We have now spent nearly two years battling with COVID 19 and during this time it was established that over time the original virus undergoes mutations to give rise to different variants. Moreover, it was also acknowledged that development of such mutations is more likely in environments conducive to spread of COVID 19 infection. As a consequence, the World Health Organization and other expert organizations repeatedly emphasized the importance of equitable distribution of vaccines and other facilities and kept reminding us that “no one is safe until everyone is safe”.

Latest variant “Omicron” (B.1.1.529) from South Africa is added to the list of “variants of concern” along with alpha, beta, gamma and delta variants of COVID 19 which were responsible for the alarming  COVID 19 waves seen throughout the world from time to time.

The number of COVID 19 infected patients have been increasing rapidly in all regions of South Africa following the introduction of this new variant. The Omicron variant of COVID 19 was first detected on the 09th of November 2021 and has now been confirmed to have infected people in Botswana, Belgium,Hong Kong, Israel, United Kingdom and unfortunately Sri Lanka as well. Additionally, Germany and the Czech Republic are reportedly conducting further tests on a group of patients suspected to be infected with the Omicron variant.

It is now revealed that the first patient suspected to have contracted the Omicron variant was a patient who was not vaccinated and also did not obtain necessary treatment for a long-term immunodeficiency disease.

It has been reported that this new variant of COVID 19 virus has the potential to spread rapidly and challenge the natural immunity produced by the infection in previously infected individuals. However, further scientific research is underway to assess its impact on the vaccines that are currently in use. Experts in the field believe that the higher number of mutations in the genome when compared with other variants is a cause for concern.

As a nation it is important to recollect the experience of facing three COVID 19 waves along with the rapid spread of Delta variant in the country which was managed without disintegration of the country’s health system.

Regardless of the type of variant, strictly adhering to the basic COVID 19 preventive measures we already know such as maintaining physical distance, proper use of face masks when leaving homeland regular hand washing is our responsibility.

The protection acquired through vaccination against variants of concern such as the rapidly spreading Deta variant, is clearly evident with countries having high vaccination coverage reporting much lower number of deaths due to COVID 19 than times prior to vaccination. It is also revealed that among those who have completed vaccination, there is 84% reduction in hospitalization due to COVID 19.

By obtaining both doses of the vaccine, and the Booster dose, you can be protected from severity and the fatalities of Covid 19 strains. Ministry of Health, Sri Lanka has now defined the fully vaccinated status. Its your responsibility to become fully vaccinated by availing free vaccination the services rendered by the public health authorities.

Overcrowded, enclosed spaces without ventilation increases the risk of spread of COVID 19 infection. The COVID 19 virus especially transmits faster in places like crowded restaurants and weddings which take place in enclosed spaces where people eat together at the same time. Such places and occasions should be avoided as much as possible or at least the time spent  should be curtailed to avoid the spread of infection. If we all keep this in mind during the upcoming festive season, we can reduce the risk of a major COVID wave in the country.

As responsible citizens, by adhering to the health guidelines and embracing a scientific approach towards the prevention of spread of COVID 19 we will certainly be able to overcome this challenge as well.

COVID-19 disease caused by Omicron can be mild or serious. For some people, symptoms can even lead to death. Protect yourself:

💉 Get vaccinated  – Two Doses of Covid vaccine and Booster

↔️ Keep a safe distance (1.5 m) and avoid crowds 

😷 Wear a well-fitted mask 

💨 Keep indoor spaces ventilated

💪 Cover coughs and sneezes

👐 Clean hands often – Soap and water, while sanitizer when appropriate

Source: Health Promotion Bureau of Sri Lanka

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