Coronavirus: Omicron cases found in four European countries and Australia
South Africa said the decision of several nations to ban flights from the country was ‘akin to punishing it for its advanced genomic sequencing’.
Cases of the Omicron strain of the coronavirus were reported in the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, and the Czech Republic a day after it was declared a variant of concern by the World Health Organization, The Guardian reported on Saturday.
Australian authorities also confirmed on Sunday that two Omicron variant cases have been detected in the country, reported PTI. The two infected persons were among a group of 14 who arrived from South Africa.
The B.1.1.529 or the Omicron variant was first discovered in South Africa on November 24 with cases gradually occurring in Botswana, Israel, and Hong Kong. The virus variant has some concerning mutations, according to the World Health Organization, that suggest an increased risk of reinfection.
The two Omicron cases in the United Kingdom were connected to travel to southern Africa, British Health Minister Sajid Javid said, according to Al Jazeera. The country has now asked all travellers to take an RT-PCR test once they arrive in the United Kingdom.
The United Kingdom has banned travellers from ten countries – South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia, and Angola.
Meanwhile, Germany had isolated two of its citizens who were infected with the Omicron variant. However, the health ministry has not yet revealed where the citizens had travelled to.
The Italian government has also isolated the person infected with the variant. They had travelled to Mozambique, the country’s National Health Institute said, according to Al Jazeera.
Countries tighten travel curbs
Several countries have tightened travel restrictions to contain the spread of the Omicron
New Zealand has announced restrictions on travellers from nine southern African countries. Japan said it would tighten its travel curbs to include more countries from the the southern African region.
Thailand has announced a ban on visitors from eight African countries, while Singapore has put a similar restriction from seven nations of the region.
On Friday, European Commission chief Ursula Von der Leyen had said that the European Union will propose to stop air travel from the southern African region in view of the Omicron variant.
So far, 18 countries have banned travellers from South Africa, according to the country’s medical association chairperson Angelique Coetzee.
Being punished, says South Africa
South Africa on Saturday said it was being “punished” for detecting the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, AFP reported. The country’s foreign ministry, in a statement, called out the countries that have banned flights from South Africa.
It said that the decision to ban flights from southern Africa “is akin to punishing South Africa for its advanced genomic sequencing and the ability to detect new variants quicker”.
“Excellent science should be applauded and not punished,” the foreign ministry said.
Coetzee told TV channel Newzroom Afrika that symptoms of the Omicron variant are not the same as the Delta.
“It is very similar to the Beta [variant] and you can easily miss the symptoms,” Coetzee said. “I think what happened with us in South Africa as clinicians is the fact that we have merely seen virtually maybe one or two patients per week in the past eight to ten weeks on Covid-related symptoms.”
Coetzee said that authorities decided to alert the authorities that there were new symptoms, not matching with those of the the Delta variant.
“We were lucky that we had a break in between and saw the new symptoms,” he added. “But now we are being [seen as] the villains. It’s not right. It should never happen like this.”