Wary, weary world slams doors shut, fearing omicron variantMonday, November 29, 2021
BRUSSELS (AP) — Countries around the world slammed their doors shut again to try to keep the new omicron variant at bay Monday, even as more cases of the mutant coronavirus emerged and scientists raced to figure out just how dangerous it might be.
Japan announced it would bar entry of all foreign visitors, while new cases of the variant identified days ago by researchers in South Africa appeared in places such as Hong Kong and Australia. New cases in Portugal and Scotland might already point toward local spread of the variant outside of southern Africa.
“There might already be some community transmission of this variant in Scotland,” First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said after Scotland reported its first six cases.
While the initial global response to COVID-19 was criticised as slow and haphazard, the reaction to the new variant came quickly.
“This time the world showed it is learning,” said European Union Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, singling out South African President Cyril Ramaphosa for praise. “South Africa's analytic work and transparency and sharing its results was indispensable in allowing a swift global response. It no doubt saved many lives.”
The World Health Organization (WHO) has praised Botswana as well as South Africa for quickly alerting the world to the presence of the new variant — and many have warned the countries should not be punished for their speed.
Despite the global worry, scientists cautioned that it is still unclear whether omicron is more alarming than other versions of the virus that has killed more than 5 million people.
Dr Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health in the United States, meanwhile, said no data as yet suggests the new variant causes more serious illness than previous versions.
Collins echoed several experts in saying the news should make everyone redouble their efforts to use the tools the world already has, including vaccinations, booster shots and measures such as mask-wearing.
The US is banning travel from South Africa and seven other southern African countries starting Monday. “It's going to give us a period of time to enhance our preparedness,” the United States' top infectious disease expert, Dr Anthony Fauci, said on ABC's “This Week.”
Fauci said it will take approximately two more weeks to have more definitive information on the transmissibility, severity and other characteristics of omicron, according to the White House.