No decision on ways to curb Omicron spread except talk on action plan

All you need to know about Nepal’s vaccination status

Amid Omicron spread concerns, the Ministry of Health and Population has said that it is considering a rapid action plan.

Officials said that urgent action is a must to contain the spread of the new coronavirus variant, which has already entered the country.

“We have been holding discussions with the stakeholders about implementing a rapid action plan,” Dr Krishna Praasad Paudel, spokesperson for the Health Ministry, told the Post.

The Health Ministry confirmed two cases of Omicron on Monday.

Both are foreign nationals who tested positive for Covid-19 on November 23. The whole-genome sequencing test results of their swab samples issued on Monday revealed that the two infected persons were carrying the new iteration of the coronavirus that the World Health Organisation (WHO) has designated as a ‘variant of concern’ on November 26.

The two infected persons had presented negative PCR results and proof of full vaccination at the airport health desk upon their arrival in Nepal.

The WHO has warned that the risk posed by the Omicron variant of the coronavirus is “very high”.

To contain the spread of the latest iteration of the coronavirus first detected in South Africa on November 9, Health Ministry officials are discussing some immediate measures like stepping up surveillance, increasing testing, making contact tracing more effective and quarantining people returning from abroad.

Countries across the world had already started considering measures against the spread of Omicron. Authorities in Nepal, however, appear lax on their approach to dealing with an emerging wave of infections that could be fuelled by the new virus variant.

Experts say that failure to immediately apply the measures to contain the spread of the latest coronavirus strain only goes to show yet another example of the government’s reactive policy.

That the Omicron would enter Nepal was a matter of when and not if, they say.

The new form of the coronavirus had made it to the country days before the UN health agency designated it a variant of concern.

Now that the Omicron infection cases have been confirmed in the country, authorities are scrambling to come up with various containment measures.

Management of cases at hospitals if a large number of people get infected with Omicron at once, improving quarantine facilities, and arrangement of hospital beds and medicines are some of the areas that the Health Ministry officials have been discussing.

Paudel, the spokesperson for the Health Ministry, said that no decision has been taken yet.

“We need to make a decision at the earliest,” he told the Post.

The ministry is also discussing measures to lessen the crowds and strictly enforce public health safety measures.

With the decline in number of virus cases lately, complacency seems to have taken hold. To make matters worse, the season of political parties’ national conventions has led to crowding of a large number of people at one place, which could be a perfect storm for Covid-19 spread. Around 200,ooo people were said to have gathered in Chitwan on November 27 to attend the inaugural session of the CPN-UML’s 10th national congress.

The Nepali Congress is also due to hold its 14th general convention on December 10-12 in Kathmandu. Though the party has said it would not gather crowds, its convention representatives’ number exceeds 4,000, excluding other Congress cadres and members.

The Health Ministry has said that the two persons infected with the Omicron variant have been placed in isolation. It has also said that the 66 people who had come in close contact with the two infected patients have tested negative for the coronavirus.

Health experts say while there is no need to panic, it is still critical to take utmost precautions.

The new variant of the coronavirus has been detected in around 50 countries throughout the world, including India, with which Nepal shares around 1,800 kilometres of open border.

So far India has recorded at least 23 cases of Omicron infection in four states—Karnataka, Maharashtra, Gujrat and Delhi.

As hundreds of people from India and Nepal cross over the border every day, the risk of spread of the new virus variant is very high, experts say.

Doctors have stressed increasing the vaccination pace targeting those who have not taken Covid-19 jabs yet and suggested administering booster doses, at least starting from frontline workers, including health workers, and elderly people who have multiple health complications.

“Studies have shown that the antibodies developed from a Covid-19 vaccine start waning after six months and those who got their vaccine in the first phase of campaign have already crossed the six-month period,” Dr Prabhat Adhikari, an infectious disease and critical care expert, told the Post. “Authorities should start administering booster shots to the frontline workers not only because they were vaccinated six months ago but also to keep them ready to handle a possible new wave of infections.”

Health Ministry officials say a decision regarding booster shots could be taken within next week.

“A decision might be taken within this month [by December 15],” Dr Roshan Pokhrel, secretary at the Health Ministry, told the Post.

The World Health Organisation on Friday urged countries in the South-East Asia Region to strengthen their Covid-19 response measures to curb the spread of the virus and its variants.

“Strengthening surveillance to rapidly detect importation of any new variant and transmission of existing virus and its variant, implementing calibrated public health and social measures and scaling up vaccination coverage should continue to be our focus,” Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, regional director of the WHO South-East Asia Region said in a statement.

In order to prevent the Omicron spread, India has been taking 14-day travel details of all international passengers and a negative RT-PCR test report. As per the plan, travellers from countries in the ‘at-risk’ category will have to take post-arrival Covid tests and wait for results at the airport. They then have to go through a seven-day home quarantine if tested negative for the virus and undergo another test on the eighth day. If tested negative on the eight day, they again have to follow a seven-day self-monitoring period.

Meanwhile, travellers from countries excluding the ‘at risk’ category will be allowed to leave the airport and be required to self-monitor their health for 14 days post-arrival. Beside, 5 percent of the total flight passengers will have to undergo random post-arrival testing at the airport.

Likewise, genomic surveillance for the coronavirus variants has been further strengthened and intensified while airport and port health officials have been sensitised for strict supervision.

In the United States, meanwhile, the government has started booster shots to all adults, expanded free at-home testing and put in place stronger public health protocols for safe international travel and workplace to keep the economy open. The US government has also formed a rapid response team to help battle the rising cases of Covid-19 fuelled by the Omicron variant.

The Nepal government, on the other hand, is still planning the measures against the onslaught of the new variant of the coronavirus.

Health experts in the country have long been urging the government to scale up the vaccination drive to protect its citizens from Covid-19, as the country already has secured enough vaccine doses.

Nepal so far has received 25,049,840 doses of Covid-19 vaccines—Vero Cell, AstraZeneca, Janssen, Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna

As of Tuesday, 10,504,764 people (34.6 percent of the total population) have received the first dose of vaccine and of them 8,780,433 (28.9 percent of the total population) have been fully vaccinated.

Officials at the Health Ministry estimate that around 4 million vaccine doses are still in stock in various districts throughout the country.

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