An infectious disease expert has said it will likely take weeks for the world to learn the true risk posed by Omicron.
Early indications are that the COVID-19 variant – which was first reported in southern Africa a week ago – is more transmissible than others, but there is no evidence that it causes more serious disease, and not enough evidence for to show that vaccines are less effective.
The number of confirmed Omicron cases in Australia stands at six, with five in New South Wales and one in the Northern Territory.
Wednesday morning, Professor Dominic Dwyer, NSW Health Pathology Director, said Sunrise there are three main things that need to be investigated before the true risk of the variant is known.
“There are three things we need to know – how easily does the virus spread, what kind of disease causes, severe or mild, and do our vaccines and so on work against this new strain?” he said.
“This proof takes some time and I would have thought it would take a few more weeks before we know it.”
Professor Dwyer added that these were well-known variants that are likely to emerge over time.
“It’s typical of that kind of virus, and of course we’ve already seen it with Delta,” he said.
“The key is then, how bad are they? I do not think we know with this particular variant, and I think it will be really important to know if our vaccines cover – which I think they will – . “
Delta ‘creates problems’
The spokesman for the World Health Organization, Dr. Margaret Harris, also told Sunrise that the reason Omicron had been listed as a variant of concern was due to two things – the high number of mutations and evidence of re-infection among the cases.
“Right now, Delta is the one really causing the problem, and it’s definitely tearing through Europe,” she said.
“With Omicron, as Professor Dwyer mentioned, it’s early days before we can say in one way or another where it will go.”
She said it was still unknown whether Omicron was more transmissible or could avoid vaccinations Sunrise: “that’s exactly why we asked all countries around the world to start researching now”.
“The people who got it in South Africa, there were large clusters of young people … We know that with all the strains, younger people without underlying disease tend to get a milder version, even sometimes an asymptomatic one, they hardly know they have it.
They hardly know they have it
“Until we see what this is doing at all levels of the population, we really can not say whether it will get worse or mild yet.
“As you can understand, it takes weeks before you get that information.”