Omicron not ‘less dangerous’; it’s matter of time for Bangladesh to get a case: Experts

Omicron, the new Covid variant having the high mutation capability, may turn deadly if it enters Bangladesh although it now seems to be less lethal in many countries, warn experts.

As the highly transmissible new variant is spreading fast in different countries, including India, they said emergency preparedness should be in place as Omicron may make its way into Bangladesh any time.

Prof Nazrul Islam, ex VC of BSMMU, Dr AM, Zakir Hossain, former director of IEDCR, Prof Dr Bijon Kumar Sil, head of Gono Bishwabidyalay’s Microbiology department and Prof Dr MH Chowdhury (Lenin), head of Health and Hope Hospital’s Medicine department, made the observations while talking to UNB.

The analysts said the government should take proper steps to strictly implement its 15-point guideline and intensify monitoring and screening of the incoming passengers through air and land ports and ensure their quarantine.

They also said the enforcement of the law is also now necessary to force people to maintain health protocols and wear masks since most people are now reluctant about following the health safety rules due to the current very low Covid infection rate.

It’s just matter of time

Dr Lenin said Omicron has already spread to 52 countries in the world, including India, Sri Lanka and Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, the USA and the UK. “As Bangladesh has strong communications and connectivity with these countries, we fear this virus may enter Bangladesh at any time.”

At the same time, he said, a good number of people returned to Bangladesh from African countries and the Omicron-affected nations over the last three weeks.

“Many of them have been kept in quarantine, while the administration has no information about 240 others. Some of them could carry this virus to the country. So, we’re at high risk of transmission of Omicron, though still no one is detected in the country,” Lenin said.

He said the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) has already issued a 15-point guideline to tackle the risk. “We’re also hearing about many plans to implement the guidelines, but strong efforts are not visible to do so.”

The expert said most people in Bangladesh are now reluctant about maintaining the health protocols and wear masks. “But no step is in sight to encourage people to follow the health safety rules.”

He said many people having the symptoms of Covid are still unwilling to undergo tests. “The government should motivate such people to come to Covid testing centres.”

“We must ensure that those who come from Omicron-hit countries stay in quarantine for two weeks. It has to be ensured that every incoming passenger is screened and monitored properly in airports and land ports,” Lenin said.

Dr AM Zakir Hossain said Omicron may arrive in Bangladesh through incoming passengers. “If this strain enters Bangladesh, it may increase the infection rate, but the fatality rate may not be high.”

High mutation capability

Dr Bijon Kumar Sil said Omicron is a super mutant strain of Covid-19 and it still seems not that much dangerous like the Delta variant.

He thinks the virus may turn deadly with the passage of time through mutation as it has been spreading fast in different countries. “Omicron has high mutation capability as it has already mutated at least 50 times while Delta variant did it 15 times.”

As Omicron has a high amount of spike mutations, the expert said the complete structure of the virus can be changed through further mutation.

Prof Nazrul Islam said Omicron is less virulent, but if it enters Bangladesh and mutates again it may invite dangers.

“So far we don’t know much about Omicron. We must be careful about this new strain of coronavirus and we need to remain active to prevent it. All possible roads should be closed to prevent the virus from entering Bangladesh. Though this new strain does not cause severe illness, its ability to infect humans is greater than that of any previous variant.”

Dr Lenin said though Omicron infected people in different countries are showing mild symptoms, it cannot be said it will act similarly if it enters Bangladesh as the virus continues to change its character.

“It’s a new strain and we know little about it. But we have to get ready to face the worst and put in our best efforts to prevent it,” he observed.

Vaccine efficacies

Dr Bijon said the new Covid variant can potentially reduce vaccine efficacies. “But the effects of vaccines are still under investigation. But I think the vaccines will not become useless.”

He, however, said the patients recovered from previous Covid infections, including the delta variant, showed a high level of protection (95%).

Prof Nazrul said Omicron can dodge vaccine protection and it has already been proved. “So, we must wear masks and maintain other health safety rules, including washing hands and maintaining social distancing rules.”

Vaccinating 80 lakh elderly people

Dr Lenin said around 24 percent of people have so far brought under two doses of vaccines while nearly 39 percent under single dose.

“Still, many elderly people remain out of vaccine coverage. The government should launch a special drive to inoculate around 80 lakhs of elderly people urgently as they are very vulnerable to the highly contagious Omicron variant,” he advised.

The expert said vaccine effectiveness against Omicron may dip by a few points, but vaccines can still help reduce the severity of the virus, especially in the case of elderly people having weak immune systems.

Source: United News of Bangladesh