the world rushes to contain the omicron

With every passing hour, new restrictions are placed on travel from southern African countries, as the world races to contain the new omicron variant of the coronavirus, which has the potential to be more resistant to the defense offered by current vaccines. .

Many countries, including the United States, Brazil, Canada, Iran, Japan, Thailand and Australia joined others, such as the European Union and the United Kingdom, in imposing restrictions on flights from southern African countries in response to warnings about the transmissibility of the new variant: against the advice of the World Health Organization. Drug companies expressed optimism that they could refine their vaccines to cope with the new variant, although that will clearly take some time.

Despite the flight ban, there is growing concern that the variant has already been widely seeded around the world. Cases have been reported in travelers in Belgium, Israel and Hong Kong.

On Saturday, the British Health Secretary said two cases of the new omicron variant of the coronavirus had been identified in the country, while Germany indicated that it had detected a probable case. Dutch authorities are also checking for the presence of the new variant after 61 passengers on two flights from South Africa tested positive for COVID-19. All 61 people remained in isolation on Saturday.

The WHO identified the new variant with the name omicron, labeling it a worrisome version due to its high number of mutations and some early evidence that it is more infectious than other variants. That means that people who contracted COVID-19 and recovered could be subject to contracting the disease again. It could take weeks to know if current vaccines are less effective against omicron.

With so much uncertainty surrounding the omicron and due to the unlikely likelihood of scientists making much progress over a few weeks, countries around the world have been taking a security-first approach, knowing that previous outbreaks of the pandemic have been driven in partly because of lax border policies.

“It seems to be spreading rapidly,” US President Joe Biden said of the new variant on Friday, just a day after he celebrated the resumption of face-to-face gatherings for millions of American families for Thanksgiving. In announcing new travel restrictions, Biden told reporters: “I have decided that we are going to be cautious.”

Almost two years after the start of a pandemic that has caused more than 5 million deaths worldwide, countries were on high alert.

Dutch authorities isolated 61 people who tested positive for COVID-19 upon arrival on two flights from South Africa on Friday. They are conducting further research to see if any of the travelers have the omicron variant.

The planes landed in the Netherlands from Johannesburg and Cape Town shortly after the Dutch government, like others in the rest of the world, banned flights from southern Africa on Friday.

The 539 passengers who tested negative for COVID-19 were able to return home or continue their trips to other countries. Under Dutch regulations, returning residents must be quarantined for at least five days.

In the UK, Health Secretary Sajid Javid confirmed that two people tested positive for the omicron variant in the southeastern town of Chelmsford and in the central county of Nottinghamshire. He said the cases were linked to and related to travel from southern Africa.

Meanwhile, a German official said there is a “very high probability” that the omicron variant has already arrived in the country.

Kai Klose, health minister for the German state of Hesse, which includes Frankfurt, tweeted that “several typical omicron mutations” were detected on Friday night in a traveler returning from South Africa who underwent a home quarantine. . The sequencing of the test had not yet been completed.

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