No Omicron-related deaths reported so far, 'strong scientific consensus' booster vaccines should continue: MOH

We should expect to see more cases of the variant in Singapore in the coming weeks.

Jane Zhang | December 05, 2021, 06:52 PM

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The recently-discovered Omicron variant has thrown the world for a loop, with many details about the variant still unknown or only preliminarily studied.

In a press release on Sunday (Dec. 5), the Ministry of Health (MOH) shared that it has been working with international counterparts to find out more about the variant.

MOH said that in the past few days, it has been reviewing reports from South Africa and other countries that have reported Covid-19 cases with the Omicron variant, actively engaging scientific experts in various affected countries to get firsthand information.

Here is the update on the situation, as of Dec. 5, although MOH acknowledged that "many questions remain with no clear answers":

Early analysis indicates ART tests effective at detecting Omicron

The ministry said that it has been closely monitoring studies on the sensitivity of antigen rapid tests (ARTs) to the Omicron variant.

So far, the early analysis has indicated that ARTs, in addition to polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, are effective as a method of detecting Covid-19 infection, including Omicron cases.

"Testing therefore remains key to our early detection and initial containment of transmission," MOH said.

May have increased transmissibility

MOH reported that early clinical observations from South Africa and globally suggest that the variant may have increased transmissibility, and may also be associated with a higher risk of re-infection, as compared to the Delta and Beta variants.

This means that there is a higher likelihood of individuals who have recovered from Covid-19 to be re-infected with the Omicron variant.

Most Omicron cases have displayed mild symptoms, no deaths

Cases of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 detected around the world have mostly displayed mild symptoms, common ones being sore throat, tiredness, and cough.

No Omicron-related deaths have been reported so far.

MOH noted that while there were more Omicron-related hospitalisations among young adults and children in South Africa, two factors could be contributing to this:

"First, high infection rates amongst the population. Second, there have been reports that these are also due to existing patients who were being hospitalised for non-Covid-19 related illnesses being tested positive for the Omicron variant, and the patients mostly experienced mild symptoms."

Still, MOH noted that it is "early days" to draw conclusions on the severity of the Omicron variant.

The outbreak was first detected in a university town, which has a younger demographic. South African health experts have said that any hospitalisation stays for this younger demographic have been short so far — about one to two days.

"In the coming weeks, we will need to obtain more information about infections in older individuals to assess if the variant is more severe than the Delta variant," MOH said.

Ongoing studies on vaccine effectiveness

The ministry stated that there is an emerging view among scientists around the world that existing Covid-19 vaccines will still work on the Omicron variant, especially when it comes to protection against severe illness.

However, MOH noted, studies on vaccine effectiveness for infection and severe disease compared to previous variants are ongoing.

More information on the variant's biological behaviour is expected to become available in the coming weeks.

"In the meantime," MOH said, "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.

Expect to see more Omicron cases reported

MOH said that more Omicron cases are expected to be reported globally in the coming weeks, as well as at Singapore's borders and even within the community.

"MOH will continue to coordinate with health authorities globally to study and understand the Omicron variant, so as to develop the best possible response.

We seek everyone’s cooperation to exercise social responsibility and adhere to the Safe Management Measures (SMMs). If you are offered a vaccination or booster dose, please also come forward and get vaccinated."

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Top photo by Mufid Majnun on Unsplash.