variant

China reports first community spread of Omicron variant

Tianjin [China] (ANI): China has reported its first community spread Omicron cases, with two people confirmed with the coronavirus variant in Tianjin city, a Singapore-based newspaper The Strait Times stated citing local media reports.
Port city Tianjin has begun mass-testing its 14 million residents following its first community-spread Omicron cases on January 9. The confirmed Omicron cases belong to a cluster of 20 children and adults at an after-school care centre in Tianjin, which borders Beijing, the capital city, The Strait Times reported.
They include 15 students aged between eight and 13, a staff member at the centre and four parents.
The Omicron patients are a 10-year-old student and the staff member, who is a 29-year-old woman. Neither have travelled out of the city in the past 14 days, the reports added, as per The Strait Times.
The mass testing, which started on Sunday, is expected to end by Monday.
Beijing has also been on high alert by making it mandatory for anyone entering the city to undergo COVID-19 testing and allowing only fully vaccinated individuals in for certain events as it prepares to host the Winter Olympics on February 4.
Xi’an, the provincial capital of Shaanxi in northern China, has reported more than 1,900 cases in its latest flare-up. The city of 13 million people have also been under a strict lockdown for weeks, as per the publication.
On Sunday, mainland China reported 92 new COVID-19 cases, with 56 of them from Henan, 30 from Shaanxi, three in Tianjin, two in Zhejiang in south-eastern China and one in Guangdong province in the south, The Strait Times reported. (Image source: Instagram)

New coronavirus variant ‘Deltacron’ emerges in Cyprus

Nicosia [Cyprus]: A new coronavirus variant Deltacron has emerged in Cyprus which has a similar genetic background to the Delta variant, as well as some of the mutations from Omicron, and experts say that it is not something to be worried about at the moment, a media report said.
In total, 10 of the mutations from Omicron were found in the 25 samples taken in Cyprus. 11 of the samples came from people who were hospitalized due to the virus, while 14 came from the general population, reported Jerusalem Post citing Cyprus Mail. Dr. Leondios Kostrikis, the head of the laboratory of biotechnology and molecular virology at the University of Cyprus, said that the frequency of the mutation among hospitalized patients was higher and could point to a correlation between the new variant and hospitalizations.
Kostrikis also emphasized that the variant has a similar genetic background to the Delta variant, as well as some of the mutations from Omicron.
The new variant was not something to worry about at the moment, said Cyprus’s Health Minister Michalis Hadjipandelas on Saturday.
The minister also expressed pride in discovering the new variant.
Hadjipandelas said the groundbreaking research and findings of Dr. Kostrikis’ team make us proud of our scientists. The minister also underlined that this research puts Cyprus on the international map when it comes to health matters, according to Jerusalem Post.
So far, the scientific name of the new variant has not been announced. (ANI)

Omicron may be less severe, but not ‘mild’: WHO

Geneva [Switzerland]: The Omicron variant of COVID-19 appears to be a less severe disease than the Delta strain, but it does not mean it should be categorized as “mild”, World Health Organization (WHO) director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Thursday.
During a press briefing, the head of global health body said that at present, 109 countries would miss out on fully vaccinating 70 per cent of their populations by the start of July 2022. “Last week, the highest number of COVID-19 cases were reported so far in the pandemic…while Omicron does appear to be less severe compared to Delta, especially in those vaccinated, it does not mean it should be categorized as “mild”, Tedros Adhanom said.
He added that the Omicron variant is hospitalizing people and it is killing people, just like previous ones.
“The tsunami of cases is so huge and quick, that it is overwhelming health systems around the world. Hospitals are becoming overcrowded and understaffed, which further results in preventable deaths from not only COVID-19 but other diseases and injuries where patients cannot receive timely care,” the WHO chief also said.
Raising concern over the vaccine inequity and health inequity, WHO director-general Tedros said that these were the “biggest failures of last year.”
“While some countries have had enough personal protective equipment, tests and vaccines to stockpile throughout this pandemic, many countries do not have enough to meet basic baseline needs or modest targets, which no rich country would have been satisfied with. Vaccine inequity is a killer of people and jobs and it undermines a global economic recovery,” Tedros said.
Meanwhile, a new coronavirus variant B.1.640.2 also known as IHU variant has been detected in a traveller returning from Cameroon, according to the hospital IHU Mediterrannee in Marseille, France.
The traveller has reportedly infected 12 people in Southern France.

New coronavirus variant IHU detected in France, found in a traveller returning from Cameroon

Marseille [France]: A new coronavirus variant B.1.640.2 also known as IHU variant has been detected in a traveller returning from Cameroon, announced the hospital IHU Mediterrannee in Marseille, France.
The traveller has reportedly infected 12 people in Southern France. According to the hospital, the IHU variant was detected in early December. This new mutant has 46 mutations in an “atypical combination,” according to a preprint study that has not yet been peer-reviewed, reported DW News.
Due to the unavailability of data and a small number of cases nothing can be yet confirmed about the nature of the variant and the danger it poses. At the same time, nothing can be yet confirmed about the origin of this new variant.
Two already known spike protein mutations N501Y and E484K are also found in the new coronavirus variant. N501Y mutation was detected in the alpha variant and it spreads easily in the body. The other mutation E484K is one of the escape mutations and thus possibly reduces the efficacy of the COVID vaccines, according to the study.
It is understood that vaccination can protect us, curb the spread and also help to stop further mutation of the already present variants. Cameroon, only 2.4% of the population is fully vaccinated, according to data from the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore in the United States, reported DW News.
Earlier, Israel recorded the first case of “florona” disease, a double infection of COVID-19 and influenza, said Arab News.

India reports first death due to Omicron variant in Rajasthan

New Delhi [India]: The Union Health Ministry on Wednesday confirmed the first death due to the Omicron variant of the COVID-19 in India. While addressing a press briefing, the Joint Secretary of Union Health Ministry Lav Agarwal said, “Technically it is Omicron related death in Rajasthan. He was an elderly person. The person is reported to have co-morbidities, like diabetes among others.”
According to the Union Health Ministry, 108 deaths have been reported so far globally.
“The country has reported 6.3 times increase in the number of new COVID-19 cases in the last eight days,” the Ministry said.
The Health Ministry stated that the spread is a matter of concern.
During the press conference, ICMR head Dr Balram Bhargava said, “Omicron was now the predominant circulating strain in cities and all mass gatherings should be avoided.”
As per the ministry, 2,135 cases of Omicron have been reported in the country with Maharashtra registering the maximum cases followed by Delhi.
The ministry has also said that Maharashtra, West Bengal, Delhi, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Jharkhand and Gujarat are States of concern where there has been a rise in COVID-19 cases.
“28 districts in the country are reporting more than 10 per cent weekly positivity,” Ministry has said.
Notably, India on Wednesday reported 58,097 fresh COVID cases and 534 deaths while on Tuesday, the country had recorded 37,379 new COVID cases and 124 deaths.

Tunisia reports 5 more cases of Omicron COVID-19 variant

Tunis [Tunisia]: Tunisia reported five additional cases of the Omicron COVID-19 variant, bringing the total number of Omicron infections to six, the Tunis Afrique Presse (TAP) reported on Thursday.
“The cases were discovered on Dec. 20, after testing positive for the virus at Tunis-Carthage International Airport,” Mahjoub Ouni, a member of the Tunisian scientific committee for the fight against the coronavirus, was quoted as saying by the agency. The five Omicron cases came from South Africa and quarantine has been applied along with all preventive and health measures, Ouni added.
On Dec. 3, a 23-year-old man from a sub-Saharan African country has been confirmed as Tunisia’s first case of the Omicron COVID-19 variant.

