Britain, Germany and Italy detected cases of the new variant of the Omicron coronavirus on Saturday and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced new measures to contain the virus, while more nations imposed travel restrictions from southern Africa.
The discovery of the variant has sparked global concern, a wave of travel bans or restrictions and a sell-off in financial markets on Friday as investors worried that Omicron could halt a nearly two-year global recovery from the pandemic. .
Israel said it would bar all foreigners from entering the country and reintroduce anti-terrorist phone tracking technology to contain the spread of the variant.
Johnson presented measures that included stricter testing rules for people arriving in the country, but that did not limit social activity, in addition to requiring the use of masks in some settings.
“We will require anyone entering the UK to undergo a PCR test at the end of the second day after arrival and to isolate themselves until they have a negative result,” Johnson told a news conference.
People who had come into contact with people who tested positive for a suspected Omicron case would have to self-isolate for 10 days and the government would tighten the rules on wearing face coverings, Johnson said, adding the steps would be reviewed in three weeks.
The health ministry of the German state of Bavaria also announced two confirmed cases of the variant. The two people entered Germany at Munich airport on Nov. 24, before Germany designated South Africa as a virus variant area, and were now isolating themselves, the ministry said, stating without explicitly stating that people had traveled. from South Africa.
In Italy, the National Institute of Health said a case of the new variant had been detected in Milan in a person from Mozambique.
Czech health authorities also said they were examining a suspected case of the variant in a person who spent time in Namibia.
England’s chief medical officer Chris Witty told the same news conference as Johnson that there was still a lot of uncertainty surrounding Omicron, but “there is a reasonable chance that there is at least some degree of escape from the vaccine with this variant.” .
The variant was first discovered in South Africa and has since also been detected in Belgium, Botswana, Israel, and Hong Kong.
Flights to Amsterdam
A passenger who arrived from South Africa on Friday, Dutch photographer Paula Zimmerman, said she tested negative but was looking forward to the next few days.
“They’ve told me they expect a lot more people to test positive in five days. The idea that you’ve been on a plane with a lot of people who tested positive is kind of scary,” he said.
Financial markets tumbled on Friday, especially airline stocks and others in the travel sector. Oil prices fell about $ 10 a barrel.
It could take scientists weeks to fully understand the mutations in the variant and whether existing vaccines and treatments are effective against it.
Although epidemiologists say travel restrictions may be too late to prevent Omicron from circulating globally, many countries around the world, including the United States, Brazil, Canada, and European Union nations, announced travel bans or restrictions in the south. Africa on Friday.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the State Department on Saturday added to Washington’s previously announced travel restrictions, advising against traveling to eight southern African countries.
US Vice President Kamala Harris told reporters Saturday that the administration will take “one step at a time” when asked about additional travel restrictions. “For now we’ve done what we think is necessary,” Harris said.
Also on Saturday, Australia said it would bar entry to non-citizens who have been to nine southern African countries and require 14-day supervised quarantines for Australian citizens returning from there.
Japan and Britain said they were extending travel restrictions to more African countries, while South Korea, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Oman, Kuwait and Hungary announced new travel restrictions.
South Africa is concerned that the restrictions will harm tourism and other sectors of its economy, the Foreign Ministry said on Saturday, adding that the government is engaging with countries that have imposed travel bans to persuade them to reconsider.
Omicron has emerged because many countries in Europe are already battling an increase in COVID-19 infections, and some have reintroduced restrictions on social activity to try to stop the spread. Austria and Slovakia have entered lockdowns.
Seth Berkley, CEO of the GAVI Vaccine Alliance which, together with WHO, co-leads the COVAX initiative to drive equitable distribution of vaccines, said this was essential to prevent the emergence of more coronavirus variants.
“While we still need to know more about Omicron, we know that as long as a large part of the world’s population is not vaccinated, variants will continue to appear and the pandemic will continue to drag on,” he said in a statement to Reuters. .
“We will only prevent variants from emerging if we are able to protect the entire world population, not just the wealthy parts.”