Tuesday, March 21, 2023 | Sha'ban 28, 1444 H
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Alarming spread of the Omicron strain

Much is still unknown about the Omicron strain (a mutated strain of Covid-19), but what is clear is that it is a troubling trend and this virus is certainly spreading rapidly.

For instance, in South Africa and the United Kingdom — countries with the best variant control and high rate of vaccination — cases are increasing exponentially. Indeed, Omicron undoubtedly outperformed the highly mobile delta in South Africa and may soon do the same elsewhere.

In other words, following several studies, Omicron is spreading in highly immune communities as quickly as the original virus spread in communities that have no immunity at all. Perhaps if this continues and is left unchecked, the probability that there is a big wave of it waiting for the world, greater than we expected with Delta!

To be clear, this does not mean that the pandemic clock has been reset to early 2020. Previous vaccinations and infections can mitigate the worst effects of the virus. Even if protection against infection is eroded - so to speak - protection against severe illness and death must be more permanent.

At the same time, this mutant doesn’t look terribly malicious just yet - but if I can tell, this observation comes with even bigger caveats. When we follow the scene in South Africa where the disease is prevalent, we will notice that the doctors there have not seen as many severe cases as in the previous waves. Also, as everyone follows, other countries with small numbers of people did not find many patients who were very infected either. However, there are several reasons to believe that news of its seriousness may turn out to be less rosy than it currently appears. Initially, it is early, and the infection can take weeks to develop into severe infections and eventually lead to death

Of course, it is difficult to predict the effect in the real world, but the effect is large enough that the protection against infection may be very low and I could be certain here that we are dealing with a variant that has no problem in infecting the vaccinated individuals! So we can say at the moment that two doses of the vaccine plus the infection or three doses get people up to a higher level of neutralizing antibodies, which can hold up better with the Omicron.

Certainly, we are not in the same situation as we were in early 2020 because we now have the tools to control the omicron mutant. Vaccines are likely to continue to protect against severe infection, in addition to the third booster vaccine, which will enhance that protection, not to mention that manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies are working currently on a special Omicron booster!

Finally, we must remain positive with all this as much as possible, as everyone now understands better the transmission of the virus through the air and how to stop it with masks and ventilation. There are antivirals on the horizon and there are even rapid tests, although they are easier to get, we know that physical distancing has curbed the virus before. It may also be true that the omicron variant propagates quickly, but we know how to slow it down!

Dr Yousuf Ali Al Mulla is a physician, medical innovator and a writer.

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