JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia has launched a health probe after reporting the country’s first positive case of the omicron COVID-19 variant.

The Kingdom joined more than 21 other nations in recording an omicron infection after a Saudi national who flew in on a passenger plane from a north African country tested positive.

The individual was placed in isolation, along with a number of other people they had been in contact with, according to the Saudi Press Agency.

“An epidemiological investigation has started, and the case was sent to quarantine, where accredited health procedures were followed,” the SPA report said.

During a specially convened Saudi Ministry of Health press conference, ministry spokesman Dr. Mohammed Al-Abd Al-Aly said there was still much to learn about the new variant and warned against spreading false information about it.

“Health experts across the world and the Kingdom are closely monitoring the situation and more research needs to be done to determine its lethality. At this stage, prevention is better than the cure and standard precautions must continue to be practiced,” he added.

Dr. Abdullah Algaissi, a virologist and assistant professor at Jazan University’s college of medical sciences, recently told Arab News: “Based on what we know from the genetic sequencing, we don’t have information that could tell us if these mutations will make the virus more lethal, more transmissible, if it will impact the immune response either after infection or vaccination. As of now, we don’t know.”

Al-Aly pointed out the importance of people completing vaccination programs and recommended that anyone who had gone six months since having their second jab should receive a booster, especially those aged over 65. 

Health Ministry spokesman Dr. Mohammed Al-Abd Al-Aly urged people to keep a check on their health status via the ministry approved Tawakkalna app, to self-isolate where necessary, and continue to follow precautionary measures brought in at the start of the pandemic.

Health officials have said that third doses offer increased protection against COVID-19 and can prevent infection or milder illness with symptoms.

According to the US CDC, data from clinical trials showed that a booster shot increased the immune response in trial participants who finished a Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna primary series six months earlier or who received a Johnson and Johnson/Janssen single-dose vaccine two months earlier.

With an increased immune response, people should have improved protection against COVID-19, including the delta variant. For Pfizer-BioNTech and Johnson and Johnson/Janssen, clinical trials also revealed that a booster jab helped prevent COVID-19 with symptoms.

To date, more than 47.4 million vaccine doses have been administered in Saudi Arabia.

Al-Aly urged people to keep a check on their health status via the ministry-approved Tawakkalna app, to self-isolate where necessary, and continue to follow precautionary measures brought in at the start of the pandemic.

“Masks continue to be a very important protective measure against any infection,” he added.

Health officials are stationed at the Kingdom’s ports to check the temperatures of arriving passengers.

News of the omicron case came as Saudi Arabia lifted a ban on direct travel from India, Egypt, Pakistan, Brazil, Vietnam, and Indonesia although arrivals would need to enter institutional quarantine for five days.

On Wednesday, the Kingdom reported 34 new COVID-19 cases and 26 recoveries. One death was recorded, and 39 patients remained in critical condition.

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