The UK tightened rules on Saturday after two cases of the new potentially more infectious Omicron variant were detected on the wearing of masks and testing on international arrivals.
Amid fears that a recently identified new variant has the potential to be more resistant to the protection offered by vaccines, there are growing concerns around the world that the pandemic and related lockdown restrictions will last longer than expected.
Several countries have already imposed travel restrictions on flights from Southern Africa in the four days since the Omicron variant was first identified in South Africa.
In an effort to slow the spread, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said it was necessary to take “targeted and precautionary measures” after two people tested positive for the new variant in England.
“Right now it is the responsible course of action to slow the spread and spread of this new version and to maximize our defenses,” he told a news conference.
Among the measures announced, Johnson said anyone arriving in England would be asked to take a mandatory PCR test for COVID-19 on the second day after their arrival and unless they provide a negative test. Until then, they will have to isolate themselves.
And if someone tests positive for the Omicron variant, it said their close contacts will have to self-isolate for 10 days regardless of their vaccination status — the current quarantine rules mandate that close contacts are fully vaccinated. exempted from.
He also said the wearing of masks would be required in shops and on public transport and said the independent group of scientists who advise the British government on the rollout of coronavirus vaccines has been asked to accelerate the vaccination programme, potentially By expanding the eligible number to one. Booster jab or allowing older children to receive a second dose of vaccine.
“From today we are going to promote the booster campaign,” he said.
Of the two new cases, one was found in the southeastern English city of Brentwood, while the other is in the central city of Nottingham. The two cases are linked and involve travel from southern Africa. The two confirmed cases are self-isolating with their homes while contact tracing and targeted testing takes place.
The British government also added four more countries – Angola, Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia – to the country’s travel red list from Sunday. Six others – Botswana, Eswatini (formerly known as Swaziland), Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe were added on Friday. This means anyone arriving from those destinations will have to be quarantined.
Several countries have imposed sanctions over the past few days on various southern African countries, including Australia, Brazil, Canada, the European Union, Iran, Japan, Thailand and the United States, in response to warnings over the transmission of the new version – against World Health. Organization advice.
Despite the ban on flights, there is growing concern that this version has already been widely preferred around the world. In addition to the UK, cases have been reported in travelers in Belgium, Israel and Hong Kong. Germany also said it suspected a positive case and that Dutch officials were testing whether the 61 people who arrived on two flights with COVID-19 from South Africa have the Omicron variant.
Italian authorities in the southern region of Campania were also investigating whether a person who had recently returned home from southern Africa and who tested positive for the virus was infected with the Omicron variant.
The World Health Organization has named the new type Omicron, a type of concern due to its high number of mutations and some early evidence that it carries a higher level of infection than other forms.
This means that people who contracted and recovered COVID-19 may be subject to catching it again. It may take weeks to know if existing vaccines are less effective against it.
With so much uncertainty about the Omicron variant and the likelihood of scientists presenting their findings for a few weeks, countries around the world are taking a safety-first approach, in the knowledge that past outbreaks of pandemics are partly from loose limits. have been affected. policies
Nearly two years after the start of the pandemic that has claimed the lives of more than 5 million people worldwide, countries are on high alert.
The rapidly spreading variant among young people in South Africa has worried health professionals, although there was no immediate indication whether the variant causes more severe disease.
Several pharmaceutical firms, including AstraZeneca, Moderna, Novavax and Pfizer, said they have plans to adapt their vaccines in light of the emergence of Omicron. Pfizer and its partner BioNTech said they expect to be able to replace 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 more effective in preventing serious disease than the Omicron variant.
Most of the mutations appear in the same regions as the other types, he said.
He told BBC radio: “At least from a conjectural standpoint we have some optimism that the vaccine should still work against a newer variant for severe disease, but in reality we will have to wait several weeks for confirmation.” “
He added that it is “very unlikely that an epidemic will recur in a vaccinated population like the one we saw last year.”
Some experts said the emergence of the variant shows how the hoarding of vaccines from wealthy countries threatens to prolong the pandemic.
Less than 6% of people in Africa are fully immunized against COVID-19, and millions of health workers and vulnerable populations have yet to receive a single dose. Those conditions can accelerate the spread of the virus, providing more opportunities for it to develop into a dangerous form.
“One of the major factors driving the emergence of the variant may be low vaccination rates in some parts of the world, and the WHO warns that none of us are safe until we are all safe and taken care of.” must be given,” said one professor, Peter Openshaw. of experimental medicine at Imperial College London.