The Omicron variant, suspected to be less lethal than its cousin Delta, however more contagious/extremely transmissible, will lead to changes in operational guidelines and policies across the world. Public health agencies and others are currently grappling with the surge in active cases, including St. Maarten.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said this week that there was still not enough data available to say whether the Omicron variant is less severe than other COVID-19 strains.
The public and private sectors coming out of festive season are now confronted with a surge in COVID-19 cases. One public utility company has announced changes to its office opening days/times due to the increase in COVID-19. It has also stepped up guidelines in dealing with customers once they arrive at the office.
Public health officials have stressed the need to get boosted in order to protect yourself, other people and the public health service such as St. Maarten Medical Center (SMMC) and the home for senior citizens. The White and Yellow Cross Care Foundation this week announced new guidance pertaining to visitors in order to protect its clients, staff, and visitors as a response to the surge in active COVID-19 cases in the country.
In 2020, there were 1.8 million recorded COVID-19 deaths; while in 2021, there were 3.5 million and this could be much higher, according to the WHO. The Delta variant took over in 2021. St. Maarten also experienced its largest number of deaths in 2021 due to the Delta variant.
The WHO epidemiologist Dr. Abdi Mahamud noted that an increasing number of studies seemed to show that the Omicron variant appeared to affect mostly the upper respiratory tract, causing milder symptoms. Other strains impact the lungs, and could cause severe pneumonia, a WHO epidemiologist said, but further research was needed to prove this Omicron assessment.
The WHO is pushing for countries to vaccinate 70 per cent of their populations, adding that without this level of vaccine protection, the virus “replicates in an environment that’s overcrowded, not ventilated and not vaccinated,” Dr. Mahamud continued, describing these types of settings as ideal places for COVID-19 to mutate.
“We saw it in Beta, we saw it in Delta, we saw it in Omicron, so it is in the global interest” to vaccinate 70 per cent of national populations to reduce the impact of the variant, he said.
The WHO says, “So the main message is, if you are vaccinated, you are protected, but if you are vulnerable or if you have not been vaccinated, this Omicron – however light or mild it may be for others – it could hit you very hard,” Dr. Mahamud said. “So, vaccination (is) very critical.”