World races to contain new Covid variant now officially named Omicron 2 months ago

World races to contain new Covid variant now officially named Omicron

Boris Johnson is expected to add new countries to the travel ban in a bid to save Christmas

Countries around the world are racing to enforce travel bans and restrictions to combat the new Covid variant, now officially known as Omicron.

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On Friday, six countries were added to the UK's red list after the discovery of Omicron - which was first detected in South Africa on 24 November, but is now in Belgium, Botswana, Hong Kong, and Israel - and on Saturday, the Times reported that Malawi and Mozambique were to be added to the list in a bid to save Christmas.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said Omicron had many mutations - "some of which are concerning" - and early evidence suggested an increased reinfection risk. It had already been labelled the "worst one we've seen" and Transport Secretary Grant Schnapps said Friday that it had the potential to "defeat the jab".

Hundreds of passengers arriving in Amsterdam from South Africa were tested for the new variant, the BBC reported, with 61 people on two KLM flights testing positive for Covid. They have been quarantined at a hotel near the airport while they have further tests, Dutch officials said.

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The Netherlands is struggling with a record-breaking surge in cases and a partial lockdown comes into force there on Sunday.

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Travellers from South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho and Eswatini will not be able to enter the UK unless they are UK or Irish nationals, or UK residents.

The US has mirrored the EU's stance, with US officials saying flights from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, and Malawi would be blocked, from Monday.

A host of other countries have also announced restrictions, including Australia, Japan, India, Iran, Brazil, Canada, and Thailand.

The WHO said the number of cases of Omicron, initially named B.1.1.529, appeared to be increasing in almost all of South Africa's provinces. It would take a few weeks to understand the impact of the new variant, it said.

A top UK health official warned that vaccines would "almost certainly" be less effective against the new variant, but Professor James Naismith, a structural biologist from the University of Oxford, told the BBC: "It is bad news but it's not doomsday."

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Only about 24 per cent of South Africa's population is fully vaccinated, which could spur a rapid spread of cases there, Dr Mike Tildesley, a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Modelling group (Spi-M), told the BBC on Friday.