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Health dept dismisses reports of new Covid variant

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The Department of Health said it has noted with concern old and fake news about the Covid-19 Omicron XBB variant circulating on social media platforms.

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THE DEPARTMENT of Health issued a statement on Tuesday addressing the circulation of misleading information regarding the Covid-19 Omicron XBB variant on social media platforms.

The department expressed concern over the resurgence of this old fake news, which advises people to wear face masks due to an alleged deadly and hard-to-detect variant.

The department stated that this misinformation first surfaced during the peak of the pandemic without a traceable source. It has urged the public to remain vigilant and disregard this “malicious social media content”, which appears to be intended to cause unnecessary panic and confusion, particularly as the country enters the influenza season.

The department also reassured the public that Covid-19 continues to circulate at relatively low levels across the country, similar to other parts of the world.

There is no cause for panic as many individuals have developed some level of immunity from both vaccinations and previous infections. The current strain or variant in circulation is less severe and less transmissible.

The department did, however, emphasise the importance of protective measures in the public’s daily lives, including non-pharmaceutical interventions such as hand hygiene, to prevent the spread of other respiratory infections, including influenza.

The department committed to keeping the public informed about any surge in cases of illness caused by any virus of concern or outbreak of any disease. The public is advised to rely on official sources for accurate and up-to-date information.

On Sunday, the department issued a public health alert, urging citizens to take extra precautions against respiratory infections, which are expected to surge this winter season.

Currently, the country is experiencing peak circulation of the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), while influenza virus infections are on the rise. Covid-19 continues to circulate at low levels.

The National Institute for Communicable Diseases, which monitors the circulation of respiratory viruses nationwide, has informed the department that the country is in the peak season for RSV. This virus can be mistaken for Covid-19 or SARS-CoV-2 due to similar symptoms.

RSV primarily affects young children but also contributes to respiratory illness in older individuals. The influenza virus season typically follows the RSV season, and an increase in cases is already being observed.

While most diseases caused by influenza, RSV, and SARS-CoV-2 viruses are mild, these viruses can lead to severe illness and even death, particularly in individuals with conditions that put them at high risk of severe disease.

The influenza season is expected to commence in the coming weeks and the department has advised high-risk individuals, including adults aged 65 years and older, people with underlying illnesses such as heart and lung disease, people living with HIV and tuberculosis, and pregnant individuals, to get the influenza vaccine to prevent severe health complications.

The influenza vaccine is available free of charge in public clinics (on a first-come-first-serve basis) for individuals in the aforementioned risk groups. The vaccine can also be purchased in the private sector at several pharmacies for other high-risk individuals and those who wish to protect themselves from influenza.

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