The World Health Organization today warned countries in Asia-Pacific to strengthen their healthcare capacity and fully immunize their populations to prepare for an increase in COVID-19 cases as the Omicron variant is spreading around the world despite travel restrictions.
Here are the 10 main points of this great story:
- Despite closing its borders for travel from high-risk southern African countries, Australia became the latest country to report community transmission of the new variant, a day after it was found locally in five US states.
- Omicron started gaining a foothold in Asia this week, with cases reported in India, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and South Korea. Many governments have tightened travel rules to prevent the new variant from entering, but the WHO warning to Asia-Pacific, a region of around 650 million people, stressed that checks at borders could only save them time.
- “People shouldn’t just rely on border measures,” Takeshi Kasai, WHO regional director for the Western Pacific, told a virtual press conference. “What is most important is to prepare for these variants with high potential transmissibility. So far, the information available suggests that we do not need to change our approach. “
- Vaccination rates vary from country to country in Asia-Pacific, but there are worrying gaps. Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populous country and once the epicenter of COVID-19 in Asia, has only fully inoculated about 35% of its population of 270 million people.
- The Australian Chief Medical Officer said Omicron will likely become the dominant variant in the world within a few months, but at this point there was no evidence that he was more dangerous than Delta which has swept the world over. early this year. “I suspect that in the (next) months Omicron will be the new virus in the world,” Paul Kelly, the Australian government’s chief medical adviser, told reporters.
- In the United States, the Biden administration has unveiled a series of measures to guard against the spread of the virus. International air travelers arriving in the United States will need to get a negative COVID-19 test within one day of their trip. Less than 60% of the U.S. population, or 196 million people, have been fully immunized, one of the lowest rates among wealthy countries.
- Global travel restrictions accelerated with Hong Kong, the Netherlands, Norway and Russia, among others, announcing new measures on Thursday. Malaysia said on Friday it would tighten the restrictions further.
- In addition to wreaking havoc on the travel industry, the crackdown hit financial markets and undermined major economies as they began to recover from lockdowns triggered by Delta. Shares of India, Japan and South Korea fell on Friday after overnight losses on Wall Street.
- Europe’s largest economy, Germany, has said it will ban unvaccinated people from all businesses except essentials, and legislation making vaccination mandatory would be drafted early next year.
- Several countries, including Britain and the United States, have presented plans to offer booster shots, but, like travel bans, this is controversial. Australian authorities said on Friday that there was “no evidence” that such measures would be effective.