WHO urges South-East Asia Region to be vigilant as Covid cases surge globally and new Variant of Concern is detected

In view of surge in COVID-19 cases elsewhere globally and detection of new variant of concern Omicron, the World Health Organization today appealed to countries in South-East Asia Region to scale up surveillance, strengthen public health and social measures, and enhance vaccination coverage.

“Though COVID-19 cases have been declining in most countries of our Region, the surge in cases elsewhere in the world and confirmation of a new Variant of Concern, is a reminder of the persisting risk and the need for us to continue to do our best to protect against the virus and prevent its spread. At no cost should we let our guards down,” said Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia Region via a media release.

Accordingly, the WHO urges for countries to enhance surveillance and sequencing.

“They should assess the risk of importation through international travel based on updated information on circulating variants and response capacities, and take measures accordingly,” the WHO said.

The Regional Director also went on to note that comprehensive and tailored public health and social measures to prevent transmission must continue.

“As of today 31% of the Region’s population is fully vaccinated, 21% partially vaccinated while nearly 48%, or about a billion people are yet to receive even a single dose of the COVID-19 vaccine,” she said, adding that they continue to be at risk of contracting severe disease due to the virus and spreading it further.

WHO’s Technical Advisory Group on Virus Evolution met yesterday and designated B.1.1.529 as a variant of concern and named it Omicron. Researchers are working to understand how transmissible or virulent this variant is, and how it will impact diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines. 

“We must not forget that the pandemic is far from over. As societies open up, we should not get complacent. Festivities and celebrations must include all precautionary measures. Crowds and large gatherings must be avoided. The current situation warrants further stepping up efforts on all fronts,” the Regional Director said.