Health officials explore Omicron screening procedures

Irbid sees spike in cases; 14% positivity rate

A health worker giving the COVID-19 vaccine at a drive-through vaccination site on Saturday, November 27, 2021. (Photo: Ameer Khalifeh/Jordan News)
AMMAN — While there are no confirmed cases of the COVID-19 Omicron variant found in the Kingdom as of Wednesday, investigations are underway to determine whether or not the variant has reached Jordan from a suspected case, a foreign traveler who recently arrived in the country. اضافة اعلان

The matter is being investigated after the traveler underwent a preliminary screening test using special diagnostic kits, previously used to detect the UK variant, known as the Alpha variant, which has the same mutation as the Omicron.

According to Saeed Jaradat, member of the Ministry of Health’s Epidemiological Committee, these preliminary tests evaluate “the deletion of amino acid number 69 and 70 of the spike protein. Some of these diagnostic kits, available globally and in Jordan, can give negative results on this mutation, which would potentially suggest an Omicron presence. The keyword here is potentially, because we can’t be absolutely sure that it is, in fact, the Omicron variant.”

Since not much is known about the biological function of the new variants, the committee decided in its latest meeting that all travelers coming from abroad should be PCR tested using the special diagnostic kits previously used for detecting the Alpha variant, Jaradat said. 

“Also, previous regulations allowed Jordanians traveling to nearby countries for 10 days or less to return to the country without PCR testing, as long as they were fully vaccinated. Today, this regulation is no longer in force, meaning any and all travelers will have to undergo PCR tests upon arrival to Jordanian borders.”

Recently updated measures will also involve taking potential carriers of the Omicron into institutional quarantine. “Any positive sample will be sent to specialized labs to decode the genetic material of the virus.”  

Northern governorates

Another concern to health officials is the recent increase in COVID-19 in the Northern governorates. Irbid, in particular, has witnessed a striking rise in infections as of Tuesday.  Jaradat told Jordan News on Wednesday, “there are nearly 15,000 active coronavirus cases in the governorate today, and these figures are proven from PCR test results.” 

Irbid has an estimated population of 2 million residents, making it one of the most populous governorates in the Kingdom.

“An important factor to remember is that Irbid has a relatively low vaccination rate for its residents, not exceeding 25 percent of its population, and this refers to those who have received the first two doses,” explained Jaradat. 
Furthermore, Irbid has a high number of universities and schools, and these factors are also relevant when analyzing infections in other governorates.  More specifically, the most recent statistics show that Irbid’s positivity rate stands at 14 percent. The positivity rate of the Kingdom stands at 9.85 percent as of Wednesday. 

Governor of Irbid Ridwan Otoum told Jordan News that a primary reason behind the spike in COVID-19 cases in Irbid is related to the fact that “many people in the governorate are still not practicing the appropriate safety measures that have been outlined by the national government.”

In the governorate, 459 hospital beds are assigned to coronavirus patients, 135 are occupied. The number of available ICU beds is 102, and the number of ICU beds currently occupied is 61. The total number of doctors that are handling coronavirus patients is 1,418. 

North meets south 

Muhannad Nsour, a spokesperson for the Jordanian Epidemiological Committee, provided updated data on occupancy rates for isolation and ICU beds in each of the main regions of the Kingdom and PCR test rates.
The central region shares the same hospital-bed occupancy rate as the northern region, standing at 29 percent, while the Southern region’s rate stands at around 10 percent. 
The occupancy rate for ICU beds in the northern region is estimated at 49 percent, while in the central region, the rate is around 43 percent, and in the southern region is 10 percent. 

As for occupancy rates of beds with ventilators and oxygen-support machines, the rate is 31 percent in the northern region, 22 percent in the middle region, and 8 percent in the southern region.

Nsour noted that the northern region has the highest percentage of positive PCR tests, which is 14 percent, compared to the center region’s 10 percent, and the southern region’s 7 percent.

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