As more cases of the Omicron variant surface around the world, the World Health Organization says the risk of further spread is high and could have serious consequences for some countries, especially those with relatively low vaccination rates.
The new version of the virus that causes COVID-19 has appeared in at least 16 countries, including Canada, since it was detected by scientists in South Africa last week. Officials said Britain has recorded 11 cases, including six in Scotland, that have not been linked to travel from South Africa – a sign that the virus has spread to the community.
“The emergence of the highly mutated Omicron variant underscores how dangerous and precarious our situation is,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Monday.
However, Scottish officials also said that none of the six had been hospitalised.
“It is now clear that the Omicron variant has been circulating around the world for a few days, if not a few weeks before the alarm is sounded,” said Roland Kao, an epidemiologist at the University of Edinburgh.
“It’s important to remember that the Omicron variant may not pose an increased health risk – it can actually cause a mild infection. However, we will only know for sure in the next few weeks, when there are enough cases and serious illness.” There will be enough time to make statistically reliable estimates of
We need to be prepared for Omicron, but let’s not assume the worst
Canada’s foreign travel restrictions are discriminatory and self-defeating in response to Omicron version
In the US, President Joe Biden said he did not expect to impose further travel restrictions or lockdowns as he sought to reassure the country that Washington was ready to handle the new version. “This version is a cause for concern, not a cause for panic,” he said.
“Sooner or later we’re going to see this new version of cases in the United States,” Biden said. “Please wear your mask when you are indoors, in public settings around other people.”
Governments are rushing to respond to Omicron, which scientists worry may be more permeable than the delta version and better able to evade vaccines. Many countries have tightened travel restrictions to slow its spread, and some, such as Japan and Israel, have banned all foreign visitors. Others such as Canada and the US have banned travelers from a select list of African countries, including South Africa, or introduced stricter quarantine measures.
Also, South African scientists have been widely praised for alerting the world to diversity. South Africa, along with the UK and the United States, is a world leader in tracking genetic mutations of viruses and sharing information globally.
“South Africa’s analytical work and transparency and sharing of its results were imperative to allow a swift global response. No doubt it saved many lives,” said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was deeply concerned that the new travel restrictions were isolating southern African countries. He said that instead of travel restrictions, frequent testing of passengers would be a better tool.
In a statement on Monday, Mr Guterres said: “The people of Africa cannot be blamed for the unethically low levels of vaccination available in Africa – and they need to be able to identify and share important science and health information with the world.” should not be punished for.”
Travel restrictions are threatening to disrupt laboratory work needed to track the spread of the new variant. Scientists say chemicals known as reagents needed for laboratory testing may soon become unavailable in South Africa.
“Today I spent a large part of my day talking to genomic and biotech companies,” said in a tweet on Monday, Tulio de Oliveira, one of the South African scientists who helped locate the new variant. “Soon we will run out of reagents, because airplanes are not flying to South Africa.”
Omicron has more than 50 mutations, compared to 18 for the delta version, which was a mutation of the original alpha version of the virus. At least 30 of its mutations occur on the spike protein, the bumpy structure on the surface of the virus that allows it to enter human cells. All vaccines developed so far target the spike protein, and substantial mutations can make the virus less recognizable to antibodies.
However, health experts say there is no evidence yet that vaccines against Omicron would be less effective, especially in preventing serious disease. As a result, many countries have begun to intensify vaccination programs, including booster shots.
On Monday, the British government said it would start giving booster shots to all adults, not just people over the age of 40. The government is also reducing the time between second and third pockets from five to three months. To date, about 18 million people in the UK have received a booster shot.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid told the House of Commons on Monday that the expansion of eligibility “represents a major step forward for our immunization programme, which will almost certainly reduce the number of people able to receive booster doses to protect themselves and their loved ones.” Will double that.”
Britain is banking heavily on vaccines to address the current wave of Omicron and Delta infections. 30,000 to 50,000 new cases have been registered in the country every day for the last several months. However, the number of people hospitalized has dropped by 11 per cent in the last one week and the daily death toll has dropped by 18 per cent.
Due to the new version, the government has made minor changes in its pandemic strategy. Face masks will become mandatory on Tuesday in England, but only in public transport and shops, and secondary school students have been “strongly advised” to wear face coverings in communal areas.
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