More nations impose travel curbs as Omicron cases rise - GulfToday

More nations impose travel curbs as Omicron cases rise


A mother with her children at Harare Airport in Zimbabwe on Saturday.

The Omicron coronavirus variant kept spreading around the world on Sunday, with 13 cases found in the Netherlands and two each in Denmark and Australia even as more countries imposed travel restrictions to try to seal themselves off.

Dutch health authorities said the 13 cases of the variant were found among people on two flights from South Africa to Amsterdam on Friday.

Authorities had tested all of the more than 600 passengers on those two flights and had found 61 coronavirus cases, going on to test those for the new variant.

The discovery of Omicron, dubbed a “variant of concern” last week by the World Health Organisation (WHO), has caused worry around the world that it could resist vaccinations and prolong the nearly two-year COVID-19 pandemic.

First discovered in South Africa, it has now been detected in Britain, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Denmark, Belgium, Botswana, Israel, Australia and Hong Kong.

Omicron is potentially more contagious than previous variants, although experts do not know yet if it will cause more or less severe COVID-19 compared to other strains.

Many countries have imposed travel bans or curbs on southern Africa to try to stem the spread.

In new cases detected on Sunday, Denmark said it had registered two cases in travellers from South Africa, while officials in Australia said two passengers who arrived in Sydney from southern Africa had tested positive for the variant.

Austria was investigating a suspected case and in France Health Minister Olivier Veran said the variant was probably already circulating there.

In the most far-reaching effort to keep the variant at bay, Israel announced late on Saturday it would ban the entry of all foreigners and reintroduce counter-terrorism phone-tracking technology to contain the spread of the variant.

Britain’s government on Sunday defended the pace and scale of its response to the Omicron strain as officials reported a third case of the emerging variant, and warned of more to come.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said mandatory mask-wearing would return to shops and public transport in England on Tuesday, but told families to plan for Christmas “as normal,” despite new rules to combat Omicron.

Also effective Tuesday, the government’s website is instructing all passengers entering the UK to take a PCR test for COVID-19 two days after their arrival, and to self-isolate until they receive a negative result.

Morocco will halt incoming passenger flights for two weeks starting Monday night amid concern over the spread of a new, heavily mutated Covid-19 variant dubbed Omicron, a government committee said.

“The decision has been taken because of the quick spread Omicron, namely in Europe and Africa, and in order... to protect the health of Moroccan citizens,” the committee tasked with overseeing Morocco’s virus response said in a statement.

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said on Sunday the world was in a “race against time” to understand the new variant, calling for precautions to give scientists time to analyse the Omicron strain.

“We know we are now in a race against time,” von der Leyen said during a visit to Riga, adding that vaccine manufacturers needed two to three weeks “to get a full picture of the quality of the mutations.”

The top US infectious disease official, Anthony Fauci, said Americans should be prepared to fight the spread of the new variant, but it is too soon to say what actions are needed, including possible mandates or lockdowns.

In Britain, where two linked cases of Omicron identified on Saturday were connected to travel to southern

Although epidemiologists say travel curbs may be too late to stop Omicron from circulating, many countries — including the United States, Brazil, Canada, European Union nations, Australia, Japan, South Korea and Thailand — have announced bans or restrictions on travel from South Africa and other southern African nations.

More countries imposed such curbs on Sunday, including Indonesia and Saudi Arabia.

The South African government has denounced the travel measures as unfair and potentially harmful to its economy, saying it is being punished for its scientific ability to identify coronavirus variants early.

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