Singapore — Fighting two enemies – one known, the other still mostly a mystery – simultaneously is the way that the government has had to move on Covid-19, says Health Minister Ong Ye Kung.

“We are now fighting two enemies – Delta, that we know and trying to live with, and an unknown Omicron,” Mr Ong said on Tuesday in a Facebook post.

He also likened the current situation to playing snakes and ladders, with deliberation over every move highly dependent on how the newly-discovered Omicron variant develops.

Scientists everywhere, including at the World Health Organisation (WHO) are racing against the clock to learn more about this new variant of concern. They are still unclear if Omicron can outrun Delta, the current dominant variant around the world, or if it causes more severe illness than Delta.

It is also unknown if existing vaccines work effectively against Omicron at the same levels as other variants.

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Mr Ong noted that a multi-layered and prudent approach is needed to prevent Omicron from taking root in the community. For example, testing for everyone arriving in Singapore are being enhanced.

“We have tightened our borders for those arriving from affected regions. We will monitor and further adjust if need be,” he said.

To date, Singapore is running two sets of tests – one for Delta and another for Omicron. Anyone who tests positive for Omicron will be isolated at the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID) with full contact tracing and quarantining.

“The situation is like a game of Snakes and Ladders. If Omicron is more infectious, more harmful, and vaccines do not work well against it, we will snake down many steps, and much of our progress can be undone,” said Mr Ong.

Should Omicron turn out to be more infectious than other variants but milder and less harmful, “it is actually a positive development. We will ladder up towards living with Covid-19.”

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It may also be a non-event, said Mr Ong.

This consideration did not stop the lightning response by governments to the emergence of the Omicron variant in South Africa.

On Tuesday, however, the Netherlands revealed that it detected the Omicron variant in separate samples taken on Nov 19 and Nov 23 – that is, before South Africa made its stunning announcement about the new variant –  and said it was not clear whether these two people had visited southern Africa.

England, Australia, Japan, China, and Singapore have banned travellers or adopted differing levels of border control of travel from South Africa and other African nations such as Botswana, Eswatini (formerly Swaziland), Lesotho, Namibia, Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia, Angola, and Zimbabwe.

A further sampling:

Angola has closed its borders with all the above countries and Tanzania.

Brazil has closed it borders to all of the above but excluding Angola despite its president having stated before that he would not support border closures.

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Since Monday, the US has banned the entry of most foreign nationals  who have been in  Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe for the preceding 14 days, but will still allow in US citizens and lawful permanent residents./TISG

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COVID-19 | WHO unclear if new variant Omicron causes more severe disease


ByHana O