Pretoria: The global pandemic response has transformed with dizzying speed since scientists in Botswana and South Africa started studying the Omicron variant. It has reached over 40 countries, setting off new rounds of travel restrictions and adding uncertainty about the trajectory of a pandemic. Most of the cases so far have been found in arriving travellers. According to scientists in South Africa, Omicron appears to spread faster than any other variant, thanks to a combination of contagiousness and an ability to dodge the body’s immune defences.
International concern has not waited for a fuller picture to take shape. The WHO acted with alacrity. Even before the WHO meeting was over, more than 10 countries, including the US, had announced they would close their borders to travellers from southern Africa. Japan, Israel and Morocco went a step furthering, sealing themselves off completely to foreign travellers. These restrictions continue to grow.
The US has made it mandatory for all incoming passengers, including those from India, to test negative within a day before their flights or carry a proof of recovery. Travellers will be required to take a coronavirus test within 48 hours of travelling to Britain regardless of their vaccination status. The reintroduction of compulsory pre-departure testing has prompted an angry response from the travel industry. Justice secretary Dominic Raab said he knew the new measure was a “burden for the travel industry” but stressed the UK needed to act.
In Australia, five people in Sydney have contracted the omicron variant locally, New South Wales authorities said. Meanwhile, Senegal has recorded its first Omicron case, becoming the third West African nation to detect the new variant after Nigeria and Ghana. Romania said two recent travellers to South Africa tested positive for the variant. Chile’s first case was a foreign resident who had travelled recently from Ghana.