Be aware of health risks this holiday season and be up to date on travel restrictions.
Whether you’re travelling for business or visiting family this holiday season, here are five things you can do to minimise your risk of contracting Omicron.
Plus, the latest update from WTP’s Regional Chief Medical Officers Dr Neil Slabbert (Asia Pacific) and Dr Joel Lockwood (Americas) on what we know about the Omicron variant.
1. Be fully vaccinated.
This means three doses of a vaccine.
2. Know your COVID tests.
Understand the different types of tests. Two major types of tests are used to diagnose infection with COVID: PCR tests and rapid antigen tests. PCR tests are the most accurate type of COVID test, but require a specialised lab to process the test and often are not available in a timely fashion. Antigen tests can be done very rapidly, even at home by someone with no special training, but they are less accurate than a PCR test and may miss early cases of infection. Generally speaking though, if an antigen test is positive, you’re highly likely to have COVID whether you have symptoms or not.
3. Be up to date on travel restrictions.
Have a reliable source of information.
Guidelines and requirements for travel are changing constantly as the prevalence of the Omicron variant rises throughout the world. Those travelling for business must keep themselves informed and up to date. This includes understanding the requirements for vaccination and having appropriate documentation ready at hand, understanding testing and isolation requirements for all legs in their itinerary including the type of test and how recently it must be done, and also frequently checking to ensure requirements haven’t changed prior to returning.
4. Be COVID smart in social situations.
Be aware of health risks this holiday season.
Despite the increases in transmissibility with the Omicron variant, and the suggestion of waning immunity with only two vaccine doses, some truths still hold true. COVID tends to be an infection that is mostly spread is indoors, in crowded situations, and is more transmissible amongst the unvaccinated and unmasked. Business travellers should consider the risk associated with social gatherings; how many people will be there? Is there a vaccine requirement for
attendance, and is a masking policy in place (and enforced)? Are crowd control measures in place and will there be adequate ventilation? Remember that keeping yoursocial bubble small is the best way to prevent COVID exposures which could seriously alter your travel plans, or worse make you or a loved one quite ill. Install a local government COVID Safe smart phone app to check-in via QR code at locations such as shops and restaurants to make contact-tracing easier if you are unknowingly exposed to a COVID positive person.
5. Continue to do the little things right.
Take care of yourself and stay safe.
It is impossible to reduce the risk of COVID transmission to zero while travelling. Despite this, a layered approach of proven principles can be used to minimise risk. Before deciding to travel, take stock of your own personal situation. How high is the proportion of COVID where you will be going, and does this fit your personal risk profile? When travelling wear a high-quality mask, preferably an N95, that can be worn comfortably for long periods of time, like in a plane. Socially distance and limit social contacts. Continue to practice appropriate hand hygiene, cleaning your hands regularly with alcohol-based hand
What do we know about Omicron
Is infection with Omicron just the ‘omicold’?
New research is showing that Omicron may not just be a mild cold as initially thought. Hospital admissions are slowly increasing, but not as quickly as they did with the Delta variant. Researchers think the risk of severe disease is reduced due to the protection offered by the COVID vaccination and to a lesser degree, previous COVID infection.
Symptoms of Omicron vs Delta
Symptoms are similar, with those infected reporting a cough with a ‘scratchy throat’. Most people (89%) have reported a cough, 65% were fatigued and 59% of them were congested or had a runny nose. Less than 10% have reported losing their sense of smell or taste, which has affected many people with previous COVID-19 infections.
Omicron vs natural immunity
Unlike Delta where previous infection provided antibodies, providing protection and significantly reducing reinfection, the risk of reinfection with Omicron is 5x higher.
Omicron vs two doses of vaccine
Globally there is an emphasis on getting ‘COVID boosted’. With most vaccines this means a third dose with an mRNA vaccine (e.g. Pfizer of Moderna) 3-6 months after the second dose to increase protection. Countries like Australia and the UK have reduced the initial time frame after the 2nd dose as more becomes known about Omicron. Without a booster, the vaccine gives 20% protection against Omicron, which is in line with natural immunity. The booster dose triggers a stronger antibody response against COVID and increases the COVID vaccine’s efficacy against Omicron up to 55-80% in symptomatic cases, underlining the importance of booster doses. Because of the effectiveness of the booster dose, researchers feel there is no need for a new variant specific vaccine at this point.
Explained in a different way, the booster dose has been compared to the body going to university to learn how to overcome COVID, whereas the first two doses were like prep and high school.