The World Health Organization has classified the variant as B.1.1.529 (Omicron) and is characterized by an increased risk of re-infection as compared to the other variants of concern.
According to Mwansambo, Malawi has the capacity to do genomic sequencing and the ministry routinely conduct genomic sequencing on COVID-19 positive case samples to track the type of variants circulating in the country.
“So far from the samples that we have been collecting, the Omicron variant has not been isolated. However, surveillance on the same has been intensified and the country will be informed accordingly on any developments. Apart from tracking the variant, the Ministry has also intensified the screening of travellers at all points of entry to prevent importation of COVID-19 cases,” said Mwansambo.
On reports that a traveller from Malawi was identified with the new variant in Israel, Mwansambo said the ministry has not been communicated but it is following up the issue to get more details to ascertain the incident and to facilitate contact tracing.
“It is important to note that we screen both the incoming and outgoing travellers to ensure that they have a negative PCR test certificate. Those that are COVID-19 positive are not allowed to leave the country. There is a possible risk of getting infected with COVID-19 whilst in transit hence all travellers are encouraged to strictly follow all the preventive measures,” said Mwansambo.
He then warned that the virus is mutating hence the need for everyone to strictly adhere to measures including proper wearing of masks, frequent hand-washing with soap or use of hand sanitizers, physical distancing, improving ventilation of indoor spaces and avoiding mass gathering.
Mwansambo also encouraged everyone aged 18 years and above to get vaccinated amid the threat of the 4th wave so that people’s bodies should be prepared to fight the virus.