce severe illness and deaths,” he added.

WHO Coordinator for Essential Medicines and Health Technologies Dr. Socorro Escalante said the Western Pacific Region is “in good position” in terms of the availability of vaccines against Covid-19.

Apart from encouraging everyone to be inoculated, Escalante said it is equally important to look after the more vulnerable members of the population like the senior citizens and individuals with comorbidities.

“We need to ensure to continue to protect those most at risk and vulnerable by giving them booster doses,” she stressed.