New Findings Show the Omicron Variant Spread Widely At a Faster Pace Than Initially Thought

BRUSSELS (AP) — New findings about the coronavirus’s omicron variant made it clear Tuesday that the emerging threat slipped into countries well before their defenses were up, as two distant nations announced their first cases and a third reported its presence before South African officials sounded the alarm.

The Netherlands’ RIVM health institute found omicron in samples dating from Nov. 19 and 23. According to the World Health Organization, South Africa reported this variant first to the U.N. on November 24. Japan and France also reported cases of this new variant. This has caused the world to rethink its plans to return to normal, and to fear the worst.
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It remains unclear where or when the variant first emerged or how contagious it might be—but that hasn’t stopped wary nations from rushing to impose travel restrictions, especially on visitors coming from southern Africa. South Africa has criticised these moves and the WHO has called for them to be stopped, pointing out their limited effectiveness. The most recent news made it more clear that travel bans won’t stop this variant from spreading. German officials said that they found an infection of the omicron in a male who hadn’t been to Europe or had ever had any contact with someone who had.

The WHO warned Monday that the global risk from omicron is “very high” and that early evidence suggests it may be more contagious. Other messages were more encouraging, such as the European Medicines Agency chief Emer cooke who assured that the European Union of 27 nations was prepared for this variant. Cooke indicated that while it’s not yet known how effective the vaccines against omicron currently are, he said that they can be adjusted within three to four month if needed.

Nearly two years ago, when the virus gripped the entire world, the current response was reminiscent of chaos in the beginning, with haphazard travel bans, poor information about who and what were at risk, and an inability to understand the risks. While officials attempted to ease fears, many insist vaccines were the best defense. They also stressed that it was important for the entire world to intensify its efforts to provide shots in every region. The latest variant makes those efforts even more important, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, noting as many have before that “as long as the virus is replicating somewhere, it could be mutating.”

New measures were introduced to reduce the spread of the variant. England has made it mandatory to cover your face again in public transport as well, and also at shops and banks. And one month ahead of Christmas, the head of the U.K,’s Health Security Agency, Jenny Harries, urged people not to socialize if they don’t need to. After COVID-19 had already caused a one year delay in the Summer Games’ rescheduling, Olympic organizers began to be concerned about February’s Winter Games in Beijing. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said omicron would “certainly bring some challenges in terms of prevention and control.”

Japan had announced that it would ban all foreign visitors beginning Tuesday—but that turned out to be too late. They confirmed the first case, that of a Namibian diplomat recently arriving from Japan.

The world markets continued to fluctuate on any piece of medical news that was either worrying or encouraging. The global share indexes fell on Tuesday, as investors carefully considered the impact that omicron could have on the global economy. Many people have been immunized so a potential economic crisis, similar to last year, is unlikely. They also believe that a return of pre-pandemic levels, particularly in tourism, is extremely unlikely.

A world already unnerved at the contagious Delta variant which has filled many hospitals in the last few days, even some in highly-vaccinated countries, these latest developments highlight the urgent need to ensure that everyone in the globe is vaccinated. “We have vaccination rates in the United States, in Europe of 50, 60, 70 %, depending on exactly who you’re counting. And in Africa, it’s more like 14, 15 % or less,” Blinken said. “We know, we know, we know that none of us will be fully safe until everyone is.”

AP journalists all over the world were involved.


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