The Omicron coronavirus mutation is spreading around the world, causing concern among scientists, but also among governments that … seek to close their borders.
Scientists have yet to determine how dangerous the mutation of the Omicron coronavirus, which the World Health Organization on Friday described as “a worrying option”, is.
Outbreaks have been reported in Australia, Belgium, Botswana, United Kingdom, Denmark, Germany, Hong Kong, Israel, Czech Republic, Italy, the Netherlands and Switzerland. It is not yet clear whether Omicron is more infectious than other options, and whether it causes more serious illness, according to the WHO.
The first data show an increase in the number of hospitalizations in South Africa, but this may be due to the total number of infected people, and may not be the result of the Omicron variant alone, the agency explained. It will take scientists from “several days to weeks” to assess how serious this is.
Travel restrictions around the world
The discovery of Omicron by South African scientists has caused widespread alarm. One government after another – Rwanda is the last in line today – is imposing travel restrictions on South African countries, fearing that existing vaccines will not cover this option and that the current economic recovery will be reversed after two years of a pandemic.
The WHO said in a statement that experts were trying to understand the possible implications of this option for countermeasures being taken, including the Covid-19 vaccine. The UK has decided to convene an emergency meeting of G7 health ministers today to discuss the latest developments.
The South African physician who first “discovered” the new strain explained today that while the symptoms of Omicron patients are mild and can be treated at home. Dr. Angelica Quetze, head of the South African Medical Association, told Reuters that, unlike the Delta variant, patients have so far not complained of loss of taste or odor, and they have not experienced significant decreases in oxygen levels.
Israel closes borders to everyone
The most draconian measures have been taken by Israel: the government has banned all foreigners from entering the country and will use a mobile tracking app to restrict the spread of the Omicron strain in the country. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said the ban, which must be approved by the government, will last 14 days. Authorities hope that in the meantime, more clarification will be provided regarding the effectiveness of the vaccines.
Omicron came at a time when many European countries are facing a new wave of the pandemic, and some are imposing restrictions to stop the spread of the virus.
The new variant of the coronavirus has revealed huge differences in vaccination of the population of countries. According to medical and humanitarian organizations, by the time many developed countries introduce booster doses of the vaccine to their inhabitants, less than 7% of the population had the first vaccine in the poorest.