Tag Archives: WHO

After Israel, Japan bars foreigners as WHO flags global risk from Omicron COVID-19 variant | World News


TOKYO: Japan said on Monday it would close its borders to foreigners, as the world`s third-largest economy joined Israel in taking the toughest measures against the Omicron variant of coronavirus, which the WHO said carried a “very high” global risk of surges.

Markets regained some composure as investors awaited further details of the variant, after having sunk last week on fears that it could bring fresh curbs, threatening a nascent economic revival from a two-year pandemic.

Potentially more contagious than prior variants, Omicron, first identified in southern Africa, has been found in Australia, Belgium, Botswana, Britain, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands and Scotland.

The Omicron variant is likely to spread internationally, bringing “severe consequences” in some areas, the World Health Organisation (WHO) advised its 194 member nations.

“The overall global risk related to the new variant of concern Omicron is assessed as very high,” said the world health body, which has warned that understanding the variant`s level of severity could take time running into weeks.

As a precaution to avert a worst-case scenario, Japan will close its borders to foreigners from Tuesday, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said, adding that he was ready to face criticism for being too cautious.

“These are temporary, exceptional measures that we are taking for safety`s sake, until there is clearer information about the Omicron variant,” Kishida told reporters.

He did not say how long the restriction would stay. Japanese returning from specified nations would face quarantine, he added.

While Japan has not uncovered any Omicron infections, Health Minister Shigeyuki Goto said it was doing tests to determine if the variant had infected a traveller from Namibia who tested positive for the virus.

Israel, where the ban took effect from midnight on Sunday, has also vowed to use counter-terrorism phone-tracking technology to combat the new variant.

Australia said it would review plans to re-open borders to skilled migrants and students from Dec. 1, after reporting its first Omicron cases. A national security panel will meet later in the day, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said, but added it was a “bit too early” to reinstate two-week hotel quarantine for foreign travellers.

“So we just take this one step at a time, get the best information, make calm, sensible decisions,” Morrison said.

Symptoms of Omicron are so far mild and could be treated at home, a South African doctor, one of the first to suspect a different variant, has said.

TRAVEL CURBS DUE TO OMICRON

The WHO urged members to speed vaccination of high-priority groups and ensure efforts to keep up essential health services, advising a risk-based approach to adjusting global travel curbs.

“Omicron has an unprecedented number of spike mutations,” it said, adding, “COVID-19 cases and infections are expected in vaccinated persons, albeit in a small and predictable proportion.”

Morocco has said it will ban all inbound international passenger flights for two weeks from November 29.

Singapore has deferred the start of vaccinated travel lanes with some Middle Eastern countries, such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, seen as transit hubs for travel from affected countries, its health ministry said.

The wealthy Southeast Asian city-state and neighbouring Malaysia re-opened their land border, one of the world`s busiest, to vaccinated travellers, after a shutdown of nearly two years.

India has ordered COVID-19 testing at airports from Wednesday for all arrivals from `at-risk` countries.

Britain, which has said it would call an urgent meeting of G7 health ministers on Monday, is set to unveil new guidance on extending the rollout of COVID-19 booster shots in light of the rapid rise in Omicron infections.

Scotland has identified six Omicron cases, it said on Monday, adding that public health officials were working to establish the circumstances.

In the United States, President Joe Biden will provide fresh details of the variant and the U.S. response on Monday, the White House said.

South Africa has denounced the travel restrictions as unfair and potentially harmful to the economy, saying it was being punished for its scientific ability to identify variants early.

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Omicron triggers fears about fresh outbreaks, here’s all you should know about new COVID variant | World News


NEW DELHI: There is a global concern and widespread alarm at the discovery of SARS-CoV-2 variant B.1.1.529, which the World Health Organization (WHO) has called ‘Omicron’. The emergence of this new COVID variant has triggered fears about fresh outbreaks around the world even as cases are rising in Europe.

Some of the countries including the UK, Israel and America have imposed curbs on travel from affected African countries. Others have scaled up their screening of incoming passengers from these countries.

A ‘variant of concern, says WHO’

The WHO has classified Omicron as a ‘variant of concern’ because it has a wide range of mutations. This suggests vaccines and treatments could be less effective. Although it’s too early, Omicron appears to be able to reinfect people more easily than other strains. WHO said that it may take weeks to understand the new variant.

