The new Omicron variant of the coronavirus presents “a very high risk” at the global level, warned the World Health Organization on Monday, and the G7 urgently brings together its ministers of health in London on the issue.
The list of countries where Omicron is detected continues to grow, especially in Europe, after the first cases detected in southern Africa in November, prompting many states to suspend travel to this region and introduce preventive restrictions.
“To date, no death associated with the Omicron variant has been reported,” said the WHO in a technical document published on Monday. But “given the mutations that could confer escape potential to the immune response as well as possibly give an advantage in terms of transmissibility, the likelihood of Omicron spreading globally is high.”
The organization, which fears “future peaks of Covid-19“, had as of Friday classified the variant” worrying “, the preliminary data suggesting that it presents” an increased risk of reinfection “, which will take” several weeks “to verify.
The pandemic has claimed more than five million lives worldwide since its appearance in late 2019 in China.
– Closed borders –
Three weeks after easing restrictions on foreign business travelers, students and interns, Tokyo will “ban all (new) entries of foreign nationals from around the world” from Tuesday because of Omicron, Premier said. Japanese Minister Fumio Kishida. Japanese returning from southern Africa and countries where infections with the new variant have been identified will have to undergo “strict isolation measures”.
Australia (five cases of Omicron), which was to reopen its borders to foreign students and skilled workers on Wednesday, will wait at least two more weeks. Its borders have been closed to foreigners for more than 20 months.
The Philippines, which was also due to reopen its borders on Wednesday, but to fully vaccinated tourists, also suspended their project and announced an intensification of the vaccination campaign, which was not very advanced. A severe blow for tourism (13% of GDP), devastated by the drop in the number of international visitors since the borders were closed in March 2020.
Indonesia has declared undesirable on its soil people who have been in the last 15 days in Hong Kong, where Omicron has been reported, as well as those coming from eight African countries (South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Mozambique, Eswatini, Nigeria).
Israel, where a case has been confirmed in a traveler returning from Malawi, has banned the entry of foreigners since Sunday evening and will impose PCR testing and quarantine even on its vaccinated nationals.
The United States, which had just reopened to the world in early November, will close from Monday to travelers from eight southern African countries.
– G7 meeting –
Beyond southern Africa, cases linked to the new strain have been detected across G7 countries, from Canada to Italy, to Germany and the United Kingdom, where six new cases have been detected. still been confirmed Monday in Scotland.
A situation which leads the ministers of health of France, the United States, Canada, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United Kingdom to meet Monday in London “to discuss the evolution of the situation on Omicron “, during an” emergency meeting “, announced London, at the head of the rotating presidency of the G7.
In France, where eight suspected cases are reported but unconfirmed, the detection of the Omicron variant is “very likely a matter of hours”, according to the Minister of Health Olivier Véran.
In Portugal, 13 cases of Covid-19 have been identified in footballers at Portuguese club Belenenses SAD and are likely associated with Omicron, according to the National Institute of Health (Insa).
In the Netherlands, where 13 passengers who arrived in Amsterdam from South Africa on Friday were carrying the variant, a couple in the group were arrested on a plane about to take off to Spain, after fleeing the hotel where he was confined.
However, the WHO pleads for maintaining open borders.
Deeming itself already “punished” for revealing the existence of the variant, South Africa has called for the “immediate and urgent” lifting of travel restrictions. South African epidemiologist Salim Abdool Karim estimates that the country should exceed 10,000 daily infections this week.
Malawi has denounced travel restrictions as “afrophobia”.
– First image of Omicron –
The Bambino Gesù hospital in Rome has published a first “image” of the new variant showing that it has many more mutations than the currently dominant Delta variant. “Other studies will tell us whether this adaptation is neutral, less dangerous or more dangerous,” the researchers said.
The new variant B.1.1.529 represents a “high to very high” risk for Europe, judged this week the health agency of the European Union.
Even before its appearance, the continent was facing an epidemic outbreak linked to the Delta variant, with the reestablishment of health restrictions not always well accepted as in the Netherlands, the French Antilles or Switzerland. This country has nevertheless largely validated a Covid pass on Sunday.
Never has a variant caused so much concern in the world since the emergence of Delta, already very contagious.
On the side of vaccine manufacturers, AstraZeneca such as Pfizer / BioNTech, Moderna and Novavax have expressed confidence in their ability to fight the Omicron strain.
burs-mba / bpi
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