COVID19: Omicron II behind new cases spike

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The latest uptick in daily COVID-19 cases could indicate that a highly contagious Omicron sub-variant has started to spread in Cyprus, say health experts.

Talking to the Cyprus News Agency, virologist Dr Peter Karayiannis, an advisor to the government on coronavirus, said the increase in cases could be attributed to the arrival of the more contagious Omicron II.

He said that cases are on an upward trend as they exceeded 3,000 this week, compared to an average of 2,500 last week.

“The Omicron sub-variant BA2 has been detected in Cyprus since mid-December traced in samples sent abroad.

“It is very likely we are witnessing this increase due to this variant, which is even more contagious than the parent Omicron,” he said.

Karayiannis said more sampling needs to be carried out to prove that Omicron II is behind the recent surge.

The government advisor on coronavirus said other factors might be responsible for the spike.

“People have returned to their daily routines, their work, schools following the Christmas holidays.

“There could have been an increase in transmission, the results of which we are just noticing now.”

He added that the unusually chilly weather could have played a part in the uptick, as the cold pushes people indoors.

“We have also seen complacency, with people being more relaxed over personal protection measures as they hear the Omicron variant causes less severe illness.”

Asked if we are close to seeing the end of the pandemic, the virologist said scientists hope the end is near, but it is too soon to draw conclusions.

“The virus is here to stay for some time. The issue is what variants could it throw our way.

“If the new variants develop within Omicron’s genetic background, they could be milder.

“Omicron II is more contagious. There is evidence to suggest that it escapes the immune response a little better than Omicron.”

Karayiannis believes a fourth dose of the vaccine is not needed at the moment.

“We will probably have to wait until autumn to decide whether a fourth dose will be necessary.

“And that will depend on what kind of variants will be circulating by then.”

In comments to Active Radio, epidemiologist Dr Michalis Voniatis said scientists will have a clearer picture of the spread of Omicron II in the coming weeks.

He noted the main indicator experts would be looking at is hospitalisations.

“We are witnessing an uptick in cases recorded, but hospitalisations remain at the same levels as when we had 5,000 cases a day.

“On the other hand, we are wary as we cannot allow the health system to become overwhelmed.”

Voniatis said the authorities could have relaxed measures a bit more.

“We continue to restrict movement for no apparent reason.

“Yes, we will have a lot of cases in the future, but we will not have as many deaths as in the past.”