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Omicron! What we know about the variant, and recommend – Uganda’s Ministry of Health

By Davis Mugabi

Although Uganda has officially registered only 73 cases of the Omicron variant, Health Minister Dr. Jane Ruth Aceng says the picture in the communities could be different given that Omicron is largely responsible for the surging numbers in many countries around the world.

Dr. Aceng says that the Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI) will continue to conduct genomic sequencing of samples obtained from in-coming travelers at the ports of entry and among cases detected within the country, so as to establish the true picture of this variant in Uganda.

Basing on evidence from elsewhere, Dr. Aceng said, we know the following about this variant:

1. It is highly transmittable, and therefore rapidly multiplies in the community within a short period

2. Unvaccinated people are at the highest risk for severe and critical illness and they tend to be more effective.

In light of the above, the Ministry of Health recommends that;

a. all unvaccinated persons should ensure they get vaccinated.

b. Senior persons above 50 years and those with co-morbidities get a booster dose of the vaccines

c. The SOPs be strongly adhered to at all times.

The high transmissibility of the Omicron and ongoing festivity warrants that we comply to the SOPs so as to avoid mortalities and shield the fragile health sector.

Although disease caused by the Omicron variant has generally been reported to be mild (87% cases), the ministry says that the high attack rate of Omicron means that severe (8%) and critical (5%) might accrue at a rate that our respective (HDU and ICU) bed capacity might not sustain for long.

In light of this, Dr. Aceng says it becomes the responsibility of everyone to protect the window for the planned full Re-Opening of the Economy in January 2022.

To ensure optimal response and control of the omicron variant and other Variants of Concern, the Ministry of Health is doing the following.

a) Acceleration of the COVID-19 vaccination activity;

Variants emerge when the vaccine coverage is low. Accelerating vaccination denies variants susceptible/ individuals with weak immunity to propagate transmission.

b) Contact tracing and enhanced surveillance including.

i. Sustaining the mandatory testing at Entebbe International Airport, and intense information sharing to the incoming travelers, to ensure they observe SOPs and isolate when confirmed positive.

ii. Implementing the Cabinet directive for mandatory testing, and follow up of positive cases for all incoming travelers at the 53 Land border points of entry. Currently the focus is on the five major points of entry (PoEs); Malaba, Elegu, Busia, Mutukula, and Mpondwe. The testing is being implemented by the private sector at Government set rates ($25) as the Ministry of Health builds capacity to take over the testing.

Costing for the complete set-up of port health at the 53 Land border points has been done and a request placed with Ministry of Finance.

c) Genomic sequencing

There are currently four laboratories capable of conducting Genomic sequencing: three laboratories are located in the Uganda Virus Research Institute, and one at Makerere University.

According to the Ministry of Health, this capacity enables the country to detect the different variants of concern circulating in the population.

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