Singapore Health Ministry: Covid-19 Omicron variant proving to be more transmissible but less severe, even as more studies needed

Two people who arrived in Singapore from South Africa on Thursday had preliminarily tested positive with the variant. — TODAY pic
Two people who arrived in Singapore from South Africa on Thursday had preliminarily tested positive with the variant. — TODAY pic

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SINGAPORE, Dec 5 — The Omicron variant of Covid-19 is likely to be more infectious than past strains, but so far, those infected with it suffer only mild symptoms, and there have been no deaths from it globally, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said today.

Giving an update on what it knows of the Omicron variant, the MOH said it has looked at cases happening around the world of the Omicron variant, and has actively engaged scientific experts in countries with these cases to find out more.

This follows a Nov 30 press conference by the task force on Covid-19 that little was known about the Omicron variant, which posed an “unknown threat” to Singapore.

Two people who arrived in Singapore from South Africa on Thursday had preliminarily tested positive with the variant.

The update on Sunday said that there is strong scientific consensus that vaccinations also protect against severe cases of infection, though studies are still ongoing.

Urging people to be inoculated, including with boosters when offered, MOH said: “We expect to see more Omicron cases being reported globally in the weeks to come, and we must expect to detect more cases at our borders and, in time to come, also within our community.”

What we know of Omicron

1.         Testing

Existing methods to test for other variants of the coronavirus also work with the Omicron variant, said MOH.

“We have been closely monitoring studies on the sensitivity of antigen rapid tests (ART) to the Omicron variant. The analysis so far has indicated that, in addition to the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, ARTs are also effective as a method of detecting Covid-19 infection, including Omicron cases,” said the ministry.

Testing remains key to the early detection and initial containment of transmission, MOH added.

2.         Transmissibility

Those who had previously recovered from Covid-19 may have a higher risk of reinfection with Omicron, compared with the Delta and Beta variants, said the ministry.

This is linked to early clinical observations from South Africa and elsewhere that reveal Omicron’s increased transmissibility.

3.         Severity

There have been no Omicron-related deaths reported so far, said the MOH on Sunday. The variant was first reported to the World Health Organisation on Nov 24 by South Africa.

While there had been more hospitalisations of Omicron cases among young adults and children, MOH said this could be due to the high infection rates as well as existing patients who were hospitalised for non-Covid reasons, but had nevertheless tested positive with the variant.

These hospitalisation stays have been short — lasting one to two days — for younger people detected with Omicron in South Africa.

“Cases who have been detected around the world have mostly displayed mild symptoms Common symptoms reported include sore throat, tiredness and cough,” said the MOH.

But the ministry added that in the coming weeks, more information of infections among older people is needed in order to determine if Omicron is more severe than the Delta variant.

4.         Vaccination

So far, existing Covid-19 vaccines appear to be working on the Omicron variant and protecting people against severe illness, though studies on vaccine effectiveness are still ongoing, MOH said.

This includes studies into how vaccines work against infection and severe disease compared with previous variants. Such information is expected to become available in the coming weeks, said the ministry.

“In the meantime, there is strong scientific consensus that we should take our vaccinations and boosters to protect ourselves against any existing and future variants of Covid-19.” — TODAY

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