- There may be household clusters among the 13 Omicron positives or clustering may have been induced by where passengers were seated on the flight from South Africa.
- We continue to urge the federal government to take the necessary steps to mandate point-of-arrival testing for all travellers irrespective of where they’re coming from to further protect against the spread of this new variant.
- A number of countries have slammed their borders shut to travellers from southern Africa, with the European Union, Japan, Australia, the United States, Canada, Rwanda and many others banning travellers from countries including South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi.
The world is in a “race against time” with the Omicron coronavirus variation, according to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who warned that scientists and manufacturers will require weeks to properly grasp the new variant during a visit to Latvia on Sunday as reported by CNN.
As more cases are identified and governments around the world mobilize to respond to Omicron, an urgent meeting of G7 health ministers will be convened on Monday, the United Kingdom said.
It also announced on Sunday new domestic public health rules requiring face coverings in shops and on public transport starting this week.
Apart from South Africa, the variant has been found in Botswana, Belgium, Canada, Australia, the Netherlands, Denmark, the United Kingdom, Germany, Israel, Italy, the Czech Republic and Hong Kong.
“There may be household clusters among the 13 Omicron positives or clustering may have been induced by where passengers were seated on the flight from South Africa,” she told the Science Media Centre, adding that the vaccination status and age distribution of those infected will also need to be considered before any conclusions are made about the variant.
The situation should be seen with “alert rather than alarm until more is known,” she said.
Variant of concern
The Omicron variant, also known as B.1.1.529, has been identified as a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization (WHO).
Early data suggests that the Omicron variant, initially identified in South Africa, may increase the risk of reinfection, according to WHO, which also noted that several of the mutations found on the variant were worrying.
However, the World Health Organization (WHO) stated that additional research is needed to discover whether the variation is more contagious, causes more severe disease, or can dodge immunizations.
“This variation contains a huge number of changes, some of which have alarming characteristics,” Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s Covid-19 technical lead, said in a statement on Friday.
“Right now, there are many studies underway… there is limited information so far, but those studies are underway,” she added. “We need researchers to have the time to complete those studies, and WHO will notify the public, our partners, and our member states as soon as we have more information.”
Travel bans and new requirements
The finding of the variation and its rapid spread over the world serves as a sobering reminder that the pandemic is far from over.
However, South Africa and a few other countries affected by the travel bans are resisting.
“These restrictions are unjustified and discriminate unfairly against our country and our Southern African counterparts.”
Excellent science should be praised rather than chastised.
The travel prohibitions were also slammed by Malawi’s President, Lazarus Chakwera, who termed them “uncalled for.” “So if countries impose a travel ban and use that time, which will be a few weeks at the moment, to accelerate vaccination rollouts, to ensure that any new antiviral drugs are available within the country, to increase testing, genomic surveillance at airports, and so on, that’s something you can usefully do with a travel ban,” he said.
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