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New COVID Variant of ‘Concern’ Drives U.S. Journey Bans

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Nov. 26, 2021 — The World Well being Group on Friday labeled a brand new COVID-19 variant from South Africa as a “variant of concern,” which suggests it may very well be extra contagious, trigger extra extreme illness and cut back the efficacy of vaccines and coverings.

The WHO convened an impartial group of consultants on Friday to evaluate the brand new variant based mostly on the speedy enhance in COVID-19 infections in South Africa this week. Recognized scientifically as B.1.1.529, the variant was named Omicron.

“Omicron has some regarding properties. This variant has a lot of mutations, and a few of these mutations have some worrying traits,” Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead on the coronavirus pandemic, mentioned in a video assertion.

“Preliminary proof suggests an elevated danger of reinfection with this variant, as in comparison with different [variants of concern],” the WHO mentioned in a press release. “The variety of circumstances of this variant seems to be growing in nearly all provinces in South Africa.”

In response, the White Home introduced new journey restrictions towards flights from South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe. Overseas nationals from these nations shall be prohibited from coming into the US.

“These new restrictions will take impact on November 29,” President Joe Biden mentioned in a press release.” As we transfer ahead, we’ll proceed to be guided by what the science and my medical staff advises.”

The U.S. hasn’t detected any circumstances of the brand new variant but, Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the Nationwide Institute of Allergy and Infectious Illnesses, told CNN

“Proper now, we’re getting the fabric along with our South African colleagues to get to a state of affairs the place you would really instantly take a look at it,” Fauci mentioned. “So, proper now you’re speaking about … a pink flag that this could be a difficulty — however we don’t know.”

Scientists in South Africa started monitoring the variant this week after a leap in COVID-19 circumstances and reported the variant to the WHO on Wednesday. The primary recognized confirmed an infection was from a pattern collected on Nov. 9, the WHO mentioned.

A number of labs have discovered that one broadly used take a look at may very well be a dependable option to detect the brand new variant. The WHO’s virus evolution advisory group has began “plenty of research” to guage Omicron and can announce new findings as wanted, Van Kerkhove mentioned Friday.

Primarily based on the proof to date, the WHO suggested nations to reinforce their surveillance and genomic sequencing efforts to higher perceive the variant. The WHO additionally requested that nations submit genomic sequences to public databases, resembling GISAID. On Friday, 66 sequences of the B.1.1.529 variant had been reported to GISAID, together with 58 in South Africa, six in Botswana and two in Hong Kong.

The WHO additionally requested nations to conduct discipline investigations and lab analyses concerning the severity of the variant, in addition to immune responses, antibody neutralization and effectiveness of public well being and social measures.

“People are reminded to take measures to scale back their danger of COVID-19, together with confirmed public well being and social measures resembling carrying well-fitting masks, hand hygiene, bodily distancing, enhancing air flow of indoor areas, avoiding crowded areas and getting vaccinated,” the WHO mentioned.

Biden referred to as on different nations to extend vaccine donations to poorer nations.

“The information about this new variant ought to make clearer than ever why this pandemic won’t finish till we have now world vaccinations,” Biden mentioned. “The USA has already donated extra vaccines to different nations than each different nation mixed. It’s time for different nations to match America’s velocity and generosity.”

Israel imposed a journey ban masking most of Africa after discovering its first case in somebody who had lately traveled from Malawi. A rising checklist of nations halted or restricted flights, together with Austria, Bahrain, Belgium, Croatia, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Malta, the Netherlands, Hong Kong, the Philippines and Singapore, The New York Instances reported.

“We’re at present on the threshold of an emergency state of affairs,” Naftali Bennett, the prime minister of Israel, mentioned in a statement.

“I ask everybody to be ready and to completely be a part of within the work across the clock,” he mentioned.