World rushes to learn more as new omicron cases emerge


THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) – omicron variant cases of Coronavirus appeared in countries facing the world on Sunday, and many governments rushed to close their borders even as scientists warned that it was not clear whether the new variant was more alarming than the previous versions. another version of the virus or not.

Researchers in South Africa identified this variant a few days ago, and not much is known about it yet, including whether it is more contagious, more likely to cause serious illness, or more abundant. ability to evade vaccine protection. But many countries have rushed to act, reflecting anxiety about anything that could prolong the pandemic that has killed more than 5 million people.

Israel decided to ban entry of foreigners and Morocco said it would suspend all incoming flights for two weeks from Monday – in one of the most drastic actions of the growing curbs. Tourism is being imposed by the countries of the world as they try to slow down. spread of variation. Scientists in several places – from Hong Kong to Europe to North America – have confirmed its presence. The Netherlands reported 13 omicron cases on Sunday, and both Canada and Australia found two.

Noting that this variation has been detected in many countries, and that border closures often have limited effect, the World Health Organization calls for borders to be left intact.

Meanwhile, Dr. Francis Collins, director of the US National Institutes of Health, stressed that there is no data yet to show that the new variant causes more severe illness than previous COVID-19 variants.

“I think it’s more contagious when you look at how quickly it’s spread through many counties in South Africa. Therefore, it has special signs of being able to spread from person to person. … What we don’t know is whether it can compete with delta,” Collins said on CNN’s “State of the Union”.

Collins echoed some experts in saying the news will prompt people to redouble their efforts to use the tools the world already has, including vaccinations, booster shots and measures like wear the mask.

“I know, America, you’re really tired of hearing that, but the virus doesn’t tire us out,” Collins said.

The Dutch public health authority confirmed that 13 people arriving from South Africa on Friday have so far tested positive for omicrons. They were among 61 people who tested positive for the virus after arriving on the last two flights to Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport before the flight ban was implemented. They were immediately placed in quarantine, mostly at a nearby hotel.

Canada’s health minister said the country’s first two cases of omicrons were found in Ontario after two people who recently traveled from Nigeria tested positive.

Australian authorities say two visitors to Sydney from Africa have become the first in the country to test positive for the new variant. Guests arriving from nine African countries are now required to isolate in hotels upon arrival. Two German states reported a total of three cases of returning travelers over the weekend.

Israel moves bans entry of foreigners and imposes quarantine on all Israelis arriving from abroad.

And Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Monday said Japan is considering strengthening border controls. Kishida told reporters he plans to announce new measures in addition to the current 10-day quarantine requirement for travelers from South Africa and eight other neighboring countries. Japan remains closed its borders to foreign tourists from any country.

Morocco’s Foreign Ministry tweeted Sunday that all flights to the North African country will be halted to “preserve the achievements that Morocco has made in the fight against the pandemic and to protect the health of the public.” people.” Morocco has been at the forefront of vaccination in Africa, and closed its borders for months in 2020 because of the pandemic.

America ban plan traveling from South Africa and seven other South African countries starting Monday. “It’s going to give us some time to ramp up our preparedness,” top US infectious diseases expert Dr Anthony Fauci said of the ABC’s “This Week” ban. .

Many countries are introducing such bans, although they go against the advice of the WHO, which has warned of any overreaction before the variant is thoroughly studied.

Fauci said it will take about two more weeks for more accurate information on the transmissibility, severity and other characteristics of omicrons, according to a statement from the White House.

The South African government has reacted angrily to the travel bans, which it says is “like punishing South Africa for its advanced genetic sequencing and ability to detect new variants more quickly.”

The WHO released a statement saying it “stands with African countries” and noted that travel restrictions could play a role “in mitigating the spread of COVID-19 but creating burden lives and livelihoods.” It said if restrictions are put in place, they must be science-based and non-intrusive.

In Europe, much of which has struggled in recent times with a sharp rise in cases, officials have been wary.

The UK on Saturday tightened regulations on mask-wearing and testing international arrivals after two omicron cases were detected, but UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the government was unable to reschedule. work from home or more severe social imbalances.

He told Sky News: “We now know that such measures come at a very high cost, both in economic and social terms, in terms of non-COVID health outcomes, such as effects on health. mental health.

Spain has announced it will not be accepting unvaccinated British travelers starting December 1. Italy is reviewing a list of air passengers who have arrived in the past two weeks. France is continuing to promote vaccination and booster vaccination.

David Hui, a respiratory medicine expert and government adviser on pandemics in Hong Kong, agreed with that strategy.

He said two people who tested positive for the omicron variant had been vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine and had very mild symptoms, such as a sore throat.

“Vaccines should work, but there will be some reduction in effectiveness,” he said. World rushes to learn more as new omicron cases emerge

Dais Johnston

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