Omicron cases rise as nations rush to learn more of variant - Albuquerque Journal

Omicron cases rise as nations rush to learn more of variant

 

People wear masks on Regent Street in London on Sunday. Two people in Britain have tested positive for the omicron variant of coronavirus. (Alberto Pezzali/Associated Press)

 

THE HAGUE, Netherlands – Cases of the omicron variant of coronavirus popped up in countries on opposite sides of the world Sunday, and many governments rushed to close their borders even as scientists cautioned that it’s not clear whether the new variant is more alarming than other versions of the virus.

The variant was identified days ago by researchers in South Africa, and much is still not known about it, including whether it is more contagious, more likely to cause serious illness or more able to evade the protection of vaccines. But many countries rushed to act, reflecting anxiety about anything that could prolong the pandemic that has killed more than 5 million people.

Israel decided to bar entry to foreigners, and Morocco said it would suspend all incoming flights for two weeks starting Monday – among the most drastic of a growing raft of travel curbs being imposed by nations around the world as they scrambled to slow the variant’s spread. Scientists in several places – from Hong Kong to Europe – have confirmed its presence. The Netherlands reported 13 omicron cases Sunday, and both Canada and Australia each found two.

Noting that the variant has already been detected in many countries and that closing borders often has limited effect, the World Health Organization called for frontiers to remain open.

Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health in the United States, meanwhile, emphasized that there is no data suggesting that the new variant causes more serious illness than previous COVID-19 variants.

“I do think it’s more contagious, when you look at how rapidly it spread through multiple districts in South Africa. It has the earmarks therefore of being particularly likely to spread from one person to another. … What we don’t know is whether it can compete with delta,” Collins said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Collins echoed several experts in saying the news should make everyone redouble their efforts to use the tools the world already has, including vaccinations, booster shots and measures such as mask-wearing.

“I know, America, you’re really tired about hearing those things, but the virus is not tired of us,” Collins said.

The Dutch public health authority confirmed that 13 people who arrived from South Africa on Friday have tested positive for omicron. They were among 61 people who tested positive for the virus after arriving on the last two flights to Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport before a flight ban was implemented. They were immediately put into isolation, most at a nearby hotel.

Canada’s health minister says the country’s first two cases of omicron were found in Ontario after two individuals who had recently traveled from Nigeria tested positive.

Authorities in Australia said two travelers who arrived in Sydney from Africa became the first in the country to test positive for the new variant. Arrivals from nine African countries are now required to quarantine in a hotel upon arrival. Two German states reported a total of three cases in returning travelers over the weekend.

Israel moved to ban entry by foreigners and mandate quarantine for all Israelis arriving from abroad.

“Restrictions on the country’s borders is not an easy step, but it’s a temporary and necessary step,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said at the start of the weekly Cabinet meeting.

Morocco’s Foreign Ministry tweeted Sunday that all incoming air travel to the North African country would be suspended to “preserve the achievements realized by Morocco in the fight against the pandemic, and to protect the health of citizens.” Morocco has been at the forefront of vaccinations in Africa, and kept its borders closed for months in 2020 because of the pandemic.

The U.S. plans to ban travel from South Africa and seven other southern African countries starting Monday. “It’s going to give us a period of time to enhance our preparedness,” the United States’ top infectious diseases expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said of the ban on ABC’s “This Week.”

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

Fauci says it will take about two more weeks to have more definitive information on the transmissibility, severity and other characteristics of omicron, according to a statement from the White House Sunday evening.

South Africa’s government responded angrily to the travel bans, which it said are “akin to punishing South Africa for its advanced genomic sequencing and the ability to detect new variants quicker.” It said it will try to persuade countries that imposed them to reconsider.

The WHO sent out a statement saying it “stands with African nations” and noting that travel restrictions may play “a role in slightly reducing the spread of COVID-19 but place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods.” It said if restrictions are put in place, they should be scientifically based and not intrusive.

The U.K. on Saturday tightened rules on mask-wearing and on testing of international arrivals after finding two omicron cases, but British Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the government was nowhere near reinstituting work from home or more severe social-distancing measures.

“We know now those types of measures do carry a very heavy price, both economically, socially, in terms of non-COVID health outcomes such as impact on mental health,” he told Sky News.

 

Home » ABQnews Seeker » Omicron cases rise as nations rush to learn more of variant


Albuquerque Journal and its reporters are committed to telling the stories of our community.

• Do you have a question you want someone to try to answer for you? Do you have a bright spot you want to share?
   We want to hear from you. Please email yourstory@abqjournal.com

taboola desktop

1
Shooting by Chaves County sheriff's deputies raises questions
ABQnews Seeker
Lapel camera footage shows deputies opening ... Lapel camera footage shows deputies opening fire on man
2
County closes Carlito Springs, bans open fires
ABQnews Seeker
Ban will remain in place until ... Ban will remain in place until further notice
3
Hidden fuels still a threat in northern blazes
ABQnews Seeker
Weather shifts to critical fire Weather shifts to critical fire
4
Voters to decide two Dems for District Court posts
2022 election
Winners of Division 10, 16 will ... Winners of Division 10, 16 will likely run unopposed in November
5
Two first-generation Americans face off in CD2 Democratic primary
2022 election
Vasquez, Patel vie for chance to ... Vasquez, Patel vie for chance to run against Yvette Herrell, the state's only Republican member of Congress
6
Guns found at ABQ, RR high schools
ABQnews Seeker
No injuries were reported as two ... No injuries were reported as two students face charges
7
APD arrests son in father's death, IDs unrelated homicide ...
ABQnews Seeker
Police looking into a possible homicide ... Police looking into a possible homicide Tuesday afternoon at a mobile home park on West Central
8
House race features past, present representatives
2022 election
Ex-legislator takes on Dem incumbent in ... Ex-legislator takes on Dem incumbent in primary
9
Feds: Ohio man plotted visit to Texas to kill ...
ABQnews Seeker
An Iraqi man who came to ... An Iraqi man who came to the United States two years ago and applied for asylum hatched a plot to assassinate former President George ...