The Omicron variant of the coronavirus carries a very high global risk of outbreaks, the WHO warned on Monday, as more countries reported cases, causing borders to be closed and rekindling concerns over economic recovery after a two-year pandemic.
Scientists said it could take weeks to understand the severity of the Omicron, which was first identified in southern Africa. Its emergence has sparked a strong global response, with countries imposing travel restrictions and other restrictions, fearing it could spread rapidly even among vaccinated populations.
Frightened investors wiped an estimated $ 2 trillion from global equities on Friday. Financial markets were calmer on Monday, even after Japan, the world’s third-largest economy, announced it would close its borders to foreigners.
The World Health Organization has informed its 194 member countries that any increase in infections could have “serious consequences,” but said no deaths linked to the Omicron variant have been reported so far.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the emergence of Omicron showed how “perilous and precarious the situation was” and called on health ministers meeting in Geneva to seek a new agreement on pandemics.
A leading South African infectious disease expert said Omicron appears to be more transmissible than previous variants, including to people immune to vaccination or a previous infection. South African cases are expected to exceed 10,000 per day this week, up from 2,858 on Sunday and just 300 per day two weeks ago, Professor Salim Abdool Karim said.
But he added that it was too early to tell if the symptoms were more severe, and said existing COVID-19 vaccines are likely effective in preventing Omicron from causing serious illness.
On Sunday, a South African doctor who was one of the first to suspect a new strain said Omicron so far appeared to be producing mild symptoms.
Portugal found 13 cases of variant in a football club in Lisbon. Scotland and Austria also reported their first cases of Omicron on Monday.
A number of countries have imposed travel restrictions, including Japan, which has called its ban on foreign arrivals a precaution.
“These are temporary and exceptional measures that we are taking for security reasons, until there is clearer information about the Omicron variant,” Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said.
Health Minister Shigeyuki Goto said testing would determine whether a traveler from Namibia was Japan’s first Omicron case.
In Israel, a ban on foreign arrivals went into effect overnight.
US President Joe Biden will provide further details on the variant and the US response on Monday, the White House said.
Travel agents in Asia have said some travelers are starting to consider canceling or delaying their trips, threatening the already fragile recovery of the global tourism industry.
South Africa has denounced restrictions on travel from the region, saying it is being punished for its scientific ability to identify variants early.
Scientist Richard Hatchett said the emergence of Omicron had fulfilled predictions that transmission of the virus to areas with low vaccination would accelerate its course. Botswana and South Africa have fully immunized less than 25% of their population.
“The inequity that characterized the global response has now come home,” said Hatchett, CEO of the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), a foundation that funds vaccine development, at the Geneva meeting.
With WHO urging members to speed up vaccinations of high priority groups, the Philippines has launched an ambitious campaign to vaccinate nine million people against COVID-19 in three days, deploying security forces and thousands of volunteers.
“Omicron has an unprecedented number of cutting edge mutations, some of which are of concern for their potential impact on the trajectory of the pandemic,” the WHO said.
Britain, which has said it will call an urgent meeting of G7 health ministers on Monday, will later unveil new guidelines on giving booster shots to people under 40.
With France also aiming to speed up its vaccination campaign, President Emmanuel Macron tweeted that he had received a booster.
More than 261.17 million people in more than 210 countries have reportedly been infected with the coronavirus since the first cases were identified in China in December 2019 and 5,456,515 have died, according to a Reuters tally.
Markets expected governments and central banks around the world to start withdrawing some of the trillions of dollars meant to keep businesses and households afloat during the pandemic. Another wave of coronavirus could mean more support.
Shabby stocks and oil prices partially recovered after Friday’s sell-off, with markets hanging on to hopes that Omicron would prove to be softer than initially feared.
European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde sought to reassure investors that the euro area could face a resurgence of the pandemic.
“There is an obvious concern about the economic recovery in 2022, but I think we have learned a lot,” she told Italian TV channel RAI on Sunday evening.
“We now know our enemy and the measures to be taken. We are all better equipped to respond to a risk of the fifth wave or the Omicron variant. “
WHO reports global Omicron risk, countries tighten restrictions – SABC News
Source link WHO reports global Omicron risk, countries tighten restrictions – SABC News