Roundup: countries scramble to contain spread of Omicron variant

Madrid Desk, Nov 27 (EFE).- A growing number of countries are scrambling to protect themselves against the new “Omicron” variant of the coronavirus by banning flights from southern African nations where it is believed to be spreading, although there have already been several cases confirmed in Europe.

The South African government said the cascade of travel bans is “akin to punishing” the country “for its advanced genomic sequencing and the ability to detect new variants quicker”.

The omicron variant is “of concern”, the World Health Organization has said, because of its high number of mutations. In just two weeks some 30 mutations have been detected, with cases confirmed not only in South Africa but also in neighboring Botswana, Hong Kong, the United Kingdom and Belgium.

At least 61 passengers on two flights from South Africa tested positive for coronavirus Friday night after landing in Amsterdam, where they were subjected to a PCR upon arrival in the Netherlands when the ban on flights from southern African countries came into force. It is still unclear whether they carry the new variant omicron.

Germany is also on alert: the omicron variant has most probably already arrived in the country, according to the Minister of Social Affairs of the federal state of Hesse, Kai Klose, because characteristic mutations have been detected in a traveler from southern Africa.

“A traveler from South Africa had several characteristic omicron mutations last night. There is therefore a high suspicion. The person in question is in home isolation,” the minister said.

Several countries have joined the EU and the US in restricting travel from southern Africa where the new variant is believed to be circulating.

Australia announced Saturday that it will restrict entry to all travelers who have visited nine African countries in the last two weeks.

In a statement, the Health Ministry said that the measure, effective immediately, involves a ban on entry into the country for non-Australian and non-resident travelers who have visited South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Malawi, Mozambique or the Seychelles Islands in the last 14 days.

“If the medical evidence shows that further actions are required, we will not hesitate to take them. And that could involve tightening or expanding restrictions,” Health Minister Greg Hunt told the media.

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