Europe Battles Omicron Spread, Holiday Season Goes for a Toss, Read to know more.

By P Shweta

After two years of Covid-19 pandemic, the world community, especially Europe, was hoping to limp back to normalcy this Christmas season. However, the quick spread of the Omicron variant of the disease, detected first in South Africa, has derailed the plan. The fact that the disease has hit Europe in the run-up to their main festive season has made its economic impact much worse.
The UK has been hit especially hard, with daily new infections topping  90,000 on December 18. But the surge in Omicron cases is more worrying. On December 17 and 18, the country reported 10,000 new daily Omicron infections. In London, the Omicron variant is thought to be about 80% of all new Covid cases. The government is working on rules aimed at slowing down the spread of the disease, including limiting indoor socializing.

Already, the government has asked people to be cautious while socializing during Christmas and New Year. The government’s worry is that even if the Omicron variant proves to be a bit milder than the Delta variant, the sheer speed with which the new variant is spreading could overwhelm the health system.
However, the challenge for the government is that people are already exasperated due to intermittent lockdowns over the past two years, and any new restrictions are likely to be unpopular.
Other major European countries like Germany, France, Italy and the Netherlands are also facing worrying situations. Also, the EU chief has warned that the omicron variant could become the dominant strain of the disease in Europe by mid-January.
In the Netherlands, non-essential businesses along with social and entertainment gatherings have been stopped till mid January, meaning the peak festive season is already a washout. Schools too are to remain shut.

Countries like France and Germany have reintroduced travel restrictions, especially from the UK. Even fully vaccinated people from the UK will be allowed only essential trips. All leisure travel is out of bounds. Greece and Italy have also made it mandatory for all foreign visitors to present Covid-negative certificate on entry.
Other European countries like Denmark, Spain and Ireland are also in the process of announcing curbs to curtail Christmas festivities, so that they don’t face a deluge of festival-induced cases.
The Omicron variant has disrupted Europe’s march towards recovery, even though two-thirds of the population is fully vaccinated. Research indicates that Omicron can partially overcome immunity acquired through vaccination and past infections, meaning that even those who are fully vaccinated may not be immune to the new Covid variant. Also, new studies have shown that the Omicron variant multiplies more rapidly than the earlier variants in the airways, meaning it could potentially spread much faster.
Considering all these aspects, the Omicron variant is likely to emerge as a new challenge for the whole world in the year 2022.

#omicron #covid #variant #europe #holidayseason #christmas

About the Author

Writer P. Shweta has been associated with reputed media houses for long and has witnessed many major political events closely. She is based out of Delhi, India. She has authored this write up for KSHVID NEWS NETWORK.

Views expressed here are her personal opinion/analysis.

Biden to announce new actions to protect Americans, help hospitals battle Omicron

Washington [US]: US President Joe Biden will announce new actions on Tuesday (local time) to protect Americans and help communities and hospitals battle Omicron, building on the robust plan he announced earlier this month to get people maximum protection ahead of the winter and prepare for rising cases driven by the new variant, White House said in a statement.
“President Biden will take several steps to ensure states and health systems across the country have the personnel, beds, and supplies they need as they battle rising Omicron hospitalisations, mostly among the unvaccinated,” the statement added. “The President is directing Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin to ready an additional 1,000 service members–military doctors, nurses, paramedics, and other medical personnel–to deploy to hospitals during January and February, as needed,” read the statement.
With regard to helping Americans and communities battle Omicron, Biden will announce six emergency response teams–with more than 100 clinical personnel and paramedics–are deploying to six states now: Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, Arizona, New Hampshire and Vermont. This is on top of the 300 federal medical personnel that we have deployed since we learned about Omicron.
For convenient testing, Biden will announce new actions to ensure Americans have access to free testing, including convenient, at-home tests. Since January 2021, the Administration has already taken significant actions to increase testing.
As a result, there are now 20,000 free testing sites across the US, four times as many at-home tests available to Americans than were available this summer, and at-home tests being made available at key community sites, such as community health centres and rural clinics.

Portugal starts vaccinating children amid Omicron variant

Lisbon [Portugal]: Portugal started vaccinating children ages 5-11 against COVID-19 on Saturday, said the country’s Directorate-General for Health (DGS).
About 41,200 children were vaccinated on Saturday, with priority being given to those with comorbidities, it added. According to the government forecast, a total of 77,000 children will receive vaccines formulated in pediatric doses by the Pfizer laboratory, with the second dose being administered between February 5 and March 13 next year.
Deputy Secretary of State and Health Antonio Lacerda Sales said that all children up to 11 years old “may come to vaccination centers and receive the vaccine.”
Portugal has surpassed the so-called “red line” of pandemic emergency with the highest incidence being children over 10 years of age.
Portuguese Health Minister Marta Temido revealed that the Omicron variant represents 20 per cent of COVID-19 cases in the country.
“Based on estimates, we know that this variant could reach 50 per cent by Christmas and 80 per cent in the week of the end of the year,” she told a press conference.
Portugal has reported another 5,062 infections and 12 deaths related to COVID-19 in the last 24 hours, according to the DGS.

Israel bans travel to 10 more countries over concern of Omicron variant

Tel Aviv [Israel]: Israel’s Ministry of Health on Sunday said it decided to ban travel to ten more countries to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 Omicron variant.
The ban will take effect on Wednesday and will include the United States, Italy, Belgium, Germany, Hungary, Morocco, Portugal, Canada, Switzerland and Turkey, which will be labelled as “red” countries, according to the ministry. The list of “red” countries already includes most of the African countries, eight European countries and the United Arab Emirates.
All Israelis returning from the banned countries, including vaccinated and recovered ones, must enter quarantine for at least seven days.
Foreign nationals are not allowed to travel from these countries to Israel, except in humanitarian cases with the approval of a special governmental committee.
To date, the ministry has reported 134 cases of the Omicron variant, of which 86 are passengers who have recently returned from abroad.

China’s Sinovac booster shot is 94 pc efficient against Omicron, claims company

Beijing [China]: China’s biotech firm Sinovac claimed that a third dose of its COVID-19 vaccine is 94 per cent effective against the Omicron variant of the COVID-19.
This comes a day after a study found that the two doses of the vaccine failed to generate any detectable antibody response against the fast-spreading variant. The study was conducted by the company on 20 people who received two shots and another 48 who received three shots. Seven in the first group and 45 in the second tested positive in neutralizing antibodies against the Omicron variant, the company said in a statement to the Global Times.
Sinovac said that the data demonstrated that the administration of a booster shot of its vaccine can effectively enhance the vaccine’s neutralizing capacity to the Omicron variant, read the statement.
The company’s findings are in contrast with those released on Tuesday in a preprint paper by the HKU researchers.
The university study also examined neutralising antibodies, one arm of immune response that serves as a rough marker for protection against infection.
Of 25 people who received a full two-dose course of CoronaVac, none were found to have detectable levels of neutralising antibodies, according to study author and top infectious disease expert Yuen Kwok-yung and his team.
The Omicron variant, first discovered in early November, has been reported in 77 countries and regions, according to the World Health Organization.

