A new variant doesn’t mean that things will be worse, but definitely, they will be more uncertain, says Dr Poonam Khetrapal, WHO Regional Director for South East Asia. She said the pandemic is still very much around.
“The risk of COVID-19 remains high globally in view of the surge being witnessed in other parts of the world, and the emergence of new variants,” Dr Khetrapal told NDTV. “In South East Asia region, we must not let our guard down. We must continue to strengthen surveillance, public health and social measures, and rapidly scale up vaccination coverage.”
She pointed out that certain features of the new variant omicron could have a major impact on the course of the pandemic. “Emerging data from South Africa shows increased reinfection risk from omicron. But we need more to draw more conclusions. There is also some evidence that omicron causes milder diseases than delta, but its too early to be definitive.”
The top official believes it is important to monitor pressure on the healthcare system like the number of beds. “Comprehensive, tailored and timely public health and social measures must continue to contain transmission. The earlier the measures are implemented, the less restrictive they need to be effective. All efforts to scale up vaccination must continue,” Dr Khetrapal said.
Dr Priya Abraham, Director of NIV, told BBC that they have learnt a lot from the second wave of COVID-19 infections. “We know that the more we allow a virus to spread, the more the likelihood that we will have a new variant. I think we will be much more proactive now, much more prepared.”
However, Dr Abraham highlighted limitations due to the size of India’s population. “We are nowhere near more advanced countries like the United Kingdom or the USA, but I think we have caught up a lot. And remember, we need to also give the messaging that along with these measures, everybody needs to be cautious. I think a third wave will come depending on how warmly we invite it. If there’s vaccine hesitancy, and we have mass gatherings in confined spaces, yes, the third wave will be here.”