Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, USA confirm their first cases of the new variant spreading fear and uncertainty.
The Omicron variant continued to spread fear and uncertainty as infections of the mutant coronavirus surfaced in more corners of the world, with one official lamenting that waiting for more scientific information about its dangers felt like an eternity.
Meanwhile, the dominant Delta variant continues to wreak havoc, especially in Europe, where many countries are facing an increase in infections and hospitalizations and some are considering making vaccinations compulsory.
Much is still unknown about the highly mutated Omicron variant, including how contagious it is and whether it can evade vaccines.
But governments rushed to enforce travel ban and other restrictions in the hope of limiting them.
At least 24 countries, including much of Western Europe and the United States, have reported cases of the Omicron variant, and the number is likely to rise, according to the World Health Organization.
Nigeria and Saudi Arabia reported Omicron infections on Wednesday, indicating the first known cases in West Africa and the Persian Gulf region. The US also reported his first case of the latest variant on Wednesday in a traveler who returned from South Africa to California.
Japan showed an increasingly complex web of contagion and reported an Omicron case in a man who came from Peru via Qatar.
Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, said it would take two to three weeks to gain a better understanding of the Omicron variant.
“It is, in normal times, a short period. “In pandemic times, it’s an eternity,” she said.
South African researchers warned the WHO to Omicron last week. It is not known where or when the variant first appeared, although it is clear that it circulated in Europe a few days before that warning.
Nigeria initially stretched that timeline even further on Wednesday, saying it had found the variant in samples collected in October, but it later corrected it to say the cases were detected in travelers who arrived last week.
Many countries banned travelers from Southern Africa, and some went further. Japan has foreign visitors banned and has asked international airlines to stop until the end of December to take new bookings for all flights arriving in the country.
The WHO warned on Wednesday that a blanket travel ban would complicate the sharing of laboratory samples from South Africa that could help scientists understand the new variant.
‘Unfair’ and ‘ineffective’
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday described the recent travel ban as “unfair” and “ineffective”.
“With a virus that is truly borderless, travel restrictions isolating any country or region are not only deeply unfair and punitive – it is ineffective,” Guterres told a news conference, calling for increased testing for travelers. .
The US is working to require all air travelers to the country to be tested for COVID-19 within a day before boarding their flights, by the current three days.
World leaders have gone on to say that the best way to curb the pandemic remains vaccinations.
For the first time, von der Leyen said that countries of the European Union should consider making vaccinations compulsory, as several have done for certain sectors, or as Austria in general has done.
A total of 67 percent of the EU’s population has been vaccinated, but that relatively high rate has not stopped several countries from seeing upswings.
Meanwhile, South Africa’s new cases of COVID-19 almost doubled in one day, authorities reported on Wednesday, indicating a dramatic boom in the country.
Newly confirmed cases rose to 8,561 on Wednesday from 4,373 a day earlier, according to official statistics.