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Risk assessment of omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 in Norway
The omicron variant of the coronavirus SARS CoV-2 was detected on 23rd November and is causing a rapidly increasing transmission in South Africa and probably several neighbouring countries while it has been detected in dozens of people who have travelled from southern Africa to Europe.
Uncertainty about distribution
It is unknown where the omicron variant originated, and there is uncertainty about how widespread it is. It has been detected in several European countries, and it is probably already present in other countries without being detected yet.
“It has not yet been detected in Norway, but it may already have arrived without it being detected,” says Camilla Stoltenberg, Director-General at the NIPH.
The omicron variant may be in the process of replacing the delta variant as the dominant variant in South Africa. This indicates that the omicron variant has a higher transmissibility than the delta variant in the population there, but it is uncertain whether the same will apply in Europe and Norway.
“There is still very limited knowledge about this new variant. There is therefore great uncertainty about the properties of the variant and its further development. The knowledge will increase daily,” says Camilla Stoltenberg.
Likely to spread to Norway
It is likely that the omicron variant is more contagious than the delta variant and will spread to Norway.
It is so far unlikely that the omicron variant causes a more severe disease course.
“It is too early to assess how well vaccination protects against infection with the omicron variant, but we expect continued protection against a severe disease course,” says Camilla Stoltenberg.
Several measures introduced
A number of measures have been introduced, such as entry measures from several countries (regjeringen.no) which came into force on Saturday night:
Precautionary measures against import of the virus variant are aimed at delaying the introduction of the virus into the country while gaining more knowledge for risk assessment and to be able to vaccinate more people. However, but the advantages and disadvantages of the measures must be continuously assessed, especially when the variant is widespread in several countries.
Monitoring: The Norwegian Institute of Public Health is following international developments, collaborating with medical microbiological laboratories and municipal medical officers to detect the omicron variant in Norway.
Vaccination: The municipalities are organising booster vaccination to everyone who is 65 years and older and employees in the health and care services.
Additional measures are continuously considered.
Aim to stop local outbreaks
Meanwhile, it is desirable to stop any local outbreaks with the omicron variant in Norway, but if the omicron variant has a significantly greater transmissibility than the delta variant, it will be impossible to prevent the omicron variant from becoming the dominant variant.
“Then it will be important to prevent the epidemic from causing a significant disease burden and strain on the health service, while avoiding the measures impacting the public, workplaces, society and the economy unnecessarily hard,” concludes Stoltenberg.