U.S. reports first case of Omicron COVID-19 variant in returning traveller

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A COVID-19 testing facility is advertised at Newark Liberty International Airport in Newark, New Jersey, on November 30.Spencer Platt / Getty Images

The US on Wednesday reported its first confirmed case of an oomicron variant – a man in California who had traveled to South Africa – as scientists around the world race to establish whether the new, mutant version of the coronavirus compares to the previous one. is more dangerous.

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The United States’ top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci made this announcement at the White House.

“We knew it was only a matter of time before the first case of Omicron was detected in the United States,” he said.

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Officials said the infected person was identified as a traveller who had returned from South Africa on November 22. The man, who was fully vaccinated but did not have a booster shot, tested positive on Monday and was improving with mild symptoms, officials said. The person agreed to be in quarantine, and all the person’s close contacts have been reached and tested negative.

The Omicron COVID-19 variant has sparked global concern and prompted new travel restrictions. Here’s everything you need to know

At least 23 other countries have reported omicron infections, according to the World Health Organization, and governments have rushed to impose travel restrictions and other restrictions in the hope of stopping it.

But the version is still beset by many unknowns, among them: is it more contagious than the other versions, as some scientists are beginning to suspect? Does it make people more seriously ill? And can it survive the vaccine?

“Any announcement of what will or won’t happen with this version, I think it’s too early to say,” Fauci said.

He said Americans should continue to follow public health advice to get vaccinated and get their booster shots. “If you look at the things that we’re recommending, they are what they are,” Fauci said.

Genomic sequencing was performed on the patient’s virus at the University of California, San Francisco, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed that it corresponded to the Omicron variant.

“We will see this scenario several times across the country in the coming days or weeks,” said Scott Baker, CEO of the Association of Public Health Laboratories.

“This particular case shows the system to be working as it was designed to work – a person with a travel history from South Africa, a microscopic laboratory and rapid prioritization of samples for sequencing, and with public health officials close coordination.”

Nigeria and Saudi Arabia also reported Omicron infections on Wednesday, marking the first known cases in West Africa and the Persian Gulf region.

The first researchers in South Africa alerted the WHO to Omicron last week. It is not known where or when the variant first emerged, although it is clear that it was spreading in Europe several days before that warning.

EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said it would take two to three weeks to become completely clear what Omicron can do for the world.

“It is a short period, in normal times. In times of pandemic, it is an eternity,” she lamented.

At the same time Omicron is spreading new fear and uncertainty, the dominant Delta variant is still wreaking havoc, especially in Europe, where many countries are dealing with a surge in infections and hospitalizations and some are considering making vaccinations mandatory. are doing.

Several countries have banned travelers from southern Africa, and some have gone further. Japan has banned foreign visitors and asked international airlines to stop taking new reservations for all incoming flights into the country until the end of December.

The US is working toward requiring that all air travelers to the country be tested for COVID-19 within one day of boarding their flights, up from the current three days.

On Wednesday, the WHO warned that blanket travel restrictions were complicating the sharing of laboratory samples from South Africa that could help scientists understand the new variant.

World leaders continue to emphasize that the best way to stop the pandemic is through vaccination.

For the first time, von der Leyen said EU countries should consider making vaccinations mandatory, as many have done for certain regions, or as Austria has done overall. Overall, 67% of the EU population has been vaccinated, but the relatively high rate hasn’t stopped many countries from seeing an increase.

Greece plans to impose fines of 100 euros ($113) per month on people over the age of 60 who do not get vaccinated. Slovakia is considering giving 500 euros ($565) to that age group if they go ahead for the shot. Meanwhile, the designated German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said he would support a proposal to make vaccinations mandatory for all.

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