Australia on Monday halted a plan to chill out border restrictions imposed final yr to combat the Covid pandemic, as a brand new variant sweeping the world prompted the WHO to warn of potential “severe” penalties.
Countries the world over have reacted to the Omicron pressure, first recognized in southern Africa, by slamming their borders shut regardless of the variant having already reached Europe, Asia and North America.
Australia, which has already confirmed 5 circumstances of Omicron, was set to chill out restrictions on expert employees and college students from Wednesday in a boon to industries struggling labour shortages beneath one of many world’s hardest border regimes.
But Prime Minister Scott Morrison introduced a two-week delay on the plan to permit Australia to collect data on the brand new variant, following bulletins from Japan and Israel of bans on international travellers.
The World Health Organization (WHO) stated the general danger from Omicron was “very high” and warned that any main surge would put strain on well being techniques and trigger extra deaths.
Many governments, notably in western Europe, are already fighting speedy rises in circumstances and have reintroduced obligatory mask-wearing, social-distancing measures, curfews or lockdowns — leaving excessive avenue companies fearing one other grim Christmas.
Health ministers from the G7 group of the world’s richest nations are set to fulfill afterward Monday to debate the brand new pressure, with European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen warning that the world was in a “race against time”.
The first confirmed case of the Omicron variant was in South Africa on November 9, with infections spreading quickly within the nation — though no deaths have but been reported, in keeping with the WHO.
It warned nonetheless that “if another major surge of Covid-19 takes place driven by Omicron, consequences may be severe.”
Scientists in South Africa flagged the brand new pressure final Thursday, prompting a number of European international locations to rapidly ban flights from the area.
That irritated South African officers who stated they had been being “punished” for figuring out a pressure that has now been detected all over the place from the Netherlands to the UK, Canada to Hong Kong.
The WHO’s Africa department stated barring travellers from the continent “attacks global solidarity”, and Malawi’s President Lazarus Chakwera accused Western international locations of “Afrophobia”.
Underlining the difficulties of containing the unfold, Austria and Scotland, which each have flight bans in place from a number of African international locations, confirmed their first circumstances of Omicron on Monday.
Nevertheless, Japan joined a rising checklist of nations reimposing powerful border controls, barring all new international arrivals.
The Philippines additionally stated it could quickly droop plans to permit in totally vaccinated vacationers.
It stays unclear how infectious Omicron is and the way resistant it could possibly be to vaccines.
The WHO’s newest technical replace known as it a “highly divergent variant with a high number of mutations”, warning that a few of these mutations is likely to be related to simpler transmission and will have the potential to dodge protections together with vaccination — although that is but to be demonstrated.
South African physician Angelique Coetzee, who raised the alarm over Omicron, stated it was a disgrace that it had been labelled “extremely dangerous” because the circumstances she had seen prompt the signs had been milder than different variants.
Portugal on Monday turned the newest nation to verify a possible outbreak of the brand new variant — at a top-flight soccer membership that was pressured to discipline 9 gamers in a match that was ultimately known as off with the staff 7-0 down.
“Preliminary tests carried out by INSA strongly suggest that all 13 cases associated to Belenenses players are linked to the Omicron variant of concern,” Portugal’s nationwide well being institute stated on Monday.
With the unfold of the brand new variant and rising circumstances general, governments are struggling to implement new measures.
Dutch police arrested a pair who fled a quarantine resort and boarded a flight to Spain, regardless of one in every of them having examined constructive for Covid.
And populations are persevering with to insurgent — tens of 1000’s taking to the streets in Austria over the weekend to object to obligatory vaccinations.