A new variant of coronavirus, the Omicron, has been spreading around the world, leading many countries to reintroduce travel curbs. The Omicron variant was first reported in South Africa on 24 November, and the number of infections is increasing quickly. Nepal is at high risk of the spread of this new variant, according to experts. Priyanjali Karn of ApEx talked to Dr Sher Bahadur Pun, chief of Clinical Research Unit at Shukraraj Tropical and Infectious Disease Hospital, to know more about the Omicron variant and how it can affect Nepal.
How has the WHO responded to the new coronavirus variant?
The WHO labeled the new variant Omicron, and declared it a ‘variant of concern’. Until we know more, we need to be careful as we don’t know how dangerous it can be. The WHO recommends everyone to continue taking precautions.
How is the Omicron variant different from previous ones?
When a mutation occurs in a virus, a new, different virus is born. It is a natural process, and it keeps happening in nature. With the mutation, some characteristics of the virus change—it gets weaker or stronger. It is a matter of concern if it gets stronger.
We still don’t know much about this variant to jump to conclusions. Vaccines prevent the spike protein of the virus from attaching itself to the human body. I am worried that if there is mutation in the spike protein, making it potentially stronger, it can enter the human body more easily. But as with the Delta variant, it might not seriously affect the vaccinated. Still, nothing is for sure and we are still waiting for more research.
Is Nepal under the risk of a third wave from the new variant?
I doubt we will face something as devastating as the second wave. I am hopeful things won’t worsen the way they did during the second wave as more and more people are getting vaccinated. Again, we cannot assume much at this point.
How concerned should we be then?
We need to be prepared and continue applying preventive measures at all times to protect ourselves and the people around us. We don’t know how threatening this variant is going to be, and the best we can do is take precautions and prevent its spread. Right now, the number of reported Covid-19 cases in Nepal is declining, but the risk is still there. Taking preventive measures should be the priority of every individual.