Omicron COVID-19 variant forces shutting borders across globe as cases inch up
A new, heavily mutated Covid-19 variant spread across the globe has forced shutting of borders and renewing of curbs across the world as governments faced a race against time to understand the Omicron strain.
The variant was identified days ago by researchers in South Africa, and much is still not known about it, including whether it is more contagious, more likely to cause serious illness or more able to evade the protection of vaccines. Many governments have rushed to close their borders even as scientists cautioned that it's not clear if the new variant is more alarming than other versions of the virus.
However, US health officials have not imposed any new screening or tracing requirements in response to the newly discovered Omicron Covid-19 variant that prompted the Biden administration to restrict travel from southern Africa, Reuters reported.
The United States will bar most foreign travellers from South Africa and seven other southern African countries in an attempt to curb the spread of the Omicron variant, which was first identified in South Africa on Friday.
Meanwhile, on Monday Japan said it would close its borders to foreigners, as the world's third-largest economy joined Israel in taking the toughest measures against the new coronavirus variant Omicron, which also cast a cloud over Australia's reopening plans.
Israel's ban took effect from midnight on Sunday. It has also vowed to use counter-terrorism phone-tracking technology to combat the new variant.
Australia said it would review plans to reopen its borders to skilled migrants and students from December 1, after reporting its first Omicron cases.
One of the world's busiest land borders, Singapore and Malaysia have reopened allowing vaccinated travellers to cross after nearly two years of being shut due to the Covid-19 pandemic amid the new variant scare.
A long list of countries have already imposed travel restrictions on southern Africa, including key travel hub Qatar, the United States, Britain, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the Netherlands.
Potentially more contagious than prior variants, Omicron, first identified in South Africa, has been found in Australia, Belgium, Botswana, Britain, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Israel, Italy, and the Netherlands. It could take “days to several weeks” to understand the level of severity of Omicron, says the World Health Organization (WHO), which flagged it as a “variant of concern”.
Symptoms of Omicron are so far mild and could be treated at home, a South African doctor, one of the first to suspect a different variant, said as quoted by Reuters.