The Omicron variant of Covid-19 has been identified in new countries around the world, including the United States, West Africa, the Gulf and Asia, as US authorities have indicated that they would further strengthen border controls for fear that the new strain would no longer be transmissible.
Highlighting the rapid spread of the variant, South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases – where Omicron was first detected – said it had now been found in five of the nine provinces and accounted for 74% of viral genomes sequenced in November.
The institute added that the daily number of coronavirus cases reported in South Africa had doubled to 8,561 on Wednesday from the previous day. The positivity rate, which means the number of positive results out of the total number of tests, climbed to 16.5% on Wednesday from 10.2% the day before, the NICD said. However, the number of deaths and hospitalizations has not changed much, according to his data.
While the World Health Organization has said the timing of the emergence of the new variant is subject to change, experts at the World Health Organization have said they hope to have better information “within days. On both the severity of the disease caused by Omicron and its transmissibility.
The United States, Ghana, Nigeria, Norway, Saudi Arabia and South Korea were among the latest countries to register cases on Wednesday.
During a briefing to the WHO, epidemiologist Maria van Kerkhove said one possible scenario was that the new variant, which was first reported in southern Africa, might be more transmissible than the dominant Delta variant. . She said it was not yet known whether Omicron was making people sicker.
The WHO has also repeated its warning that a “toxic mix” of low vaccine coverage and low testing rates is creating fertile ground for new variants of Covid-19.
Dozens of countries have imposed stricter travel rules, and the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on Wednesday it is requiring all air travelers entering the country to take a Covid-19 test. negative carried out in the day following their departure.
Fifty-six countries have reportedly implemented travel measures to guard against Omicron despite warnings from the WHO that “the introduction of brutal and blanket measures … will only worsen inequalities.”
Ironically, van Kerkhove added, travel bans on southern African countries had created problems in shipping samples of the new variant to health experts for analysis.
However, a report released Wednesday suggesting that a retrospective analysis in Nigeria found evidence of Omicron as early as October – raising fears that it had circulated weeks earlier than expected – turned out to be inaccurate.
In fact, the genetic sequence identified in October was that of the prevalent Delta variant of the virus, Nigerian health officials said.
Saudi Arabia on Wednesday became the first Gulf state to identify an Omicron case. Authorities in Riyadh said the variant was identified in a traveler arriving from a North African country, without naming him.
In Asia, South Korea has confirmed its first cases and Japan has asked international airlines to stop taking new bookings for all flights arriving in the country until the end of December in a further tightening of border controls already. strict. The Department of Transportation said the request was an emergency precautionary measure.
The world’s third-largest economy, coupled with its recent reversion to banning foreign visitors, is among the strictest in the world and more in line with its cloistered neighbor, China, than with some other democracies in the region.
This week, the World Health Organization urged countries to avoid blanket travel bans.
Japan has confirmed a second case of the Omicron variant in a person arriving from Peru, a day after reporting its first case to a Namibian diplomat.
Scientists are working frantically to determine just how threatening Omicron is. Much remains unknown about the new variant, including whether it is more contagious, if it makes people more seriously ill, and if it can thwart the vaccine.
Dr Anthony Fauci, America’s leading infectious disease expert, said more will be known about the variant in two to four weeks as scientists grow and test laboratory samples of the virus.
However, on Wednesday, WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan said the agency believed existing Covid-19 vaccines would work against the variant to prevent serious illness, echoing recent remarks by some vaccine makers. .