An infectious disease specialist is urging Australians not to panic over the Omicron Covid variant, suggesting it could be a preferred strain to Delta.
Dr Nick Coatsworth, a former federal deputy chief health officer, told the Today Show if the symptoms of the Omicron variant are milder than Delta, it would be better if it became the dominant strain.
"You want it to out-compete Delta and become the pro-dominant circulating virus ... it could be that we want Omicron to spread around the world as quickly as possible," he said on Monday.
"If this is milder than Delta, you actually want it to spread within your community."
Three areas of concern with Omicron
Dr Coatsworth highlighted three areas of concern: the variant could transmit more quickly, it could be more deadly, or evade the vaccine.
He said the speed at which Omicron was spreading was the concerning factor and was why the World Health Organisation (WHO) had labelled it a "variant of concern".
"So, that on face value is concerning. But then you have to translate into what happens in real life," he explained.
"There's too few cases at the moment. In fact, the South African ministry of health said most cases have been mild. There's also positive news on the horizon as well.
"There's a lot we need to find out and I don't think there's any strong evidence at the moment."
Dr Coatsworth said it was too soon to bring booster shots forward.
"I think premature calls for action like that when we know so little are a little bit counter-productive," he said.
NSW can still ease restrictions, Dr Coatsworth says
Dr Coatsworth said there's no need for NSW to change the plan to relax restrictions in December and there will be more information coming from WHO in the next few days.
'The only thing we should change is you know mild restrictions on the number of people coming into the country from certain other countries, but at the moment everything else can go on as planned," he said.
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt has not ruled out making changes to travel restrictions amid fears the Omicron variant of Covid-19 is spreading in Australia.
Mr Hunt told reporters on Monday Prime Minister Scott Morrison would have a meeting with the National Security Committee to review actions in response to the new variant.
Mild symptoms observed so far
Omicron — which was first detected in southern Africa — has now been confirmed in Australia, Belgium, Botswana, Britain, Denmark, Germany, Hong Kong, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands, France, South Africa and Canada.
The chair of the South African Medical Association, Dr Angelique Coetzee, said most patients she had seen had "mild" symptoms, mostly consisting of fatigue, body aches and headaches with no loss of taste or smell reported and oxygen levels remaining normal.
“Symptoms at that stage was very much related to normal viral infection. And because we haven’t seen Covid-19 for the past eight to 10 weeks, we decided to test,” she told Reuters.
“The most predominant clinical complaint is severe fatigue for one or two days. With them, the headache and the body aches and pain.”
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