On Nov 26, the World Health Organization (WHO) named a new coronavirus variant “Omicron” and designated it as a “variant of concern.” Here’s a breakdown of what we know about the new omicron Covid-19 variant, its symptoms and where cases have been discovered so far.
The New Omicron Covid-19 Variant
There’s growing global alarm over Omicron – the new coronavirus variant that first emerged in South Africa. Researchers say it could be the most infectious form of the virus so far, and it might even beat current vaccines. The international response has been swift. Many countries have shut down air travel from southern Africa. The South African government says the bans are an overreaction.
Omicron has moved quickly. Now countries around the world are racing to get ahead, banning flights from the region where the variant was first discovered. South Africans suddenly find themselves cut off from the world.
Since the UK announced its travel ban, many other countries have followed suit. South Africa’s government says they acted too quickly.
As quickly as the travel restrictions were announced, they are more likely to slow down rather than completely stop the spread of omicron. Dutch health officials fear that dozens of COVID-infected passengers who arrived in Amsterdam on Friday might also be infected with the new variant.
Omicron variant was first found in a specimen collected on 9 November, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Preliminary research shows the new variant may increase the risk of reinfection for people who have already had COVID-19, according to the WHO.
The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control, NCDC, on Wednesday December 1, confirmed the first cases of Omicron variant in Nigeria.
Hong Kong, Israel, and Belgium have already confirmed cases.
The world has made progress in the fight against the coronavirus, but the new variant shows that the battle is far from won. The message for now from many officials: Get the vaccine, get the booster, and follow public health regulations.
Where is travel being restricted?
As cases of the variant are confirmed around the world, an increasing number of nations are tightening their borders despite pleas for caution and outbursts of dismay from some.
Effective Monday, the U.S. has restricted travel from South Africa and seven neighboring countries: Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi.
Israel moved to ban entry by foreigners and mandate quarantine for all Israelis arriving from abroad.
And Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Monday that Japan is considering stepping up border controls. Kishida told reporters that he planned to announce new measures in addition to the current 10-day quarantine requirement for travelers from South Africa and eight other nearby countries. Japan still has its border closed to foreign tourists from any country.
Morocco’s Foreign Ministry tweeted Sunday that all incoming air travel to the North African country would be suspended to “preserve the achievements realized by Morocco in the fight against the pandemic, and to protect the health of citizens.” Morocco has been at the forefront of vaccinations in Africa, and kept its borders closed for months in 2020 because of the pandemic.
Many countries are introducing such bans, though they go against the advice of the WHO, which has warned against any overreaction before the variant is thoroughly studied.
Intense research into the new coronavirus variant first identified in southern Africa has just begun.
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