Health authorities in Sierra Leone have confirmed the country’s first case of the Omicron variant of the Covid19 virus.
The Ministry of Health and the National Covid-19 Emergency Response Center, in a joint statement said a passenger who had traveled from Nigeria had tested positive for the variant.
The person tested positive for the virus on 25 November and the sequencing was done and it returned the B.1.1.529 variant, the statement noted.
Omicron was first classified by the World Health Organization (WHO) on November 26th as the newest variant of Covid-19, describing it 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.
Nigeria has recorded six cases of the new variant, as of Tuesday, 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 in November.
The development in Sierra Leone comes as the West African country began recording a fresh wave of the virus, after weeks of break.
But the Health Ministry urged the public to look at the positive side of the development, noting that it’s an illustration of the country’s improved capacity to detect the virus and respond to the pandemic.
A third nationwide Covid-19 vaccination surge will be embarked upon, the statement added. People 18 years and above are qualified to get the vaccine.
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.
“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.
Since its classification, Omicron has become a growing concern worldwide, amidst fears about its rapid transmissibility. It was also said to be deadly and cause higher reinfection rate.
But WHO said on Wednesday that new available information suggested that while the new coronavirus variant may pose a higher reinfection risk, it could be less severe than the predominant Delta strain.
WHO’s Director General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, was quoted saying that early data from ongoing research indicated that Omicron may more easily reinfect people who have already had the virus or been vaccinated than previous variants. The good news, he noted, is that it could also cause milder disease.
“Emerging data from South Africa suggests increased risk of reinfection with Omicron,” Dr Ghebreyesus told reporters, adding: “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 countries have already imposed travel ban on countries that have recorded cases of the variant, a move WHO frowns at.