Health ministry says no need to panic over Omicron variant

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Covid-19 patients are seen at the Premier Centre Sen Sok in Phnom Penh’s Sen Sok district in August. Hong Menea

The Ministry of Health will advocate essentially the same preventive measures against the new SARS-CoV-2 Omicron variant as with earlier strains, its senior official said.

Or Vandine, the ministry’s spokeswoman, said the ministry and other relevant institutions were continuing to monitor the Omicron variant, though scientists and the World Health Organisation (WHO) have yet to confirm what the effects of the new variant are on the human body.

“The health ministry is prepared because we have done this work for the past two years and the health minister has already instructed the relevant departments to focus on this variant, including increased testing of samples taken from suspected cases for further analysis to see if this variant is present.

“We will all look into this issue. However, this is still a coronavirus and no matter how it mutates that’s what it will be. So, the symptoms we have so far experienced are going to be the basic symptoms of it and we must always be vigilant and quick to find out if we have Covid-19 when we have any symptoms,” she said.

Vandine said individuals must take the utmost responsibility to reduce the possibility of transmission from one person to another and monitor their own health.

WHO representative to Cambodia Li Ailan said what the government was doing was still effectively maintaining the balance between protection of public health and people’s health.

“More recent information will help in dealing with the new Covid-19 variant. Two points I think need to be strengthened are tracking the disease and analysing new mutations as soon as possible,” she said.

Li said individual protective measures are still important such as wearing masks, washing hands frequently and keeping a safe distance from others. She said there should not be any overreactions at this time though some countries have imposed travel restrictions on parts of the African continent.

“Due to the uncertainty, we need to be prepared for outbreaks or a surge in infections that may occur in the near future,” she said.

WHO said in a press statement on November 27 that Omicron is worrying because it has a large number of mutations to the spike protein that the virus uses to enter human cells. This spike protein is also what some current vaccines – such as the mRNA vaccines – are focused on in terms of generating an immune response and too many changes to it may lower those vaccines effectiveness.

Preliminary evidence out of South Africa suggests the Omicron brings an increased risk of re-infection as compared to other strains of concern.

WHO said Omicron has grown exponentially as a per cent of cases in certain parts of South Africa and at a faster rate than any previous surges in infections even from the Delta variant, suggesting that Omicron may be even more transmissible and able to infect people more easily.