The Hague, Netherlands – The Netherlands on Sunday confirmed 13 cases of the new Omicron version of the coronavirus, and Australia, two countries half the world apart, became the latest to detect it in travelers arriving from southern Africa.
Israel decided to bar the entry of foreigners and Morocco said it would suspend all incoming air travel from around the world for two weeks starting on Monday – in line with travel restrictions being imposed by countries around the world. The hardest of the rising fleet as they melee at a slower speed than the spread of variants.
Confirmed or suspected cases of the new variant have been reported in several European countries, Israel and Hong Kong, just days after it was identified by researchers in South Africa. The “act first, ask questions later” approach reflected growing alarm about the emergence of a potentially more infectious form in a pandemic that took nearly two years, killing more than five million people worldwide, killing lives. disrupted and disrupted economies.
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While much remains to be learned about the new variant, researchers are concerned that it may be more resistant to the protection provided by vaccines and could mean epidemics last longer than anticipated.
The Dutch public health authority confirmed on Friday that 13 people who arrived from South Africa have so far 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 the flight ban came into force. He was immediately isolated, mostly at a nearby hotel, while the sequencing was done.
Australian officials said two foreign travelers who arrived in Sydney from Africa became the first in the country to test positive for the Omicron 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 return of travelers over the weekend.
Israel moved to ban entry by foreigners and to impose mandatory quarantine for all Israelis arriving from abroad.
“Restrictions on the country’s borders is not an easy step, but it is a temporary and necessary step,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting.
The head of the government’s advisory panel on COVID-19, Dr. Ran Balisar told Israel’s Cannes Public Radio that the new measures were necessary for the “fog of war” surrounding the new edition, adding that it was “better to act quickly and vigorously”. in order to prevent its spread.
Moroccan Foreign Ministry tweeted on sunday That all incoming air travel into the North African country will be suspended “in order to preserve the achievements made by Morocco in the fight against the pandemic and to protect the health of citizens”. Morocco has been at the forefront of vaccination in Africa, and kept its borders closed for months in 2020 because of the pandemic.
Dutch Health Minister Hugo de Jong said he sought advice from his country’s public health institute on whether additional travel restrictions were needed, but wanted to coordinate with his EU counterparts because “I think they really There are steps we have to take together.”
New Zealand, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates among many countries have restricted or restricted travel from various southern African countries. Places where sanctions were already imposed include Brazil, Canada, the European Union, Iran and the US.
South Africa’s government responded angrily to the travel ban, which it said “amounts to punishing South Africa for its advanced genomic sequencing and ability to rapidly detect new variants.” It said it would try to persuade the countries that imposed it to reconsider.
Naldi Pandor, Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, said in a statement, “While we respect the right of all countries to take the necessary precautionary measures to protect their citizens, we need to remember that cooperation is essential for this pandemic.” And there is a need to share expertise.” ,
The United States’ top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said he wouldn’t be surprised if the Omicron variant was already in the US, although it has yet to be detected.
In Europe, much of which is already grappling with a sharp rise in cases in recent weeks, officials were also cautious.
The UK on Saturday tightened rules on wearing masks and testing international arrivals after two Omicron cases were found. Spain announced it would not allow British visitors without vaccination from 1 December.
Italy was studying a list of airline passengers who returned from Mozambique in the past two weeks and arrived after a business passenger who landed in Rome on November 11 tested positive for Omicron. The Lazio region’s top health official, Alessio D’Amato, said that “controls have been strengthened at airports, seaports and train stations.”
French Health Minister Olivier Veran said that, while there were no confirmed cases in his country yet, “it is likely that there are currently in circulation.”
While it is not yet clear how existing vaccines work against the Omicron variant, Veran said France is not changing its strategy to fight the latest surge of infections driven by the delta variant, which focuses on increasing vaccinations and boosters. Is.
David Hui, a respiratory medicine specialist and government adviser on the pandemic in Hong Kong, said that even though it is unclear whether current coronavirus vaccines are effective against the new variant, the city’s vaccination rate should be increased and booster doses implemented. should go. as soon as possible.
He said the two people who tested positive for the Omicron variant had received the Pfizer shot and displayed very mild symptoms such as a sore throat.
“The vaccines should work but there will be some reduction in effectiveness,” he said.
Maulson reported from Berlin. Zen Soo in Hong Kong, Adam Schreck in Bangkok and Associated Press writers from around the world contributed to this report.