Can’t dismiss as ‘mild’, Omicron spreading faster than other Covid-19 variants: WHO Regional Director

New Delhi [India]: Amid concerns arising out of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, Dr Poonam Khetrapal Singh, Regional Director, WHO South-East Asia Region on Thursday said that Omicron appears to be spreading faster than any other previous variant and added that one should not dismiss it as “mild”. In an exclusive interview with ANI, Dr Singh responded on how virulent Omicron is and what are the new major symptoms of this variant.
“The overall threat posed by Omicron largely depends on three key questions: (1) how transmissible the variant is; (2) how well vaccines and prior SARS-CoV-2 infection protect against infection, transmission, clinical disease and death; and (3) how virulent the variant is as compared to other variants,” she said.
“Based on the current limited evidence, Omicron appears to be spreading faster at a rate not seen with any other previous variant. Emerging data from South Africa suggest an increased risk of re-infection with Omicron, but more data are needed to draw firmer conclusions. There is still limited data on the clinical severity associated with Omicron. More information on case severity associated with Omicron is expected in the coming weeks.”
Asserting Omicron should not be dismissed as wild, the WHO Regional Director said more information is needed to fully understand the clinical picture of those infected with Omicron variant.
“Further information is needed to fully understand the clinical picture of those infected with Omicron and WHO encourages countries to contribute to the collection and sharing of hospitalized patient data through the WHO COVID-19 Clinical Data Platform. We should not dismiss Omicron as mild. Even if Omicron does cause less severe disease, the sheer number of cases could once again overwhelm health systems,” she said.
When asked if anti-COVID vaccines are effective against Omicron, Dr Singh said that preliminary data suggest that “vaccines may have reduced effectiveness against Omicron”.
“Again, it will take a few more weeks before there is enough evidence to fully assess the vaccines’ performance against Omicron. We should also not forget that vaccines alone will not get any country out of this pandemic… Countries can – and must – prevent the spread of Omicron with proven public health and social measures. We must continue to do it all. Protect yourself and protect each other. Get vaccinated, wear a mask, keep a distance, open windows, clean your hands and cough and sneeze safely.”
Singh emphasised the emergence of variants is a reminder that the pandemic is far from over.
“The risk of COVID-19 remains high globally and the emergence of variants is a reminder that the pandemic is far from over. Like I said earlier, we must continue to strengthen surveillance, public health and social measures and rapidly scale up vaccination coverage. As in the past, whenever we have done these well, we have seen a decline in cases. We know that these measures work. It’s up to each one of us, and all of us to together, to stop transmission, which we can and we must,” she told ANI when asked whether India will face the third wave of COVID-19.
Commenting on booster doses’ effectiveness against Omicron, the WHO official said that current data show that the performance of vaccines that received WHO’s Emergency Use Listing holds up well against severe forms of the disease with minor or modest reductions in effectiveness by 6 months after the last primary dose.
“Preliminary studies on the impact of Omicron on vaccine effectiveness, and whether additional doses may be necessary suggest that an additional dose may confer benefit, yet it is too early to draw definitive conclusions from these limited labs and clinical studies. WHO will continue to review the evidence, and update its recommendations as appropriate.”
“SAGE has recommended moderately and severely immunocompromised persons may be offered an additional dose of COVID-19 vaccine as part of an extended primary series. To make a recommendation on the use of booster doses for the general population more data is needed on vaccine performance of the primary series over time. We must also review the benefits from boosting versus the benefits from expanding the coverage of primary vaccination, in different population groups.”
She further said that the booster policy has to be considered in the context of the goal of preventing severe disease and death and protecting the health system. WHO recommendations on boosters will be updated as more evidence becomes available, she added.
Expressing her views on COVID-19 vaccination for children in India, the WHO Regional Director said that countries should consider individual and population benefits of immunizing children and adolescents in their specific epidemiological and social context when developing their COVID-19 immunization policies and programs.
“As children and adolescents tend to have the milder disease compared to adults unless they are in a group at higher risk of severe COVID-19, it is less urgent to vaccinate them than older people, those with chronic health conditions and health workers. There are benefits of vaccinating children and adolescents that go beyond the direct health benefits. Vaccination that decreases COVID-19 transmission in this age group may reduce transmission from children and adolescents to older adults.”

Currently available boosters enough to fight Omicron variant, says Dr Fauci

Washington [US]: White House Chief Medical advisor Antony Fauci on Wednesday said that the currently available booster shots work against the Omicron variant of Covid-19 and there is no need for a variant-specific booster.
“Our booster vaccine regimens work against omicron,” Fauci told the public during a White House Covid update on Wednesday. “At this point, there is no need for a variant-specific booster.” Fauci said the primary two-dose vaccination series from Pfizer and BioNTech is significantly compromised by omicron, but still offers considerable protection against severe disease, CNBC reported.
Protection from the two-dose vaccine against infection dropped to 33 per cent compared with 80% before the emergence of omicron. However, two doses are still 70 per cent effective at preventing hospitalization in omicron patients in South Africa, Fauci said.
Centres for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky said at least 36 states in the US and over 75 countries have reported confirmed cases caused by the Omicron variant.
The Omicron variant is now estimated to represent about 3 per cent of the cases in the United States.
In some areas of the country, the director said that the estimates of Omicron are even higher, including in New York and New Jersey where CDC projects that Omicron could represent about 13 per cent of all cases.
“In looking at early data on the transmissibility of Omicron from other countries, we expect to see the proportion of Omicron cases here in the United States continue to grow in the coming weeks,” he said.

UK PM says 1 person died after contracting Omicron COVID strain

London [UK]: UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that at least one person died after contracting the Omicron coronavirus strain, local media reported on Monday.
“Sadly, yes Omicron is producing hospitalisations and sadly at least one patient has been confirmed to have died with Omicron,” said Boris Johnson during a visit to a vaccination clinic in west London, as quoted by Sky News. This is the first death reported among those infected with the Omicron strain. This comes hours after the UK coronavirus (COVID-19) alert level increased from Level 3 to Level 4 amid the surge in the Omicron variant cases.
The UK Department of Health and Social Care on Sunday had said that transmission of COVID-19 is already high in the community, mainly still driven by Delta, but the emergence of Omicron adds additional and rapidly increasing risk to the public and healthcare services.
“Early evidence shows that Omicron is spreading much faster than Delta and that vaccine protection against symptomatic disease from Omicron is reduced. Data on severity will become clearer over the coming weeks but hospitalisations from Omicron are already occurring and these are likely to increase rapidly,” the UK Health Department statement said.
On Sunday, the UK had reported 1,239 new confirmed cases of the Omicron variant.

UK hikes virus alert level as Omicron variant surges

London [UK]: UK COVID-19 alert level raised to second-highest tier amid increasing Omicron cases on Sunday.
Britain’s COVID alert level has been increased from Level 3 to Level 4 “in light of the rapid increase in Omicron cases”, British chief medical officers said in a joint statement, reported Xinhua. In the statement, the four chief medical officers and the National Health Service (NHS) England national medical director said the emergence of Omicron “adds additional and rapidly increasing risk to the public and healthcare services.”
“Early evidence shows that Omicron is spreading much faster than Delta and that vaccine protection against symptomatic disease from Omicron is reduced,” said the statement, reported Xinhua.
The statement suggested people should continue to “take sensible precautions including ventilating rooms, using face coverings, testing regularly and isolating when symptomatic.”
Level 4 means the virus is “in general circulation” and “transmission is high and direct COVID-19 pressure on healthcare services is widespread and substantial or rising.”
Another 1239 Omicron cases have been found in Britain, the biggest daily increase since the COVID-19 variant was detected in the country, taking the total cases found in the country to 3,137, the UK health security agency (UKHSA) confirmed.
Britain reported 48,854 new coronavirus cases, bringing the total number of coronavirus cases in the country to 10,819,515, according to official figures released Sunday.
The country also reported a further 52 coronavirus-related deaths. The total number of coronavirus-related deaths in Britain now stands at 146,439, with 7,413 COVID-19 patients still in the hospital.
More than 89 per cent of people aged 12 and over in Britain have had their first dose of vaccine and more than 81 per cent have received both doses, according to the latest figures. More than 40 per cent have received booster jabs or the third dose of a coronavirus vaccine.
Moreover, the medical chiefs recommend raising alert from 3 to 4 on 5-point scale as Israel placed UK on ‘red’ list; top level indicates authorities think health system about to be overwhelmed, reported The Times of Israel.

