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Covid: New variant classed ‘of concern’ and named Omicron

Image supply, Reuters

Image caption,

Only about 24% of South Africans have been totally vaccinated up to now

The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared a brand new coronavirus variant to be “of concern” and named it Omicron.

It had a lot of mutations, and early proof steered an elevated reinfection danger, the WHO mentioned.

It was first reported to the WHO from South Africa on 24 November, and has additionally been recognized in Botswana, Belgium, Hong Kong and Israel.

A variety of nations around the globe have now determined to ban or prohibit journey to and from southern Africa.

US officers mentioned flights from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi could be blocked, mirroring earlier strikes taken by the EU. It will come into impact on Monday.

Brazil and Australia additionally launched journey restrictions.

‘Bad information – however not doomsday’

On Friday, the WHO mentioned the variety of instances of this variant, initially named B.1.1.529, appeared to be rising in nearly all of South Africa’s provinces. 

“This variant has a large number of mutations, some of which are concerning,” the UN public well being physique mentioned in an announcement.

It mentioned “the first known confirmed B.1.1.529 infection was from a specimen collected on 9 November”.

The WHO mentioned it could take a couple of weeks to know the affect of the brand new variant, as scientists labored to find out how transmissible it was.

A high UK well being official warned that vaccines would “almost certainly” be much less efficient in opposition to the brand new variant.

But Professor James Naismith, a structural biologist from the University of Oxford, added: “It is bad news but it’s not doomsday.”

He mentioned mutations within the variant steered it could unfold extra shortly – however transmissibility “is not just as simple as ‘this amino acid does this'” and was decided by how mutations labored collectively.

Only about 24% of South Africa’s inhabitants is totally vaccinated, which might spur a fast unfold of instances there, Dr Mike Tildesley, a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Modelling group (Spi-M), advised the BBC on Friday.

Meanwhile, US infectious illness chief Dr Anthony Fauci mentioned that whereas the stories on the brand new variant threw up a “red flag”, it was doable that vaccines may nonetheless work to stop critical sickness.

“Until it’s properly tested… we don’t know whether or not it evades the antibodies that protect you against the virus”, Dr Fauci advised CNN.

Media caption,

Watch: WHO identify omicron “variant of concern”

The WHO has warned in opposition to nations unexpectedly imposing journey restrictions, saying they need to look to a “risk-based and scientific approach”.

However, along with the UK, and the US and the EU, a number of different nations have additionally introduced restrictions:

  • Australia introduced on Saturday that flights from South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, the Seychelles, Malawi, and Mozambique could be suspended for 14 days. Non-Australians who’ve been in these nations up to now two weeks at the moment are banned from getting into Australia
  • Japan has introduced that from Saturday, travellers from a lot of southern Africa might want to quarantine for 10 days and take a complete of 4 exams throughout that point
  • India has ordered extra rigorous screening and testing for travellers arriving from South Africa, Botswana and Hong Kong
  • Iran will ban travellers from six southern African nations, together with South Africa. Iranians arriving from the area might be admitted after testing destructive twice, state TV says
  • Brazil additionally mentioned it was limiting journey to the area from six nations in Africa

South Africa’s Health Minister Joe Phaahla advised reporters that the flight bans have been “unjustified”.

“The reaction of some of the countries, in terms of imposing travel bans, and such measures, are completely against the norms and standards as guided by the World Health Organization,” he mentioned.

Echoing his phrases, Angelique Coetzee, chairperson of the South African Medical Association, advised the BBC that the journey restrictions on her nation have been untimely.

“For now, it is a storm in a tea cup,” she mentioned.

Only about 24% of South Africa’s inhabitants is totally vaccinated, which might spur a fast unfold of instances there, Dr Mike Tildesley, a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Modelling group (Spi-M), advised the BBC on Friday.

Stock markets the world over additionally fell sharply on Friday, reflecting the fears of buyers over the potential financial affect.

The FTSE 100 index of main UK shares closed 3.7% down, whereas predominant markets in Germany, France and the US additionally sank.

A “variant of concern” is the World Health Organization’s high class of worrying Covid variants.

The resolution provides weight to the mounting scientific fear in regards to the potential of this new variant, however it would not change any of the details.

The variant has an astounding assortment of mutations that are thought to extend its skill to unfold and bypass some, however not all, of the safety from vaccines.

However, we nonetheless haven’t got the clear real-world knowledge.

We do not know for positive that it spreads quicker, makes vaccines or medication much less efficient or whether or not it results in extra extreme illness.

The WHO have additionally given it a reputation and ended days of hypothesis that we might find yourself within the barely ridiculous place of calling the brand new variant the “Nu variant”.

There have even been arguments in regards to the right pronunciation of the Greek letter Nu (it is technically a “Nee”).

Instead, you may assure we’ll be speaking lots about Omicron within the weeks to return.

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