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Omicron Won’t Be The Last Variant: WHO expert

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By B N Kumar

Dr Maria Van Kerkhove

MUMBAI (The CONNECT): As the virus circulates into the third year of this pandemic, we will see more.

Stating this, Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, COVID-19 Technical lead, WHO Health Emergencies Programme, points out that it very unlikely that Omicron will be the last variant you’ll hear us speaking about. This is why it is so critical that we focus on getting vulnerable populations around the world vaccinated and that we increase vaccination coverage in all countries, not just in some, she says and emphasises on getting vaccinated and vaccine equity.

“At the same time, we have to continue to drive transmission down. We cannot only focus on vaccinations, it’s vaccines and, not vaccines only. So everyone needs to play their part in reducing the opportunity to get infected and to spread this virus. And there’s a number of things that we can do. Distancing, masking, improving ventilation, avoiding crowds, keeping your hands clean. All of those layers of interventions keep you and your loved ones safe,” Dr Kerkhove says in a series of WHO special films.

“There is evidence that Omicron is causing less severe disease, but it doesn’t mean that Omicron is mild and Omicron is not the common cold. So please take measures to keep yourself from getting infected,” she says.

One last point to mention is the risk of developing post-COVID-19 condition or long COVID. We do know that that a proportion of people who are infected with this virus can go on to develop long term impacts, which are called long COVID or post-COVID 19 conditions.

“And so that’s reason enough to try to prevent yourself from getting infected for that. But don’t forget about this because we want to make sure that we keep you safe from infection yourself, developing severe disease, passing the virus to somebody else, but also to prevent from developing long COVID,” the specialist says.

Admitting that it is a frustrating experience, Dr Kerkhove says everyone is exhausted. “I am too and frustrated. But what we need to do is to stay strong, stick together and stay vigilant because if we work together, if we fight for vaccine equity, if we adhere to these measures together, we have a much better chance of overcoming this virus together and we will.”

Striking an optimistic note, she says “All pandemics end.” “This pandemic will end. We really do need to stay strong. We need to stick together. I would also emphasize to really be kind to one another because this is wearing thin on our patience and how exhausted all of us actually are. But please remain vigilant.”

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