Author: PAN PILAS
LONDON (AP) – A new, potentially more contagious variant of the omicron coronavirus emerged Saturday in other European countries, just days after it was discovered in South Africa, causing governments around the world to struggle to stem the spread.
On Saturday, the UK tightened its masking and screening rules for overseas arrivals after finding two cases. New cases were confirmed Saturday in Germany and Italy, and Belgium, Israel and Hong Kong also reported that the variant was found in travelers.
Fears that the new variant may be more resistant to the protection offered by vaccines are raising concerns around the world that the pandemic and associated isolation restrictions will persist much longer than anticipated.
Almost two years after the start of the pandemic, which has claimed more than 5 million lives worldwide, countries are on high alert. Many have already imposed travel restrictions from southern Africa as they seek to buy time to assess whether the omicron option is more transferable than the current prevailing delta option.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said it was necessary to take “targeted precautions” after two people in England tested positive for the new variant.
“Right now, this is a responsible course of action to slow down the seeding and spread of this new option and maximize our protection,” he said at a news conference.
Among the measures announced, Johnson said anyone who arrives in England must take a PCR test for COVID-19 on the second day after arrival and self-isolate until it tests negative. And if someone tests positive for the omicron variant, then, according to him, his loved ones will have to self-isolate for 10 days, regardless of their vaccination status – currently close contacts are exempt from quarantine rules if they are fully vaccinated.
He also said that masks would be required in shops and on public transport, and said an independent group of scientists who are advising the British government on the deployment of a coronavirus vaccine has been asked to expedite the vaccination program. This may include extending the booster program to younger age groups, shortening the time between the second dose and booster vaccination, and allowing older children to receive a second dose.
“Starting today, we are going to step up the revitalization campaign,” he said.
The UK Department of Health said the two cases found in the UK are linked and linked to travel from southern Africa. One of the two new cases occurred in the city of Brentwood in the south-east of England, and the other in the central city of Nottingham. Two confirmed cases self-isolate with their households while contact tracing and targeted testing takes place.
The British government has also added four more countries – Angola, Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia – to the red travel list since Sunday. Six others – Botswana, Eswatini (formerly Swaziland), Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe – were added on Friday. This means that anyone allowed to travel from these destinations will be quarantined.
Over the past couple of days, many countries have imposed restrictions on various countries in southern Africa, including Australia, Brazil, Canada, the European Union, Iran, Japan, Thailand and the United States, in response to warnings about the possibility of transferring a new variant. This goes against the recommendations of the World Health Organization, which warned against any overreaction before the option was thoroughly studied.
Despite the flight ban, there are growing concerns that this option is already widespread around the world.
Italy and Germany were the last to report confirmed cases of the omicron variant.
The Italian, on business in Mozambique, landed in Rome on November 11 and returned to his home near Naples. Italian news agency LaPresse reported that he and five family members, including two school-age children, tested positive. All are isolated in the Naples suburb of Caserte in good condition with mild symptoms.
The option was confirmed by the Sacco Hospital in Milan, and the Italian National Institute of Health said the man had received two doses of the vaccine. Italy’s Ministry of Health is calling on all regions to step up virus tracking and sequencing to identify cases of the new variant, first identified in South Africa.
At the Munich Microbiology Center of the Max von Pettenkofer Institute, he said the omicron variant had been confirmed in two travelers who arrived on a flight from South Africa on November 24. The head of the institute, Oliver Keppler, said genome sequencing has not yet been completed, but “it has no doubt been proven that this is the option,” according to the German news agency dpa.
The Dutch Institute of Public Health said the omicron variant “was probably found in a number of subjects” who were isolated after arriving in Amsterdam on Friday on two flights from South Africa. The institute said in a statement that further sequence analysis is underway to pinpoint this is a new option. The results were expected on Sunday. A total of 61 people were tested.
Israel said it has discovered the new strain in a traveler returning from Malawi and is tracking 800 travelers recently returning from South African countries.
The proliferation of this option among young people in South Africa has alarmed health workers, although there was no direct indication as to whether this option was causing more severe illness.
A number of pharmaceutical firms, including AstraZeneca, Moderna, Novavax and Pfizer, have said they have plans to adapt their vaccines to accommodate the emergence of the omicron. Pfizer and its partner BioNTech said they expect to make adjustments to their vaccine in about 100 days.
Professor Andrew Pollard, director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, which developed the AstraZeneca vaccine, expressed cautious optimism that existing vaccines could be effective in preventing serious illness caused by the omicron variant, noting that most mutations appear to occur in the same regions as those. in other versions.
“At least from a speculative point of view, we have some optimism that the vaccine should still work against a new variant of a serious disease, but in fact we need to wait a few weeks for this to be confirmed,” he told BBC Radio …
Some experts said the emergence of this option illustrates how the accumulation of vaccines in wealthy countries threatens to prolong the pandemic.
Less than 6% of people in Africa have been fully immunized against COVID-19, and millions of healthcare workers and vulnerable populations have yet to receive a single dose. These conditions can accelerate the spread of the virus, offering more opportunities for it to become a dangerous option.
“One of the key drivers for the emergence of options may well be low vaccination rates in some parts of the world, and a WHO warning that none of us are safe until we’re all safe and should be heeded,” said Peter Openshaw, professor. experimental medicine at Imperial College London.
Geir Moulson in Berlin, Mike Corder in The Hague, Netherlands, Colleen Barry in Milan and Fares Akram in Gaza City, Gaza Strip contributed to this report.
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