World scurries to contain new COVID variantSaturday, November 27, 2021
THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — With each passing hour, new restrictions were being slapped on travel from countries in southern Africa as the world scurried Saturday to contain a new variant of the coronavirus that has the potential to be more resistant to the protection offered by vaccines.
A host of countries, including Australia, Brazil, Canada Iran, Japan, Thailand and the United States, joined others, including the European Union and the UK in imposing restrictions on southern African countries in response to warnings over the transmissibility of the new variant — against the advice of the World Health Organization.
The global health body has named the new variant omicron, labelling it a variant of concern because of its high number of mutations and some early evidence that it carries a higher degree of infection than other variants. That means people who contracted COVID-19 and recovered could be subject to catching it again. It could take weeks to know if current vaccines are less effective against it.
With so much uncertainty about the omicron variant and scientists unlikely to flesh out their findings for a few weeks, countries around the world have been taking a safety-first approach, in the knowledge that previous outbreaks of the pandemic have been partly fuelled by lax border policies.
Despite the shutdown of flights, there was increasing evidence that the variant is already spreading. Cases have been reported in travellers in Belgium, Israel and Hong Kong, and Germany also has a probable case. Dutch authorities are checking for the new variant after 61 passengers on two flights from South Africa tested positive for COVID-19.
The variant's swift spread among young people in South Africa has alarmed health professionals even though there was no immediate indication whether the variant causes more severe disease. In just two weeks, omicron has turned a period of low transmission in the country into one of rapid growth.
A number of pharmaceutical firms, including AstraZeneca, Moderna, Novavax and Pfizer, said they have plans in place to adapt their vaccines in light of the emergence of omicron.