As the world released the shutter to contain the new Omicron variant, there was growing fear on Saturday that a highly infectious new coronavirus strain was pushing the way to Europe.
The UK confirmed the first two infections, suspected of new cases in Germany and the Czech Republic, and Dutch authorities quarantined 61 passengers from South Africa positive for COVID-19.
South Korea, Australia and Thailand have joined the United States, Brazil, Canada and many other countries around the world that limit travel from the region, fearing a major setback in their global commitment to the pandemic.
Scientists are competing to determine the threat posed by highly mutated strains, which are more contagious than the predominant delta mutants, and whether they can circumvent existing vaccines.
Anxious travelers rushed to Johannesburg International Airport and were desperate for their last flight to a country that imposed a sudden travel ban. Many have gone on vacation and havetily returned from South Africa’s safaris and vineyards.
“It’s ridiculous, we’ll always have new variants,” British tourist David Goode told AFP with his passport. “South Africa has found it, but it’s probably already around the world.”
“Variety of concern”
The virus has already slipped through the internet in incidents in Europe, Hong Kong and Israel.
Both incidents in the United Kingdom were related to travel from southern Africa, and the government accordingly increased travel restrictions in the region.
Belgium said Friday that it had detected the first reported infection in unvaccinated people returning from abroad.
Meanwhile, the German suspect’s case was completely thwarted.
“It is likely that the Omicron variant has already arrived in Germany,” tweeted Kai Klose, Minister of Social Affairs in western Hessen.
Prime Minister Andrej Babiš said the neighboring Czech Republic was traveling from Namibia and conducting further tests on women suspected of having a new variant.
Meanwhile, in the Netherlands, about 1 in 10 people (61 out of 600) who arrived at Schiphol Airport from South Africa on Friday were positive for COVID-19.
Infected persons who boarded the plane on two KLM flights that took off before the Dutch government announced a ban on travelers from the area were quarantined at the hotel.
“Positive test results will be examined as soon as possible to determine if this is related to a new variant of interest,” the Dutch Department of Health said.
WHO said it could take weeks to understand the variant originally known as B.1.1.529, noting the curb of travel with little scientific evidence.
South Africa called the curb of travel a “Draconian,” and said on Saturday that the ban was “similar to punishing South Africa for its ability to detect new mutants more quickly with advanced genomic sequencing.”
“Good science should be praised and not punished,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
The main countries subject to closure include South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini (Swaziland), Lesoto, Namibia, Zambia, Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe.
Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden said richer countries need to donate more COVID-19 vaccines, abandon intellectual property protection, and produce higher doses around the world. I did.
“The news about this new variant should reveal more than ever why this pandemic won’t end until we get a global vaccination,” he said.
However, after its first appearance in Wuhan, China in late 2019, memories of how global air travel helped the COVID epidemic were still fresh, and countries cracked down quickly.
Australia and Belgium have taken the latest action, banning all flights from nine countries in southern Africa.
South Korea and Thailand have restricted flights from eight countries, as well as the United States, Brazil, Canada and Saudi Arabia.
EU officials agreed at an emergency meeting to urge all 27 countries in the block to restrict travel from southern Africa, many members have already done so.
The World Trade Organization has canceled its largest rally in four years, the Council of Ministers, at the last minute of Friday due to a new variety.
Vaccine manufacturers want to be able to modify their current vaccines to target Omicron variants.
Germany’s BioNTech and US pharmaceutical company Pfizer said they are expecting data “within two weeks at the latest” to show whether jabs can be adjusted.
Moderna said it will develop boosters that are unique to the new variant.
© 2021 AFP
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