Around a week after South African health experts alerted the world to a new, potentially dangerous variant of novel coronavirus, India has extended the nationwide Covid-19 containment measures till December 31. Health officials have said that the variant was in Europe several days earlier than previously known, and more than 20 countries have reported cases of omicron variant.
As the situations unfolds rapidly, here are the top five omicron-related developments today, from around the world.
Brazil reported a third case of the Omicron coronavirus variant on Wednesday, casting doubt on plans to loosen containment curbs ahead of year-end holidays in response to a fall in infection numbers.
According to Reuters, the latest case, an asymptomatic 29-year-old, tested positive at Sao Paulo’s international airport after arriving from Ethiopia. On Tuesday, two Brazilian missionaries to South Africa had tested positive for the variant at the same airport, marking the first Omicron cases reported in Latin America.
The World Health Organization expects to have more information on the transmissibility of the new Omicron variant of the cornavirus within days, its technical lead on COVID-19, Maria van Kerkhove, said in a briefing on Wednesday.
That was faster than the “weeks” the WHO had predicted last week that it would take to assess the data available on the variant after designating it a “variant of concern”, its highest rating.
According to Reuters, Kerkhove said one possible scenario was that the new variant, which was first reported in southern Africa, may be more transmissible than the dominant Delta variant. She said it was not yet known if Omicron makes people more ill. (Reuters)
A top official in Botswana’s health ministry said on Tuesday that 16 out of the total 19 cases of the Omicron variant detected in the country were asymptomatic, and said it was “unfair” to treat the country as ground zero of the new variant, news agency Reuters reported.
Pamela Smith-Lawrence, Acting Director of Health in the Ministry of Health and Wellness told Reuters in an interview that the majority of the 19 people who were found to be infected with the new Omicron variant have already tested negative.
While 16 people were asymptomatic, the remaining two had “very, very mild” symptoms.
Norway has identified its first two cases of the new Omicron coronavirus variant, the west coast municipality of Oeygarden said on Wednesday.
The two people who were infected had been on a trip to South Africa. Both of them were currently recovering from the infection, Reuters reported citing a statement from mayor Tom Georg Indrevik.
Norway on Friday decided to impose a quarantine on any travellers arriving from South Africa or neighbouring countries, following a similar decision by neighbouring Denmark and many other countries around the world.
US tightens travel rules
The United States is moving to require that all air travellers entering the country show a negative Covid-19 test performed within one day of departure, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said late on Tuesday. Currently, vaccinated international travellers can present a negative result obtained within three days from their point of departure. The new one-day testing requirement would apply to US citizens as well as foreign nationals.
Saudi, Brazil report first omicron cases
Saudi Arabia confirmed its first case of the Omicron Covid-19 variant coming from a north African country, the state news agency said on Wednesday. Meanwhile, Brazilian health regulator Anvisa said that two Brazilians had tested positive for the variant, the first reported cases in Latin America. The regulatory body said a traveller arriving in Sao Paulo from South Africa and his wife, who had not travelled, both tested positive for the new variant, adding to concerns of global Omicron spread before recent travel bans went into effect.
Fiji welcomes back tourists despite omicron threat
Fiji welcomed back its first tourists in more than 600 days on Wednesday after pushing ahead with reopening plans despite the threat posed by the omicron variant. Tourism Fiji Chief Executive Brent Hill said 75,000 tourists had booked travel to the country over the next couple of months. Fiji was spared from the worst of the virus until April, when an outbreak of the delta variant took hold. The outbreak killed nearly 700 people but has now faded to about five new infections each day.
WHO tweaks travel advice for omicron variant
The World Health Organisation is tweaking its travel advice with regard to the omicron variant just hours after releasing it. The UN health agency originally said that people who are unwell or at risk of developing severe Covid-19 disease and dying are advised to postpone travel. The recommendation applies to people who are at least 60 years old and those with co-morbidities, including cancer, heart disease and diabetes.
But the WHO revised that statement later to say that people who haven’t been fully vaccinated or don’t have proof of earlier infection and are at greater risk are advised to postpone travel to areas with “community transmission,” where it’s spreading more widely.
France, Portugal see worsening situation
Many European countries, France and Portugal in particular, are seeing a hike in Covid-19 infections in the recent days. French Health Minister Olivier Véran said that 47,000 new infections had been confirmed over the previous 24 hours, according to France-based news network Euro News. It said that the number of daily new cases has been over 30,000 for a week, under 23,000 a week ago and 15,000 two weeks ago.
In Portugal, a pediatric unit was closed down as a hospital worker tested positive for the omicron variant. A Euro News report said that the worker had been in contact with members of a Portuguese football club where there were at least 13 cases of the new variant. The country is implementing a new set of restrictions to access public services, including vaccine certificates and mandatory face masks.
(With inputs from Reuters and Associated Press)
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