A new coronavirus strain reached British, German, and Italian shores on Nov. 27.
Authorities in all three countries have discovered their first Omicron variant cases.
British health minister Sajid Javid confirmed two Britons tested positive after being exposed to infected passengers who traveled to southern Africa. United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson introduced tough measures to help contain the deadly disease.
Other countries that detected the same strain have restricted travel from southern Africa too.
Germany recorded two Omicron-infections. These passengers landed at Munich Airport on Nov. 24. This was before the European country identified South Africa as an Omicron hotspot.
In Italy, only one Omicron-infected patient from Mozambique was detected in Milan at the time of publication. Meanwhile, the Czech Republic is examining one suspected case in a patient, who visited Namibia according to Reuters.
The Netherlands faces a high risk of the new variant spreading, with 61 of 600 passengers arriving in Amsterdam on two flights from South Africa. One of them tested positive to coronavirus. Health authorities conducted additional tests, examining other possible connections between those cases and the latest variant.
The Omicron variant was first detected in South Africa. The World Health Organization declared it a “variant of concern,” because it might be more infectious than previous strains.
UK Chief Medical Officer Chris Witty admits not much is known about Omicron. He is pinning hopes on vaccines offering some “degree” of “escape.”
Johnson proposed stricter testing rules for people entering Britain, and mask mandates, in anticipation of a new Omicron wave.
“We will require anyone who enters the UK to take a PCR test by the end of the second day after their arrival, and to self-isolate until they have a negative result,” he said according to the newswire agency.
Anyone who came in close contact with someone testing positive to Omicron must self-isolate for 10 days.
The United States, Brazil, Canada, European Union nations and other countries have either issued travel bans or imposed other kinds of restrictions on southern Africa.
Vice President Kamala Harris confirmed travel restrictions will be added gradually.
“For now, we have done what we think is necessary,” she said.
Austria and Slovakia have entered lockdown.
Israel introduced tougher bans on entry from all foreign visitors. It relaunched counter terrorism phone-tracking technology to restrain the variant’s spread.
Australia banned non-citizens who recently visited nine southern African countries. Mandatory and supervised 14-day quarantines have also been introduced.
Japan, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Oman and Kuwait have all introduced travel restrictions on multiple African countries.
South Africa reacts
Fearing restrictions will harm tourism and the economy, South Africa’s foreign ministry confirmed the government is urging countries that imposed travel bans to reconsider.
Several developed countries are implementing third-dose booster campaigns. The number of people receiving their first COVID-19 shot in low income countries was less than 7 percent. The new variant’s emergence raises concerns about vaccine inequality.
“While we still need to know more about Omicron, we do know that as long as large portions of the world’s population are unvaccinated variants will continue to appear–and the pandemic will continue to be prolonged,” GAVI Vaccine Alliance CEO Seth Berkley said according to Reuters.