New restrictions as ‘Omicron’ spreads to Europe
Britain, Germany and Italy detected cases of the new Omicron coronavirus variant on Saturday and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced new steps to contain the virus, while more nations imposed restrictions on travel from southern Africa. The discovery of the variant has sparked global concern, a wave of travel bans or curbs and a sell-off on financial markets as investors worried that Omicron could stall a global recovery from the nearly two-year pandemic. Omicron, dubbed a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization, was first discovered in South Africa and had also since been detected in Belgium, Botswana, Israel and Hong Kong.
Although epidemiologists say travel curbs may be too late to stop Omicron from circulating globally, many countries around the world – including the United States, Brazil, Canada and EU member-states announced travel bans or restrictions on southern Africa.
UK: The two linked cases of Omicron detected in the UK were connected to travel to southern Africa, British health minister Sajid Javid said. Prime Minister Johnson laid out measures that included stricter testing rules for people arriving in the country but that stopped short of curbs on social activity other than requiring mask wearing on public transport and in shops.
Germany: The health ministry in the German state of Bavaria also announced two confirmed cases of the variant. The two people entered Germany at Munich airport on Tuesday, before Germany designated South Africa as a virus-variant area, and were now isolating, said the ministry, indicating without stating explicitly that the people had travelled from South Africa.
Italy: In Italy, the National Health Institute said a case of the new variant had been detected in Milan in a person coming from Mozambique.
Czechia: health authorities also said they were examining a suspected case of the variant in a person who spent time in Namibia. Austria and Slovakia have entered lockdowns.
Israel: Authorities said they would ban the entry of all foreigners into the country for two weeks and reintroduce counter-terrorism phone-tracking technology to contain the spread of the variant.
Netherlands: Dutch authorities said 61 of some 600 people who arrived in Amsterdam on two flights from South Africa on Friday had tested positive for the coronavirus. Health authorities were carrying out further tests to see if those cases involved the new variant.
Australia: The Government said it would ban non-citizens who have been in nine southern African countries from entering and will require supervised 14-day quarantines for Australian citizens returning from there.
Japan: said they were extending travel curbs to more African countries, while South Korea, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Oman, Kuwait and Hungary announced new travel restrictions.
South Africa: is worried that the curbs will hurt tourism and other sectors of its economy, the foreign ministry said on Saturday, adding the government is engaging with countries that have imposed travel bans to persuade them to reconsider.
US: No cases of the Omicron variant have been identified in the US to date, said the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention. “We expect Omicron to be identified quickly, if it emerges in the US,” CDC said in a statement.
Booster: 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% of people in low-income countries have received their first COVID-19 shot, according to medical and human rights groups.
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