Omicron variant continues to spread, with 13 cases detected in Netherlands

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People walk inside Schiphol airport after Dutch health officials say 61 people who arrived in Amsterdam by flights from South Africa tested positive for COVID-19 on November 27, 2021 in Amsterdam, Netherlands.Eva Playwear / Reuters

The new Omicron coronavirus variant continued to spread around the world on Sunday, with 13 cases each in the Netherlands and two each in Denmark and Australia, even as more countries tried to shut themselves down by imposing travel restrictions.

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Dutch health officials announced that 13 cases of the variant were found in travelers who arrived in Amsterdam on Friday from South Africa.

Authorities had tested more than 600 passengers on those two flights and found 61 coronavirus cases, which were testing for the new variant.

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What we know so far about the new COVID-19 variant identified in South Africa

“It is unlikely that there will be more cases in the Netherlands,” Health Minister Hugo de Jong told a news conference in Rotterdam. “This could possibly be the tip of the iceberg.”

First discovered in South Africa, the type has now been detected in the UK, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Denmark, Belgium, Botswana, Israel, Australia and Hong Kong.

Omicron’s discovery last week, dubbed “a form of concern” by the World Health Organization, has sparked concerns around the world that it could resist vaccination and prolong the nearly two-year COVID-19 pandemic. could.

Omicron is potentially more contagious than previous variants, although experts do not yet know whether it will cause more or less severe COVID-19 than other strains.

Denmark’s Infectious Diseases Authority said on Sunday it had reported two such cases among travelers from South Africa.

Health officials in Australia’s most populous state of New South Wales said two passengers who arrived in Sydney from southern Africa on Saturday evening had tested positive for the variant.

Austria was investigating a suspected case on Sunday and France’s Health Minister Olivier Veran said the variant was probably already circulating there.

Countries have imposed travel restrictions or restrictions on southern Africa to try to contain the spread. Financial markets took a dive on Friday as investors worried that the variant could stall a global recovery. Oil prices have fallen by about US$ 10 per barrel.

On Sunday, most Gulf stock markets fell sharply in early trade, with the Saudi index suffering its biggest single-day fall in nearly two years.

Israeli measures

In a far-reaching effort to keep the variant at bay, Israel announced late Saturday that it would ban the entry of all foreigners and reintroduce anti-terrorist phone-tracking technology to curb the spread of the variant.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said the ban, pending government approval, would last 14 days. Officials expect that within that period there will be more information about how effective the vaccines against Omicron are.

Several countries have imposed or are planning to ban travel from southern Africa. The South African government on Saturday condemned it as unfair and potentially harmful to its economy, saying it was being punished for its scientific ability to quickly identify coronavirus variants.

In Britain, where two linked cases of Omicron identified on Saturday were linked to travel to southern Africa, the government announced measures to contain the spread, including tighter testing rules for people coming into the country and wearing masks in some settings. requirement is included.

British Health Minister Sajid Javid said on Sunday he expected to receive advice on whether the government could broaden a program to provide booster shots to fully vaccinated people, in an attempt to undermine the effects of the variant. can be done.

The German state of Bavaria also announced two confirmed cases of the variant on Saturday. In Italy, the National Institutes of Health said a case of the new type was found in Milan, in a man arriving from Mozambique.

Chinese respiratory disease expert Zhong Nanshan said it may take some time to come to a conclusion about the harms of the new version, state television reported on Sunday.

Vaccine inequality

Although epidemiologists say travel restrictions may be too late to stop the spread of Omicron, several countries, including the United States, Brazil, Canada, European Union countries, Australia, Japan, South Korea and Thailand, have imposed restrictions on southern Africa. Travel restrictions or restrictions have been announced on

More countries imposed such restrictions on Sunday, including Indonesia and Saudi Arabia.

Mexico’s deputy health secretary, Hugo López Gatel, said the travel restrictions are of little use in response to the new version, calling the measures taken by some countries “disproportionate”.

“It has not been shown to be more toxic or to evade the immune response induced by vaccines. They affect the economy and the well being of the people,” he said in a Twitter post on Saturday.

Omicron has emerged as several countries in Europe already grappling with a surge in COVID-19 infections, have imposed some restrictions on social activities to try to contain the spread.

The new edition has also highlighted the huge disparities in vaccination rates around the world. Even as many developed countries are offering third-dose boosters, less than 7 percent of people in low-income countries have received their first COVID-19 shot, according to medical and human rights groups.

Seth Berkeley, CEO of the GAVI Vaccine Alliance, which leads the COVAX initiative to push for equitable distribution of vaccines in collaboration with the WHO, said this was necessary to prevent the emergence of more coronavirus variants.

“While we still need to learn more about Omicron, we do know that until large parts of the world’s population are vaccinated, variants will continue to appear, and pandemics will persist for a long time,” he said. said in a statement to Reuters. on Saturday.

Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Granthshala editors, giving you a brief summary of the day’s most important headlines. ,

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