SINGAPORE — Singapore has detected 16 cases of the new Omicron variant, or B.1.1.529, of which 14 are imported, said Minister for Trade and Industry Gan Kim Yong on Tuesday (14 December) during a virtual press conferenc by the multi-ministry task force on COVID-19 (MTF).
The remaining two are locally transmitted cases, both airport passenger service staff members working at Changi Airport. There are no known linkages between the two cases, authorities previously said.
"While we have not detected any transmission within the community yet, it is only a matter of time before this happens, given the experience of other countries," said Gan, who is MTF co-chair.
All 16 Omicron cases are fully vaccinated, with no or mild symptoms. At least two, including one of the airport workers, have received their booster shots.
Thirteen of them are recovering in isolation wards at the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID), while three cases have been discharged.
Active contact tracing is being conducted to ring-fence close contacts of these cases and reduce onward transmission once infection with the Omicron variant is suspected, through the detection of S-gene target failure in their test results.
This includes quarantine at designated facilities, while the National Public Health Laboratory (NPHL) is tasked with confirming that cases are infected with the Omicron variant through genomic sequencing of the test samples.
"Vaccination remains our main defence against COVID-19, including the Omicron variant. (We) are setting up our booster programme to ensure that our population continues to be protected against severe outcomes. I would like to encourage those who are eligible to get your booster shot as soon as possible," cautioned Gan.
Results of Israeli study
On Monday, an Israeli study revealed that three shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine provide significant protection against the new Omicron variant.
The findings were similar to recent findings presented by Pfizer and BioNTech which showed that a three-shot course of their vaccine was able to neutralise the new variant in a laboratory test.
The Israeli study compared the blood of 20 people who had received two doses five to six months earlier, to the same number of those who had received a booster a month before. Those who did not receive the booster shots had no neutralisation ability against Omicron, while researchers said the booster increased this about a hundredfold.
As of Sunday, the total number of individuals in Singapore who have completed their full regimen or received two doses of COVID-19 vaccines amounts to 96 per cent of the eligible population.
Among the total population, 87 per cent have done so, while 87 per cent have received at least one dose, and 31 per cent has received their booster shots.
The new Omicron variant was late last month identified by researchers in South Africa and thought to be potentially more contagious than other previous strains.
Following its discovery, the World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday classified it as a "variant of concern", the most serious category that the agency uses for such tracking.
According to a leading virologist, the Omicron variant has around 50 mutations overall, including 30 on the spike protein, which enables the virus to enter cells.
There are, however, early indications that Omicron may cause less serious illness than other variants. The WHO said while it is more transmissible than the Delta strain and reduces vaccine efficacy, it causes less severe symptoms according to early data.
According to the organisation, the Omicron variant had spread to 63 countries as of 9 December, with faster transmission noted in South Africa, where Delta is less prevalent, and in Britain, where Delta is the dominant strain.
On Monday, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed what is thought to be the world's first confirmed death after infection with the Omicron variant and said that the variant accounted for about 40 per cent of the cases in London.
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