Portugal’s leading public health institute INSA has announced there are strong indications the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 is already in community transmission.
With the World Health Organisation saying Omicron is spreading at an “unprecedented rate”, the situation remains that no-body in a position of authority wants to put their hand in the fire and say how serious this is.
Some scientists believe Omicron is a much milder form of infection which signals the beginning of the end of the pandemic. They say it is exactly what happens with viruses; they adapt in order to keep their hosts alive as without them (ie without us) they too would die.
Others refuse to accept the data is there to say this – despite the fact that patients and doctors in South Africa suggest it is.
To date in Portugal, there have only been 69 cases ‘flagged’. Analysis however “has pointed to a growing tendency in the proportion of positive cases with a failing in the S gene (the sign of Omicron) since December 6”.
This has led INSA to conclude that data over the last few days is “strongly indicative of the existence of community circulation of the Omicron variant, in strong parallel with scenarios observed in other countries”.
And whereas in other countries, hospitalisations have been causing concerns, here they are still not at a point even close to established red lines.
Today’s Covid bulletin, for example, has shown a drop in the numbers of people in hospital (still well under 1,000 for the whole of national territory click here), albeit the number of positive cases is up to 490.3 cases per 100,000 inhabitants on the mainland (slightly less if the autonomous regions of Azores and Madeira are included).
The reason concerns continue are in some way simple to understand: even if the variant causes milder disease, the fact that it spreads so fast will mean more people become infected – and therefore more people COULD end up in hospital.
The other ‘grey area’ is that current vaccines may not be sufficiently ‘tuned’ towards combatting Omicron.
As pediatric specialist Dr Francisco Abecasis has explained, the vaccines were devised for a strain of SARS-CoV-2 that is no longer predominant.
The instant reaction from governments has been “a booster dose is now much more vital” – but the corresponding argument remains, if Omicron really is milder, maybe healthy immune systems can cope with it on their own – just as they have been doing in South Africa.
Vasco Ricoca Peixoto, a medical investigator at the national school of public health, has been saying, in his opinion, the right way is the first path: the one pushed by governments.
He told SIC television news today that “administration of a third dose of vaccine against Covid-19 for the whole Portuguese population could be beneficial in the combat of the new variant”.