New Omicron variant: inheritance of 2021 for 2022. What should we do with it? IPN debate

In many states of the world, the novel coronavirus pandemic is staging a new attack, this time through the Omicron variant. In reality, this is a new wave of cases of infection and deaths and of severe restrictions. This is regrettable as the people there already entered the winter holidays that they wanted to spend not as last year. It seems that in the Republic of Moldova, this wave hasn’t come yet, but what can Moldovan society do for this wave not to come or at least to have a milder impact than elsewhere? Reponses to this and other questions were looked for by the experts invited to IPN’s public debate ”New Omicron variant: inheritance of 2021 for 2022. What should we do with it?”.

According to the standing expert of IPN’s project Igor Boțan, when naming the coronavirus variants, the World Health Organization (WHO) started from the precondition that the variant should be neutral. Therefore, given that this virus mutates swiftly, once in half a year, defending mutations that cause waves, letters of the Greek alphabet have been used to name the new variants. “As the first mutations were very contagious and contagiousness remained at the same level, they used the first letters of the Greek alphabet. The first variants of the virus had approximately the same contagiousness. The Delta variant was twice more contagious. In the case of Omicron, it should be taken into account the fact that besides having a particular sound, the letters of the Greek alphabet also have a numerical value. For example, “Omicron” is the 15th letter of the Greek alphabet, while its numerical value is 70, which means that this name shows how contagious this variant is compared with the initial variants,” stated the expert.

According to him, the WHO determined that Omicron suffered over 30 mutations compared with the first variant. Its particularity is that in the countries where the people have problems with immunity, the incubation of this virus and its multiplication met with a favorable environment for mutating repeatedly and this makes it different from the others. The booster dose had to be introduced after it was determined that the mutations somehow try to avoid the effects of the vaccine. In the EU member states, one fourth of the citizens got the booster dose, while in Moldova – only 1.6%, which is about 60,000 citizens, as opposed to the national two-dose vaccination rate of 30%. Boosters started to be administered in Moldova on November 29. Over 200 million people got infected with COVID-19 worldwide during two years and 3.8 million of these died.

Ala Tocarciuc, international public health expert, said Omicron was first detected in South Africa where the vaccination rate is low. “In fact, the appearance of this variant confirmed scientists’ assumptions that the presence of many unvaccinated persons creates preconditions for the mutation of the virus. The variant was discovered in November and this spread very swiftly. There are over 80 countries where Omicron was detected and confirmed officially. Initially, the variant was described by doctors with reference to students of a university campus. Most of the students had mild forms of disease and didn’t have symptoms of infection as in the case of other variants, but had a state of profound tiredness and this led to the idea that a new variant appeared. The variant was deciphered in South Africa,” she stated.

According to Ala Tocarciuc, the new variant is three times more contagious than Delta. “At clinical level, they gather information as there are higher figures of mild and moderate forms, but it is not clear what the source of these forms is – vaccination, experiencing of the disease or particularities of the virus. Investigations are now carried out. Also, according to other indicators typical of the variant, Omicron has a lot of changes in the spike protein - the peaks that connected to the lungs and generated pneumonias very quickly. These peaks are now modified and the variant connects to the lungs less. At the same time, the percentage of those who are hospitalized is different among different sections of the population. Among the unvaccinated ones, about 20% of those infected with Omicron will need to be hospitalized. If they are vaccinated, the number of hospitalized persons is of 2%. This shows that Omicron is sensitive to the antibodies generated by the vaccine. We somehow returned to point zero of the pandemic. But we are different and the virus is different. That’s why this wave is overcome in a different way,” stated Ala Tocarciuc.

Ala Rusnac, doctor in the intensive care unit of the National Clinical Hospital “Timofei Moșneaga”, which treats patients with COVID-19, said that she made important observations during the mission she conducted together with other Moldovan doctors so as to help Romanian counterparts. It was a difficult period for them as the health system was maximally exploited. Given the large number of new cases, especially the existence of moderate and severe forms, the doctors and the medical assistance there was supported. It was evident that the state and the health system coped with difficulty, but the state introduced very strict rules and the number of new cases could be decreased in several weeks and the epidemiological situation could be maintained at an appropriate level.

In another development, the doctor said a day of wok of an intensive care team dealing with patients with COVID-19 is very difficult as they struggle hard for each patient’s life. “Patients with severe and very severe forms of the disease are transferred under intensive care. These are not divided by the variant of the virus that they contracted, but the consequences they suffer are serious. The doctors use standardized documents approved by the Ministry of Health. These are standardized national clinical protocols and a practical guide teaching how to manage severe complications caused by coronavirus. In the treatment of a patient with a severe form of COVID-19, doctors act according to the way in which the disease manifests itself and cure depending on the health problems experienced by the patient,” stated Ala Rusnac.

The public debate ”New Omicron variant: inheritance of 2021 for 2022. What should we do with it?” is the 220th installment of the series of debates “Developing Political Culture through Public Debates”. IPN’s project is supported by the Hanns Seidel Foundation.

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