Alarm as deadly Omicron variant crops up in China

A medic administers a Covid-19 vaccine at Majengo Dispensary in Mombasa County in July.

A medic administers a Covid-19 vaccine at Majengo Dispensary in Mombasa County in July. 

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Countries are concerned that China’s latest omicron sub-variant that is driving a surge of new infections may spawn another mutation of the coronavirus at a time when most countries have relaxed preventive measures.

China, which is one of the world’s most populous countries, has in the past two weeks been grappling with the impact of loosening protocols that had kept the pandemic at bay.

The new sub-variant is said to have the strongest infection ability, is easily transmittable, quite virulent and has a shorter incubation period than all the other Covid-19 variants.

Recently identified as the main contributor to the surge in Covid-19 cases in China, many countries, including India, the United States, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Germany, France and Denmark, have detected this sub-variant. It is said to have a greater capacity to infect people who have previously been infected, vaccinated or both.

According to experts, the sub-variant has a basic reproduction number of 10 to 19, which means that someone infected with this type of omicron sub-variant can infect an average of 10 to 19 other people. Many infected people do not exhibit symptoms, making it difficult to detect and control.

It is likely to be severe in people with weak immune systems since it escapes the neutralising antibodies generated by the Covid-19 vaccine.

A recent study predicts that more people in China will likely die from Covid-19 if the government continues to relax crucial public health measures that prevent people from contracting the disease.

The study, which has not been peer-reviewed, was published on December 14 in the Med-Archive (medRxiv) and shows an analysis of data in Hong Kong and Shanghai while comparing the scenario in China. It suggests that China should employ a coordinated way of reopening the country by planning and having adequate surveillance .

Most patients have been reported to have symptoms such as runny nose, fever, cough, sore throat and fatigue. Some people, albeit few, have gastrointestinal symptoms like vomiting and diarrhoea.

Kenya has not disclosed any recorded cases of this new variant as infections in the country remain low. However, according to the experts, it is just a matter of time before the country records a case. Going by the projection report by the Lake Region Economic Bloc (Lreb), the country is not off the hook yet.

It is predicted that the country is currently witnessing a seventh wave which began in early November and will run through early January 2023.

“We are not safe until everyone is. When the rest of the world is recording cases, it is likely that we may also be affected because there are no restrictions on movement of people and flights are coming in,” said Prof Shem Sam Otoi, the Lreb Covid-19 programmes coordinator.

Prof Otoi said the country will record its peak in early January. This is as end-of-year festivities begin with the World Health Organisation (WHO) warning about the rise of Covid-19 cases.

WHO said in a statement that Africa was recording an increase in Covid-19 cases and there is need to remain vigilant as the end-year holiday season sets in.

“We must remain vigilant, continue to increase vaccination coverage and be ready to adopt more stringent preventive measures, if necessary,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO Regional Director for Africa.

From the projection model, approximately 23,040 symptomatic patients will be hospitalised, with another 276,480 asymptomatic. The country will lose 50 of its citizens to the virus by the end of the wave. According to the modelling, the country will record a low peak intensity with likely 1,500 daily cases recorded.