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Omicron is ‘spreading in our community’, Govt says as Gibraltar reports 13 cases of new variant

Thirteen cases of the Omicron variant have been detected on the Rock, the Gibraltar Government said on Tuesday, as it warned the new strain of Covid-19 is now “spreading throughout our community”.

No.6 Convent Place again urged people to exercise caution and take up the offer of a booster vaccine as the best option for individual and community protection from the worst effects of the virus.

“It is now clear that the Omicron variant is spreading throughout our community,” said Chief Minister Fabian Picardo.

“We must remain cautious now, to avoid further restrictions in the run up to Christmas.”

“The only way we can combat this variant is to get your booster shot this week.”

“The GHA has set up the mammoth task of vaccinating as many people as possible this week.”

“There are clinics available to you.”

“Do not delay your booster shot.”

“It could be a matter of life or death.”

“In such a close-knit community, we must use all the tools available to protect the most vulnerable and our way of life.”

On Tuesday, another 43 people tested positive for Covid-19, including 41 residents. Among the resident were 10 people aged 20 and over who had not received any vaccine doses.

There were two people in the Covid-19 ward at St Bernard’s Hospital and one in the critical care unit.

A further 306 people were in self isolation.

People were urged “to be sensible” and reduce social mixing in the run up to Christmas in order to reduce the spread of the Omicron variant, which has sparked worldwide concern due to its high transmissibility.

“It is extremely important for people to remain vigilant,” said Dr Helen Carter, the Director of Public Health.

“I urge people to wear masks in enclosed and crowded places, practice social distancing where possible, and continue to wash their hands.”

“These are known practices that will help us reduce the curb of this variant.”

But above all, the message from the authorities is for people to get their booster jab as soon as possible.

“The most important defence against this variant is to get boosted,” Dr Carter said.

“The vaccine is available for both residents and cross-frontier workers.”

“However, my message, especially to residents in Gibraltar, if we want to take control of the spread in our population, do not wait to be personally called for an appointment.”

“The Children’s PCC is open all week offering a drop-in service from 9am-8pm. Do not delay your booster until after the festive season, as it could be too late by then.”

The latest developments in Gibraltar came as the World Health Organization said the Omicron coronavirus variant, reported in more than 60 countries, posed a "very high" global risk, with some evidence that it evades vaccine protection even though clinical data on its severity remain limited.

Considerable uncertainties surround Omicron, first detected last month in South Africa and Hong Kong, whose mutations may lead to higher transmissibility and more cases of Covid-19 disease, the WHO said in a technical brief earlier this week.

"The overall risk related to the new variant of concern Omicron remains very high for a number of reasons," it said, reiterating its first assessment of late last month.

"And second, preliminary evidence suggests potential humoral immune escape against infection and high transmission rates, which could lead to further surges with severe consequences," the WHO said, referring to the virus' potential ability to evade immunity provided by antibodies.

The WHO cited some preliminary evidence that the number of people getting reinfected with the virus has increased in South Africa.

While preliminary findings from South Africa suggest that Omicron may be less severe than the Delta variant - currently dominant worldwide - and all cases reported in the Europe region have been mild or asymptomatic, it remains unclear to what extent Omicron may be inherently less virulent, it said.

"More data are needed to understand the severity profile," it said.

"Even if the severity is potentially lower than for the Delta variant, it is expected that hospitalisations will increase as a result of increasing transmission.”

“More hospitalisations can put a burden on health systems and lead to more deaths."

Further information was expected in coming weeks, the WHO added, noting the time lag between infections and outcomes.

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