The new, potentially more contagious Omicron variant of the coronavirus has popped up in more European countries, just days after being identified in South Africa, leaving governments around the world scrambling to stop the spread.
The UK on Saturday, November 27, tightened its rules on mask-wearing and on testing of international arrivals after finding two cases. New cases were confirmed on Saturday in Germany and Italy, with Belgium, Israel and Hong Kong also reporting that the variant has been found in travellers.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced new steps to contain the virus, while more nations imposed restrictions on travel from southern Africa.Israel said it would ban the entry of all foreigners into the country and reintroduce counter-terrorism phone-tracking technology to contain the spread of the variant.
Nearly two years since the start of the pandemic that has claimed more than five million lives around the world, countries are on high alert. Many have already imposed travel restrictions on flights from southern Africa as they seek to buy time to assess whether the Omicron variant is more transmissible than the current dominant Delta variant.
The new variant has also thrown a spotlight on disparities in how far the world’s population is vaccinated.Even as many developed countries are giving third-dose boosters, less than 7 per cent of people in low-income countries have received their first COVID-19 shot, according to medical and human rights groups.
Seth Berkley, CEO of the GAVI Vaccine Alliance that with the WHO co-leads the COVAX initiative to push for equitable distribution of vaccines, said this was essential to ward off the emergence of more coronavirus variants.
What are the symptoms of omicron variant?
South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) has said that “currently no unusual symptoms have been reported following infection with the B.1.1.529 variant.”
NICD also said that as with other infectious variants such as Delta, some of those infected with the omicron variant of the coronavirus are asymptomatic.
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