The UK became the last country to report cases of the new potentially more contagious omicron variant of the coronavirus on Saturday as world governments tried to strengthen their defenses by imposing travel restrictions from nations in southern Africa.
UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid confirmed that two people in the southeastern English city of Chelmsford and downtown Nottingham have tested positive with the Omicron variant. He said the cases are linked and linked to travel from southern Africa.
Javid said the two confirmed cases are self-isolating alongside their households while contact tracing and targeted testing take place. He also said comers from Angola, Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia must be quarantined from Sunday, stressing the importance of booster jabs.
“This is a real reminder that this pandemic is far from over,” he said. “If we need to take further action, we will.”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, along with his top advisors, will hold a media briefing later on Saturday.
Many countries have imposed restrictions on various African countries in the past few days, including Australia, Brazil, Canada, those in the European Union, Iran, Japan, Thailand, and the United States, in response to warnings about the portability of the new variant. against the Council of the World Health Organization. Pharmaceutical companies were optimistic that they could tweak their vaccines to handle the new variant, although it would clearly take some time to do so.
Despite the flight ban, there is growing concern that the variant is already widespread worldwide. In addition to the UK, cases have been reported among travelers in Belgium, Israel and Hong Kong. Germany also said it suspected a positive case, and Dutch authorities tested 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 imposed a flight ban from South African countries. The 539 travelers who tested negative were allowed to return home or continue their trips to other countries. According to state 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 had already arrived in the country.
Kai Klose, the health minister of the Hessian state, to which Frankfurt also belongs, said in a tweet that “several mutations typical of Omicron” were found on Friday evening in a traveler who had returned from South Africa and was isolated at home. The sequencing of the test was still ongoing.
The global health authority has named the new variant Omicron and called it a worrying variant due to its high number of mutations and some early evidence that it has a higher degree of infection than other variants. This means that people who have contracted COVID-19 and recovered could become infected again. It could be weeks before we know if the current vaccines are less effective against this.
With so much uncertainty about the Omicron variant and scientists who won’t be finalizing their findings for a few weeks, countries around the world are adopting a safety approach, knowing that previous outbreaks of the pandemic have been fueled in part by lax guidelines.
Almost two years after the pandemic began, which has claimed more than 5 million lives around the world, countries are on high alert.
The rapid spread of the variant among young people in South Africa has alarmed health professionals, although there was no immediate indication of whether the variant caused more serious illness. In just two weeks, Omicron has turned a period of low transmission in the country into a period of rapid growth.
A number of drug companies, including AstraZeneca, Moderna, Novavax, and Pfizer, said they had plans to adapt their vaccines in light of the advent of Omicron. Pfizer and its partner BioNTech estimate they can optimize their vaccine in about 100 days.
Professor Andrew Pollard, director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, which developed the AstraZeneca vaccine, was cautiously optimistic that existing vaccines could effectively prevent serious diseases with the Omicron variant.
He said most of the mutations appear to be in similar regions to other variants.
“That tells you that despite those mutations in other flavors, the vaccines continued to prevent serious illnesses as we moved through alpha, beta, gamma and delta,” he told BBC radio. “At least from a speculative point of view, we have some optimism that the vaccine should still work against a new variant for serious illnesses, but we really have to wait several weeks for this to be confirmed.”
He added that it was “extremely unlikely that a restart of a pandemic will occur in a vaccinated population like the one we saw last year”.
Some experts said the emergence of the variant shows how vaccine hoarding in rich countries threatens to prolong the pandemic.
Less than 6% of people in Africa are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and millions of health workers and vulnerable populations have not yet received a single dose. These conditions can accelerate the spread of the virus and provide more opportunities for it to develop into a dangerous variant.
“One of the key factors in the emergence of variants could be the low vaccination rates in parts of the world and the WHO warning that none of us is safe until we are all safe and should be heeded,” said Peter Openshaw, professor of experimental medicine at Imperial College London.
“The global adoption of vaccines is critical,” he added.