(Updated) Will 2022 be the year of Omicron?
Many had hoped last year to see the light at the end of the tunnel in 2021. But things took a turn for the worse in most parts of the world, including Singapore, with the Delta wave.
Now, a more transmissible variant – Omicron – is making its way around the globe.
The Omicron variant now accounts for 73 per cent of US coronavirus infections, up from just about 3 per cent of sequenced cases in the previous week, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on Monday.
A number of countries have cancelled year-end festivities or reintroduced restrictions. Thailand has reinstated quarantine for travellers, while New Zealand has postponed its border reopening plans due to Omicron’s rapid spread.
Singapore has reported 71 confirmed Omicron cases, of which 65 were imported and six are local infections. There is also a suspected Omicron cluster of three cases, from the Health Ministry's update on Monday.
Will 2022 be 2020 too? Or will Singapore continue its journey towards living with the virus?
HOW DIFFERENT IS OMICRON FROM DELTA?
Infectious diseases experts said that the Omicron variant is significantly more transmissible than Delta.
Dr Ling Li Min, a senior consultant at Rophi Clinic, said that Omicron cases double every two to four days, shorter than the time taken for the Delta variant to double.
She cited a study by the United Kingdom’s Health Security Agency which showed that the Omicron strain is 3.2 times as likely as the Delta variant to transmit within a household.
However, preliminary studies have suggested that the Omicron variant causes less severe infection compared to the Delta strain.
Early research by scientists from the University of Edinburgh, for instance, found that those infected with Omicron were almost 60 per cent less likely to be hospitalised than people infected with Delta.
However, Dr Duane Gubler of the Duke-NUS Medical School said that current infections could appear to be less severe in patients because of the protection afforded by vaccines and prior Covid-19 infections in patients. He added that further studies are needed to assess the severity of Omicron.
Similarly, Dr Ling said that it is still early days as incidence of severe illness usually occurs only weeks later.
OMICRON WILL BECOME "DOMINANT" STRAIN
Public health expert Associate Professor Natasha Howard said that with the rise of the much more transmissible variant, increased case numbers and hospitalisations are likely.
“It appears likely that Omicron will become the dominant SARS-CoV-2 strain globally in 2022,” said the interdisciplinary health policy and systems researcher from the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health.
“The implications of this are still unclear, but it shows that the pandemic is not controlled yet and until initial and booster COVID-19 vaccine doses are accessible to everyone eligible globally, we can expect new variants to emerge.”