Asia holds Omicron in check, but a surge could be inevitable: NPR

Asia holds Omicron in check, but a surge could be inevitable: NPR

Commuters wearing face masks take an escalator at a subway station in Beijing’s central business district. Omicron’s case numbers have remained relatively low in many parts of Asia.

Mark Schiefelbein / AP

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Mark Schiefelbein / AP

Commuters wearing face masks take an escalator at a subway station in Beijing’s central business district. Omicron’s case numbers have remained relatively low in many parts of Asia.

Mark Schiefelbein / AP

TAIPEI, Taiwan (AP) – Much of Asia has largely managed to keep Omicron in check, even if the variant rages elsewhere in the world, but the region where most of the world’s population lives may be headed for one Inevitable rise.

Strict quarantine rules for arrivals and the widespread use of masks have helped slow the spread of the highly contagious variant in Asia. Countries like Japan, South Korea and Thailand have quickly reintroduced entry and quarantine restrictions in the past few weeks after they were relaxed in the fall.

But cases are on the rise, and experts say the next few months will be critical. These fears were compounded by doubts about the effectiveness of the Chinese-made vaccines used in China and much of the developing world.

“As soon as the pace accelerates, it will increase extremely quickly,” said Dr. Shigeru Omi, a senior medical advisor to the Japanese government.

In India, which has returned to normal after a devastating COVID-19 outbreak earlier this year, Omicron has re-raised fears as more than 700 cases have been reported in the country of nearly 1.4 billion people.

The capital New Delhi has banned large gatherings at Christmas and New Years, and many other states have announced new restrictions, including curfews and vaccination requirements in shops and restaurants.

In the crowded Chandni Chowk market in New Delhi, many people went shopping without masks this week. Cycle rickshaw driver Mahesh Kumar said he was afraid of passengers who didn’t believe the virus existed.

“They think it doesn’t exist. But I’m very scared. I have children and a family,” he said. “If something happens to me, who will take care of you?”

Australia is already grappling with multiple COVID-19 surges, with a leader on Wednesday saying “Omicron is moving too fast”. Elsewhere, Thailand has surpassed 700 cases, South Korea more than 500 and Japan over 300. China, which has some of the toughest virus controls in the world, has reported at least eight.

Only four cases have been reported in the Philippines of people flocking to shopping malls and mass in Asia’s largest Roman Catholic nation before Christmas. Some hospitals have even started dismantling COVID-19 wards, which experts believe could prove premature.

Japan managed to delay the spread of the new variant by about a month, largely thanks to reintroducing entry restrictions, mandatory COVID-19 testing for all arrivals, and isolating all passengers on a flight if someone tests positive for Omicron.

But the barrier was breached last week when the first locally transmitted cases were confirmed in neighboring cities of Osaka and Kyoto. Experts are calling on the government to prepare for an impending wave of infections by stepping up testing, speeding up booster vaccinations and preparing more hospital beds.

“We’d like to believe that the Omicron cases could be mild, but their fast-paced infections could quickly multiply the number of patients and still overwhelm hospitals,” said Omi.

Taiwan, where wearing a face mask is nearly universal in big cities, has started offering booster shots of the Moderna vaccine and is urging people to get a third shot before the expected influx of people returns home for Lunar New Year in late January.

Preliminary research has shown that booster vaccines for Pfizer, AstraZeneca, and Moderna provide sustained, albeit reduced, protection against Omikron.

However, a not-yet-published study by the University of Hong Kong found that China’s widely used Sinovac vaccine, even with a booster dose, does not generate enough antibodies to protect against Omicron, according to a university press release. Hong Kong offers both Sinovac and Pfizer vaccines.

Sinovac did not respond to a request for comment. Chinese officials said their vaccines are still effective.

“Our inactivated vaccines are still quite reliable and cover a range of antigens, so they will not be completely ineffective against Omicron,” Zhong Nanshan, a senior government doctor, told a public forum.

Some countries that have relied on Chinese vaccines are turning to others for booster vaccines.

Thailand, which has mainly used Sinovac and Sinopharm, another Chinese vaccine, offers booster vaccinations from AstraZeneca or Pfizer. Indonesia, where Sinovac was the mainstay of a campaign to vaccinate its 270 million residents, is offering a Moderna booster for healthcare workers. The government is also planning to booster vaccinations for the general population in January but has not said which vaccine.

China’s stance on the virus, omicron or not, is to stop its transmission and the country appears to be getting tougher with the Beijing Winter Olympics approaching in February.

Officials last week locked down Xi’an City, a city and administrative area of ​​13 million people, amid a delta outbreak that has infected hundreds of people. On Monday, they ordered everyone to stay home until another city-wide test round was completed.

Local residents complained about the sudden ban on social media. Many relied on instant noodles and other packaged foods. Some worried about how they would get enough food, especially fresh vegetables, in the coming days.

China quarantines foreign travelers for weeks, depending on the province, with three weeks being the most common.

How China’s zero COVID-19 policy will affect the Olympics is an important question. Athletes and visitors are not allowed to leave the Olympic zones, and participants such as officials, journalists and venue staff will be tested daily.

To curb a deadly delta-induced surge in South Korea, the government this month restored its strictest distancing rules with a four-person limit for private gatherings and a 9 p.m. restaurant curfew.

Health experts predict that it is only a matter of time before Omicron hits the market.

“Omicron has such a high transfer rate that it is too obvious that it will eventually become the dominant variant in South Korea,” said Jaehun Jung, professor at Gachon University College of Medicine in South Korea.

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Rachel Meadows

Rachel Meadows

Trending topics news writer who enjoys cooking, walking her dog and travel.

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