Muscat: People should not take the Omicron variant of COVID-19 lightly, as it can infect healthy people in just 15 seconds.
According to Dr Jean Jabbour, the WHO representative to Oman, the distance at which two people stand and converse is crucial to the spread of the infection, If one of them is infected and gets closer to a healthy person than what is recommended, the risk is great.
“If we are at a distance at which verbal communication is possible, this might transmit the virus to a healthy person within 15 seconds,” he explained. “This is why we insist on applying the public health measures, so that we can live with the virus, and live with its mutating variants, because this is important.”
“When it comes to viruses, it is important for every individual to know that there will be variants, and there will be a lot of mutations,” he said. “The characteristics, spread, infectivity and the severity of the virus differs between one variant and the other. Omicron, just like the Delta variant, is classified as a Variant of Concern, because they spread so quickly and their infectivity is high…it happens within a few seconds.”
Jabbour was speaking on COVID-19 during a wide-ranging interview with TTV, during which he also made another important point clear: The COVID-19 pandemic is far from over, despite some people thinking otherwise.
“When there is a variant, and there is a quick spread, this does not mean we are reaching the end of the pandemic,” he revealed. “With viruses, this might happen. It is very premature to say that Omicron is the end of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is the wrong perspective, and this is what makes the community ignore the simple health measures.
“When this happens, numbers will increase again, you will have more admissions to hospitals, more admissions to intensive care units and more deaths,” Jabbour says. “Please take the measures seriously and apply them… even at family gatherings, not just in commercial places or in public areas,” Jabbour said.
“Every family member goes out, so we do not know their level of exposure to the virus,” Jabbour added.
The WHO Representative to Oman explained that applying simple measures such as wearing a mask, cleaning one’s hands and maintaining social distancing at home, will prevent family members from getting infected and will help in decreasing case numbers.
“That will help us go back to a decreasing trend,” he said. “In case numbers continue increasing, then the government will be obliged to apply stricter measures and we will go back to the measures during the previous waves. We don’t want to reach that stage, so this is in the hands of every individual in the community.”
However, while infection numbers continue to rise in Oman and around the world, fuelled by the Omicron variant, Jabbour explained that crucially, countries’ healthcare systems have not been overwhelmed like they were during the Delta wave.
“Let us take this in two directions: Firstly, we are not different from the global trend. If you look at a local perspective, we went from a few cases and zero deaths to thousands of cases,” he said. “But look at it from the impact on the health system. Look at what was happening during the previous cycle… what was happening to the health system in terms of healthcare, in terms of admissions and in terms of ICU numbers and what is happening now.”
Since the start of 2022, Oman’s COVID infection rate has climbed steadily, from 122 positive infections on Saturday, 1 January to 2,303 on 8 February. During this period, the number of people in hospitals has risen from 14 to 409. Similarly, intensive care patients have increased from just four to 69.
As of 8 February, 2022, 356,900 people in Oman have tested positive for the coronavirus. Of them, 329,747 have recovered. Unfortunately, 4,188 lost their battle with COVID.
Covid-19 infection rates
Globally, COVID-19 infection rates have doubled from about 10.084 million infections on 2 January, 2022, to 20.2 million on 6 February, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Centre.
“If I have thousands of cases, it means people are not applying the measures properly,” he explained. “If I protect myself, I am protecting my surroundings and I am protecting the community. I am helping the government as well in reducing the cost of this pandemic and supporting other medical public health programmes that must not stop,” he added.