Omicron variant was present in Europe before South Africa reported first cases

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A COVID-19 testing facility is advertised at Newark Liberty International Airport on November 30, 2021 in Newark, New Jersey.-AFP
 A COVID-19 testing facility is marketed at Newark Liberty Worldwide Airport on November 30, 2021 in Newark, New Jersey.-AFP 
  • Newest Information exhibits new COVID-19 variant was first reported within the Netherlands.
  • With nations now on alert for the Omicron variant, a clearer image is rising by the day of the place it has been circulating, and for a way lengthy.
  • WHO warns that “blanket” journey bans risked doing extra hurt than good.

The Hague: The Omicron coronavirus variant was current in Europe earlier than the primary circumstances have been reported in South Africa, new information from the Netherlands confirmed Tuesday, as Latin America reported its first two circumstances in Brazil.

Within the week for the reason that new virus pressure was reported to the World Well being Group by South Africa, dozens of nations around the globe have responded with journey restrictions — most concentrating on southern African nations.

However the World Well being Group warned Tuesday — as Canada expanded its restrictions to additionally embrace Egypt and Nigeria — that “blanket” journey bans risked doing extra hurt than good.

And the doubtless futility of broad journey restrictions was underscored as Dutch authorities reported that Omicron was current within the nation earlier than South Africa formally reported its first circumstances, on November 25.

The brand new variant — whose excessive variety of mutations the WHO believes could make it extra transmissible or immune to vaccines — was present in two Dutch check samples from November 19 and 23, with one having no journey historical past.

With nations now on alert for the Omicron variant, a clearer image is rising by the day of the place it has been circulating, and for a way lengthy.

Thus far, effectively over a dozen nations and territories have detected circumstances, together with Australia, Britain, Canada, Hong Kong, Israel, Italy and Portugal.

Amongst European nations, Belgium and Germany have each reported circumstances of the brand new pressure previous to November 25, however each linked to international journey.

Latin America reported its first two circumstances Tuesday — in individuals who traveled from South Africa to Brazil — and a primary case was confirmed in Japan, someday after it barred all international arrivals.

– Vaccine-resistant? –

Whereas a lot continues to be unknown in regards to the Omicron variant — it might take weeks to find out whether or not and to what extent it’s vaccine-resistant — it has highlighted that the worldwide battle in opposition to COVID-19 is much from over.

Asian, European and US markets all fell on Tuesday, whereas the benchmark US oil worth tumbled greater than 5% after the boss of vaccine producer Moderna warned present jabs is perhaps much less efficient in opposition to the brand new variant.

“All of the scientists I’ve talked to … are like ‘this isn’t going to be good’,” Moderna boss Stephane Bancel informed the Monetary Instances, warning in opposition to a “materials drop” within the effectiveness of present jabs in opposition to Omicron.

Moderna, US drugmaker Pfizer and the backers of Russian vaccine Sputnik V are already engaged on an Omicron-specific vaccine.

On the therapy entrance, in the meantime, a panel of US well being specialists voted Tuesday to endorse Merck’s Covid tablet for high-risk grownup sufferers, which is already authorised in Britain.

– ‘Heavy burden’ –

In a briefing to WHO member states, the physique’s chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stated it was comprehensible for nations to hunt to guard their residents “in opposition to a variant we don’t but totally perceive”.

However he referred to as for the worldwide response to be “calm, coordinated and coherent”, urging nations to “take rational, proportional risk-reduction measures”.

The UN company cautioned in a journey advisory that “blanket” journey bans risked putting a “heavy burden on lives and livelihoods” and will in the end dissuade nations from sharing information in regards to the evolving virus — as South Africa did in reporting the most recent variant.

Nevertheless it did advise that folks not totally vaccinated and thought of weak to COVID-19, together with over-60s, ought to postpone journey to areas with neighborhood transmission of the virus — after correcting a earlier assertion that indicated all over-60s ought to defer journey.

– More durable measures –

Omicron has emerged as a lot of the world was already bracing for a brand new winter wave of the pandemic — leaving even nations with excessive vaccination charges scrambling to stem infections and forestall well being providers from being overwhelmed.

Governments, notably in western Europe, have already reintroduced necessary mask-wearing, social-distancing measures, curfews or lockdowns — leaving companies fearing one other grim Christmas.

In Germany, incoming Chancellor Olaf Scholz stated parliament would vote on making Covid vaccines obligatory by the top of the yr — and a supply from Scholz’s occasion informed AFP he had “signalled his sympathy” for such a rule.

Greece went forward Tuesday in making vaccines obligatory for over-60s, whereas Norway will supply booster pictures to all adults earlier than Easter, as preferable to a lockdown.

Britain in the meantime set a goal of delivering third jabs to all adults inside two months, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson saying vaccination centres could be “popping up like Christmas bushes.”