Scientists are sounding the alarm over the more transmissible coronavirus Omicron variant, saying it will soon be pushing daily COVID-19 cases to new heights in Cyprus, exerting more strain on the island’s health system.
Dr Peter Karayiannis, virologist and advisor to the government on COVID-19, told Alpha TV that he expected daily cases to exceed 1,000 anytime soon, as despite a lower number of tests carried out on Christmas Day, reported infections were in the 800-900 range.
There were more than 800 new daily cases throughout the past week, breaking past 900 to 978 on Thursday and 917 on Friday, before dropping to 268 on Saturday, due to lower testing on Christmas. The numbers rose again to 912 on Boxing Day.
“Despite a lower than usual number of tests carried out on Sunday, more than 900 cases were reported with the positivity rate reaching 1.7%, going up from 0.7% just two days earlier,” said Karayiannis.
The virologist said that he expected daily cases to exceed 1,000 within the next couple of days, with the Omicron variant pushing cases even further in the week ahead.
Cyprus topped COVID-19 cases with a record 1,152 reported in one day in July.
Asked whether the Omicron variant could bring about the end of the coronavirus pandemic, as it is highly transmissible, but causes milder infections, Karayiannis said that this is a possibility.
“Scientists, including myself, have said that this could be the case. However, the concern is that as Omicron is highly transmissible, this will mean that a larger number of patients will be landing in hospitals, bringing about more pressure on the health system, and deaths,” said the virologist.
“If there is no hospitalisation with Omicron, then it is good news,” he said. “This is an issue that we monitor daily.”
Evolve to deadly strain
Karayiannis added that scientists are also concerned as the Omicron variant itself could evolve to a more deadly strain.
The virologist said that so far, the only effective weapon against Omicron are booster shots, as the variant has proven to escape the immunity offered by two shots, especially after some months.
Meanwhile, another 63 cases of the Omicron variant were reported in the week before Christmas, taking the total to 96.
A leading epidemiologist had said last week that the more transmissible Omicron variant could push Cyprus’ daily COVID-19 cases up to 2,000.
Dr Michalis Voniatis told the Cyprus News Agency that the verdict was still out on the link between an increase of cases and the arrival of Omicron, as scientists were waiting for the sequencing results of some 100 cases to have a clearer picture.
In comments to media on Sunday, Health Minister Michalis Hadjipantelas said that there was no report of any hospitalisation of a person infected with the Omicron variant.
Talking during a visit to the Famagusta General hospital, Hadjipantelas said, “most Omicron cases have a travel history from either Greece or the UK, mostly young people. Carrying out a PCR test on all arrivals was the right move,” he said.