Australia finds omicron, Israel bans foreign travellersSunday, November 28, 2021
BERLIN (AP) — Australia on Sunday became the latest country to detect the omicron variant of the coronavirus in travellers who arrived from southern Africa, while Israel decided to bar entry to foreign nationals — the toughest of a growing raft of curbs imposed by nations around the world as they scramble to slow its spread.
Authorities in Australia said two overseas travellers who arrived in Sydney from Africa became the first in the country to test positive for the omicron variant. Arrivals from nine African countries are now required to quarantine in a hotel upon arrival.
Confirmed or suspected cases of the new variant have already emerged in several European countries, in Israel and in Hong Kong, just days after it was identified by researchers in South Africa. The “act first, ask questions later” approach reflected growing alarm about the emergence of a potentially more contagious variant nearly two years into a pandemic that has killed more than 5 million people, upended lives and disrupted economies across the globe.
While much remains to be learned about the new variant, researchers are concerned that it may be more resistant to the protection provided by vaccines and could mean that the pandemic lasts for longer than anticipated.
Many countries have restricted or banned travel from various southern African countries — among the latest New Zealand, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Saudi Arabia. Places that already had imposed restrictions include Brazil, Canada, the European Union, Iran, and the US.
This goes against the advice of the World Health Organization, which has warned against any overreaction before the variant is thoroughly studied.
The United States' top infectious diseases expert, Dr Anthony Fauci, said he would not be surprised if the omicron variant was already in the US, too.
“We have not detected it yet, but when you have a virus that is showing this degree of transmissibility...it almost invariably is ultimately going to go essentially all over,” Fauci said on NBC television.