Medical researchers have indicated that while the Omicron coronavirus variant is unlikely to replace the Delta variant due to genetic differences, it is also expected to be less severe.
Dr Anan Jongkaewwattana, director of the Veterinary Health Innovation and Management Research Group unit of the National Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (BIOTEC), said Delta is like a sibling to the Alpha and Beta strains. However, this is not the case with the Omicron strain and so someone infected with the Delta variant can still contract the Omicron variant and carry both simultaneously.
He added that this year could see vaccines developed to safeguard against both variants through a single shot, similar to seasonal flu vaccines.
Dr Chakkarat Pittayawong-anont, director of the epidemiology division at the Department of Disease Control (DDC), meanwhile said he was confident that the Omicron variant would not cause as many critical illnesses as the Delta variant.
At its peak, the Delta wave numbered 2,000 critical patients with lung infections per day and 200 daily fatalities.
Dr Chakkarat noted, however, that 70% of the population has already been vaccinated and Omicron cases have been shown to be less severe in their symptoms than Delta cases.
Meanwhile, Dr Kiattiphum Wongrajit, Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of Public Health, said Omicron infections should be brought under control within two months depending on public cooperation.
The ministry may also consider changing the status of COVID-19 from “pandemic” to “endemic” if rates of severe cases and fatalities see a significant decline. Currently, the fatality rate for Omicron COVID-19 infections remains higher than that of avian flu, at 0.7% versus 0.01%, respectively.