Alarm bells ring over new variant
Sky is not falling "This happens - viruses evolve and we pick up variants. It's not the end of the world, the sky is not falling in. There is this idea that we are just waiting for the next variant, and I don't want people to spend their lives worrying about that every day."
The government is preparing to introduce travel bans on South Africa and other countries where the Omicron variant of coronavirus has been found.
Screening at airports has already been stepped up, officials said.
As of last night, Omicron has been detected in Botswana, Belgium, Hong Kong, the UK and Israel.
Health Minister Zahid Maleque in a recorded video message yesterday said, "We are aware of the [Omicron] variant. This variant is aggressive. That is why air communications with South Africa will be suspended."
Health workers at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport (HSIA) said they were asked to beef up screening, but were yet to receive any instruction regarding travel bans.
The National Technical Advisory Committee (NTAC) on Covid-19 will sit for a meeting this noon to assess the latest situation and make recommendations, president of the committee Prof Mohammad Shahidullah told The Daily Star yesterday.
"Until the travel bans are imposed, I suggest maintaining strict screening at the airports, especially where passengers arrive from those countries [where Omicron has been detected]," he said.
Omicron has created a concern worldwide with experts fearing it might be more transmissible than any other variants, including the Delta variant that caused havoc in the country earlier this year.
The World Health Organisation on Friday labeled Omicron as a variant of concern. "This variant has been detected at faster rates than previous surges in infection, suggesting that this variant may have a growth advantage."
However, Michael Ryan, executive director of the WHO's Health Emergencies Programme, cautioned against what he called "knee-jerk responses", reports The Straits Times of Singapore.
"This happens - viruses evolve and we pick up variants. It's not the end of the world, the sky is not falling in. There is this idea that we are just waiting for the next variant, and I don't want people to spend their lives worrying about that every day," he said.
The Institute of Epidemiology, Disease Control and Research (IEDCR) yesterday said it has not found any new variant.
"We have to be very careful and maintain the health safety guidelines that include wearing masks," IEDCR Director Prof Tahmina Shirin told The Daily Star.
The spread of the Delta variant in May caused the number of new cases and deaths to soar until the end of July, forcing the government to impose strict restrictions. The government lifted those on August 19.
But the restrictions were largely ignored.
The government has so far inoculated only 20.65 percent of the population with two shots, and 33 percent got the first shot.
"This is our weakest point. We have to step up vaccination as well as enforcement of the health safety rules," IEDCR Consultant Mushtuq Hussain said.
He also recommended institutional quarantine for every one arriving from countries where Omicron has been detected.
Renowned US immunologist Anthony Fauci said reports on the new variant raised red flags, but it was possible that vaccines might still work to prevent serious illness.
"Until it's properly tested... we don't know whether or not it evades the antibodies that protect you against the virus", Fauci told CNN.