Threat of new Covid variant Omicron causes worldwide scramble

Threat of new Covid variant Omicron causes worldwide scramble



Threat of new Covid variant Omicron causes worldwide scramble



News Desk  , Nov 29 : A World Health Organisation (WHO) panel named the variant “Omicron” and classified it as a highly transmissible virus of concern, the same category that includes the predominant Delta variant, which is still a scourge driving higher cases of sickness and death in Europe and parts of the United States.

“ It seems to spread rapidly,” US President Joe Biden said on Friday of the new variant, only a day after celebrating the resumption of Thanksgiving gatherings for millions of American families and the sense that normal life was coming back at least for the vaccinated. 

In announcing new travel restrictions, he told reporters, “ I’ve decided that we’re going to be cautious.”

Omicron’s actual risks are not understood. But early evidence suggests it carries an increased risk of reinfection compared with other highly transmissible variants, the WHO said. 

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.

In response to the variant’s discovery in southern Africa, the United States, Canada, Russia and a host of other countries joined the European Union (EU) in restricting travel for visitors from that region, where the variant brought on a fresh surge of infections.

The White House said the US will restrict travel from South Africa and seven other countries in the region beginning on Monday. Biden issued a declaration later on Friday making the travel prohibition official, with exceptions for US citizens and permanent residents and for several other categories, including spouses and other close family.

Medical experts, including the WHO, warned against any overreaction before the variant was thoroughly studied. 

But a jittery world feared the worst after the tenacious virus triggered a pandemic that has killed more than five million people around the globe.

“ We must move quickly and at the earliest possible moment,” British Health Secretary Sajid Javid told lawmakers.

Omicron has now been seen in travellers to Belgium, Hong Kong and Israel, as well as in southern Africa.
There was no immediate indication whether the variant causes more severe disease. 

As with other variants, some infected people display no symptoms, South African experts said. 

The WHO panel drew from the Greek alphabet in naming the variant Omicron, as it has done with earlier, major variants of the virus.

Even though some of the genetic changes appear worrisome, it was unclear how much of a public health threat it posed. 

Some previous variants, like the Beta variant, initially concerned scientists but did not spread very far.

Fewer than 6pc of people in Africa have been fully immunised against Covid-19, and millions of health workers and vulnerable populations have yet to receive a single dose. 

Those conditions can speed up the spread of the virus, offering more opportunities for it to evolve into a dangerous variant.

“ This is one of the consequences of the inequity in vaccine rollouts and why the grabbing of surplus vaccines by richer countries will inevitably rebound on us all at some point,” said Michael Head, a senior research fellow in global health at Britain’s University of Southampton. 

He urged Group of 20 leaders “to go beyond vague promises and actually deliver on their commitments to share doses”.

The new variant added to investor anxiety that months of progress containing Covid-19 could be reversed.

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