Singapore — The Omicron variant of the Covid-19 virus has rapidly spread and settled just about everywhere may become the dominant strain in Singapore within two months.
Already, of the 842 new Covid infections reported in Singapore Tuesday, 438 were of the Omicron variant. This coronavirus strain reported in South Africa only in November last year was first detected in Singapore in two airline passengers who had come from Johannesburg on Dec 1.
Omicron, which is highly contagious but seems less virulent than the Delta variant, may become Singapore’s dominant strain in the next two months, infectious diseases expert Dale Fisher was quoted as saying in The Straits Times on Jan 5.
Prof Fisher, a senior consultant at the National University Hospital’s infectious diseases division, said that the number of severe infections is more important than the number of new cases, because severe infections could potentially overwhelm the healthcare system.
“If the predictions are correct, we can expect high numbers with a mild disease, but we can’t be sure of this yet,” he said.
On Monday (Jan 3), Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said in a Facebook post that an Omicron wave was imminent, with cases already accounting for 17 per cent of total Covid-19 cases.
He said then that “Omicron cases have started to creep up, making up around 17 per cent of local cases currently,” but did not seem overly alarmed and underlined that the situation here “continues to be stable so far”.
Last week, infectious disease experts including NUS Professor of Medicine Dr Paul Tambyah sounded optimistic about the pandemic’s direction in light of new findings on the novel variant.
“Now that we know that the Omicron variant is probably a lot less virulent than the previous dominant strains, we can move closer back to treating Covid-19 like other potentially deadly contagious respiratory infections such as tuberculosis or influenza,” The Straits Times (ST) quoted him as saying.
Does the Omicron variant signal end to the pandemic?
Some experts are hailing the new variant with “cautious hope” that it may signal the end of the pandemic as the world heads into the infection’s endemic phase.
But the experts are divided on this score.
Since the disease the variant brings is less severe and does not last as long, even if Omicron infects those who are vaccinated, it could bring on long hoped-for “herd” or “collective immunity.”
“Perhaps we are witnessing the beginning of an evolution towards a more banal virus like the others we know,” said France’s Dr Alain Fischer, who heads the country’s Covid-19 vaccine efforts,
South Africa’s top infectious disease scientist Dr Salim Abdool Karim told The Washington Post: “If previous variants caused waves shaped like Kilimanjaro, Omicron’s is more like we were scaling the North Face of Everest.
“Now we’re going down, right back down, the South Face — and that is the way we think it may work with a variant like Omicron, and perhaps even more broadly what we’ll see with subsequent variants at this stage of the pandemic.”
Other experts warn that Omicron could have the opposite effect.
A World Health Organisation (WHO) officer warned on Jan 4 that as Omicron infections sweep many parts of the globe, the risk increases that a newer and even more dangerous variant will emerge.
In an interview with AFP, WHO senior emergencies officer Catherine Smallwood said, “The more Omicron spreads, the more it transmits and the more it replicates, the more likely it is to throw out a new variant. Now, Omicron is lethal, it can cause death … maybe a little bit less than Delta, but who’s to say what the next variant might throw out.” /TISG
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