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President Dr. Irfaan Ali
President Dr. Irfaan Ali

– President Ali urges to protect against Omicron variant

WITH a new COVID-19 variant named Omicron mounting concerns globally, President Dr. Irfaan Ali, on Monday, urged Guyanese to take their COVID-19 vaccine, as it is currently the only “tool” available to protect against the consequences of the deadly novel coronavirus.

“If it is that this variant is far more infectious, then the only thing that can protect us is the vaccination, the only thing that will slow hospitalisation is the vaccination, the only thing that will slow death rate, and actually very successfully, is the vaccination,” the President said.

The World Health Organisation (WHO), on November 26, designated the SARS-CoV-2 variant B.1.1.529, named Omicron, a variant of concern (VOC) on the basis of advice from WHO’s Technical Advisory Group on Virus Evolution after the variant was first reported to the WHO from South Africa on November 24.

In a report titled ‘Enhancing Readiness for Omicron (B.1.1.529): Technical Brief and Priority Actions for Member States’ released on November 28, the WHO noted that “overall global risk related to the new VOC Omicron is assessed as very high”.

“Omicron has an unprecedented number of spike mutations, some of which are concerning for their potential impact on the trajectory of the pandemic. Preliminary evidence suggests there may be an increased risk of reinfection with this variant, as compared to other variants of concern (VOC),” the WHO noted.

However, there is still substantial uncertainty regarding Omicron’s transmissibility, immune escape potential, clinical presentation, severity of disease, and response to other available counter-measures, but studies are underway to evaluate the transmissibility, severity and reinfection risk of the variant.

Importantly, the WHO advised that public health authorities should “accelerate COVID-19 vaccination coverage in all eligible populations” especially for high-risk populations, namely, senior citizens, health care workers and persons living with underlying conditions which may increase their risk.

President Ali, during a short address to the nation on Monday, reminded that vaccines are available for persons who have not yet received their COVID-19 ‘jab’.

He also encouraged persons who are eligible to receive a booster dose, to take their shot.

“We have the vaccines available, so my short answer to you as we adopt in this new way of living in fighting all these variations is to be vaccinated …. This is our only chance of fighting off and being aggressively ahead of the impact of any variants on our country,” the Head of State said.

The Guyana Government has made available the AstraZeneca, Sputnik V, Sinopharm, Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines against COVID-19 available for its citizens. Anyone over the age of 12 can be inoculated and efforts are underway to secure vaccines for children from five years old to 11 years old.

Since November 22, booster doses have been made available for persons over the age of 18 who have any comorbidities; anyone over the age of 50, with or without comorbidities and health care workers as they are considered high-risk.

As of Sunday last, 399,821 persons, representing 77.9 per cent of Guyana’s adult population, received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, while 276,888 persons representing 54 per cent of Guyana’s adult population received their second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

On the other hand, 29,088 adolescents, or persons between the ages of 12 to 17, have received their first dose of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, representing 39.9 per cent of that age cohort, while 20,270 adolescents received their second dose, representing 27.8 per cent of the country’s adolescent population.

The latest COVID-19 vaccination statistics were disclosed by the Minister of Health, Dr. Frank Anthony, during his COVID-19 Update with the Department of Public Information (DPI) on Monday.

In response to the new variant, at least 44 countries have imposed travel restrictions from several African countries following the discovery of the variant; with countries including Japan and Israel banning all foreign nationals from entering their countries.

The WHO recommends that the most effective steps individuals can take to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus are wearing well-fitting masks, hand hygiene, physical distancing, improving ventilation of indoor spaces, avoiding crowded spaces, and getting vaccinated.

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