High alert: World scurries to contain new COVID variant
THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — With each passing hour, new restrictions were being slapped on travel from countries in southern Africa as the world scurried Saturday to contain the new omicron variant of the coronavirus that has the potential to be more resistant to the protection offered by vaccines.
A host of countries, including Australia, Brazil, Canada Iran, Japan, Thailand and the United States, joined others, including the European Union and the U.K. in impose restrictions on southern African countries in response to warnings over the transmissability of the new variant — against the advice of the World Health Organization. Pharmaceutical companies expressed optimism that they could finesse their vaccines to deal with the new variant though that would clearly take some time.
Despite the banning of flights, there are mounting concerns that the variant has already been widely seeded around the world. Cases have been reported in travelers in Belgium, Israel and Hong Kong.
On Saturday, Britain confirmed two linked cases of the new omicron variant while Germany indicated it has a probable case. Dutch authorities are also checking for the new variant after 61 passengers on two flights from South Africa tested positive for COVID-19.
The global health body has named the new variant omicron, labeling it a variant of concern because of its high number of mutations and some early evidence that it carries a higher degree of infection than other variants. That means people who contracted COVID-19 and recovered could be subject to catching it again. It could take weeks to know if current vaccines are less effective against it.
With so much uncertainty about the omicron variant and scientists unlikely to flesh out their findings for a few weeks, countries around the world have been taking a safety-first approach, in the...