ECONOMYNEXT – With a noticeable increase in cases, the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is becoming the dominant strain in Sri Lanka and currently spreading faster than the previously dominant Delta variant, experts said.
Director of the Allergy Immunology and Cell Biology Unit at the University of Sri Jayewardenepura (USJ) Dr Chandima Jeewandara told reporters on Saturday (15) that 106 new Omicron cases have been detected at the USJ lab, bringing the total to 205.
“We handed over the new gene sequencing report to the Ministry of Health today. In the latest test using 182 samples, 160 tested positive for Omicron and 22 wereDelta, which means in Sri Lanka, Omicron is becoming the dominant variant,” said Jeewandara.
The new cases were found mainly in Colombo, Galle, Matara, Kandy, Trincomalee and Gamapha districts, he said.
“There are three main sub lineages that have been identified in the Omicron variant, namely BA.1, BA.2 and BA.3. Out of these three we have identified both BA.1 and BA.2 sub lineages in the samples,” said Jeewandara.
The difference between the two lineages identified in the country is that, BA.2 is suspected to have more mutations and shows resistance to natural and vaccine immunity and therefore has a better ability to infect.
According to the expert, out of 160 Omicron cases, 139 belong to the BA.1 lineage while 17 belongs to the BA.2 lineage.
The World Health Organisastion (WHO) recognising the Omicron variant as a variant of concern on November 26. Sri Lanka’s health authorities identified the country’s first Omicron patient on December 03.
The patient was a returnee from anAfrican country where the variant was initially identified.
The latest research shows that the Omicron variant can spread 3.2 times faster than the current dominant Delta variant, said Jeewandara.
Of the samples that came back positive for Omicron, he said, a majority belonged to outbound passengers: people who took a PCR test in order to go abroad.
Most samples that came back positive for Omicron among arrivals to the island were of people who have not been vaccinated, while a majority of outbound positives had been fully vaccinated but had not shown any symptoms.
Meanwhile, the health ministry’s epidemiology unit said COVID-19 numbers have increased over the past few days, which is “alarming”. Officials urged the public who are eligible to get the booster to do so within the week.
Health authorities detected new 677 infections on Friday (14) bringing the total number of cases in the country to 594,996.
“This is a very crucial time for us as a country. Vaccination is the reason we have been able to control the spread to this level. So everyone who is eligible, please get the booster within this week, because the next two weeks is dangerous,” Epidemiologist D Deepa Gamage told reporters on Friday (14).
With 16 deaths confirmed on Friday, Sri Lanka’s COVID-19 death toll has increase to 15,190.
So far 16.2 million have received a single dose of the vaccine, while 13.8 million have received two doses. However, only 4.5 million have received the booster dose so far.
(Colombo/ Jan 15/2022)