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Countries Race to Impose Controls as Omicron is 'Quite Different' Covid-19 Variant

Countries race to stop the spread of Omicron. They may be too late.
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Intyernational Arrivals

Omicron Has Spread to the UK and Hong Kong 

The WSJ reports First Omicron Covid-19 Cases Detected in U.K.

The U.K. became the latest country to detect the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, as other European countries investigate suspected cases of a strain that health authorities say could be more transmissible and has been driving a spike in infections in South Africa.

Earlier Saturday, Dutch authorities said 61 of 600 passengers arriving from South Africa on two KLM flights tested positive for the coronavirus. Health authorities are still analyzing whether those passengers carried the new strain.

In Germany, authorities in the state of Hesse, home to Frankfurt International Airport, said Saturday that they had identified several mutations present in the Omicron variant in samples taken from a traveler returning from South Africa. German health authorities were still sequencing the genome of the virus found in the infected passenger, who was now self-isolating at home.

Health authorities in Belgium, Israel, Hong Kong and Botswana have already detected cases of the variant.

Two cases of the Omicron variant detected in Hong Kong, which has some of the strictest quarantine requirements in the world, also show how hard it may be to contain the new strain. The city’s health department said in a Thursday statement that samples taken from the two people infected with Omicron suggested that one had caught the virus from the other, who had recently returned from South Africa. The two people stayed in opposite rooms on the same corridor of their quarantine hotel, the department said.

Race For Controls

As Omicron spreads, Countries Race to Impose Controls

Health experts around the world continued Saturday to map the spread of the variant — first detected by scientists in South Africa and now with cases confirmed in Asia and Europe, including at least two in Britain.

Such a scenario reflects what has long been one of the most feared — and anticipated — risks of gaping vaccine inequities: that a variant emerges in an area with low vaccine rates and then causes havoc in an interconnected world.

Scientists and other experts caution that many crucial aspects about the omicron variant remain unknown, including whether it can evade vaccines or results in a more severe form of the disease. But they say the recent alarm — including new travel restrictions and diving stock markets — should serve as a reminder of the world’s vulnerabilities as long as richer countries have wide vaccine access and poorer ones do not.

Australia, Japan and Britain are among the latest nations to either halt flights to the region or announce mandatory quarantines and screenings. Thailand said it would bar entry from the same eight countries — Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa — that the United States had targeted with restrictions a day earlier.

“It is quite different to previous variants we have been watching,” Australia’s chief medical officer, Paul Kelly, said. He called his government’s approach “proportionate to the risk.”

Omicron was first detected in a part of the world where vaccination rates lag well behind the global average, largely because of scant availability, even as the United States and other wealthy countries have moved on to booster shots.

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Unfortunately, it's pretty clear that the race for controls is too late. It's also clear this variant spreads easily.

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