Zambia reports more Omicron variant COVID-19 cases

Lusaka [Zambia]: Zambia recorded eight more Omicron COVID-19 cases this week, bringing the cases of the new variant to 11, the country’s health ministry said Saturday.
The health ministry said the new cases were all recorded in Lusaka, the country’s capital, with five of the patients having a history of traveling outside the country recently. Minister of Health Sylvia Masebo said the cases consisted of five males and three females, aged between 18 and 76, of whom, five had been vaccinated against COVID-19.
According to the official, the first three people who had contracted Omicron have recovered and tested negative.
In remarks delivered during a COVID-19 update press briefing, the minister also said the country was on its way to the fourth wave going by the current trend of the pandemic, noting the country has started seeing increased cases of infection, with the rate of positivity going up from 0.1 percent in previous weeks to the current 4 percent.
“It is no surprise as we anticipated this, considering that several countries globally are already experiencing the fourth wave,” she said.
The minister said the country has also started seeing an increase in both new and total admissions, recording 19 new admissions this week, four times more than in the past three months.
In the past 24 hours, the country recorded 235 new cases out of 5,446 tests done, representing a 4 percent overall national positivity, bringing the cumulative cases of the country to 210,959, while one patient died during the same period, bringing the total deaths to 3,669, according to health ministry figures.
A total of 54 patients were discharged during the same period, bringing the total recoveries to 206,606.
The country has a total of 684 active cases.

Bangladesh reports first case of Omicron variant

Dhaka [Bangladesh]: Bangladesh has detected its first cases of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, said the country’s Health Minister Zahid Maleque on Saturday.
The Omicron variant was detected in two female cricketers of the Bangladesh Cricket Team, the health minister said, adding the cricketers returned to the country recently from Zimbabwe, Xinhua reported. “They are now in institutional isolation at a hotel in Dhaka, and their condition is currently stable,” he said.
Health Minister Maleque said all necessary measures have been taken over the new coronavirus variant.
The Bangladesh government has recently made 14 days of institutional quarantine mandatory for those returning from seven African countries as part of precautionary measures to rein in the new variant of the COVID-19, Xinhua reported.
On Saturday, Bangladesh reported 177 new cases and five new deaths from COVID-19, bringing its total tally to 15,78,996 with the death toll standing at 28,022.

COVID-19: Amid Omicron scare, India extends ban on international flights, cargo operations to continue

New Delhi [India]: The office of the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) on Thursday announced that the restrictions on scheduled international commercial passenger services from and to India shall not apply to international all-cargo operations and flights specifically approved by DGCA.
Circular issued by the DGCA stated that the suspension of scheduled international commercial passenger services has been extended till January 31 next year. “The competent authority has decided to extend the suspension of Scheduled International commercial passenger services to/from India till 2359 hrs 1ST of 31st January, 2022. This restriction shall not apply to international all-cargo operations and flight specifically approved by DGCA,” the circular read.
However, the international scheduled flights are likely to be allowed on selected routes by the competent authority on case to case basis.
“International Scheduled flights may be allowed on selected routes by the competent authority on case to case basis,” the circular added.
The announcement comes amid the rise of the new COVID-19 variant identified as Omicron.
In November, the Aviation Ministry had announced that it was in line to resume regular international flights from December 15.
At that time, the Ministry of Civil Aviation had stated, “The matter of resumption of scheduled commercial international passenger services to and from India has been examined in consultation with the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Ministry of External Affairs and the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, and it has been decided that scheduled commercial international passenger services to and from India may be resumed from December 15, 2021.”
Flights to and from the countries which have been identified by the Ministry of Health as not “at-risk” will have full capacity entitlements as per bilateral air service agreements.
Flights from countries identified to be “at-risk” and with whom air bubbles have been formalised, will have 75 per cent of pre-Covid operations of Indian and foreign carriers.
However, countries identified to be “at-risk” and with whom air bubbles have not been formalised, will have 50 per cent of bilateral capacity entitlements or 50 per cent of pre-COVID-19 operation of Indian or foreign carrier whichever is higher.
India has removed Singapore from its list of “at-risk” nations.
The current list of “at-risk” countries for the COVID-19 Omicron variant includes the United Kingdom, other countries in Europe, South Africa, Brazil, Botswana, China, Ghana, Mauritius, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Hong Kong and Israel.

GMR Hyderabad International Airport makes all necessary arrangements in view of Omicron variant

Hyderabad (Telangana) [India]: In view of the Omicron variant of COVID-19, GMR Hyderabad International Airport has made all necessary arrangements as per the latest guidelines and passenger convenience, said the airport authorities in a statement.
To provide a safe, secure, and seamless environment for passengers, the airport has set up dedicated Covid-19 testing booths at the International Arrival Hall pre-immigration.
The statement added, “Thermal scanners have been installed at all arrival gates. For ease and convenience of passengers who must undergo RT-PCR/Rapid PCR, adequate communication literature is enabled across the terminal. Appropriate signages are placed at strategic locations to guide passengers.”
The airport has also enabled a pre-booking process for RT PCR tests for international arriving passengers. The link is available on the Hyderabad International Airport website www.hyderabad.aero and the designated lab’s website http://covid.mapmygenome.in . The RT-PCR test costs INR 750 and the wait time for the result is 6 hours. The Rapid PCR test costs INR 3900 and the wait time for the result is 2 hours. The reports will be given in hard copies. An additional RT PCR testing lab has been appointed since last night.
To save time taken for registration for the passengers who have pre-booked their RT-PCR/Rapid PCR tests, a dedicated counter has been set up that will help passengers proceed directly with the tests.
Children below five years of age are exempted from the test. However, if symptoms are found in symptomatic children, then the test will be done, and further action will be taken.
“All the passengers arriving from ‘At-Risk’ destinations cannot leave the airport until their RT-PCR test results are proven. Only those passengers whose report is negative will be allowed to leave the airport. The passengers whose report is positive, will be shifted to the designated institutional quarantine centre of the State which is the TIMS (Telangana Institute of Medical Sciences), Gachibowli,” said the statement.
2 per cent of passengers arriving from countries other than risk countries are mandated to undergo random testing at the airport. The cost of the same will be borne by the passengers. If tested positive, the standard protocol will have to be followed.
Dedicated waiting areas, with adequate seating arrangements, facilities of food and beverage, Forex exchange, payment counters are being provided for the arrival passengers, given the wait time for the test result.
“Information desks are added at the pre-immigration area,” added the statement.

3 Forex exchange counters have been set up in the holding area, one additional outside as well, Dedicated PRM waiting area with all necessary facilities is also arranged.

To assist and help with adequate manpower resources, GMR Hyderabad International Airport Limited (GHIAL) has extended support to the Airport Health officer (APHO) and the State Health Department and have allocated dedicated PSAs.
The Ministry has asked that additional counters be facilitated for immigration for speedy clearance.
Timely updates and information about protocols and guidelines is being shared on social media platforms, said the statement from the airport authorities.
Hyderabad International Airport has 12 flights in a week from the high-risk nations. British Airways operates 3 weekly direct flights while AI operates 2 weekly direct flights to London. Singapore Airlines operates thrice a week while Scoot operates 4 weekly direct flights to Singapore.

“As of December 7, a total of 1908 passengers have arrived from “at-risk” countries. 13 passengers had tested positive and have been declared by the State Govt as not being infected with the Omicron variant,” said the statement.

