Omicron variant more easily transmissible, but too early to tell if new restrictions necessary: Experts

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SINGAPORE: It is “too early” to tell if additional measures are required to deal with the Omicron COVID-19 variant in Singapore, but if needed, restrictions on travel and social gatherings would be most effective, experts said.

Associate Professor Natasha Howard from the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health at the National University of Singapore noted that Omicron appears to be “much more easily transmissible” than the dominant Delta variant.

While this could mean a “significant increase" in cases, there is no indication that the Omicron variant raises the risk of severe illness or death, she said.

“We don’t yet have enough information about the Omicron COVID-19 variant to know how great a risk it poses and whether additional precautions will be necessary,” she said.

“We are in the early days and learning more daily about this new variant of concern, so (we) must maintain existing measures until new evidence indicates whether increased restrictions are warranted.”

Singapore's COVID-19 multi-ministry task force said on Tuesday (Nov 30) that it is a “matter of time” before Omicron cases emerge here. As part of tightened measures, the country has enhanced its testing protocols for all travellers. No new vaccinated travel lanes will be opened, other than those announced earlier.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong earlier said that Singapore could be forced to take "a few steps back" before taking more steps forward, as he spoke about the new variant.

Associate Professor Luo Dahai​, from Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine ​at Nanyang Technological University, said many questions about the new variant have not been answered.

“It is difficult to determine what levels of restriction would be appropriate and effective in protecting Singapore and Singaporeans,” he said.

RESTRICTIONS THAT COULD HELP

The experts said Omicron is likely to emerge in Singapore in days. Given that it is unclear how effective existing vaccines are against the variant, restrictions that help minimise transmission would be most effective, Assoc Prof Howard said.

“These include working from home as default, minimising the size and frequency of social gatherings – especially indo...

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