The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Monday the Omicron coronavirus variant carried a very high risk of infection surges as more countries closed their borders, reviving fears over economic recovery from the two-year pandemic. Airlines were scrambling to limit the impact of the variant on their networks, while delays in bookings threatened an already fragile recovery for global tourism.
As concerns rise in India as well, the country’s top genome sequencing expert Dr Anurag Agrawal said in an interview that panicking is not the best response to the new variant. Agarwal said, “Any study concluding that Omicron is six times more transmissible than Delta variant is bad science.”
“We know that the omicron variant is heavily mutated. All major sites where antibodies are expected to bind show mutation. Existing immunity is greatly reduced when protecting against Omicron. However, using graphs to denote transmissibility Of Omicron is bad science.” the doctor added.
Agarwal said that what is required now is a reasonable response rather than going into a full-blown panic mode. “Blanket shutting down of flights is a bad idea, especially for countries that are not acutely suffering. Therefore, I don’t understand why many countries have shut down flights,” said Agarwal.
Yesterday, the World Health Organisation advised its 194 member nations that any surge in infections could have severe consequences, but said no deaths had yet been linked to the new variant. “Omicron has an unprecedented number of spike mutations, some of which are concerning for their potential impact on the trajectory of the pandemic,” the WHO said.
“The overall global risk related to the new variant of concern Omicron is assessed as very high.”
Further research was needed to understand Omicron’s potential to escape protection against immunity induced by vaccines and previous infections, WHO said, adding that more data was expected in the coming weeks.
U.S. President Joe Biden also resonated Agarwal’s sentiments and said the new variant was a cause for concern but not panic and that it would sooner or later arrive in the United States, urging people to get vaccinated.
An infectious disease expert from South Africa, where scientists first identified Omicron, said it was too early to say whether symptoms were more severe than previous variants, but it did appear to be more transmissible. Professor Salim Abdool Karim also said existing vaccines were probably effective at stopping Omicron from causing severe illness. Scientists have said it could take weeks to understand the severity of Omicron.