As per guidelines for travellers travelling from “at-risk” countries in Europe including The United Kingdom, South Africa, Brazil, Botswana, Ghana, Tanzania, China, Mauritius, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, Singapore, Hong Kong, Israel, before travelling to India, the passengers must take the RT-PCR test within 72 hours prior to undertaking the journey, fill up a self-declaration form and submit the negative RT-PCR report on the Air Suvidha Portal.
Passengers can pre-book the test prior to arrival, the link for which is available on the Hyderabad International Airport website.
After deboarding, the passengers will undergo Thermal Screening by APHO (Airport Health Officer), proceed towards APHO desk to show the self-declaration form and negative RT-PCR Test report as submitted in Air Suvidha Portal. Passengers will be given a token at the APHO desk and their tests will be done in the COVID-19 test area after showing the token.
“If the test is pre-booked, the passengers will proceed to take the test. If not, they will proceed to make the payment for the test and then take the test. After that, passengers will then proceed towards the lounge/seating area. A dedicated waiting area with adequate seating arrangements, food and beverage facilities, Forex exchange facilities, payment counters will be available for the passengers where they can wait for their test results,” added the statement.
The reports will be given in a hard copy after which, the passenger is supposed to submit the negative test report on the state health desk and get stamped on his/her hand. Once stamped, the passenger will finally proceed towards Immigration followed by Customs and lastly collects the baggage.

France to consult with EU partners on US boycott of Beijing Olympics

Paris [France]: France has “well noted” the decision of the United States to diplomatically boycott the Winter Olympics in Beijing of 2022 and it will consult with European partners on the next step, a foreign ministry spokesperson on Tuesday.
“We have well noted the US choice and we will coordinate on this topic at the European level,” the spokesperson told a news conference. In a symbolic protest against China’s “ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang,” the Biden administration on Monday announced that it has decided not to send an official US delegation to the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing
US athletes will still participate in the Olympics, but the administration will not be sending government officials to the games. The same policy applies to the Paralympic Games to be held in Beijing, CNN reported.
According to CNN, the move marks an escalation of pressure by the US on China over allegations of forced labour and human rights abuses in China’s western region of Xinjiang, particularly against the Uyghur population and other ethnic and religious minority groups.
The US is looking to send a “clear message” that the human rights abuses in China mean there cannot be “business as usual,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told media persons at a White House briefing.
President Joe Biden has said last month that he was weighing a diplomatic boycott as Democratic and Republican lawmakers, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, advocated for a protest of China’s human rights abuses, CNN reported.

Zimbabwe to ban unvaccinated from public transport as Omicron wrecks havoc

Harare [Zimbabwe]: The Zimbabwean government on Tuesday expressed deep concern at the growing number of COVID-19 cases in the country driven by the Omicron variant and plans to bar the unvaccinated from boarding public transport.
“Cabinet notes with concern that there has been a sharp increase in the average total number of new cases reported per day during the past two weeks,” therefore the government will scale up vaccination and tighten measures to curb the spread of the virus, Information Minister Monica Mutsvangwa said at a post-cabinet media briefing. COVID-19 daily cases have risen exponentially over the past week, rising from 40 on Nov. 28 to 2,555 on Monday.
Mutsvangwa said the government will establish vaccination sites at the main intra and inter-city bus terminals to ensure that those not vaccinated can receive shots of vaccine voluntarily before boarding.
Eventually those without a valid vaccination card will not be allowed to board public transport, she said, adding that the ministries of health and education will continue to collaborate on the vaccination of the 16-17 year age group in schools.
Official data showed that as of Monday, the country’s cumulative COVID-19 cases stood at 141,601 with 128,966 recoveries and 4,713 deaths. A total of 3,882,255 people have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and 2,892,366 their second dose. Zimbabwe aims to inoculate 60 percent of the population by the year-end.
Since the detection of the omicron variant in the country, the government has declared that all returning residents and visitors must undergo PCR testing and quarantine at their own cost, regardless of the test results.
Curfew hours have been increased to run from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. No alcohol can be consumed at bottle stores while nightclubs and bars can only admit vaccinated clients.

Evidence suggests Omicron has ‘increased infectivity’ but no ‘severe profile’, says Dr Fauci

Washington [US]: Amid the cloud of concerns regarding the Omicron coronavirus variant, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr Anthony Fauci on Tuesday said emerging evidence suggests that Omicron has increased infectivity and not a “severe profile”.
“If one looks at the transmissibility, we have molecular evidence to suggest that the mutations that are seen in Omicron and in other variants would suggest that they are associated with increased infectivity,” CNN reported Dr Fauci as saying during a virtual White House briefing. “Real-world evidence is accumulating rapidly – literally on a daily basis – to allow us to determine the increase in cases, possible increase in reproductive number and the rapid replacement of Delta by Omicron in certain situations,” he stated.
However, Dr Fauci said that it is still too early to be able to determine the precise severity of disease caused by the Omicron variant, CNN reported.
Referring to South African data, he said, “It appears that with the cases that are seen, we are not seeing a very severe profile of the disease. A study from South Africa shows that there appears to be an increased propensity for reinfection with Omicron among people who were previously infected with other coronavirus variants, such as Beta and Delta.”
He said the world can expect to learn more about the Omicron variant in the next couple of weeks. Most of the data on the severity will likely come first from South Africa, due to the volume of cases.
“Given the severity, hospitalization and death are always lagging indicators, I would imagine it will take at least another couple of weeks before we have a good handle and then a really good handle a few weeks thereafter. So, I would say we shouldn’t be making any definitive conclusions, certainly not before the next couple of weeks,” Fauci told CNN during the briefing.
The new variant of COVID-19 was first reported to the World Health Organisation (WHO) from South Africa on November 25.
As per the WHO, the first known confirmed B.1.1.529 infection was from a specimen collected on November 9 this year.
On November 26, the WHO named the new COVID-19 variant B.1.1.529, which has been detected in South Africa, as ‘Omicron’. The WHO has classified Omicron as a ‘variant of concern’.

Omicron: Delhi CM Kejriwal urges people to be cautious

New Delhi [India]: In view of the emergence of the COVID-19 variant Omicron, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on Monday appealed to the people to be cautious and wear masks while stepping out of their houses.
“I just want to appeal to people to not panic. I am monitoring the situation. I chaired a review meeting last week also. We will make all available resources like beds, medicines, equipment to tackle the virus. I just want to appeal to the citizens to wear masks always while stepping out,” he said. Earlier on Sunday, Delhi reported its first case of the COVID variant Omicron.
Earlier on November 30, Kejriwal had chaired a review meeting with Health Minister Satyendra Jain and senior officials on the possibility of a third wave of COVID-19 pandemic, amid concerns over the new variant ‘Omicron’.

COVID-19: Chennai Airport creates exclusive corridor for screening of passengers

New Delhi [India]: In compliance with the revised travel guidelines issued by the Centre and Tamil Nadu government in view of the Omicron variant of coronavirus, the Airport Authority India’s (AAI) Chennai Airport has created an exclusive corridor at T4 terminal to screen arriving passengers from countries at-risk.
As per a statement issued by AAI on Monday, the facility can seat 500 passengers at a time as it is mandatory for passengers to wait till the Covid test results are out. “Facility for registration for RT- PCR and Rapid PCR, sample collection and payment are provided at the same level. This is in addition to pre-booking and pre-pay facility extended to arrival passengers online to save time during the screening process,” read AAI’s statement.

As per the AAI, the Rapid-PCR at Rs 3400 gives the result within 30-45 minutes from the time of collection of samples, while RT-PCR at Rs700 takes 5-6 hours for providing results.
Several passenger conveniences line reclining chairs, F&B outlets, baby feeding rooms and money exchange facility have also been arranged at the T4 terminal among others.
In coordination with the state health department, the airport authorities have also arranged a facility for the collection of random samples (2 per cent) from travellers coming from countries excluding those enlisted as countries at-risk.
“The test is done for free by the state health department and the process is smooth and quick,” stated AAI.

