World Health Organization officials in the Western Pacific say border closures adopted by some countries may buy time to deal with the omicron coronavirus variant, but measures put in place and experience gained in dealing with the delta variant should remain the foundation for fighting the pandemic.
While a few regional countries are facing surges, COVID-19 cases and deaths in many others have decreased and plateaued, WHO Regional Director for the Western Pacific Dr. Takeshi Kasai told reporters Friday in a virtual news conference broadcast from Manila, Philippines.
“Border control can delay the virus coming in and buy time. But every country and every community must prepare for new surges in cases,” Kasai said. “The positive news in all of this is that none of the information we have currently about omicron suggests we need to change the directions of our response.”
Much remains unknown about the new variant, including whether it is more contagious, as some health authorities suspect, or if it makes people more seriously ill, and whether it can thwart the vaccine.
Kasai said omicron has been designated a variant of concern because of the number of mutations and because early information suggests it may be more transmissible than other variants of the virus. More testing and observation is necessary, he said.
Thus far, four countries and regions in the Western Pacific — Australia, Hong Kong, Japan and South Korea — have reported cases of the omicron variant, said WHO Regional Emergency Director Dr. Babatunde Olowokure. That number is likely to go up as more cases are discovered globally, Olowokure said.
Singapore and Malaysia have also reported their first cases in the last 24 hours, along with India, which falls just outside the WHO Western Pacific Region.
In the Philippines, government epidemiology bureau director Althea de Guzman said Friday that one of 71 people located by authorities after arriving in the country from South Africa in the last two weeks had tested positive for the coronavirus and still more tests are underway to determine if it’s the omicron variant.