On Saturday, the new potentially more contagious omicron strain of the coronavirus appeared in several European countries, just days after it was discovered in South Africa, prompting governments around the world to scramble to contain the spread.
Following the discovery of two instances, the United Kingdom strengthened its requirements on wearing masks and testing international arrivals on Saturday.
New cases were reported in Germany and Italy on Saturday, with the variant also being detected in travelers in Belgium, Israel, and Hong Kong.
In the United States, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, said he wouldn’t be shocked if the omicron version was also present.
“We haven’t identified it yet,” Fauci said on NBC television. “But when you have a virus that shows this degree of transmissibility… it almost typically will move practically all over.”
Fears that the new strain will be more resistant to vaccine protection are developing over the world, raising fears that the pandemic and associated lockdown restrictions will last far longer than expected.
Nearly two years after the outbreak of the epidemic, which has claimed the lives of over 5 million people worldwide, governments are on high alert.
Many countries have already put limitations on flights from southern Africa to purchase time to see if the omicron version is more transmissible than the present dominant delta variant.
After two individuals in England tested positive for the new type, Prime Minister Boris Johnson stated it was important to take “targeted and preventative measures.”
“Right now, this is the proper course of action to slow the seeding and spread of this new variation while also maximizing our defenses,” he said at a press conference.
Johnson added that anyone arriving in England on the second day after their arrival must undergo a COVID-19 PCR test and self-isolate until the test results are negative.
If someone tests positive for the omicron variant, he says their close connections will have to self-isolate for 10 days, regardless of their vaccination status – close contacts are now exempt from quarantine restrictions if they are completely vaccinated.
He also claimed that masks will be required in stores and on public transportation, and that the independent panel of scientists advising the British government on coronavirus vaccine rollout has been requested to speed up the immunization campaign.
This could include expanding the booster program to include younger age groups, shortening the time between the second dosage and the booster, and allowing older children to receive a second dose.
“From today we’re going to boost the booster campaign,” he said.
The Department of Health in the United Kingdom said the two cases discovered in the country were connected and included travel from southern Africa.
One of the two new cases was in Brentwood, in the southeast of England, while the other was in Nottingham, in the heart of the country. While contact tracing and targeted testing are conducted, the two confirmed cases are self-isolating with their families.
From Sunday, the British government placed four more countries to the country’s travel blacklist: Angola, Malawi, Mozambique, and Zambia. Botswana, Eswatini (previously Swaziland), Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe were among the six new countries joined on Friday.
As a result, anyone allowed to enter from certain locations will be required to quarantine.
Many nations, including Australia, Brazil, Canada, the European Union, Iran, Japan, New Zealand, Thailand, and the United States, have imposed restrictions on various southern African countries in the last few days in reaction to warnings about the new variant’s transmissibility.
This is contrary to the World Health Organization’s recommendation, which has advised against any overreaction until the variant has been thoroughly examined.
Despite the flight prohibition, there are growing fears that the variation has already been widely distributed around the globe.
Italy and Germany were the latest to report confirmed cases of the omicron variant.
On Nov. 11, an Italian businessman who had flown to Mozambique returned to his house near Naples after landing in Rome.
According to the Italian news outlet LaPresse, he and five family members, including two school-aged children, have since tested positive. All are safe and sound in the Caserta neighborhood of Naples, with only minor symptoms.
The version was confirmed by Sacco hospital in Milan, and the individual had gotten two doses of the vaccination, according to Italy’s National Health Institute.
The Italian health ministry is encouraging all areas to increase virus tracing and sequencing in order to detect cases of the novel strain discovered in South Africa.
The omicron variant was confirmed in two tourists who landed on a flight from South Africa on Nov. 24 in Germany, according to the Max von Pettenkofer Institute, a Munich-based microbiology lab.
According to the German news agency dpa, the head of the institute, Oliver Keppler, genome sequencing has not yet been completed, but it has been “confirmed beyond a shadow of a doubt that it is this variant.”
The omicron version was “probably discovered in a number of the examined patients,” according to the Dutch public health institute, who were quarantined after landing in Amsterdam on two flights from South Africa on Friday.
In a statement, the institute added that more sequencing work is being done to confirm that it is the novel variety. The findings were scheduled to be released on Sunday. A total of 61 participants were subjected to the test.
Israel claimed the new strain was discovered in a tourist returning from Malawi and that it was tracking 800 people who had lately returned from southern African countries.
Early Sunday, Australia’s scientists said they were trying to figure out if two patients who tested positive for COVID after arriving from southern Africa were infected with the omicron variant.
Even while there is no clear sign that the variant causes more severe disease, the variant’s rapid distribution among young people in South Africa has frightened health specialists.
AstraZeneca, Moderna, Novavax, and Pfizer are among the pharmaceutical companies that have stated that they have preparations in place to adjust their vaccinations in light of the advent of omicron.
In roughly 100 days, Pfizer and its partner BioNTech anticipate to be able to alter their vaccine.
Professor Andrew Pollard, the director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, which developed the AstraZeneca vaccine, expressed cautious optimism that existing vaccines could be effective in preventing serious disease caused by the omicron variant, noting that most mutations appear to be in similar regions as those found in other variants.
“At least speculatively, we have some optimism that the vaccination may still function against a new strain for a deadly disease,” he told BBC radio. “However, we need to wait several weeks to get that validated.”
The development of the variation, according to some scientists, demonstrated how wealthy countries’ vaccine hoarding threatens to extend the pandemic.
Only about 6% of Africans have received full COVID-19 vaccination, and millions of health professionals and vulnerable populations have yet to receive a single dose. These settings can hasten the virus’s spread, giving it more chances to mutate into a deadly variety.
“Low vaccination rates in some regions of the world may likely be a crucial contributor in the creation of variations, and the WHO warning that none of us is safe until all of us are safe should be heeded,” said Peter Openshaw, an experimental medicine professor at Imperial College London.
According to the State Department, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with his South African colleague, Naledi Pandor, on Saturday, and the two underscored the need of working together to help African countries vaccinate their populations.
Blinken complimented South African scientists for swiftly finding the omicron variant, as well as the government’s candor in releasing the information, which “should serve as a model for the globe,” according to the report.