Further, the AAI shared a testimony of a passenger and said that they are “satisfied with the arrangements made in quick time, in fact in less than 12 hours at T4 terminal.”
“An average of 700-800 passengers are being tested at Chennai Airport every day from at-risk countries alone,” said AAI.

Omicron cases in UK rise by 50 per cent in one day

London [UK]: A further 86 cases of the Omicron COVID variant have been reported in Britain, taking the total to 246, British health authorities confirmed Sunday.
This compares with a total of 160 on Saturday, an increase of more than 50 per cent, according to the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA). Britain registered 43,992 new COVID-19 infections, bringing the total number of coronavirus cases in the country to 10,464,389, according to official figures released on Sunday.
The country also reported a further 54 coronavirus-related deaths. The total number of coronavirus-related deaths in Britain now stands at 145,605. These figures only include the deaths of people who died within 28 days of their first positive test.
The latest data came as British Health Secretary Sajid Javid said all international arrivals to Britain, including children over the age of 12, will need to take a pre-departure test from 0400 GMT on Tuesday. He added that they must be taken a maximum of 48 hours before departure.
In addition, from 0400 GMT on Monday, Dec. 6, Nigeria will be on the red travel list. It joins several southern African nations which were put on it after the Omicron variant was first detected late last month.
“I think it’s too late to make a material difference to the course of the Omicron wave if we’re going to have one,” professor Mark Woolhouse, a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (Spi-M), told the BBC when asked about the new travel rules.
More than 88 per cent of people aged 12 and over in Britain have had their first dose of vaccine and nearly 81 per cent have received both doses, according to the latest figures. More than 35 per cent have received booster jabs or the third dose of a coronavirus vaccine.
To bring life back to normal, countries such as Britain, China, Germany, Russia and the United States have been racing against time to roll out coronavirus vaccines.

South African President says hospital admissions not increasing despite spread of Omicron

Moscow [Russia]: Hospital admissions in South Africa are not on the rise, despite a jump in active COVID-19 cases triggered by the new Omicron coronavirus strain, the country’s president, Cyril Ramaphosa, told reporters.
“Our hospital admissions are not increasing at an alarming rate meaning that people [who] may be testing positive are not in large numbers being admitted to hospitals,” Ramaphosa told reporters, as quoted by South African outlet Eyewitness News. The president, who is currently on an official visit to Ghana, has also criticized the nations that imposed travel restrictions on South Africa and a number of other African states after the detection of the Omicron coronavirus variant in the country.
According to Health Minister Joe Phaahla, however, people must not worry as the new variant is more transmissible but seems to bring milder illness, as hospital admissions appear to show.
“The tests still have to be done and the research still needs to be done that whilst Omicron spreads, it does not seem to be resulting in greater numbers of hospital admissions. We should take heart from that,” the president added.
Since the discovery of the new coronavirus variant in South Africa at the end of November, active COVID-19 cases in the country rose from 19,302 to over 75,000. It was marked as a variant of concern due to its high infection rates by the World Health Organization prompting countries worldwide to enforce new travel restrictions.

Amid Omicron scare, Karnataka Health Minister instructs medical colleges to make necessary preparations

Bengaluru (Karnataka) [India] : Amid concern over the new COVID-19 variant ‘Omicron’ and possible third wave, Karnataka Health Minister Dr K Sudhakar said that the state has instructed medical colleges across the state to make necessary preparations for every possibility.
After chairing a video conference meeting with the directors of the medical colleges, on a possible third wave and the new Omicron virus-related treatment, the minister said, “There are 21 medical colleges offering health services at the district level. Everyone, including the HOD, Professors and senior doctors of medical colleges have been advised to stand up to the demand and provide effective treatment.” “They can also avail the help of resident doctors, and final year medical students. During the first and second wave, the state faced a shortage of nurses to treat those who were in the ICUs. Now that problem has been solved. There are about 18,000 people in final year nursing and paramedics. Officials have been asked to provide one-month training for them, in collaboration with Rajiv Gandhi University of Health Sciences and other institutions,” Sudhakar said.
Earlier, the Centre on Thursday informed that two people have tested positive for the Omicron variant of the coronavirus in Karnataka.
On the issue of tracing and tracking possible suspects and international travellers, the Health Minister said, “Priority has been given to trace those 57 passengers from Africa. In the past, our police department has done a good job of tracking down those who have escaped. And our police demonstrate their efficiency and will track them all. But I urge the passengers to act responsibly and with social concern.”
Further sharing the infrastructure and monetary preparation made by the state health department to combat the virus, Sudhakar said, “We have got the information on all necessary equipment and other systems which are required. Issues raised by institutions are also addressed and solutions are provided for the issues flagged by them. Resident doctor’s Covid risk allowance to the tune of Rs 55 crore which was pending has been released by the Finance Department. The total amount required is nearly Rs 73 crore and it will be credited to the concerned account within a couple of days. We were facing some technical glitches to credit salaries to their account. Institutions have taken twenty days to be registered in HRMS. From December onwards, salaries will be directly credited to their bank accounts.”
“As per the advice of the Covid Technical Committee, a special ICU and ward will be provided for the Omicron infected. Those who are infected with Delta will be treated in a separate ward. The number of beds and ICUs to be reserved will be decided soon,” he added.
A new variant of COVID-19 was first reported to the World Health Organisation (WHO) from South Africa on November 25. As per the WHO, the first known confirmed B.1.1.529 infection was from a specimen collected on November 9 this year.
On November 26, the WHO named the new COVID-19 variant B.1.1.529, which has been detected in South Africa, as ‘Omicron’. The WHO has classified Omicron as a ‘variant of concern’.
Dozens of countries have imposed travel restrictions on the southern African nations since the mutation was discovered.
The new Omicron coronavirus variant has been confirmed in 23 countries and their number is expected to rise, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus had said.
India has also added several countries to the list from where travellers would need to follow additional measures on arrival in the country, including post-arrival testing for infection.

Kazakhstan suspends air traffic with Egypt over Omicron variant from today

Nur-Sultan [Kazakhstan]: Kazakhstan is suspending flights to Egypt starting Friday in an effort to prevent the emergence and spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant, the Civil Aviation Committee of the Kazakh Ministry of Industry and Infrastructural Development said.
The air traffic between the two countries has been operated by Kazakh domestic carriers Air Astana and SCAT from the cities of Nur-Sultan, Almaty, Shymkent, Kostanay, and Aktobe to the Egyptian city of Sharm El-Sheikh. “To prevent the emergence of the new strain of coronavirus infection Omicron on the territory of the Republic of Kazakhstan, in line with the decisions of the Interdepartmental commission on preventing the occurrence and spread of coronavirus infection on the territory of the Republic of Kazakhstan, it was decided to suspend flights to Egypt from December 3 this year,” the committee said in a statement.
The airlines mentioned list around 2,800 Kazakh passengers who are currently in Egypt. They will be taken out of the northern African country on flights operated by the Kazakh carriers from December 3-10, the statement read.
Upon arrival, passengers will have to present a negative COVID-19 test dated no later than 72 hours, as well as self-isolate for one week regardless of their vaccination status in line with the health protocols adopted in Kazakhstan, the committee said.
Several African countries, primarily those situated in southern Africa, have faced multiple travel bans and related restrictions since last week after the detection of the Omicron variant, believed to be more dangerous and transmissible due to its high number of mutations.