According to a Bloomberg report quoting a scientist in London, “it likely evolved during a chronic infection of an immuno-compromised person, possibly in an untreated HIV/AIDS patient”.

Besides South African nations, Omicron has already been detected in other regions, including the UK, Germany, Israel, Hong Kong and Belgium. So while a travel ban on southern African countries may slow the spread and buy limited time, it’s unlikely to stop it.

In India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday chaired a high-level meeting where he told officials to be proactive in light of the new variant. The Centre issued a directive to states to screen passengers from these countries including those transiting through them. Bengaluru and Mumbai airports have made RT-PCR and quarantine mandatory for passengers from these countries.

When was Omicron detected?

The variant was identified on November 22 in South Africa, from a sample collected from a patient on November 9.

South African virologists took prompt action, conferred with colleagues through the Network of Genomic Surveillance in South Africa, liaised with government, and notified the World Health Organization on November 24. This is in keeping with the International Health Regulations that guide how countries should respond.

The behaviour of this new variant is still unclear. Some have claimed the rate of growth of Omicron infections, which reflects its transmissibility, may be even higher than those of the Delta variant. This ‘growth advantage’ is yet to be proven but is concerning.

‘Kneejerk’ response vs WHO recommendations

African scientists and politicians have been disappointed in what they see as a ‘kneejerk’ response from countries imposing travel bans. They argue the ban will have significant negative effects for the South African economy, which traditionally welcomes global tourists over the summer year-end period.

They note it is still unclear whether the new variant originated in South Africa, even if it was first identified there.

The debate over travel ban

As Omicron has already been detected in several other countries, it may already be circulating in regions not included in the travel ban. Travel bans on countries detecting new variants, and the subsequent economic costs, may also act as a disincentive for countries to reveal variants of concern in future.

The WHO does not generally recommend flight bans or other forms of travel embargoes. Instead, it argues interventions of proven value should be prioritised: vaccination, hand hygiene, physical distancing, well-fitted masks, and good ventilation.

In response to variants of concern, the WHO calls on all countries to enhance surveillance and sequencing, report initial cases or clusters, and undertake investigations to improve understanding of the variant’s behaviour.

Omicron must be taken seriously. Its features are worrying, but there are large gaps in our current knowledge. While further analyses are undertaken, the variant should be controlled with testing, tracing, isolation, applying known public health measures, and ongoing surveillance.

What can wealthier countries do to help?

Wealthy countries such as Australia should support African nations and others to share early alerts of potentially serious communicable disease threats, and help mitigate these threats. The panel recommended creating incentives to reward early response action. This could include support to:

– Establish research and educational partnerships.
– Strengthen health systems and communicable disease surveillance.
– Greatly improve vaccine availability, distribution, and equity.
– Consider financial compensation, through some form of solidarity fund against pandemic risk.

Boosting vaccine coverage is key

Vaccines remain the mainstay of protection against the most severe effects of COVID-19. It’s unclear how effective vaccines will be against Omicron, but some degree of protection is presumed likely. Pfizer has also indicated it could develop an effective vaccine against a new variant such as Omicron within 100 days or so.

COVID’s persistence is partly attributable to patchy immunisation coverage across many parts of the world, notably those least developed. South Africa itself is better off than most countries on the continent, yet only 24% of the adult population are currently fully vaccinated. For the whole of Africa, this drops to only 7.2%. Greater global support is urgently needed to boost these vaccination rates.

African institutions and leaders, supported by global health and vaccine experts, have argued for mRNA vaccine manufacturing facilities on the African continent. These would prioritise regional populations, overcome supply-chain problems, and respond in real time to emerging disease threats.

Yet developing nations face significant barriers to obtaining intellectual property around COVID-19 vaccine development and production.

While there is still much to learn about the behaviour and impact of Omicron, the global community must demonstrate and commit real support to countries that do the right thing by promptly and transparently sharing information.

 

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What If You Jumped Into a Pool of Hand Sanitizer?

What If You Jumped Into a Pool of Hand Sanitizer?

It helps kill bacteria and viruses, can be set on fire, and can even get you drunk. This is hand sanitizer. This gooey substance is normally meant for our hands, but what if we covered our bodies in it? Specifically, by jumping into a pool full of hand sanitizer? What would submerging yourself in hand sanitizer feel like? Could you swallow some of it?

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