COVID-19 – Omicron update from CMO Professor Paul Kelly

An update from Australia's Chief Medical Officer, Professor Paul Kelly, about the new Omicron variant of concern.

Date published:
General public

Good morning everyone, I'm accompanied here by my good friend now, Ramus. Thank you for your wonderful work. So, we're here to talk again about the Omicron variant of COVID-19. One thing on the name, first. I've heard a lot of people call this Omnicron. I was of the belief that was a 'Transformer'. I've now been informed the 'Transformer' is actually Unicron. Neither Unicron or Omnicron are the correct forms of talking about this virus. It is Omicron - that is a Greek alphabetical letter and it signifies that this is a variant of concern.

We're concerned about it because it is a very different-looking virus from its genetic makeup. But it is still the COVID-19 virus. Some of the mutations in that virus are suggestive that it may be more transmissible or that it could actually avoid some of the immune system that we have to protect ourselves against that virus. But these are theoretical concepts at the moment. We are gathering further information about Omicron and every day we know more. And I will share some of those new knowing’s shortly. To your questions, is Omicron milder? Are the symptoms different? Well, so far, we have information from around the world and here in Australia about the infection of this new variant in real people, in real time. The symptoms are the same that we've seen all the way through, but they have tended, so far, to be milder than previous versions of the virus. But I'd be very cautious about that. We only have a small number of cases here in Australia and elsewhere around the world with good information about their symptoms. So, we are still watching very carefully about that. We don't know the effect, for example, in older people. Most of the people that have so far been reported from South Africa, which has a much younger population. Or mostly young travellers around the world. We don't have a lot of information about older people. Does it mean that we should treat this like flu? As it's not so deadly? So, again, we know this is very transmissible between people. That is definitely the case. We've seen already here in Australia a super spreading event from an indoor setting in Sydney. So, it is transmissible. Is it less severe? As I said, we're not sure. The jury is still out on that particular issue. So why is the variant more concerning than Delta, for example? So, Delta is still the main type of the virus that is circulating around the world. Very large numbers, for example, in Europe. That is most of the case here in Australia as well. We have seen Delta in Victoria, in the ACT, in South Australia, in Sydney and in other parts of NSW. So, why might this be different. That again we need to make sure that that's the case about severity, about whether the vaccines will work, about whether the treatments will work. These are open questions still. We expect in the next week to find out more about vaccines. The virus is growing in laboratories here in Australia, both in Sydney and Melbourne. And we will be doing at work here in Australia as well as internationally. And we will get that information as soon as it's available and we will be sharing that information with you. In terms of treatments, we had some good news this morning. One of the treatments, a monoclonal antibody it's a passive immunisation we give through an injection. The antibodies into the system to fight the virus. That particular drug is called Sotrovimab. Sotrovimab does work against this new variant, so that is good news that I can share with you today. But there will be more information that will come to hand and we will continue to use this forum as well as other forums to make sure that information is shared quickly and reliably.

So please keep watching out for further social media posts over the next few days as well as our press conferences. So, I'll close by saying thank you so much, Remus. It's been another good update. And thank you for listening.

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