Wednesday 1 December 2021
Papua New Guinea must be prepared and ready for Omicron and other emerging variants of COVID-19, says Deputy Controller of the National Pandemic Response Dr Esorom Daoni.
The Omicron, the new variant was first detected in South Africa on 24 November, 2021, but there are still many unknowns about it.
The early signs, are that it may be more transmissible but it is still not known what risks it poses to public health.
“Compared to other variants, Omicron has more than 32 mutations, beta has nine mutations and delta has nine on their spike proteins that help them to bind on the human cells,’’ Dr Daoni said.
“Key information like the transmissibility, infectivity, severity of infections, its ability to re-infect people and its outcomes on fully vaccinated people are still unknown.
“ We have more questions yet to be answered on the effectiveness of current tests, therapeutics and also on vaccines on this new variant.’’
Despite not having much information yet about Omicron, Dr Daoni has cautioned that PNG must be vigilant and prepared and must be on the offensive for the new variant.
“We must be prepared and not panic. We have to be concerned but not to overreact and do what is right to keep the variant out and if it does enter the country, we have to do the right things to mitigate its impact.
“We will to be guided by the risk assessments and the science and public health facts and evidence to guide us on how to act swiftly and appropriately.’’
Dr Daoni assured that the National Control Centre (NCC) team is working with its partners to ensure that the country’s borders are being monitored and that appropriate quarantine and isolation measures will be implemented on people coming into PNG.
“We will adjust our testing strategies in order to detect cases and we are working with IMR and a private laboratory in Port Moresby in order to undertake whole genomic sequencing (WGS) to detect all the variants including those already identified including alpha, beta, gamma, delta and omicron. PNG must have the whole genome sequencing (WGS) technology and capability in order to support it,’’ he said.
“It’s very essential and it’s a technology that PNG must have. Currently, PNG is sending its positive samples to the Doherty Institute in Melbourne to do the WGS and takes between 3-4 weeks to get the results back.
“ It’s a very slow turnaround time and by the time we get the results it’s very late to even use the information except to include them in our data base.’’
Meanwhile, Dr Daoni has urged all those who are 18 years and above to get themselves vaccinated including all those who have comorbidities and frontline workers.
“It’s a must that we get all these people vaccinated as we are currently unsure how they will fare if the Omicron variant enters the country,’’ he said.
“We must continue to follow and adhere to the Niupla Pasin measures. People must come forward and test if they have symptoms of COVID-19 and most importantly we must get our people vaccinated.
“ We are still dealing with the impacts of the delta variant and must be prepared and ready to deal with the omicron variant if it comes to PNG,” Dr Daoni added.