STA, 21 December - Omicron variant cases have been confirmed across Slovenia, except for the western Goriška region, but it is only a matter of time before it is detected nationwide, the country's chief epidemiologist Mario Fafangel said on Tuesday, noting local transmission of Omicron. Epidemiologists propose a revised mandatory quarantine regime.
A total of 51 Omicron infections have been confirmed until this morning in all the regions but Goriška, said Fafangel, the chief epidemiologist with the National Institute of Public Health (NIJZ).
The figure is bound to keep increasing, and what is actually important is reports of community transmission of the Omicron strain, meaning individuals who have not been travelling abroad recently or been in contact with someone who did have been infected with the variant, he noted.
Even though the Goriška region has not yet confirmed an Omicron case, it is only a matter of time before this happens, as the strain is highly virulent and the area has been reporting an increase in new coronavirus cases. It is very likely that the variant is therefore present across the country, he said.
Fafangel mentioned that the data collected so far suggested that Omicron caused a milder case of Covid-19, warning this should not lull people into a false sense of security. "The most important thing is to act in time. This is more important than waiting for 100% data before doing so," he said.
He stressed that measures must be taken to the number of infections, as epidemiologists can no longer distinguish between suspected and non-suspected omicron infections. In fact, genome sequencing results, and therefore information on the variant, almost always reach epidemiologists too late, he added.
"From the epidemiological point of view, a variant that is significantly more virulent is usually worse even if it transpires that it is a bit milder," he said, noting the burden highly virulent strains put on healthcare.
In light of these developments, epidemiologists have proposed to the government to make people who have received a booster jab the only exception to a mandatory quarantine scheme that imposes self-isolation after a high-risk contact.
The current "two-tier quarantine system" is unsustainable and should be transformed into a single system, Fafangel said, referring to an umbrella quarantine regime and a special scheme dedicated to a risk of Omicron infection which is without exceptions.
Epidemiologists would also like to see the updated Covid pass mandate to enter into force as soon as possible, that is for Slovenia to introduce a time limit on the Covid certificate for those vaccinated under the basic vaccination regime. The government decided last week to limit the validity of the Covid pass to 270 days from 1 February.
Fafangel called on everyone to get vaccinated, including with booster doses. "Protection against the symptomatic course of the [Covid-19] disease has declined when it comes to primary vaccination schemes.
"Protection is lower with both vector and mRNA vaccines. We know that a booster dose is still a good solution, it restores or even boosts protection against both the symptomatic course of the disease and hospitalisation."
Fafangel also urged people to heed protective measures, including during the coming holidays. He proposed spending holidays in bubbles and self-testing. "This can significantly reduce the risk. We won't stop the spread, but we can at least control it," he added.
The first Omicron infections were confirmed in Slovenia last week in a group of people from central Slovenia.
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