Expert: Omicron strain will inevitably come to Latvia

The new Omicron variant of the Covid-19 virus is also of concern to Latvia, chief expert of the Reference Laboratory Sergejs Ņikišins told Latvian Radio on November 30.

The new Omicron strain of Covid-19 is spreading rapidly in southern Africa but cases have also been recorded in Europe. 

Sergejs Ņikišins, head of the State Reference Laboratory at Riga East Clinical University Hospital, said: “In Europe, the new strain has already been detected in the UK, Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, the Czech Republic, Austria and Italy, so in eight countries. It is not clear about the effectiveness of the vaccine [against the variant of the virus], as well as the risk of re-infection, whether it will be higher compared to the Delta type.”

Disease Prevention and Control (SPKC) representative Ilze Arāja said: “The recommendations remain unchanged with regard to travel: the destination and risks of travel have to be assessed. If we are talking more specifically about the Omicron strain, the previous recommendations remain in force at the moment: vaccinating, wearing a face mask, observing distance, washing hands, venting rooms,” she said.

The four-week statistical figures on Covid-19 cases entering Latvia show that they are currently most prevalent from Britain – 42 cases, Turkey – 41, Germany – 40, followed by Egypt, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Italy.

“The main thing is to be prepared to react and to detect the first cases as soon as possible,” said Sergejs Ņikišins.

“It is inevitable, of course, that this virus will also come into Latvia at some point. But whether it will spread in Latvia, whether it will become the dominant [..] depends on the task of the laboratory to discover it in time. The task of epidemiologists – to implement counter-measures,” he said.

Last Friday, the government decided to ban entry to Latvia from several countries in southern Africa. There is no talk about wider travel restrictions yet. Ņikišins recommended more extensive testing for travelers. This would play the most important role in detecting the Omicron strain in a timely manner, and it's important for laboratories to be ready for more testing.

The government plans today to adopt rules on the need to carry out Covid-19 laboratory tests before entering Latvia. Ņikišins said that any type of testing is currently important. It is known that antigen tests will also be able to identify the new type.

In the meantime, Latvian Radio surveyed Rīga residents on the street. Some said they were afraid of the new strain, others had heard nothing about it or were not concerned. 

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