THE MINISTRY of Health says the country yesterday through the genomic sequencing laboratory at the University of Zambia (UNZA) School of Veterinary
Medicine detected three SARS-CoV-2 Omicron variant isolates among samples from individuals who tested positive for COVID-19 in the last one week.
Omicron is a variant of the SARS-CoV-2 that the World Health Organisation (WHO) designated as a ‘variant of concern’ on 26 November 2021.
This means it has potential for increase in transmissibility, more severe disease such as increased hospitalizations or deaths, reduced effectiveness of treatments or vaccines, or diagnostic detection failure.
Health Minister Sylvia Masebo said in a statement, that the three cases of the Omicron variants in Zambia were detected from the people one being in a man living in Lusaka District with a history of recent international travel.
Ms Masebo said the fully vaccinated individual is in stable condition displaying mild ‘flu like’ symptoms and remains in isolation.
She added that another man who lives in Chibombo District, with a history of recent international travel, is currently asymptomatic and is self-isolating, the individual is fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
She said another victim is a woman in Lusaka District who initially presented as an out-patient at one of the hospitals in Lusaka with mild ‘flu like’ symptoms and was treated for COVID-19. She has no history of international travel and is unvaccinated for COVID-19.
“Lets support all our dear ones who are suffering from this terrible infection and avoid discriminating against them even as we continue to focus on heightened surveillance, contact tracing and genomic sequencing in response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Ms Masebo said.
She noted that it is not yet clear whether Omicron is more easily spread from person to person compared to other variants.
“The severity of disease following infection with the Omicron variant is yet to be understood. There is currently no information to suggest that symptoms associated with Omicron are different from those associated with other variants,”.
Ms Masebo however said preliminary evidence suggests that they may be an increased risk of reinfection with Omicron as compared to other variants of concern, but information is limited.
“On a positive note, the current vaccines remain effective against severe disease and death. While further studies are underway to understand the potential impact of this variant on existing counter measures, it is clear that vaccines continue to play a critical role in controlling the COVID-19 pandemic, She noted.
“The Omicron has been reported in many countries especially with the Southern Africa region leading to restriction and travel bans to many countries in Europe and the Americas,” she said.
She further announced that the National Heart Hospital will be the main COVID-19 Isolation Center, while other designated facilities will continue to manage patients in their jurisdiction.
“While our frontline personnel work hard to prevent and control the COVID-19 pandemic it remains key and critical that everyone continued to adhere to the Public Health and Social Measures as well as get vaccinated,” he said.
“His Excellency the President of the Republic of Zambia Mr Hakainde Hichilema remains concerned over the well-being of everyone in the country and sends a personal request to all Zambians to take personal responsibility to protect themselves from COVID-19,” she said.
Ms Masebo said the president further urges all eligible persons to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
“The responsibility to contain the COVID-19 and prevent further transmission and related disease starts with the individual and requires concerted efforts by communities and institutions. If everyone of us strictly adheres to the public health social measures coined in the five golden rules and all those pre qualifies to take the COVID-19 vaccine, that is all who are 18 years and above in our country, we would timely contain outbreak and possibly prevent a severe 4th wave,” she said.
She has since emphasised the need to adhere to the ‘5’ golden rules.
Ms Masebo has also acknowledge the efforts of local scientists including the Zambia genomic sequencing consortium (Zambia National Public Health National Reference laboratory; UNZA-Vet; UTH Virology laboratory; TDRC; CHAZ; Macha Research Trust; PATH; US-CDC; JICA; Hokkaido University; UK-Health Security Agency, the Africa CDC, WHO and other partners for the support to the genomic sequencing.
“I also applaud the Zambia National Public Health Institute and the larger Ministry of Health, which continues to hold the response responsibly supported by our all-weather partners and multisector stakeholders who remain committed to ensuring we prevent and control the COVID-19 and indeed other diseases that threaten our well-being,” she said.
“I sincerely pay special gratitude to the general public for the positive response we have seen in the past few days/weeks to the vaccination campaign and to the public health measures. These interventions are crucial especially as we enter the festive season,”