After almost two years of living in a pandemic-embattled world, people are hoping that they can finally experience a semblance of normalcy this year. However, amid the Omicron scare, the world is contemplating if 2022 could turn out to be “2020-too” in a recent viral meme.
This comes as the year began with an alarming spike in COVID-19 cases, rising to more than 300 million confirmed cases as of press time. The Philippines is reporting record high daily cases of around 25,000 to 33,000. Better-off countries have not been spared by the high transmissibility of Omicron. The United States, for instance, records over 1 million cases in a single day. Thus, the meme “2020-too” emerged on the Internet, alluding to the onset of the coronavirus disease two years ago.
Experts stressed, however, that the world is now more equipped in the battle against the pandemic as compared to the situation in 2020. The COVID-19 vaccines and booster shots have been distributed worldwide, and continued monitoring of SARS-Cov-2 virus mutation is well in place.
Incidentally, the UAE has also rolled out a massive campaign to encourage citizens and residents alike to get a booster shot, which would better protect them against Omicron. In parallel, it has implemented temporary travel restrictions on unvaccinated citizens. The emirate of Abu Dhabi has ordered all government employees to first get a booster shot before allowing their return to offices.
His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, assured the public that the country has long been prepared to ward off any new waves of COVID-19 variants, provided that the community commits to following the country’s longstanding health measures.
“According to experts and specialists, the pandemic comes in waves. However, the new strain is less harmful to human beings though it spreads faster than other variants. Therefore, we have to exercise caution because infections may increase, but God Willing and thanks to the determination of all stakeholders and their collaboration, we will survive the new wave,” His Highness Sheikh Mohamed said.
“There should be no complacency in ensuring compliance with all preventative and precautionary measures rolled out by health and other competent authorities. God willing, this wave will disappear as was the case with that of the past two years,” he added.
Booster shot is essential
The World Health Organization (WHO) raised concerns that the Omicron variant is spreading faster – as observed with the tremendous rise in cases from December 2021 to January 2022.
“Omicron is spreading more quickly than other variants. Based on the information available, WHO believes it is likely that Omicron will outpace the Delta variant where there is COVID-19 transmission in the community,” it stated.
As such, the health body underscored that getting vaccinated against COVID-19 remains an important factor to ward off the virus, alongside the public’s adherence to COVID-19 preventive measures.
“New variants like Omicron are a reminder that the COVID-19 pandemic is far from over. It is therefore essential that people get the vaccine when available to them and continue to follow existing advice on preventing the spread of the virus, including physical distancing, wearing masks, regular handwashing and keeping indoor areas well ventilated,” advised WHO.
In the UAE, authorities have published official guidelines for individuals who intend to get their booster, putting a priority for its vulnerable sector including the elderly as well as individuals with chronic diseases.
Dr. Noura Al Ghaithi, Official Spokesperson for the UAE Health Sector, stated that individuals whose second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine are already past six months will now be eligible to book their appointment to get the free COVID-19 booster dose.
“Studies have shown vaccine doses and booster shots help significantly reduce the rates of hospitalization and death and reduce the virus’ mutations into new variants. We urge eligible individuals to take booster shots to protect themselves, especially elderly people and those with chronic diseases, to support the national efforts to contain the pandemic and the variants,” Dr. Al Ghaithi affirmed.
She said that the UAE’s health sector is actively monitoring all developments in conjunction with all appropriate agencies to safeguard the community’s safety. She went on to say that getting the vaccination does not exempt anyone from taking the necessary precautions, such as wearing face masks, sanitizing, and maintaining social distance.
Dr. Al Ghaithi also recommended community members to continue doing COVID-19 PCR testing on a regular basis, especially before visiting relatives or meeting older people, and to avoid handshakes and other physical interactions. The country has taken a clear and open approach to deal with COVID-19, announcing developments through national media outlets and key agencies’ official social media sites.
Common symptoms of Omicron
Omicron’s symptoms have also changed to be eerily similar to that of the common flu. Most positive cases did not report losing their sense of taste and smell, with only one out of five reporting this symptom, according to the latest study from ZOE.
The study published in the United Kingdom also highlighted the new top five symptoms for mild COVID-19 cases now include a combination of fever, runny nose, headache, persistent cough, and a sore throat. Severe cases still include shortness of breath or difficulty in breathing and chest pains.
“The fact that Omicron is much more infectious than Delta, means it can spread quicker and when cases are really high, large numbers of people will have to isolate at home for days, something that is already having a significant impact on the economy and public services,” read the study.
To date, there are over 27 variants of the coronavirus – of which five have been classified as ‘variants of concern’ (VOC) by the WHO including Omicron, Delta, Alpha, Beta, and Gamma. These VOCs have been classified as such due to one of the following factors: A rapid increase in transmission; heightened virulence or change in clinical diseases presentation; or a decrease in effectiveness of public health and social measures.
In the case of Omicron, the variant has proven to be highly transmissible since it was first detected in South Africa. WHO likewise reported that Omicron is probably spreading across most countries, even if it hasn’t been detected yet and that it anticipates that the coronavirus may continue to spread and mutate.
“When a virus is circulating widely and causing numerous infections, the likelihood of the virus mutating increases. The more opportunities a virus has to spread, the more opportunities it has to undergo changes,” read the official statement of WHO in its official FAQs about the Omicron variant.
No need to panic
Despite these concerns, the UAE continues to manage its COVID-19 numbers well thanks to its robust testing facilities available across almost all hospitals as well as dedicated testing tents and drive-through centers, allowing for rapid detection.
The country has also allotted several isolation facilities, where individuals with severe symptoms are assured that they will be taken care of by the UAE’s competent health sector.
Dr. Jamal Al Kaabi, Under-Secretary of the Department of Health – Abu Dhabi, stated: “Thanks to the directives of our wise leadership, Abu Dhabi spared no effort to preserve the health and safety of community members during the pandemic, by providing treatments that meet everyone’s needs. We consolidated our cooperation ties with distinguished global partners to contribute to establishing the emirate as an innovation hub for a healthier Abu Dhabi; upgrade the pioneering model presented by the emirate in mitigating the pandemic’s repercussions; and continue to empower national competencies and capabilities.”