Passengers stroll with their baggage upon their arrival at Israel’s Ben Gurion airport. — AFP

THE HAGUE: The outbreak of a brand new, closely mutated COVID-19 variant, Omicron has shut borders and renewed curbs because the European Union chief mentioned governments confronted a “race in opposition to time” to grasp the pressure.

Indonesia introduced related entry restrictions on Sunday and Angola turned the primary southern African nation to droop all flights from its regional neighbours Mozambique, Namibia and South Africa.

Dubbed Omicron, the pressure has solid doubt on world efforts to battle the pandemic due to fears that it’s extremely infectious, forcing nations to reimpose measures many had hoped have been a factor of the previous.

“We all know we at the moment are in a race in opposition to time,” European Fee chief Ursula von der Leyen mentioned, including that vaccine producers wanted two to 3 weeks “to get a full image of the standard of the mutations”.

Dutch well being authorities mentioned that they had recognized at the least 13 circumstances of Omicron amongst 61 quarantined passengers who examined constructive for coronavirus after arriving from South Africa.

“The investigation has not but been accomplished. The brand new variant could also be discovered in additional take a look at samples,” the Nationwide Institute for Public Well being warned.

Regardless of the alarm, in Austria tens of 1000’s rallied to protest in opposition to the federal government’s introduction of obligatory vaccination — the primary EU nation to take action.

Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg mentioned it was “a minor interference” in comparison with the choice for a rustic with one of many lowest vaccination charges in Western Europe.

With many European nations, together with Germany and France, already bringing again curbs to counter surges in infections, Swiss voters firmly backed a proposed COVID-19 go legislation in a referendum on Sunday.

In Britain, Well being Secretary Avid Javid mentioned new COVID-19 guidelines will likely be enforced from Tuesday.

Masks-wearing will once more be necessary in outlets and on public transport in England. And all arriving passengers should take a PCR take a look at and self-isolate till unfavorable.

As scientists race to find out the extent of risk posed by the brand new pressure — significantly whether or not it may evade current vaccines — a South African physician mentioned dozens of her sufferers suspected of Omicron an infection had solely proven delicate signs reminiscent of fatigue.

Angelique Coetzee, chair of the South African Medical Affiliation, who alerted well being officers to a “medical image that doesn’t match Delta”, advised AFP she had seen 30 sufferers over the previous 10 days who examined constructive for COVID-19.

They’d absolutely recovered with out hospitalisation.

Coetzee mentioned it was unlucky that Omicron had been hyped as “this extraordinarily harmful virus variant” when its virulency was nonetheless unknown.

A protracted record of nations have already imposed journey restrictions on southern Africa, the place it was first detected, together with key journey hub Qatar, the US, Britain, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the Netherlands.

Indonesia introduced related entry restrictions on Sunday and Angola turned the primary southern African nation to droop all flights from its regional neighbours Mozambique, Namibia and South Africa.

Morocco mentioned it was halting incoming flights for 2 weeks from Monday.

‘Very harmful’

Israel introduced among the strictest curbs, closing the borders to all foreigners — simply 4 weeks after reopening to vacationers following a chronic closure resulting from COVID-19.

“We’re elevating a pink flag,” Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett mentioned. Ten million PCR take a look at kits could be ordered to stem the “very harmful” pressure.

Israeli residents will likely be required to current a unfavorable PCR take a look at and quarantine for 3 days if they’ve been vaccinated in opposition to the virus and 7 days in the event that they haven’t.

However the brand new pressure has already slipped by means of the online, and has now been discovered in all places from the Netherlands to the UK, Hong Kong to Australia, the place authorities Sunday mentioned that they had detected it for the primary time in two passengers from southern Africa who have been examined after flying into Sydney.

Omicron’s emergence comes only a month after Australia lifted a ban on travelling abroad with out permission.Denmark confirmed its first Omicron infections, in two passengers who arrived on a flight from South Africa and Germany added a 3rd case.

Blame sport

The pace at which governments slammed their borders shut took many abruptly, with travellers thronging Johannesburg worldwide airport, determined to catch the final flights to nations which might be imposing sudden journey bans.

Scientists in South Africa mentioned that they had final week detected the brand new B.1.1.529 variant with at the least 10 mutations, in contrast with three for Beta or two for Delta — the pressure that hit the worldwide restoration arduous and despatched hundreds of thousands worldwide again into lockdown.

The variant has additionally revived geopolitical fault traces exacerbated by the pandemic, with the US fast to hail South Africa’s openness — a thinly veiled jab at China’s dealing with of details about the unique outbreak.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Saturday “praised […] South Africa’s authorities for its transparency in sharing this info, which ought to function a mannequin for the world”.

South Africa had complained it was being unfairly hit with “draconian” air journey bans for having first detected the pressure.

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