WHO experts expect Omicron transmission details ‘within days’

Updated 1 hour ago

Global health leaders said more will be known about the transmissibility of the Omicron variant «within days».

Dr Maria van Kerkhove, technical lead for Covid-19 at the World Health Organization (WHO), said it was still «too early» in terms of understanding the new variable, but said the information was coming in daily.

The Omicron variant has been reported in 23 countries, according to the World Health Organization.

«We don’t have all the information yet on transmission in terms of whether there is a fitness feature, and whether it is more portable. There are some suggestions about that, but again, it’s early days,» Dr. Van Kerkhove said at a press conference.

«We expect to have more information on dispatch within days, not necessarily weeks, but within days.»

She said they had seen reports of Omicron cases «going from mild to severe,» but said it was still early days.

“It’s certainly possible that one of the scenarios is that the virus, as it continues to evolve, may still have a fitness advantage, which means it could become more transmissible, more delta transmissible, we have to see.

«But we don’t yet know how dangerous it is.»

There is still a lot of uncertainty about Omicron, this data will come out and there are scientists around the world studying this. But there is no indication that the vaccines will not work. Even if there is a decrease in effectiveness, it is still best to get the vaccine because it will save your life.

The EU’s top official said it was time to «think about mandatory vaccination» as the fast-spreading Omicron variant is prompting countries to tighten or reimpose restrictions.

Already soaring infection rates have prompted European governments to re-impose mask-wearing, social distancing measures and curfews or lockdowns in a desperate attempt to limit hospital admissions, but have left companies fearing another bleak Christmas.

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In Brussels, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said it was «understandable and appropriate» to discuss how to «encourage and possibly consider mandatory vaccination» in the bloc.

However, only member states can impose vaccine mandates.

«My personal position … I think it is understandable and appropriate to lead this discussion now,» she told a news conference, stressing that a third of the EU’s 450 million people remained vulnerable.

How can we encourage and perhaps even think about mandatory vaccination within the European Union? This needs to be discussed. This needs a common approach. But she said it was a discussion that I think should lead.

She noted, «If you look at the numbers we have now, 77 percent of adults in the European Union have been vaccinated, or if you take the entire population, it’s 66 percent – that means a third of Europe’s population has not been vaccinated. That’s 150 million people. «.

United States of America

The US will soon require international travelers entering the country to take a Covid test one day before departure, regardless of their vaccination status.

A spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said the measure will be announced once the rule is completed.

Currently, vaccinated travelers to the United States need to be tested three days before departure. Unvaccinated Americans or permanent residents need to be tested within one day, while non-vaccinated non-citizens may not enter by air, with a few exceptions.

The agency is also evaluating «considerations for additional post-access testing and quarantine,» CDC director Rochelle Wallinsky said in a Tuesday briefing.

Most controversially, they are also discussing a proposal to compel travelers, including US citizens, to self-quarantine for seven days even if they test negative.

international response

Ignoring the World Health Organization’s warning of a blanket travel ban, Japan suspended new flight reservations to the country as the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development warned that Omicron threatened the economic recovery and lowered its 2021 growth forecast.

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Austria has already said it will make Covid-19 vaccinations mandatory next February. Germany is considering following suit, and Greece has said it will impose vaccinations on people over 60.

While it may take weeks to establish the extent of contagion and resistance to current Omicron vaccines, many countries have been quick to ramp up existing programs, viewing them as the best line of defense.

As of Wednesday, every adult in Italy is eligible for a booster dose of Covid, which was previously only available to those over the age of 40.

Britain and Norway, which are not members of the European Union, had already promised booster doses to all adults before the end of January and Easter, respectively.

number of cases

So far, more than 12 countries and regions have detected Omicron cases, including Australia, Brazil, Britain, Canada, Israel, Italy, Nigeria and Portugal. Dozens of countries have imposed travel restrictions, mostly targeting South African countries.

Japanese authorities, who have already tightened their strict border measures, said on Wednesday they had detected a second infection of the new strain – this time for a person from Peru.

Other governments in Asia have also expanded restrictions, with Indonesia adding Hong Kong and Malaysia to Malawi on its travel ban lists.

«A lot of my neighbors and friends have died from COVID-19,» Jakarta resident Jan Peter Topping said. “Coronavirus is the real deal. So the appearance of Omicron is very terrifying. Honestly, it is scary.”

France bucked the trend by announcing that flights from South Africa could land on its soil from Saturday, but only allowed French and European Union residents, diplomats and flight crews to disembark.

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Latin America reported its first two cases of the variant on Tuesday — in people who had traveled from South Africa to Brazil.

Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, also reported its first cases of Omicron on Wednesday.

A US travel ban on eight South African countries went into effect on Monday. US President Joe Biden said it «kind of depends» on how long the measure will stay in place.

«We will learn a lot in the next few weeks about how deadly this virus is, how much it has spread, what we have to control, etc.,» he told reporters.

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While the European summer of Covid-19 transient freedoms is over, in the Southern Hemisphere, the Pacific nation of Fiji ended 615 days of international isolation today and reopened its doors to tourists.

Traditional dancers in grass skirts greeted waved holidaymakers from Sydney, in the first expected wave of much-needed tourists in the coming weeks.

It’s an «extremely important» occasion for the country, with tourism accounting for about 40 percent of the economy, said Andre Viljoen, chief executive of Fiji Airways.

I look ahead

Even as governments acted unilaterally in imposing travel restrictions, member states of the World Health Organization gathered in Geneva to work on an international agreement to deal with the next pandemic.

An intergovernmental negotiating body will be established to reach agreement on the response to future pandemics with the first meeting to be held before 1 March 2022.

© AFP 2021

With reports by the Palestinian Authority

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