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Omicron COVID variant: Public urged to keep calm as risk and vaccine effectiveness assessed

The danger posed by the new COVID variant Omicron is still being assessed around the world – as is the ability of the existing vaccines to fight it.

However, the arrival of the new variant has already triggered a surge in demand for booster shots.

In Australia, seven cases of the Omicron variant have been confirmed.

With the exception of one case in the Northern Territory, are all located in New South Wales.

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Politicians and health authorities are calling for the new variant scare to be kept in perspective – and are urging people not to panic.

On Wednesday, NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet reminded the public that only six cases in the entire state have been recorded so far.

“We’re getting asked questions here about six cases – six cases,” he said.

Internationally, the spread is relatively low.

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Nineteen countries in total have recorded cases of the new variant, including South Africa, Brazil, the UK, Hong Kong, Japan, and Australia.

People wearing PPE arriving at Sydney International Airport in Sydney, Monday. Credit: JAMES GOURLEY/AAPIMAGE

Globally, fewer than 300 cases have been discovered so far.

European health authorities say the people there who have Omicron have experienced mild symptoms – or no symptoms at all.

Nervous states

There are, however, signs that some Australian states are nervous.

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On Wednesday, Tasmania closed its borders to all international travellers, despite Prime Minister Scott Morrison urging against snap decisions.

“Keep your heads, stay calm, make sensible, balanced decisions, hold your nerve,” Mr Morrison has urged.

DOMINIC PERROTTET PRESSER
Dominic Perrottet has urged the public not to panic after another case of the Omicron variant. Credit: AAP

The key question right now is whether the current vaccines work against Omicron.

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said he is “very, very confident” that the vaccine works for all known mutations, including Omicron.

Moderna’s CEO was less certain.

“Given the large number of mutations, it is highly possible that the efficacy of the vaccine is going down,” Stephane Bancel said.

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Keep your heads, stay calm, make sensible, balanced decisions, hold your nerve

Either way, it’s sparked a welcome rush for booster shots in New South Wales.

“In the last two days, compared to the similar two days last week, booster shots are up by 40 per cent,” NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said.

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Pfizer’s jab will likely give strong protection against severe disease from Omicron, its makers say. Credit: EPA

First reported in southern Africa a week ago, Omicron has highlighted the disparity between massive vaccination pushes in rich nations and sparse inoculation in the developing world.

The World Health Organisation has warned the “blanket travel bans” would not prevent the spread of Omicron.

‘Blunt measures’

WHO head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he’s concerned that several member states were “introducing blunt, blanket measures”, which “will only worsen inequities”.

Globally, health officials have reiterated calls for people to get vaccinated, saying it remains the best preventative measure against COVID.

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Countries around the world have again shut their borders to try to keep the Omicron variant at bay. Credit: AP

“Our best form of defence still remains our vaccines,” British Health Secretary Sajid Javid said.

“It’s possible of course, it’s possible that it might be less effective.

“We just don’t know for sure yet.

“But it’s also very likely that it will remain effective against serious disease.”

– with AAP

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