Novel Omicron Coronavirus Variant Continues To Spread, Australia Detects Cases

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  • Two cases detected in Australia
  • Israel announces it bans foreigners for two weeks
  • May take a long time to assess the harmfulness of Omicron – Chinese expert

LONDON, Nov. 28 (Reuters) – The new variant of the Omicron coronavirus continued to spread around the world on Sunday, with two cases detected in Australia, even as more countries tried to shut down by imposing travel restrictions .

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

Both people were asymptomatic, fully vaccinated and in quarantine, NSW Health said. 12 other passengers from southern Africa were also in quarantine at the hotel for 14 days, while around 260 other passengers and crew were ordered to self-isolate. Read more

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The Australian cases were the latest indication that the variant may prove difficult to contain. First discovered in South Africa, it has since been detected in Britain, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Botswana, Israel and Hong Kong.

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

The discovery of Omicron, labeled a ‘worrying variant’ last week by the World Health Organization, raised concerns around the world that it could withstand vaccinations and prolong the COVID-19 pandemic by nearly two years.

Omicron is potentially more contagious than previous variants, although experts are not yet sure whether it will cause COVID-19 to be more or less severe compared to other strains.

Countries have imposed a wave of travel bans or restrictions on southern Africa. Financial markets plunged on Friday as investors feared the variant would block a global recovery. Oil prices have fallen by about $ 10 a barrel.

Most Gulf stock markets fell sharply at the start of trading on Sunday, with the Saudi index suffering its largest single-day drop in nearly two years. Read more

In the most ambitious effort to keep the variant at bay, Israel announced on Saturday night that it would ban the entry of all foreigners and reintroduce anti-terrorism phone tracking technology to contain the spread of the variant.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said the ban, pending government approval, would last 14 days. Officials hope that during this period there will be more information about the effectiveness of vaccines against Omicron. Read more

Many countries have imposed or are planning restrictions on travel from southern Africa. The South African government on Saturday denounced this as unfair and potentially damaging to its economy – saying it was being punished for its scientific ability to identify variants of the coronavirus early on.

Police officers patrol the city center, as coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccination rates continue to rise, in Sydney, Australia, November 19, 2021. REUTERS / Loren Elliott

In Britain, where two related Omicron cases identified on Saturday were linked to a trip to southern Africa, the government announced measures to try to contain the spread, including stricter testing rules for people arriving in the country and requiring the wearing of a mask in certain contexts.

UK Health Minister Sajid Javid said on Sunday he expected to receive advice imminently on whether the government can expand a booster vaccination program to fully vaccinated people, in an attempt to ” mitigate the impact of the variant. Read more

The German state of Bavaria also announced two confirmed cases of the variant on Saturday. In Italy, the National Institute of Health said a case of the new variant had been detected in Milan in a person from Mozambique.

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

VACCINAL DISPARITIES

Although epidemiologists say travel restrictions may be too late to prevent Omicron from circulating, many countries – including the United States, Brazil, Canada, European Union countries, Australia, Japan, South Korea and Thailand – have announced travel bans or restrictions in southern Africa.

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

Mexico’s Assistant Health Secretary Hugo Lopez Gatell said travel restrictions were of little help in response to the new variant, calling the measures taken by some countries “disproportionate.”

“It has not been shown to be more virulent or to escape the immune response induced by vaccines. They affect the economy and the well-being of people,” he said on Saturday in an article on Twitter.

Omicron emerged as many countries in Europe are already battling an increase in COVID-19 infections, with some reintroducing restrictions on social activities to try to stop the spread.

The new variant also highlighted huge disparities in vaccination rates around the world. Even though many developed countries administer third-dose boosters, less than 7% of people in low-income countries have received their first injection of COVID-19, according to medical and human rights groups.

Seth Berkley, CEO of the GAVI Vaccine Alliance which, along with the WHO, co-leads the COVAX initiative to push for equitable distribution of vaccines, said this was essential to prevent the emergence of more variants of the coronavirus. .

“Although we still need to know more about Omicron, we know that until a large part of the world’s population is vaccinated, variants will continue to appear and the pandemic will continue to extend,” a- he said in a statement to Reuters. Saturday.

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Reporting by Elizabeth Piper, Dan Williams, Melanie Burton, Kevin Yao and Reuters Offices Written by Frances Kerry Editing by Mark Heinrich

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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