Prepare healthcare system for Omicron, experts advise Vietnam

By Chi Le, Le Cam   December 30, 2021 | 05:30 am PT
Prepare healthcare system for Omicron, experts advise Vietnam
A Covid-19 patient who has turned severe is taken to hospital for emergency aid on the night of December 23, 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy
Vietnam should beef up its healthcare system, ensuring that medical centers are well-equipped and can up their capacity, so as to avoid an Omicron-triggered overload, experts advise.

They note that the latest variant of the novel coronavirus spreads faster.

It is "predictable" that the Omicron coronavirus strain will be detected in Vietnam, said Tran Dac Phu, a senior advisor at the Public Health Emergency Operations Center.

Ever since the Omicron variant was first reported in November, it has already appeared in more than 100 countries, and therefore "it is very difficult to prevent this strain from penetrating Vietnam," he said.

A person arriving in Hanoi from the U.K. on Dec. 19 was confirmed Tuesday as the first Omicron case in Vietnam.

However, Phu said, it is possible that Covid-19 patients infected with the Omicron could be missed in the community because not all patients will have their samples taken for gene sequencing.

Therefore, there is a potential risk that the variant will silently spread quickly, causing the number of infections to surge in a short period of time, overloading the health system.

Too many cases could lead to a situation in which severely ill patients are unable to access proper treatment in time, leading in turn to a high fatality rate, he said.

Do Van Dung, head of the Public Health Department of the HCMC University of Medicine and Pharmacy, said studies have showed that the Omicron variant spreads five times faster than the former coronavirus strains, but the severity and hospitalization could decrease by one third.

A team of researchers at Hong Kong University's medicine faculty has found that the Omicron variant replicates 70 times faster in human airways than the Delta, but infection in the lungs appears to be less severe compared to the original virus strain.

Omicron's rapid replication in the airway may explain why it transmits faster than previous variants of the virus, but lower infection in the lungs may indicate that it causes less severe disease, they said.

The World Health Organization said Wednesday that the risk posed by the Omicron variant is still "very high." It said that in the week ending last Sunday, the global number of new cases rose by 11 percent compared to the previous week, while the number of new deaths dipped by 4 percent.

"Consistent evidence shows that the Omicron variant has a growth advantage over the Delta variant with a doubling time of two to three days and rapid increases in the incidence of cases is seen in a number of countries.

"The rapid growth rate is likely to be a combination of both immune evasion and intrinsic increased transmissibility of the Omicron variant," the WHO said.

Given these analyses, experts said that Vietnam must take a number of drastic preventive measures to limit the spread of the strain, even though only one case has been detected so far.

They said grassroots medical stations need to improve their capacities, including equipping themselves with oxygen tanks, oxygen masks, and blood oxygen monitors. This would allow people to have quick and easy access to needed medical equipment once the number of infections increases.

Dung said the most important thing to do is to take advantage of time to vaccinate as many people in the high-risk group as possible. This would help prevent overload on the healthcare system.

Phu added that localities need to prepare scenarios to cope with both the new strain and Covid-19 as a whole and avoid the situation when restrictions are not tightened enough to control the outbreak or social distancing measures are too harsh that they affect socio-economic development and daily life of the people.

"Localities should build plans to decide which activities should be allowed, which should be suspended and which could be continued under certain conditions once an outbreak occurs," he said.

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