Amid Omicron scare, two international passengers test positive for COVID-19 in Tamil Nadu

Chennai (Tamil Nadu) [India] : A day after two cases of the new Omicron COVID-19 variant were detected in India, two international passengers, one each from the UK and Singapore tested positive for coronavirus in Tamil Nadu’s capital city Chennai, informed State Health Minister Ma. Subramanian on Friday.
“A passenger from Singapore at the Tiruchirappalli International Airport was found COVID positive and got admitted to a private hospital; samples have been sent for genome sequencing to Chennai and Bengaluru,” said Subramanian while addressing a press conference at Teynampet, Chennai on Friday. “Another passenger from the UK in Chennai was found COVID positive and is admitted to a special ward of the King Institute of Preventive Medicine, Chennai; samples have been sent for genome sequencing to Chennai and Bengaluru,” added the Tamil Nadu Health Minister.
Earlier on Thursday, Subramanian had said that staff at airports in Chennai, Madurai, and Coimbatore have started compulsory testing of passengers arriving from 11 ‘at risk’ countries in view of the new COVID-19 variant Omicron.
Speaking to ANI on Thursday, Subramanian had said, “The airports in Chennai, Madurai, and Coimbatore have started compulsory testing of passengers arriving from 11 ‘at risk’ countries where Omicron variant of coronavirus is spreading rapidly.”
Two cases of the new Omicron variant of Coronavirus have been detected in Karnataka, the Union Health Ministry said on Thursday.
A new variant of COVID-19 was first reported to the World Health Organisation (WHO) from South Africa on November 25. As per the WHO, the first known confirmed B.1.1.529 infection was from a specimen collected on November 9 this year.
On November 26, the WHO named the new COVID-19 variant B.1.1.529, which has been detected in South Africa, as ‘Omicron’. The WHO has classified Omicron as a ‘variant of concern’.

Dozens of countries have imposed travel restrictions on the southern African nations since the mutation was discovered.

Omicron Coronavirus Variant Confirmed in 23 countries: WHO

Geneva [Switzerland]: The new Omicron coronavirus variant has been confirmed in 23 countries and their number is expected to rise, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Wednesday.
Speaking at a press briefing here, Tedros said the emergence of the Omicron variant has understandably captured global attention. “At least 23 countries from five of six WHO regions have now reported cases of Omicron and we expect that number to grow. WHO takes this development extremely seriously,” Tedros during a press conference.
“WHO takes this development extremely seriously, and so should every country. But it should not surprise us. This is what viruses do. And it’s what this virus will continue to do, as we long as we allow it to continue spreading,” he added.
Tedros said that WHO is learning more all the time about Omicron, but there’s still more to learn about its effect on transmission, the severity of disease, and the effectiveness of tests, therapeutics and vaccines.
“Several WHO advisory groups have met over the last couple of days to evaluate the emerging evidence, and prioritise the studies needed to answer these questions,” he added.
Earlier, the head of the UN health agency has criticized “blunt” and “blanket” measures taken by countries in the past few days to stop the spread of the Omicron variant.
In a statement on Tuesday, the WHO Director-General said that it was “deeply concerning” that Botswana and South Africa, where the new variant was first identified, were “being penalized by others for doing the right thing”.
Dozens of countries have imposed travel bans on the southern African nations since the mutation was discovered at the end of last week.

Saudi Arabia detects 1st case of Omicron variant

Riyadh [Saudi Arabia]: Saudi Arabia announced on Wednesday the detection of its first case of the COVID-19 Omicron variant, the Saudi Press Agency reported.
The variant was detected for an inbound citizen coming from a North African country, the Saudi Health Ministry said, adding that the infected one was quarantined and those close contacts were tested. The ministry called on the public to complete their COVID-19 vaccinations to protect the safety of all.
Saudi Arabia has been witnessing a drop in daily COVID-19 cases after serious efforts were made in fighting the spread of the virus, especially the nationwide vaccination drive.

West Bengal extends Covid-19 restrictions in wake of Omicron scare

Kolkata (West Bengal) [India]: West Bengal government on Tuesday extended the COVID-19 restrictions in the state till December 15 in view of the newly detected coronavirus variant Omicron.
According to an order issued by the government, all outdoor activities including the movement of people and vehicles will remain prohibited between 11 pm and 5 am except for the health services, law and order and essential commodities that include agricultural products and other emergency services. “Wearing of masks, maintenance of physical distancing and health and hygiene protocol must be followed at all times,” said the order.
Meanwhile, amid rising concern about a new COVID-19 variant ‘Omicron’ first detected in South Africa, India added several countries to the list from where travellers would need to follow additional measures on arrival in India, including post-arrival testing for infection.
Ministry of Health and Family Welfare adds Hong Kong and Israel to the list of countries from where travellers would need to follow additional measures on arrival in India, including post-arrival testing considering the detection of new COVID variant ‘Omicron’ in South Africa.

WHO urges countries to take ‘rational’ measures against Omicron

Geneva [Switzerland]: The World Health Organization (WHO) on Tuesday called for countries to keep calm and take “rational” measures in response to the new Covid variant Omicron.
“We call on all member states to take rational, proportional risk-reduction measures,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a briefing to countries, reported Al Jazeera. Meanwhile, the Omicron was already in the Netherlands when South Africa alerted the WHO about it last week.
Netherlands health officials said that the new COVID-19 Omicron was detected in the country a week earlier than previously believed.
“RIVM has found the Omicron variant in test samples taken in the Netherlands earlier in November. These samples were taken in the GGD test lanes on 19 and 23 November 2021,” National Health and Environment Institute said in a statement.
The Omicron variant (B.1.1.529), a new variant of the COVID-19, was first reported in Botswana on November 11, 2021, and appeared on November 14 in South Africa. It has been declared a variant of concern by the World Health Organization (WHO). The number of cases of this variant appears to be increasing in almost all provinces in South Africa.
Following the emergence of the COVID-19 variant ‘Omicron’, several countries including the United States, the Philippines, Spain, Israel, Austria, Morocco have imposed travel restrictions from Africa.
Besides, Canada has also banned the entry of foreign nationals who have travelled to the southern Africa region over the last 14 days.

China will successfully hold 2022 Beijing Olympics despite Omicron concerns

Beijing [China] : China will successfully hold the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games on schedule, despite the worldwide spread of the new Omicron coronavirus strain, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said on Tuesday.
“Regarding the impact of the Omicron strain on the Winter Olympics, I think it will definitely bring some prevention and control challenges, but thanks to China’s experience in preventing the spread of and combating COVID-19, I am fully confident that the Winter Olympics the games will be successfully held in accordance with the schedule,” Sputnik quoted Zhao as saying. The Games are scheduled for February 4-20, 2022.
The WHO, on November 27, named the new COVID-19 variant B.1.1.529, which has been detected in South Africa, as ‘Omicron’.
The World Health Organization has warned the Omicron variant, which has already been confirmed in Europe, Canada, Israel and Hong Kong, maybe more transmissible or evade immunity from previous infections and vaccines.
“Given mutations that may confer immune escape potential and possibly transmissibility advantage, the likelihood of potential further spread of Omicron at the global level is high,” the WHO said in its risk assessment on Monday within a technical brief to its 194 member states.
The WHO urged member states to enhance surveillance and sequencing efforts to better understand variants, including omicron, and to increase community testing to detect if omicron is circulating.

