A member of the Maharashtra government's COVID-19 task force has said that vigilance, genome sequencing, improving border surveillance and vaccination are some of the things that are necessary to tackle the new Omicron variant of coronavirus.
The task force member, Dr Vasant Nagvekar, who is a consultant on infectious diseases at a city-based hospital, said in a statement on Thursday that although there was no need to panic, the Omicron variant is definitely a cause of concern.
"What we need is vigilance. This variant has accumulated 50 mutations and has caused a lot of concern. It could be more transmissible, and it could also be immune-evasive. But so far, there is no proof that it produces more severe infections. The early data from South Africa shows most patients are younger and the variant produces milder infections," he said.
Dr Nagvekar said that for now the variant appears to be stable, with high transmissibility, but low virulence, which perhaps explains the lack of surge in hospitalisations and deaths where it was earlier reported.
"We need vigilance, improvement in border surveillance, genomic sequencing and vaccination cover," he said, urging people to keep wearing masks.
"Scientific data has proven that masks can reduce COVID-91 transmission by 53 per cent...A booster dose of vaccine, even if it works, is just a temporary fix. We can't keep on taking boosters every six months and for every variant of concern that emerges. Masking is the need of the hour and there is no Alternative for vaccination," he said.
Apart from the restrictions, strict contact tracing, isolation and quarantine of close contacts are some very important things, he said.
The Omicron strain, first detected in South Africa, has been classified as a 'variant of concern' by the World Health Organization.