Updated: Omicron Found in Cambodia, as More Findings About Variant Emerge From South Africa

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Provincial officials and frontline workers wait in a tent for 3rd vaccine doses ahead of the border reopening, in a photo posted to the Banteay Meanchey Administration’s Facebook page on August 9, 2021.
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The Health Ministry late Monday announced that Cambodia had recorded its first official case of the Covid-19 Omicron variant, a young Cambodian woman who recently returned from Ghana.

The ministry said the 23-year-old woman, originally from Svay Rieng province, was 15 weeks pregnant when she flew from Ghana via Dubai and Bangkok to Phnom Penh. After arriving on Sunday, she tested positive for Covid-19 and her sample was later found to be Omicron.

She is currently being treated at the National Center for Tuberculosis and Leprosy Control, the ministry said.

It said everyone in Cambodia should continue to take Covid-19 precautions.

The Omicron variant emerged early last month after the first case was confirmed in South Africa.

On Monday, Discovery Health, the country’s largest private health insurer, issued preliminary findings in a study on vaccine effectiveness against the variant, reinfection risk and severity.

Just 36 percent of the South African population is vaccinated, and 70 percent have already been previously exposed to the virus, according to the Washington Post.

The study, based on thousands of cases, said the risk of Omicron infection for people who have already had Covid-19 was “significantly higher, relative to prior variants.”

However, it adds that “adjusting for vaccination status,” the risk of hospital admissions for Omicron is 29 percent lower than that of prior variants.

The study also notes Omicron’s high transmissibility, and that protection from two doses of the Pfizer-BioTech vaccine slumped from 93 percent against hospital admissions for Delta to 70 percent for Omicron.

At a media briefing in Geneva, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Omicron was spreading faster than previous strains and could likely be already present in most countries. Seventy-seven countries have reported the variant, he said, according to Al Jazeera.

The WHO chief advised caution around findings that the variant may be less severe. “Surely, we have learned by now that we underestimate this virus at our peril,” he said. “Even if Omicron does cause less severe disease, the sheer number of cases could once again overwhelm unprepared health systems.”

Prime Minister Hun Sen urged vigilance but not panic while announcing that third vaccination doses for 12- to 18-year-olds would begin in January.

“Please don’t panic. Vigilance is needed, but don’t panic,” he said. “You cannot close the country. Covid-19 can kill hundreds or thousands of us … but don’t forget that if a Covid economy erupts, all 16 million people will be affected.”

Updated at 6:05 p.m. with Prime Minister Hun Sen’s comments

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