Omicron not more severe than Delta, existing vaccines will work: WHO
Amid mounting global concerns over Omicron, the new variant of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) said to be more transmissible and capable of undergoing frequent mutations, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has laid to rest apprehensions about the efficacy of existing vaccines against the new strain. A top WHO official told the AFP news agency on Tuesday that there is no reason to assume that Omicron is more severe than the variants which came before, or that existing vaccines will fail against it.
Michael Ryan, the World Health Organisation's emergencies director, told AFP in an interview that there currently is no indication to suggest that Omicron, although highly infectious, causes a more severe disease than previous Covid-19 variants such as Delta. The existing vaccines should protect people who contract Omicron against the worst outcomes of the disease, he said.
“We have highly effective vaccines that have proved effective against all the variants so far, in terms of severe disease and hospitalisation, and there's no reason to expect that it wouldn't be so [for Omicron],” the WHO official was quoted as saying.
Ryan, however, said that more research was needed into studying the Omicron variant to appropriately take on board exactly how threatening it is poised to be.
A similar assurance was echoed on Tuesday by US infectious diseases expert Anthony Fauci, who said that Omicron is certainly not worse than the previous strains, including Delta.
According to the chief medical advisor to the US president, Omicron is “clearly highly transmissible” but might actually be less severe than Delta, as indicated by the ratio between the number of infections and the number of hospitalisations in South Africa.
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Fauci, too, said that more epidemiological data from around the world is needed to affirm scientific consensus on this. The results from lab experiments that tested the potency of antibodies from current vaccines against Omicron should come in the next few days to a week, he added.
Meanwhile, researchers in South Africa have found that Pfizer's Covid-19 vaccine actually provides less immunity to the Omicron variant than to other major versions of the virus. The loss of immune protection is “robust, but not complete,” Alex Sigal, head of research at the Africa Health Research Institute in Durban, said in an online presentation of the first reported experiments gauging the effectiveness of the vaccine against the new variant.
NATO's 30 allies signed an accession protocol for Finland and Sweden on Tuesday to allow them to join the nuclear-armed alliance once allied parliaments ratify the decision, the most significant expansion of the alliance since the mid-1990s. "This is truly an historic moment," NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said alongside the foreign ministers of the two countries. "With 32 nations around the table, we will be even stronger."
The life expectancy of Chinese citizens now stands at 77.93 years and is within the category of upper-middle-income countries, the national health commission, said on Tuesday. The life expectancy of Chinese citizens had risen to 77.3 years in 2019, compared with 35 years in 1949, the beginning of the Communist Party of China's rule, according to a white paper released last year. According to World Bank data, India's life expectancy stood at 70 in 2020.
Hindu groups in Canada have complained to the country's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and are also exploring legal options over the poster of a film screened in Toronto on Sunday that they deem offensive. The film, Kaali, made by Leena Manimekalai, was shown at the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto as part of a multimedia storytelling project, Under the Tent. The community was upset over the poster depicting Goddess Kali smoking a cigarette.
Heavy rains have battered the eastern coast of Australia, resulting in floods across Sydney and other parts of New South Wales province. Nearly 50,000 residents across the state have been told to either evacuate or warned about evacuation order from the authorities, Reuters reported. Due to floods, more than 19,000 homes are facing power cuts, AFP reported. Hundreds of homes have been inundated in and around Sydney in the flood emergency, Reuters reported.
A teacher and a man in his 70s who had travelled from Mexico to visit his family were among the six people shot dead in Chicago's wealthy Highland Park suburb late Monday night after yet another horrific mass shooting incident in the United States. A 'person of interest' - Robert E Crimo III - was taken into custody shortly after the shooting and a high-powered rifle was recovered.