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As more countries confirmed the prevalence of highly transmissible variants of Covid-19, the World Health Organisation (WHO) on Sunday issued an advisory for countries in the South-East Asia region to scale up and rigorously implement public health and social measures, along with efforts to accelerate vaccination for the Coronavirus disease (Covid-19), to prevent another surge.
“We need to continuously strengthen our efforts to test, trace and isolate. Societal interventions such as physical distancing, hand hygiene and proper wearing of masks need to be stringently implemented. These measures should be in full force and for longer periods in areas reporting more transmissible variants of concerns,” said Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, regional director, WHO South-East Asia.
Earlier this week, Maldives and Myanmar confirmed transmission of ‘variants of concern’ that have already been confirmed in Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Timor-Leste so far.
The ‘variants of concern’, along with the opening of economies and societies, contributed to the recent surge in cases globally.
The public health and social measures are a wide range of nonpharmaceutical interventions, both individual and societal, and are cost-effective measures to reduce the spread of Sars-Cov-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, and save lives.
In addition to personal protective measures, they include cleaning, disinfection, ventilation, surveillance, contact tracing, isolation and quarantine, according to the UN body.
Physical distancing measures, such as limiting the size of gatherings, maintaining distance in public or workplaces, domestic movement restrictions; and international travel-related measures, should also be adhered to.
“These measures are critical for preventing infections, reducing transmission and saving lives,” she said, adding that even as countries scale up vaccination against Covid-19, they would need to implement public health and social measures in a tailored and agile way.
According to the UN body, a risk-based approach is needed for public health and social measures that should be implemented by the lowest administrative level and continuously adjusted to the intensity of transmission and the capacity of health systems.
“The risk assessment should measure both the actual ability to deliver services and the performance of those services… Where more transmissible ‘variants of concern’ are spreading, these measures need to be applied more stringently and for longer periods,” said the regional director.
“We must not forget that the pandemic is still around. We must guard against complacency, at any level. We must continue to implement combinations of public health and social measures until globally there is high Covid-19 vaccine coverage among health workers, and high-risk and vulnerable groups,” she added.