The Omicron coronavirus variant was present in Europe before the first cases were reported in South Africa, new data from the Netherlands showed on Tuesday, as Latin America reported its first two cases in Brazil.
In the week since South Africa reported the new strain of the virus to the World Health Organization, dozens of countries around the world have responded with travel restrictions, most targeting southern African nations.
And the likely futility of extensive travel restrictions was underscored when Dutch authorities reported that Omicron was present in the country before South Africa officially reported its first cases, on November 25.
The new variant, whose high number of mutations, according to the WHO, may make it more transmissible or resistant to vaccines, was found in two Dutch test samples on November 19 and 23, and one of them had no travel history.
With countries now on alert for the Omicron variant, the day a clearer picture is emerging of where it has been circulating and for how long.
So far, more than a dozen countries and territories have detected cases, including Australia, Great Britain, Canada, Hong Kong, Israel, Italy and Portugal.
Among European countries, Belgium and Germany have reported cases of the new strain before November 25, but both related to travel abroad.
Latin America reported its first two cases on Tuesday, in people who traveled from South Africa to Brazil, and a first case was confirmed in Japan, a day after it banned all foreign arrivals.
While much is still unknown about the Omicron variant (it could take weeks to determine whether and to what extent it is vaccine resistant), it has been highlighted that the global fight against Covid-19 is far from over.
Asian, European and US markets fell on Tuesday, while the US oil benchmark price fell more than five percent after the chief of vaccine maker Moderna warned that existing hits could be less effective against the new variant.
“All the scientists I’ve talked to … are like ‘this is not going to be good,'” Moderna boss Stephane Bancel told the Financial Times, warning against a “material drop” in the effectiveness of the coups. current against Omicron.
Moderna, the American pharmaceutical company Pfizer and the sponsors of the Russian vaccine Sputnik V are already working on a specific Omicron vaccine.
On the treatment front, meanwhile, a panel of US health experts voted Tuesday to back Merck’s Covid pill for high-risk adult patients, which is already licensed in Britain.
In a briefing for WHO member states, the body’s director, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said it was understandable that countries sought to protect their citizens “against a variant that we still do not fully understand.”
But he called for the global response to be “calm, coordinated and coherent”, urging nations to “take rational and proportionate risk reduction measures.”
The UN agency warned in a travel advisory that “blanket” travel bans could put a “heavy burden on lives and livelihoods” and could ultimately deter countries from sharing data on the evolution of the virus, as South Africa did when reporting the latest variant.
But he warned that people who are not fully vaccinated and who are considered vulnerable to Covid-19, including those over the age of 60, should postpone travel to areas with community transmission of the virus, after correcting a previous statement indicating that all over 60 should postpone travel.
Omicron emerged as much of the world was already preparing for a new winter wave of the pandemic, leaving even nations with high vaccination rates struggling to stop infections and prevent health services from being overwhelmed.
Governments, particularly in Western Europe, have already reintroduced the mandatory wearing of masks, social distancing measures, curfews or closures, causing companies to fear another bleak Christmas.
In Germany, incoming Chancellor Olaf Scholz said parliament would vote on mandatory Covid vaccines before the end of the year, and a source from Scholz’s party told AFP that he had “expressed his sympathy” for such a rule.
Greece went ahead on Tuesday by making vaccinations mandatory for those over 60, while Norway will offer booster shots to all adults before Easter, as is preferable to a lockdown.
Meanwhile, Britain set a goal of delivering a third hit to all adults within two months, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson said vaccination centers would be “popping up like Christmas trees.”
Source Credit: TheGuardian
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