If you thought the COVID-19 scare was over and life was back to normal where you could walk around without a mask or a sanitizer and socialize freely, you were dead wrong. The new Omicron variant that has surfaced recently in South Africa may be the harbinger of bad news. It is spreading rapidly and looks more virulent than the previous variant.
Here is all the information you need about the Omicron virus.
What is the latest on the Omicron variant?
Till a few weeks back, South Africa was coping well with COVID-19. The number of daily cases was on the decline and things looked under control. One day there was a sudden surge in the number of cases among university students in Pretoria. Doctors thought it was caused by the Delta Variant but decided to sequence the genome of the virus to be sure. The result was startling. It wasn’t the Delta virus but something different with over 50 mutations. Delta had fewer than 20. Say hello to Omicron - the new variant that has put the world on high alert once again.
The variant was reported to WHO on 24th November and as we write, Omicron cases have been identified in more than a dozen countries across five continents which gives you a fair idea of how rapidly it is spreading. The World Health Organization has classified the Omicron variant as “very high risk” which means that governments and healthcare systems have to be extra vigilant.
On 26th November, WHO labelled the Omicron virus a “variant of concern” which means in layman terms that it is more contagious than earlier strains and likely to be more resistant to vaccines. While the Delta variant was declared a variant of concern 6 months after it was first reported, it took only 2 days for Omicron to be given the same label. It is highly likely that the Omicron variant will spread rapidly and given the high number of mutations, it could have severe consequences.
The Omicron variant has been detected in 23 countries to date including India but no deaths have been reported so far. The spread of the Omicron variant is likely to put more pressure on the healthcare system. Countries with a low vaccination rate are likely to feel the pinch harder.
What are the symptoms of COVID-19 Omicron variant?
The symptoms are similar to previous variants and include fever, cough, tiredness, loss of taste or smell.
What are the precautions to be taken?
The precautions that were laid down at the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020 hold true even today. The pandemic has not been eradicated, rather a new, more virulent variant has popped up. It is time to be vigilant and exercise caution in our daily lives. Precautions include -
- Use of Mask
- Washing of hands
- Social distancing
- Avoid guests
- Follow quarantine rules
- Work remotely
- Do not neglect symptoms
Vaccination is a must - It is clear that vaccination is still our best bet against the virus. You have to get both doses of your vaccine at the earliest. Get an appointment online at the nearest vaccination centre and complete your doses. Prevention is always better than cure and it is 100% true when it comes to COVID-19.
Wear your mask when you go out - Wear one or two masks when you go out. There is no point risking your life by being silly and careless. It is clear that a mask is your best protection against the virus. Ensure that you wear the mask correctly covering your nose and mouth fully.
Wash your hands regularly - Please use soap and water to wash your hands regularly while at home. Always use the sanitiser if soap and water are not available and carry one with you when you go out. Use it liberally to keep your hands germ-free. Make sure you cover your fingers and the back of your hand. Do not wipe or rinse after applying the sanitiser. Avoid using the sanitiser in the kitchen.
Maintain social distancing - The virus is still around and it doesn’t make sense to let go of social distancing norms. Practise the social distancing protocol of 6 feet distance when you are outside. Do not attend mass gatherings especially when a new variant is on the loose.
Avoid having people over - Unless absolutely necessary, you can avoid having guests till the variant is under control. A little bit of restraint can go a long way in keeping everyone safe.
Follow quarantine while travelling - Follow the quarantine rules if you are travelling. Self isolate yourself for the prescribed period to keep others safe. The rules may vary from state to state or country to country.
Work remotely - Working from home is the safest option. Given the advancement of technology, it is a very prudent decision taken by most organisations/ educational institutions to work remotely. It is efficient and effective and most importantly it keeps everyone safe to fight another day.
Don’t neglect symptoms - If you exhibit any of the symptoms like fever, cough, tiredness , loss of taste or smell for more than 48 hours make sure you contact the nearest diagnostic lab and get an RT PCR test done immediately. They can send a lab technician home to collect the sample. Do not ignore symptoms or let them aggravate. Remember early detection is important for treatment and cure.
With the threat of the Omicron variant becoming real, it is up to you to follow the precautions carefully. Getting vaccinated is top priority and its benefit cannot be underestimated. Following simple safety precautions like wearing a mask, using a sanitiser and maintaining social distancing can be life savers. Just as we beat the previous two waves, it is indeed possible to beat the Omicron variant as well. All it needs is self-discipline. If everyone follows the protocol, it is not impossible to limit the spread of this virus. Don’t make it hard on the healthcare system. Abide by a few rules and the Omicron variant of the virus can be handled well. In case of any doubts, please consult your doctor and seek expert advice.