London (AP) — The United Kingdom tightened rules on mask wearing and testing for international arrivals on Saturday after discovering two cases of a new, potentially more contagious, Omicron variant of the colonavirus.
Concerns around the world that pandemics and associated blockade restrictions will last much longer than expected amid fears that new variants identified recently may be more resistant to the protection provided by the vaccine. It is increasing. Four days after the first identification of the Omicron variant in South Africa, many countries have already imposed travel bans on flights from South Africa.
To slow the spread, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the two needed to take “targeted precautions” after they tested positive for the new variant in the UK.
“For now, this is a responsible course of action to delay the sowing and dissemination of this new variety and maximize our defenses,” he said at a press conference.
In the measures announced, Johnson said that those arriving in the UK would be required to undergo a mandatory PCR test for COVID-19 two days after arrival and would have to self-quarantine until a negative test was provided. He said he had to. He also said that if someone tests positive for the omicron variant, close contacts should be self-quarantined for 10 days, regardless of vaccination status. Currently, close contacts are exempt from quarantine regulations if they are fully vaccinated.
He also said masks need to be worn in stores and public transport, and a group of independent scientists advising the British government on the deployment of coronavirus vaccines is being called upon to accelerate the vaccination program. rice field. Allow booster jabs or older children to receive a second dose of the vaccine.
“From today, we’re going to boost the booster campaign,” he said.
One of the two new cases was found in the town of Brentwood in southeast England, and the other in the central city of Nottingham. The two cases are related and include travel from southern Africa. The two confirmed cases are self-isolated with the household during contact tracing and targeted testing.
Starting Sunday, the UK Government has added four countries to the national travel red list: Angola, Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia. Six locations were added on Friday: Botswana, Eswatini (formerly Swaziland), Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe. This means that anyone authorized to arrive from these destinations must be quarantined.
Many countries have lifted restrictions in response to warnings about the communicability of new variants to various countries in southern Africa, including Australia, Brazil, Canada, the European Union, Iran, Japan, Thailand and the United States. bottom. World Health Organization advice.
Despite the flight ban, there is growing concern that variants are already widely seeded around the world. Cases have been reported in travelers from Belgium, Israel and Hong Kong, in addition to the United Kingdom.Germany also said positive cases were suspected and Dutch officials were testing whether 61 people arriving on two flights with COVID-19 from South Africa had the Omicron variant.
Italian authorities in southern Campania have also recently returned from southern Africa to investigate whether people tested positive for the virus are infected with the Omicron variant.
Global health agencies have named the new mutant Omicron and labeled it a strain of concern because of early evidence that it has a high number of mutations and is more infectious than other mutants. increase. This means that people who have recovered from COVID-19 may catch it again. It may take several weeks to find out if the current vaccine is ineffective against it.
The previous outbreaks of the pandemic are partially fueled by loose borders, as the uncertainty about Omicron variants is so high that scientists are unlikely to materialize the findings over the weeks. Knowing that countries around the world are taking a safety-first approach. policy.
Approximately two years have passed since the pandemic that claimed the lives of more than 5 million people around the world began, and countries are becoming more vigilant.
The rapid spread of the subspecies among South African adolescents surprised medical professionals, even though there were no immediate signs that the subspecies would cause more serious illness.
Many pharmaceutical companies, including AstraZeneca, Moderna, Novavax and Pfizer, said they have plans to adapt the vaccine in the light of the advent of Omicron. Pfizer and its partner BioNTech said they expect to be able to fine-tune the vaccine in about 100 days.
Professor Andrew Pollard, director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, who developed the AstraZeneca vaccine, expressed cautious optimism that existing vaccines may be effective in preventing serious illnesses caused by Omicron variants.
He said most of the mutations appear to be in areas similar to those of other varieties.
“At least from a speculative point of view, there is optimism that the vaccine is also effective against new variants of serious illness, but in reality you have to wait a few weeks for it to be confirmed. “He told BBC Radio.
“It is very unlikely that a pandemic restart will occur in the vaccinated population as we saw last year,” he added.
Some experts said the emergence of this variant indicates that vaccine storage by developed countries could prolong the pandemic.
In Africa, less than 6% of people are fully immunized to COVID-19, and millions of healthcare workers and vulnerable people have not yet received a single dose. These conditions accelerate the spread of the virus and increase the chances of it evolving into a dangerous variant.
“One of the key factors in the emergence of variants could be low vaccination rates in parts of the world. WHO requires us all to be safe and careful. Until then, we warn that no one is safe, “says Professor Peter Openshaw. Of Experimental Medicine at Imperial College London.
Geir Moulson of Berlin, Mike Corder of The Hague, The Netherlands, and Colleen Barry of Milan contributed to this report.
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