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The new Covid-19 variant 'Omicron' has triggered global alarm as governments around the world scrambled to impose new travel curbs. The new strain, first detected in South Africa, has now spread in more than 10 countries, including Canada, the UK, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Australia. Because of fears that the new variant has the potential to be more resistant to the protection offered by vaccines, there are growing concerns around the world that the pandemic and associated lockdown restrictions will persist for far longer than hoped. Here's what the World Health Organization (WHO), the top UN health body has aid about the Omicron variant and what countries and people should do to protect themselves from the mutant virus.

Omicron transmissibility

The research on Omicron has begun around the globe, but it is yet clear if this new Covid variant is more transmissible than other previous variants such as Alpha, Kappa, Delta etc.

How severe is Omicron?

The preliminary research suggests that there are increasing rates of hospitalization in South Africa. However, this might be because of increasing overall numbers of people becoming infected, rather than a result of a specific infection with Omicron.

There is currently no information to suggest that symptoms associated with Omicron are different from those from other variants.

Can the Omicron variant target an already infected person from Covid-19?

According to the WHO, preliminary evidence has suggested that there may be an increased risk of reinfection with Omicron (ie, people who have previously had COVID-19 could become reinfected more easily with Omicron), as compared to other variants of concern, but the information is limited.

Omicron and the Covid-19 vaccine's effectiveness

WHO is working with technical partners to understand the potential impact of this variant on existing Covid-19 vaccines.

Medicines to treat Omicron Covid-19 strain

Corticosteroids and IL6 Receptor Blockers will still be effective for managing patients with severe COVID-19. However, other treatments will be assessed, WHO said.

What do countries need to do?

As Omicron has been designated a Variant of Concern, several actions recommend countries to undertake, including enhancing surveillance and sequencing of cases; sharing genome sequences on publicly available databases.

"Countries should continue to implement the effective public health measures to reduce COVID-19 circulation overall, using risk analysis and science-based approach. They should increase some public health and medical capacities to manage an increase in cases. WHO is providing countries with support and guidance for both readiness and response," WHO said in a circular.

How an individual can protect against Covid-19?

The most effective steps individuals can take to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus is to keep a physical distance of at least 1 metre from others; wear a well-fitting mask; open windows to improve ventilation; avoid poorly ventilated or crowded spaces; keep hands clean; cough or sneeze into a bent elbow or tissue, and get vaccinated when it’s their turn.

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