The US Just Banned Travel From These 8 Countries Due to Omicron Variant
A new coronavirus—dubbed Omicron—is causing concern among virus experts and world leaders. It's still early stages and not enough is known, but Omicron "seems to be spreading in at a reasonably rapid rate in the sense of when they do test positivity, they're seeing that it's a bit more widespread in South Africa than was originally felt a couple of days ago," said Dr. Anthony Fauci on CNN's New Day. "So it's in a fluid motion." As a result, the Biden administration will restrict travel from 8 countries starting Monday. ("This does not apply to American citizens and lawful permanent residents. As with all international travelers, they must still test negative prior to travel," says CNN.) Read on to see which ones—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.
"This variant has a large number of mutations, some of which are concerning," said the World Health Organization. "Preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this variant, as compared to other VOCs. The number of cases of this variant appears to be increasing in almost all provinces in South Africa." "Individuals are reminded to take measures to reduce their risk of COVID-19, including proven public health and social measures such as wearing well-fitting masks, hand hygiene, physical distancing, improving ventilation of indoor spaces, avoiding crowded spaces, and getting vaccinated," said the statement.
"A top priority is to follow the variant more closely as it spreads: it was first identified in Botswana earlier this month and has since turned up in a traveller arriving in Hong Kong from South Africa. Scientists are also trying to understand the variant's properties, such as whether it can evade immune responses triggered by vaccines and whether it causes more or less severe disease than other variants do," said Nature.
"We don't know very much about this yet. What we do know is that this variant has a large number of mutations. And the concern is that when you have so many mutations, it can have an impact on how the virus behaves," Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO's technical lead on Covid-19, said in a Q&A.
Like America, France and other EU countries have restricted travel from Namibia. "French Health Minister Olivier Véran said the 'rapid' circulation of the variant in South Africa 'means that it's probably contagious or very contagious,' justifying France's precautionary stance," says CNN.
Dr. Fauci told CNN's New Day that, "We want to find out scientist-to-scientist exactly what is going on," he said. "It's something that in real time we're learning more and more about." "Israel, Singapore, Japan also quickly announced travel restrictions from parts of the African continent, while the European Union's executive agreed to a similar suspension of air travel from countries in southern Africa," said CNN.
Travel is being cut off in many African countries, like Eswatini, because what little is known about the mutation is alarming. "South African scientist Tulio de Oliveira said in a media briefing held by the South Africa Department of Health on Thursday that the variant contains a 'unique constellation' of more than 30 mutations to the spike protein, the component of the virus that binds to cells. This is significantly more than those of the delta variant," reports NBC. "Many of these mutations are linked to increased antibody resistance, which may affect how the virus behaves with regard to vaccines, treatments and transmissibility, health officials have said."
Malawi is on the list of countries with restricted travel—and not just here in the USA. In Israel, also. "Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said on Friday that Israel is 'on the threshold of an emergency situation' after authorities detected the country's first case of a new coronavirus variant and barred travel to and from most African countries," reports ABC News. "The Health Ministry said it detected the new strain in a traveler who had returned from Malawi and was investigating two other suspected cases. The three individuals, who had all been vaccinated, were placed in isolation."
"The policy was implemented out of an abundance of caution in light of a new COVID-19 variant circulating in Southern Africa.," according to the statement from the US. "…Our scientists and public health officials are working quickly to learn more about this variant." To stay safe, follow the public health fundamentals and help end this pandemic, no matter where you live—get vaccinated ASAP; if you live in an area with low vaccination rates, wear an N95 face mask, don't travel, social distance, avoid large crowds, don't go indoors with people you're not sheltering with (especially in bars), practice good hand hygiene, and to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.