LONDON — The UK, Germany have identified two cases of people infected with the Ômicron variant (B.1.1.529) of Covid-19 respectively in their territories, while Italy reported having identified one. In the Czech Republic, the government also announced this Saturday that it is investigating a possible case of Ômicron.
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In the UK, the two people infected with the new strain came from South Africa and are in isolation, reported The Guardian. According to the Health Secretary of the United Kingdom, Sajid Javid, one of the cases is in Chelmsford, and the other in Nottingham.
The British government on Saturday announced new measures to try to stem the spread of the new strain, and a health official said there was a “reasonable chance” that the vaccines would be less effective against it. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that everyone who arrives in the territory will undergo a test and that the time has come to step up booster doses of vaccine.
“We will require anyone entering the UK to take a PCR test at the end of the second day after arrival and to self-isolate until they test negative,” Johnson said at a news conference.
The premier added that people who came into contact with people who tested positive in a suspected Ômicron case will have to be isolated for 10 days and that the government will tighten rules on the use of masks. England’s Chief Physician Chris Whitty, who appeared alongside Johnson, said there was a reasonable chance that the new strain would be more resistant to vaccines.
“There’s a reasonable chance that there’s at least some degree of vaccine leakage with this variant,” Whitty said.
On Thursday, the UK announced a ban on flights from Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe in an effort to prevent the virus strain from arriving in the country. This Saturday, he added Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Angola to the “red list”. This means that British and Irish residents from these countries will have to be quarantined in a hotel approved by the British government for ten days. Non-residents will have their entry rejected.
In Germany, the two cases were registered in Bavaria, in the south of the country, announced the regional Ministry of Health. The two infected people entered the country through Munich airport on November 24 and are now in isolation. In Italy, the National Health Institute said the infected person was detected in Milan after returning from a trip to Mozambique.
Dutch health officials said Saturday they detected 61 cases of Covid-19 among people who flew from South Africa on Friday and are now carrying out further tests to see if any of them are infected with the strain. On Friday, Belgium announced the first case of the variant on the European continent. The infected person was not vaccinated and had traveled abroad.
Countries with confirmed cases:
South Africa: 77 cases in Gauteng province;
Germany: two cases registered in Munich, Bavaria;
Belgium: unvaccinated person who returned from Egypt on 11 November and had the first symptoms on 22 November;
Botswana: four people fully vaccinated;
Hong Kong: a case of a person who traveled to South Africa;
Italy: a person who has returned from a trip to Mozambique;
Israel: person who returned from Malawi;
United Kingdom: Two cases identified, one in Chelmsford and one in Nottingham.
On Friday, the European Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (ECDC) said the risk of the new variant of Covid-19 spreading across Europe is “high to very high”. The variant, first identified in South Africa, has also been detected in travelers in Hong Kong and Israel.
The new variant of the coronavirus has been identified in South Africa and worries health authorities around the world as it appears to spread relatively quickly.
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Since the beginning of the pandemic, several strains have emerged, but so far, only four have been the target of concern for negatively altering the effect of the virus in the body. The omicron is the fifth of them and, according to the geneticist physician Salmo Raskin, director of the Genetika Laboratory, in Curitiba, this is the variant that accumulated the most mutations.
“She has a mix of mutations present in the other four strains of concern and still has a number of new mutations. This is the main point that caught her attention. Although there is evidence that it can be more transmissible and escape the defenses of the immune system, it is still too hasty to make any statement about it – explains the expert.
South Africa feels ‘punished’
The South African government lamented the closing of borders to its citizens and travelers and considered that the fact of having discovered the new Ômicron variant of the coronavirus thanks to the quality of its scientists is “punishing” the country.
— These travel bans punish South Africa for its advanced ability to sequence genomes and to detect new variants more quickly. Scientific excellence should be applauded and not punished – the government said in a statement. — We also see that there are new variants detected in other countries. None of these cases have a recent relationship with southern Africa. And the reaction with these countries is radically different from that generated by the cases in southern Africa – lamented the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the statement.
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The government emphasizes that the World Health Organization (WHO) does not recommend that similar measures be taken and called for a “scientific approach, based on risks”.
The South African Health Minister denounced on Friday the reaction of several countries to close their doors to this region of the world before even knowing the dangers of the new variant.
“Some leaders are looking for scapegoats to solve a problem that is global,” said Joe Phaahla.