HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) – Cases of the omicronic variant of the coronavirus erupted in countries on opposite sides of the world on Sunday, and many governments rushed to close their borders, despite scientists warning that it is unclear if the new variant is more worrisome. than other versions of the virus.
This variant was identified a few days ago by researchers in South Africa and much is still unknown about it, including whether it is more contagious, more likely to cause serious illness, or more capable of evading vaccine defenses. But many countries were quick to act, expressing concern about anything that could prolong the pandemic, which has killed more than 5 million people.
Israel has decided to ban foreigners from entering, and Morocco has said it will suspend all arriving flights for two weeks starting Monday, among the harshest of a growing number of travel restrictions imposed by countries around the world as they try to slow the spread of the option. Scientists from several places – from Hong Kong to Europe and North America – have confirmed his presence. The Netherlands reported 13 cases of omicron on Sunday, while Canada and Australia each found two.
Noting that this option has already been found in many countries and that border closures often have limited effects, the World Health Organization has called for borders to remain open.
Meanwhile, Dr.Francis Collins, director of the US National Institutes of Health, stressed that there is no evidence yet to indicate that the new variant is causing more serious illness than previous variants of COVID-19.
“I think it’s more contagious when you look at how quickly it spread to several parts of South Africa. Hence, it has a special likelihood of transmission from one person to another. … What we don’t know is whether it can compete with the delta, “Collins told CNN’s State of the Union.
Collins echoed several experts who said the news should force everyone to redouble their efforts to use the tools already in the world, including vaccinations, revaccinations and measures such as wearing masks.
“I know America, you’re really tired of hearing these things, but the virus isn’t tired of us,” Collins said.
The Netherlands Public Health Authority has confirmed that 13 people who arrived from South Africa on Friday have so far tested positive for the omicron. They were among 61 people who tested positive for the virus after the last two flights arrived at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport before the flight ban was imposed. They were immediately isolated, most at a nearby hotel.
Health Canada says the country’s first two cases of omicron were found in Ontario after two people who recently arrived from Nigeria tested positive.
Australian authorities said the two travelers who arrived in Sydney from Africa were the first in the country to test positive for the new variant. Arrivals from nine African countries are now required to be quarantined at the hotel upon arrival. The two German states reported a total of three cases of travelers returning over the weekend.
Israel has imposed a ban on the entry of foreigners and imposed a quarantine for all Israelis arriving from abroad.
And Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said on Monday that Japan is considering strengthening border controls. Kishida told reporters that he plans to announce new measures in addition to the current 10-day quarantine for travelers from South Africa and eight other nearby countries. The Japanese border is still closed to foreign tourists from any country.
Morocco’s foreign ministry tweeted Sunday that all inbound air travel to the North African country will be suspended to “preserve Morocco’s gains in the fight against the pandemic and protect the health of its citizens.” Morocco has been at the forefront of vaccinations in Africa and has kept its borders closed for months in 2020 due to the pandemic.
The US plans to ban travel from South Africa and seven other South African countries from Monday. “This will give us time to increase our preparedness,” said chief US expert on infectious diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci, of ABC’s This Week’s ban.
Many countries are imposing such bans, although they go against the recommendations of the WHO, which has warned against any overreaction before an option is thoroughly explored.
Fauci says it will take about two more weeks to get more accurate information on the transmissibility, severity and other characteristics of the omicron, according to a White House statement.
The South African government has reacted angrily to the travel bans, which it says are “akin to punishing South Africa for its advanced genomic sequencing and its ability to discover new variants faster.”
The WHO sent out a statement saying it “supports African countries” and noted that travel restrictions could “play a role in slightly reducing the spread of COVID-19, but place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods.” It says that if restrictions are imposed, they must be scientifically sound and non-intrusive.
In Europe, much of which has recently been grappling with a sharp increase in cases, officials are wary.
On Saturday, the UK tightened mask-wearing and screening rules for overseas arrivals after finding two cases of omicron, but UK Health Minister Sajid Javid said the government was far from restoring work from home or tighter social distancing measures.
“We now know that such measures come with a very high cost, both economically and socially, in terms of non-COVID health consequences such as mental health effects,” he told Sky News.
Spain has announced that it will not accept unvaccinated British visitors from 1 December. Italy was looking at airline passenger lists for the past two weeks. France continues to promote vaccination and revaccination.
David Hui, a respiratory medicine expert and government pandemic adviser in Hong Kong, agreed with the strategy.
He said that two people who tested positive for the omicron variant received the Pfizer vaccine and showed very mild symptoms such as a sore throat.
“The vaccines should work, but there will be some decrease in effectiveness,” he said.
Moulson reported from Berlin, Collins from Columbia, South Carolina. Zen Su from Hong Kong, Adam Shrek from Bangkok, and Associated Press writers from around the world contributed to this report.
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