Nations on high alert as Covid variant spreads

Russia restricted entry for all foreigners travelling from countries in southern Africa and required all Russian nationals returning from South Africa or neighbouring countries as of Thursday to quarantine for 14 days because of the new variant.
A sign informs travelers of a Covid-19 testing location at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in Los Angeles. T(Bloomberg)
A sign informs travelers of a Covid-19 testing location at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) in Los Angeles. T(Bloomberg)
Published on Dec 07, 2021 07:22 AM IST
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Russia has confirmed the first two cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant in the country in travellers who returned from South Africa, health officials said on Monday.

Russia restricted entry for all foreigners travelling from countries in southern Africa and required all Russian nationals returning from South Africa or neighbouring countries as of Thursday to quarantine for 14 days because of the new variant.

Namibia has detected the Omicron variant in 18 of 19 samples sequenced between November 11-26, its health ministry said on Monday.

Although the southern African country has sequenced relatively few samples, the finding suggests the variant first flagged by neighbouring South Africa and Botswana late last month, and since labelled “of concern” by the World Health Organization, is also highly prevalent in Namibia.

Separately, Pakistan on Monday banned travel from 15 countries, including The Netherlands and South Africa, except under certain conditions, and tightened up travel restrictions on 13 other countries in wake of the threat of the new variant.

Croatia confirmed on Monday its first two cases of Omicron, the state health institute said.

“We are not sure about the source of the infection as neither of those two people had travelled abroad. We believe they got infected at a business meeting at which both participated,” said Bernard Kaic, an epidemiologist at the state health institute.

Japan confirmed on Monday its third case of the new omicron variant as Prime Minister Fumio Kishida vowed to take strict measures based on a worst-case scenario of a possible resurgence of infections.

Chief cabinet secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told reporters that the third confirmed case is a man in his 30s who tested positive upon arrival from Italy at Tokyo’s Haneda airport on December 1 and has since been isolated.

However, initial data from South Africa, the epicentre of the outbreak of the Omicron variant, don’t show a resulting surge of hospitalisations. “Thus far, it doesn’t look like there’s a great degree of severity to it,” Anthony Fauci, US President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, said on Sunday, while cautioning it’s too early to be certain.

Meanwhile, Italy tightened curbs on Monday on people still not vaccinated against Covid-19, limiting their access to an array of places and services.

Under the new rules, only people who have been vaccinated or have recently recovered from Covid-19 can access indoor seating at bars and restaurants, visit museums, go to cinemas and clubs and attend sporting events.

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