Update on COVID-19 Omicron variant circulating in Vanuatu

The Ministry of Health would like to update on the Omicron SARS-CoV-2 Variant of Concern that is dominant in Vanuatu and globally. Omicron is a variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and within this Omicron variant and there are sub-lineages (BA 1, BA2)

The Omicron variant is associated with increased transmissibility and immune escape. This means that it is more likely to infect people with immunity from vaccination or immunity from previous SARS-CoV-2 infection. However, vaccination still prevents those infected with Omicron from severe disease, hospitalization and death.

The Ministry of Health would like to inform the public that reinfections are possible but very rare and for people to continue to be on the lookout for signs and symptoms. People are advised to report to a nearby health facility if they had previous tested positive to COVID-19 and currently have symptoms of COVID-19.

In early March 2022 when the Ministry of Health sent specimens collected among the first locally- acquired cases in Vanuatu to Australia for genomic sequencing it was found to be the Omicron sub-lineage BA.1. However, both Omicron sub-lineage BA.1 and BA.2 were found among cases detected at the border in February 2022.

Additional specimens collected in early April from Port Vila and Santo were found to be both Omicron BA.1 and Omicron BA.2. The Ministry of Health confirms that both sub-lineages are circulating in Vanuatu and that Omicron BA.2 will become the main, and eventually the only one circulating. Again, risk of reinfection (i.e getting infected twice with different sub-lineages of Omicron) is possible but rare. Ministry of Health will continue to send specimens for genome sequencing during the community transmission.

Common and mild symptoms of COVID-19 include cough, sore throat, fever, muscle aches, and pains. However, some people might have no symptoms at all. People with and without

symptoms are both contagious and can spread the virus to others.

The public is encouraged to continue practicing preventative measures including wearing a mask when in public spaces with other people, washing hands with soap and water regularly, covering coughs and sneezes, and regular cleaning and disinfecting of regularly touched surfaces.

Get fully vaccinated now and get a booster dose after five months of completing your primary vaccination series. Older people (aged 55 and above), pregnant women, and those with existing conditions are strongly encouraged to get their COVID-19 vaccine now. COVID-19 vaccination protects against severe disease, hospitalization, and death from COVID-19. Any updates on the COVID-19 situation will be provided through official sources and the public is urged not to spread any false or misleading information. Please refer to the Ministry of Health COVID-19 website for recent updates: www.covid19.gov.vu and follow the Health Promotions Vanuatu Facebook Page. For any questions, please call the free 119 Health Information.

Contact details: Dorinda Bule, Communications Officer, Department of Public Health, Tel: +678 563 6472