Scientists have urged Malawians not to panic in the face of detection of two Omicron sub-variants of Covid-19 in South Africa and Botswana.
They expressed the sentiments in separate interviews yesterday following a World Health Organisation (WHO) announcement that it has added the new variants classified as BA.4 and BA.5 to its monitoring list.
WHO said cases of the two variants in South Africa reported mild symptoms with experts suggesting that the variants maybe less severe.
In an interview yesterday, Kamuzu University of Health Sciences professor of epidemiology Adamson Muula said the new variants are less likely to be as ferocious as previous ones.
He, however, said it is reasonable to treat the new variants just like those that have been emerging in the past, adding that Malawians must ensure they protect themselves.
Muula said: “Our response must be informed not just by science but also common sense. Hysteria does not help. Going forward we need to remind each other and implement the known public health interventions.”
He further said vaccination remains important, as such, Malawians must use the vaccines the country has, including taking Covid-19 booster doses.
Infectious diseases expert Dr Titus Divala said in a separate interview the variants, whose development involves alterations in areas targeted by vaccines, may lead to increased or decreased effectiveness of vaccines.
“The good thing so far is that all current major vaccines provide a high level of protection against all known variants of concern including Delta and Omicron,” he said.
Apart from South Africa and Botswana, other countries where the new variants have been reported include the United Kingdom, United States and Denmark.
Ministry of Health spokesperson Adrian Chikumbe yesterday said they are monitoring the trends in Covid-19 locally, regionally and globally, as they always do.
He said: “Out of the positive cases we get, we randomly do genomic sequencing to check if we now have new variants in addition to the ones we already have. So far, from our tests, the new variants reported elsewhere are not yet here.”
In terms of response, Chikumbe said there is need to emphasise that the mode of spread of such variants remains the same. In that regard, he said protecting oneself is also the same if adhered to with high levels of consistency.
He also pointed out that vaccines, including the Covid-19 booster doses are the best intervention.
The Covid-19 booster dose restores decreasing immunity and is administered after the primary series of vaccination for those aged 12 years and above.
Reuters yesterday reported that while response of the variants on unvaccinated people is unknown, the reported cases of the new variants affected people who were vaccinated.