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Rapid global spread of Omicron unabated, experts deeply worried

Rapid global spread of Omicron unabated, 
experts deeply worried

Omicron shows every sign of being set to become the dominant version of the coronavirus, researchers in Africa and Europe said on Thursday as multiple areas reported surges in the numbers of people infected with the new variant.
For example, researchers in Africa pointed out on Thursday that the number of infections on the continent is increasing rapidly, and signs in some areas show that the majority of these new cases are Omicron-related.
Last week, 52,300 new cases were registered in the whole African continent, an increase of 105 per cent compared to the previous week.
South Africa alone recorded 31,000 new Covid-19 infections. The variant has also spread worldwide.
It has been detected in Botswana, Ghana, Nigeria and South Africa, John Nkengasong of the African Centre for Infectious Diseases (Africa CDC)) said on Thursday.
According to Nkengasong, however, it is still unknown how many people have been infected with the Omicron variant.
About 80 per cent of DNA-sequenced coronavirus test results are now showing the presence of Omicron, said Anne von Gotteberg, a microbiologist at South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD).
“It looks like there is a predominance of Omicron across the country,” she said.
She also noted a high rate of reinfection, which she said indicated that people are more susceptible to Omicron than to Delta, the last variant to break out and sweep the world. But there were also signs that people infected with Omicron suffered less severe symptoms in cases of reinfection or when the patient was vaccinated.
Researchers in Europe said they think the Omicron variant might be the dominant form of the coronavirus in a matter of months. Using mathematical models, workers at the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) projected that Omicron could be the cause of half of all Covid-19 cases in the European region within months.
But they also pointed to a variety of uncertainties. It is still not known how quickly Omicron spreads, how sick it makes people and what advantages it has in overcoming a person’s immune system. However, they said earlier signs showed Omicron was a more powerful pathogen when compared to Delta.
ECDC director Andrea Ammon said the dangers posed by Omicron once again made the case that people should get vaccinated or, if already vaccinated and older than 40, a booster shot. She also reminded people to practice mask-wearing, social-distancing and proper ventilation.
Nkengasong said the Africa CDC is concerned about the situation in southern Africa. The supply of vaccines is improving, but they are not being administered fast enough.
In Africa, only 7 per cent of the population has been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus. The continent has now procured 417.5 million doses, of which only 235.8 million have been administered.
According to the CDC, a total of around 8.6 million infections have been registered in Africa so far, causing more than 223,000 deaths.
Experts say, however, that the number of unreported cases in Africa, home to 1.3 billion people, is probably higher.
Nkengasong expressed concern over the holiday season and fears a sharp increase of Covid-19 numbers due to gatherings over Christmas and New Year.
The Africa CDC wants to increase the number of tests in Africa from the current 82 million to 200 million in the coming months.
Eleven African countries are fighting against the fourth wave of infection, while Mauritius is entering its fifth wave, according to the Africa CDC.
The Africa CDC is trying to pool the resources of African countries and coordinate measures in the fight against the pandemic.
As Omicron spread further, two were detected in India, health officials said on Thursday.
The two cases are of a 66-year-old and a 46-year-old in southern Karnataka state, health officials said at a briefing. They were being monitored. No further details were given.
“We need not panic, awareness is the need of the moment,” said Balram Bhargava, director of the Indian Council Of Medical Research.
The two cases with the Omicron variant were of foreign nationals, both male, who arrived in Bengaluru in November. Their contacts are being traced. No virus was found in the contacts of the one man. In the other case, five contacts have been hospitalized and five more are awaiting the result of tests.
In India, pandemic restrictions have been eased and life has been returning to a semblance of normalcy as daily cases drop and number of vaccinations rise.
The country has the second largest Covid-19 caseload after the US, but has been reporting less than 10,000 cases daily for the past week which is a steep drop from the 400,000 new cases a day during a peak of a deadly second wave in April-May.
Federal health officials said around 84 per cent of the adult population had received a single dose of the vaccine and 49 per cent both doses.