By KEMO CHAM
Health authorities in Sierra Leone has confirmed the country’s first case of the Omicron variant.
The Ministry of Health and the National Covid-19 Emergency Response Center, in a joint statement, said a passenger who travelled from Nigeria tested positive for the variant.
The person tested positive for Covid-19 on November 25. The sample was then taken for sequencing which showed he had the B.1.1.529 variant, said the statement released on Wednesday.
Omicron was classified by the World Health Organization (WHO) on November 26 as a “variant of concern.”
The variant was first reported in South Africa. Since then it has been recorded in nearly 40 countries, according to the global health agency.
As of Tuesday, Nigeria had recorded six cases of the new variant, according to the Nigerian Centers For Disease Control. It said that all its Omicron cases were detected in persons with recent travel history to South Africa.
The development in Sierra Leone comes as the West African country began recording a fresh wave of the virus, after weeks of reduced cases.
The Health Ministry said the positive side of the development is that the country has proved its capacity to detect the virus and respond to the pandemic.
“The detection of the first Omicron case demonstrates our unflinching commitment to testing and surveillance, as well as our country’s genomic sequencing capabilities,” it adds.
The country will soon launch a third nationwide Covid-19 vaccination campaign, the statement added. People who are 18 years and above qualify for the jab.
The vaccination surge will intensify ongoing vaccination efforts in the Western Area – the capital, Freetown and its environs – as well as parts of the country bordering neighbouring Liberia and Guinea, it went on.
“The occurrence of the Omicron variant…further underscores the significance of vaccination uptake and the general precautionary measures needed to protect the population against Covid-19,” the statement reads.
Since its classification, Omicron has become a growing concern worldwide, amid fears about its rapid transmissibility.
However, the WHO on Wednesday said that new available information suggests that while the new variant may pose a higher reinfection risk, it could be less severe than the Delta strain.
WHO Director General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, was quoted saying that early data from ongoing research indicated that people who have already had the virus or been vaccinated against Covid could easily get infected by the Omicron variant. The good news, he noted, is that it will likely cause milder disease.
“Emerging data from South Africa suggests increased risk of reinfection with Omicron,” Dr Ghebreyesus told reporters. “There is also some evidence that Omicron causes milder disease than Delta”.
But the WHO chief warned that more data was needed before drawing final conclusions.
WHO also urged countries to boost their surveillance and intensify vaccination efforts.
The emergence of the heavily mutated variant has forced many countries to reimpose border restrictions, raising the possibility of a return to lockdowns.
Some states have already imposed travel bans on countries that have recorded cases of the variant, a move the WHO said was unnecessary.