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A resident wearing mask walks past a showroom in Dubai Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Unlike last year’s holiday season, when the world seemed to have flattened the coronavirus curve, few months before the spread of the Delta variant, this holiday season is being threatened by another and likely more infectious variant, Omicron.

Hopes of a merry season may have been dashed in some countries already, but it is not all bad news. Consensus is that we have the tools to fight and hopefully beat the new menace.

The arrival of Omicron was announced by to the World Health Organisation (WHO) on November 24, 2021. This new variant was first detected in specimens collected earlier that month in Botswana and South Africa. Two days later, WHO classified Omicron as ‘a variant of concern’ (VOC). So far, the variant has been reported in nearly 90 countries, according to the organisation.

It didn’t take long for precautionary measures such as mandatory face mask wearing, social distancing, and travel restrictions to be reimposed by many of those countries. The Netherlands for example opted for a complete shutdown for a month, until 14 January.

Europe: A surge in cases

The city of London, where new cases are getting out of control, declared a state of ‘major incident’. Other cities like Paris cancelled the new year’s celebrations. Ireland has ordered bars and restaurants to close at 8pm and Denmark shut down cinemas and other popular venues. Stock markets around the world plummeted and oil prices are hovering near multi months lows.

So what do we know about Omicron? Not much really. But WHO and global governments don’t want to take a chance this time around. “There is still limited data on the clinical severity of Omicron,” WHO stated on Saturday.

According to confirmed reports, Omicron is spreading rapidly even in countries with high rate of vaccination. A field study by the Imperial College London said the risk of reinfection with the Omicron variant is “more than five times higher” than with Delta.

Milder symptoms 

And there is no evidence that the symptoms would be milder. In the US, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) says it was investigating and adds that “more data are needed to know if Omicron infections, and especially reinfections and breakthrough infections in people who are fully vaccinated, cause more severe illness or death than infection with other variants,” the agency noted.

However, the CDC experts stressed that the “current vaccines are expected to protect against severe illness, hospitalisations, and deaths due to infection with the Omicron variant.” And added that “some [Covid-19] treatments are likely to remain effective” against the variant.

This is good news. Therefore, we must not fall prey to fear. Vaccines remain our best weapon against Omicron and other variants. Experts recommend that every adult should get the booster dose. In addition, face masks have been proven to be a good protection against all variants, including Omicron. Social distancing, sanitisation and avoiding crowded places are effective measures.

In the UAE, where we have one of the most efficient anti-coronavirus systems, the situation fares much better than most. So let us enjoy the holiday. But we must not lower our guard. We must adhere to the preventive measures. And if you have not the booster shot, please get one immediately.