Friday, January 21, 2022

World alert, UK reports omicron COVID cases | AP News

LONDON (AP) – The UK was the latest country to report cases of the new, potentially more contagious variant of the omicron coronavirus on Saturday, as governments around the world have tried to bolster their defenses by imposing travel restrictions from southern Africa.

Amid fears that a newly identified new variant could potentially be more resistant to the protection offered by vaccines, fears are mounting that the pandemic and associated isolation restrictions will persist much longer than anticipated.

UK Health Minister Sajid Javid has confirmed that two people have tested positive for the omicron variant in the southeastern English city of Chelmsford and in the central city of Nottingham. He said the cases were and related to a trip from southern Africa.

Javid said the two confirmed cases are self-isolating with their households while contact tracing and targeted testing is done. He also added four more countries – Angola, Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia – to the country’s red travel list from Sunday. Six others – Botswana, Eswatini (formerly known as Swaziland), Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe – were added on Friday. This means that anyone allowed to travel from these destinations will be quarantined.

“This is a real reminder that this pandemic is far from over,” he said. “If we need to take further action, we will.”

Later on Saturday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson will host a media briefing with his top advisers.

Over the past couple of days, many countries have imposed restrictions on various countries in southern Africa, including Australia, Brazil, Canada, the European Union, Iran, Japan, Thailand and the United States, in response to warnings about the possibility of transferring a new variant – against the advice of the World Health Organization. Pharmaceutical companies have expressed optimism that they can improve their vaccines to cope with the new option, although this will clearly take some time.

Despite the flight ban, there are growing concerns that this option is already widespread around the world. In addition to the UK, cases of the disease have been reported in travelers in Belgium, Israel and Hong Kong. Germany also said it suspected a positive case and Dutch authorities were checking to see if 61 people who arrived on two flights from South Africa with COVID-19 had the omicron variant.

The planes arrived in the Netherlands from Johannesburg and Cape Town shortly after the Dutch government imposed a ban on flights from South African countries. 539 travelers who tested negative were allowed to return home or continue their travel to other countries. According to government decrees, those who live in the Netherlands and who are allowed to return home must self-isolate for at least five days.

Meanwhile, a German spokesman said there was a “very high likelihood” that the omicron variant had already arrived in the country.

Kai Klose, Minister of Health for the state of Hesse, which includes Frankfurt, said in a tweet that “several mutations typical of the omicron” were found Friday night in a traveler returning from South Africa who was isolated at home. Test sequencing has not yet been completed.

World Health Organization calls new version omicron, labeling it as a variant of concern due to the high number of mutations and some early evidence that it carries a higher infection rate than other variants. This means that people who have contracted COVID-19 and recovered may become infected with it again. It can take weeks to find out if current vaccines are less effective against it.

With so much uncertainty about the omicron option and scientists are unlikely to flesh out their findings for weeks, countries around the world are taking a security-focused approach, knowing that previous outbreaks of the pandemic were driven in part by weak border policies.

Almost two years after the start of the pandemic, which has claimed more than 5 million lives worldwide, countries are on high alert.

Rapid spread of this option to young people in South Africa. caused concern among healthcare professionals, although there was no direct indication as to whether this option was causing more severe illness.

A number of pharmaceutical firms, including AstraZeneca, Moderna, Novavax and Pfizer, have said they have plans to adapt their vaccines to accommodate the emergence of the omicron. Pfizer and its partner BioNTech said they expect to change their vaccine in about 100 days.

Professor Andrew Pollard, director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, which developed the AstraZeneca vaccine, expressed cautious optimism that existing vaccines could be effective in preventing serious diseases caused by the omicron variant.

He said that most of the mutations appear to be in the same regions as the other variants.

“This tells you that despite mutations in other variants, vaccines continued to prevent serious diseases as we went through alpha, beta, gamma and delta,” he told BBC radio. “At least speculatively, we have some optimism that the vaccine should still work against a new variant of a serious disease, but in fact we need to wait a few weeks to get confirmation.”

He added that “it is highly unlikely that the pandemic will restart in a vaccinated population as we saw last year.”

Some experts said the emergence of this option illustrates how the accumulation of vaccines in wealthy countries threatens to prolong the pandemic.

Less than 6% of people in Africa have been fully immunized against COVID-19, and millions of healthcare workers and vulnerable populations have yet to receive a single dose. These conditions can accelerate the spread of the virus, offering more opportunities for it to become a dangerous option.

“One of the key drivers for the emergence of options may well be low vaccination rates in some parts of the world, as well as a WHO warning that none of us are safe until we’re all safe and should be heeded,” he said. Peter Openshaw, professor. experimental medicine at Imperial College London.


Geir Moulson from Berlin and Mike Corder from The Hague, Netherlands contributed to this report.

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