The World Health Organization (WHO) on Saturday urged countries in the South-East Asia Region to urgently scale-up public health and social measures as well as vaccinations to curtail further spread of the new Covid-19 variant Omicron.
According to the global health body, the hyper mutant variant has spread to 77 countries so far.
"Countries can, and must, prevent the spread of Omicron with the proven health and social measures. Our focus must continue to be to protect the least protected and those at high risk," said Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia Region, in a statement.
From what we know so far, Omicron appears to spread faster than the Delta variant which has been attributed to the surge in cases across the world in the last several months, the Regional Director said.
Emerging data from South Africa also suggests increased risk of re-infection with Omicron, she said, adding that there is still limited data on the clinical severity associated with Omicron.
As studies are underway, further information to fully understand the clinical picture of those infected with Omicron is expected in the coming weeks.
While reports show that Omicron is showing less severe disease, Singh said it "should not be dismissed as mild".
"Even if it does cause less severe disease, the sheer number of cases could once again overwhelm health systems. Hence, health care capacity including ICU beds, oxygen availability, adequate health care staff and surge capacity need to be reviewed and strengthened at all levels," she noted.
Preliminary data suggests that vaccines may likely have reduced effectiveness against infections by the Omicron variant. Yet, acevaccines are an important tool in our fight against the pandemic, as they have shown in the case of the Delta variant.
However, vaccines alone will not get any country out of this pandemic.
"We must scale up vaccination and at the same time implement public health and social measures, which have proven critical to limiting transmission of Covid-19 and reducing deaths," the Regional Director said.
These include wearing masks, keeping distance, opening windows, cleaning hands and coughing and sneezing safely.
"Continue to take all precautions even after taking vaccine doses," Singh said.