World on High Alert Amid the Spread of ‘Immune-escaping’ New Variant

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  • Britain, Germany, Italy say Omicron cases detected
  • UK PM Johnson unveils new measures to try to stop spread
  • Many states announce travel curbs, bans on southern Africa
  • Dutch authorities test air passengers for Omicron variant

Ten countries in southern African have been placed on the travel red list because of concern about a new Covid variant, reports BBC.

Countries on the red list

The changes mark the return of the travel red list, which had been cleared of all countries in October.

The countries placed on it – at 04:00 GMT on Sunday – are South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini Angola, Namibia, Mozambique and Zambia.

Australia

Australia confirmed on Sunday that two people arriving from southern Africa over the weekend had tested positive for the Omicron coronavirus variant, adding to a growing number of countries fighting the highly infectious strain.

Read more here. 

France

The Omicron variant of the coronavirus is probably already circulating in France, its health minister said on Sunday, adding that the government was tightening restrictions to contain its spread.

Read more here. 

Israel

Israel is to ban foreigners from entering the country for 14 days and use surveillance to halt the spread of the new Covid variant, local media report.

The ban is expected to come into effect at midnight on Sunday, following full cabinet approval.

Israel has so far confirmed one case of the potentially more infectious Omicron variant first detected in South Africa.

Read more here.

Austria

Austria has detected its first suspected case of the new Omicron coronavirus variant in the Tirol, authorities in the alpine region said late on Saturday.

Read more here. 

What is the new Covid variant?

In the past week a heavily mutated Covid variant has been identified, rapidly labelled a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization and named Omicron. It has been detected in countries including the UK.

It is a rapidly evolving situation. Omicron’s genetic profile has raised concerns, but there’s a shortage of real-world data that means nobody has the complete picture of what it can do.

It is unclear how big a threat it poses. Yet, it is at this early stage, in an absence of definitive facts and when there is a danger of both underreacting and overreacting, that the UK government has to act.

Variant of concern

It also has mutations that theoretically make vaccines less effective and the World Health Organization says there is a higher risk of reinfection than with other variants.

But we don’t know how transmissible it is. We don’t know whether it is milder or more severe. We don’t know what will really happen when it comes up against our significant wall of immunity built up through vaccines, boosters and high levels of Covid this autumn.

Read more here. 

Travel bans and new quarantine requirements

The variant’s discovery and fast spread across the world is an uncomfortable reminder that the pandemic is far from over.

A number of countries have slammed their borders shut to travelers from southern Africa, with the European Union, Japan, Australia, the United States, Canada and many others banning travelers from countries including South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi.

Increased risk of reinfection

The World Health Organization (WHO) designated the Omicron variant, originally referred to as B.1.1.529, a “variant of concern.” WHO said on Friday that early evidence suggest the Omicron variant, first identified in South Africa, could pose an increased risk of reinfection and said that some of the mutations detected on the variant were concerning.

But WHO stressed that more research is needed to determine whether the variant is more contagious, whether it causes more severe disease, and whether it could evade vaccines.

Read Also: World is put on high alert over the Omicron coronavirus variant

This variant has a large number of mutations and some of these mutations have some worrying characteristics,” Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s technical lead for Covid-19, said in a statement on Friday.

Right now there are many studies that are underway … so far there’s little information but those studies are underway so we need researchers to have the time to carry those out and WHO will inform the public and our partners and our member states as soon as we have more information,” she added.

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Source: BBC & CNN

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