Britain tightens COVID rules as world on omicron alert – Twin Cities
By PAN PYLAS
LONDON (AP) – The UK on Saturday tightened mask-wearing and testing rules for international arrivals after finding two cases of the potentially more contagious novel omicron variant of the coronavirus as governments around the world sought to strengthen their defenses.
Amid fears that the newly identified new variant has the potential to be more resistant to the protection offered by vaccines, there are growing concerns that the pandemic and associated lockdown restrictions will persist for much longer than expected.
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, and that these will be examined in three weeks when scientists will know more about omicron.
Johnson told a press conference that anyone arriving in England will be asked to take a mandatory PCR test for COVID-19 on the second day and will be required to self-isolate until they provide a negative test. And if anyone tests positive for the omicron variant, then he said his close contacts will need to self-isolate for 10 days, regardless of their vaccination status.
He also indicated that the wearing of the mask in stores and on public transport will be mandatory and that the vaccination program will be accelerated, without providing specific details.
“At the moment, this is the responsible course of action to slow down the seeding and spread of this new variant and to maximize our defenses,” he said. “From today, we will be boosting the recall campaign.”
One of the two new cases was found in the town of Brentwood in the south-east of England, 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 alongside their households during contact tracing and targeted testing.
The UK government has also added four more countries – Angola, Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia – to the country’s travel red list from Sunday. Six more – Botswana, Eswatini (formerly known as Swaziland), Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe – were added on Friday. This means that anyone allowed to arrive from these destinations will have to self-quarantine.
Many countries have placed restrictions on various Southern African countries over the past two days, including Australia, Brazil, Canada, the European Union, Iran, Japan, Thailand and the United States. United, in response to warnings about the transmissibility of the new variant – against the advice of the World Health Organization.
Despite the flight ban, there is growing concern that the variant has already been widely used around the world. Besides the UK, cases have been reported in travelers to Belgium, Israel and Hong Kong. Germany also said it suspected a positive case and that Dutch authorities were testing whether 61 people who arrived on two flights from South Africa with COVID-19 had the omicron variant.
The planes arrived in the Netherlands from Johannesburg and Cape Town shortly after the Dutch government banned flights from southern African countries. The 539 travelers who tested negative have been allowed to return home or continue their journey to other countries. Under government regulations, those who live in the Netherlands and are allowed to return home must self-isolate for at least five days.
Meanwhile, a German official said there was a “very high probability” that the omicron variant has already arrived in the country.
Kai Klose, the Hessian state health minister, who includes Frankfurt, said in a tweet that “several typical omicron mutations” were found on Friday evening in a returning traveler from South Africa, who was isolated at his home. Sequencing of the test was not yet complete.
Italian authorities in the southern Campania region were also investigating whether a person who recently returned from southern Africa and tested positive for the virus was infected with the omicron variant.
The world health body has named the new omicron variant, calling 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. This means that people who have contracted COVID-19 and have recovered could be prone to catching it again. It could take weeks to find out if current vaccines are less effective against her.
With so many uncertainties about the omicron variant and scientists unlikely to flesh out their findings for a few weeks, countries around the world have taken a safety-focused approach, knowing that previous outbreaks of the pandemic were in part fueled. by the laxity of borders. Strategies.
Almost two years after the start of the pandemic that killed more than 5 million people around the world, countries are on high alert.
The rapid spread of the variant among young people in South Africa alarmed healthcare professionals even though there was no immediate indication whether the variant is causing more serious illness.
A number of pharmaceutical companies, including AstraZeneca, Moderna, Novavax and Pfizer, said they have plans in place to adapt their vaccines in light of the emergence of omicron. Pfizer and its partner BioNTech said they expected to be able to fine-tune their vaccine in about 100 days.
Professor Andrew Pollard, director of the Oxford Vaccine Group that developed the AstraZeneca vaccine, expressed cautious optimism that existing vaccines could be effective in preventing serious illnesses caused by the omicron variant.
He said most of the mutations appear to be in regions similar to other variants.
“At least from a speculative point of view, we have some optimism that the vaccine should still work against a new variant for severe disease, but we really have to wait several weeks for this to be confirmed,” a- he told BBC radio.
He added that it is “extremely unlikely that a restart of a pandemic in a vaccinated population as we saw last year will occur.”
Some experts have said that the emergence of the variant illustrates how hoarding of vaccine-rich countries threatens to prolong the pandemic.
Less than 6% of people in Africa have been fully immune to COVID-19, and millions of health workers and vulnerable populations have yet to receive a single dose. These conditions can accelerate the spread of the virus, providing more possibilities for it to evolve into a dangerous variant.
“One of the key factors in the emergence of variants may well be the low vaccination rates in some parts of the world and the WHO warning that none of us are safe until we are. not all and should not be taken into account, “said Peter Openshaw, professor of experimental medicine at Imperial College London.
Geir Moulson in Berlin, Mike Corder in The Hague, The Netherlands and Colleen Barry in Milan contributed to this report.
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