London: The potentially more contagious new omicron variant of the coronavirus has emerged in more European countries just days after being identified in South Africa, leaving governments around the world scrambling to stop the spread.
The UK tightened its rules on mask wearing and testing for international arrivals on Saturday after finding two cases. New cases were confirmed in Germany and Italy on Saturday, with Belgium, Israel and Hong Kong also reporting that the variant has been found in travelers.
In the United States, Dr Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, said he would not be surprised if the omicron variant was already in the United States as well. âWe haven’t detected it yet, but when you have a virus that shows that level of transmissibilityâ¦ It will almost invariably end up going pretty much everywhere,â Fauci told NBC television.
Due to fears that the new variant has the potential to be more resistant to the protection offered by vaccines, there are growing concerns around the world that the pandemic and associated lockdown restrictions will persist for much longer than expected.
Almost two years after the start of the pandemic that killed more than five million people around the world, countries are on high alert. Many have already placed travel restrictions on flights from southern Africa as they seek to buy time to assess whether the omicron variant is more transmissible than the current dominant delta variant.
In Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said it was necessary to take targeted and precautionary action? after two people tested positive for the new variant in England. Right now, this is the responsible course of action to slow down the seeding and spread of this new variant and to maximize our defenses, he told a press conference.
Among the measures announced, Johnson said anyone arriving in England must take a PCR test for COVID-19 on the second day after arrival and self-isolate until they provide a negative test.
And if someone tests positive for the omicron variant then he said his close contacts will have to self-isolate for 10 days regardless of their vaccination status, currently close contacts are exempt from the quarantine rules if they are fully vaccinated.
He also said that wearing the mask in shops and on public transport will be mandatory and said the independent group of scientists advising the UK government on the rollout of coronavirus vaccines have been urged to speed up the vaccination program. .
This could involve expanding the booster program to younger age groups, reducing the time between a second dose and a booster, and allowing older children to get a second dose. âFrom today we will be boosting the recall campaign,â he said.
The UK Department of Health said the two cases found in the UK were linked and involved travel from southern Africa. One of the two new cases was in the town of Brentwood in the south-east of England, while the other was in the central city of Nottingham. The two confirmed cases are self-isolating with their households during contact tracing and targeted testing.
The UK government has also added four more countries – Angola, Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia – to the country’s travel red list from Sunday. Six more – Botswana, Eswatini (formerly Swaziland), Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe – were added on Friday. This means that anyone allowed to arrive from these destinations will have to self-quarantine.
Many countries have placed restrictions on various Southern African countries over the past two days, including Australia, Brazil, Canada, the European Union, Iran, Japan, Thailand and the United States. United, in response to warnings about the transferability of the new variant. This goes against the advice of the World Health Organization, which has warned against overreacting before the variant is studied in depth.
Despite the flight ban, there is growing concern that the variant has already been widely used around the world. Italy and Germany were the latest to report confirmed cases of the omicron variant.
An Italian who had traveled to Mozambique on business landed in Rome on November 11 and returned home near Naples. He and five members of his family, including two school-aged children, have since tested positive, Italian news agency LaPresse said.
All are in isolation in the Neapolitan suburb of Caserta in good condition with mild symptoms. The variant was confirmed by Sacco Hospital in Milan, and the Italian National Institute of Health said the man had received two doses of the vaccine. Italy’s health ministry is urging all regions to increase its virus tracing and sequencing to detect cases of the new variant first identified in South Africa.
In Germany, the Max von Pettenkofer Institute, a Munich-based microbiology center, said the omicron variant was confirmed in two travelers who arrived by flight from South Africa on November 24.
Institute director Oliver Keppler said genome sequencing is not yet complete, but there is no doubt that it is this variant, German news agency dpa reported. . The Dutch Institute of Public Health said the omicron variant was likely found in a number of people tested who were isolated after arriving in Amsterdam on Friday on two flights from South Africa.