Telangana govt sets up cabinet sub-panel to tackle Omicron

Hyderabad (Telangana) [India] : The Telangana government on Monday set up a cabinet sub-committee to tackle the situation that may arise due to Omicron, the new variant of Coronavirus found in some countries.
The four-member committee, headed by State Health Minister T Harish Rao, will recommend to the state government the measures needed to tackle the current pandemic situation and also to expedite the COVID-19 vaccination. Urban Development Minister KT Rama Rao, Panchayati Raj Minister E. Dayakar Rao and Education Minister Sabita Indra Reddy will be the members of the panel.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Friday named the new COVID-19 variant B.1.1.529, which has been detected in South Africa, as ‘Omicron’ and alerted countries of the new variant.

No Omicron case detected yet, taking all precautions: Mansukh Mandaviya

New Delhi [India] : Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare Mansukh Mandaviya on Tuesday said that no case of new coronavirus variant Omicron has been detected in India so far. Answering a question on Omicron in the Rajya Sabha, the Minister said, “This new variant has been found in 14 countries. There is no case of Omicron in India yet.” The Indian SARS-CoV-2 Genomic Consortia INSACOG is closely monitoring the situation and expediting the results of genomic analysis of positive samples of international travellers. The Minister added that the government is taking all precautions and doing genome sequencing as well. Meanwhile, Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan on Tuesday advised states and UTs to ramp up testing for early identification and management of cases amid mounting concerns over Omicron spreading to many countries. While underlining that the new variant doesn’t escape RT-PCR and RAT tests, Bhushan asked states and UTs to ensure adequate infrastructure and supervised home isolation. The B.1.1.529 Covid variant or Omicron, first detected in South Africa last week, was designated by the World Health Organisation as a ‘variant of concern’, the health body’s top category for worrying coronavirus variants. Meanwhile, the government has introduced stricter guidelines for people travelling from or transiting through ‘at-risk’ countries. The countries designated as ‘at-risk’ (updated as of November 26) include European countries, the UK, South Africa, Brazil, Bangladesh, Botswana, China, Mauritius, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, Singapore, Hong Kong and Israel.

Delhi govt designates Lok Nayak Hospital as dedicated facility for ‘Omicron’ variant cases

New Delhi [India] : The Delhi government has designated Lok Nayak Hospital as a dedicated hospital to treat patients infected with the new COVID-19 variant ‘Omicron’.
As per the order issued by the Health and Family Department of the Delhi government, the decision has been taken following the new guidelines by the Central government for international travellers in the context of the new variant. “Lok Nayak Hospital will designate one or more separate wards ( as per need) for isolating and treating such patients…It is hereby directed that no COVID-18 patient of the new variant of SARS-CoV-2 will be denied admission on any ground,” the order stated.
The Omicron variant (B.1.1.529), a new variant of the coronavirus, was first reported in Botswana on November 11, 2021, and appeared on November 14 in South Africa. It has been declared a variant of concern by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Seven-day quarantine must for all international passengers : Bengaluru

Bengaluru (Karnataka) [India] : After two South Africa-returnees tested positive for COVID-19 and amid increasing concern over the new variant ‘Omicron’, the Bengaluru airport has made seven days quarantine compulsory for all international passengers.
Addressing the media after inspecting Kannur International Airport Ltd (KIAL) airport yesterday, the Bengaluru Rural District Health Officer Tippeswamy said, “All international passengers who test negative for COVID-19 on arrival in Bengaluru will be put in quarantine for seven days. They will be tested again after seven days.” 598 such passengers are under surveillance, he informed.
Tippeswamy conducted a video conference with senior officials of the health and airport authorities and said that they are mainly checking the vaccination report, RT PCR test and Rapid antigen test reports of the passengers coming from high-risk countries.
“We are also conducting RT PCR test at the airport for the passengers arriving from high-risk countries. If they are found negative, then they will be suggested to home quarantine. If the passenger tests positive, they will be sent to a designated hospital for isolation,” he added.
The District Health Officer also informed that in view of the new variant, new guidelines are expected by today or tomorrow.
During the virtual discussion, as per Tippeswamy, they discussed the issue of passengers coming from Kerala and Maharastra to Bengaluru without RT-PCR test and vaccination report.
“We’ve already directed airlines to check reports compulsorily and not to allow anyone to travel without the report,” he said.
As per the Karnataka Health Minister Dr K Sudhakar, the samples of one of the two passengers had tested positive for novel coronavirus which is “a little different from the Delta variant.”
While speaking to the media, Sudhakar said, “One is relatively better and the other, we are finding it a little different from Delta variant. We have sent the sample to the Centre’s lab. We are waiting for final inference.”
Meanwhile, in view of the new variant of COVID-19, the Dakshina Kannada district administration resumed the Covid screening at Talapady Checkpost, conducting RT-PCR tests of those arriving in the district from Kerala without COVID-19 negative report.
Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraja Bommai on Monday asked people not to panic about the new COVID-19 variant ‘Omicron’ and suggested following COVID-19 precautionary measures strictly.
Karnataka reported 315 new COVID-19 cases and two deaths in the past 24 hours.

India offers support to Africa to fight Omicron variant of COVID-19, says ready to supply vaccines, life-saving drugs

New Delhi [India]: Expressing solidarity with the countries, particularly in Africa, which are affected by the Omicron variant of coronavirus, India on Monday said it stands ready to supply Made-in India vaccines, essential life-saving drugs, test kits, gloves, PPE kits and medical equipment such as ventilators.
“We have noted the emergence of a new variant of Covid-19, Omicron. We express our solidarity with the countries, particularly in Africa, who have so far been affected by the Omicron variant,” the Ministry of External Affairs said in a statement. “The Government of India stands ready to support the countries affected in Africa in dealing with the Omicron variant, including by supplies of Made-in-India vaccines. Supplies can be undertaken through COVAX or bilaterally,” it added.
The government has cleared all orders placed so far by COVAX for supplies of Covishield vaccines including to African countries like Malawi, Ethiopia, Zambia, Mozambique, Guinea and Lesotho.
“We have also cleared supplies of COVAXIN to Botswana. Any new requirement projected either bilaterally or through COVAX will be considered expeditiously. India also stands ready to supply essential life-saving drugs, test kits, gloves, PPE kits and medical equipment such as ventilators, as may be required,” the statement said.
It said Indian institutions would favourably consider cooperation in genomic surveillance and virus characterization related research work with their African counterparts.
India has, so far, supplied more than 25 million doses of Made-in-India vaccines to 41 countries in Africa, including nearly one million doses as grant to 16 countries and more than 16 million doses under the COVAX facility to 33 countries.
The WHO has categorised the new COVID-19 variant, first detected in South Africa, as “variant of concern”.
The number of cases of this variant appears to be increasing in almost all provinces in South Africa.

Scotland confirmed 6 cases of Omicron coronavirus variant

London [UK] : Six cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant have been confirmed in Scotland, taking the total for the United Kingdom up to nine with the previous three infections detected in England, the Scottish health authorities reported on Monday.
“Six cases of the COVID-19 omicron variant have been identified in Scotland. Four cases are in the Lanarkshire area and two have been identified in the Greater Glasgow and Clyde area,” the Scottish semiautonomous government said in a statement, with Scotland’s Health Secretary Humaz Yousaf adding that “all will receive expert help and support and Public Health Scotland will undertake enhanced contact tracing in all cases.” According to Yousaf, this will be a worrying time for the six people now identified as having the new variant. All will receive expert help and support and Public Health Scotland will undertake enhanced contact tracing in all cases.
He warned that since there was still much to learn about this new variant of the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 regarding its severity, transmissibility and response to treatments and vaccines, people must be cautious and do everything they can to minimize the risk of spreading infection.
On Friday, the World Health Organization (WHO) identified the new strain of the coronavirus, Omicron, as one of concern, since it may be more transmissible and dangerous. Cases of the new variant have already been confirmed in multiple countries and governments rushed to suspend travel with southern African nations in order to prevent the spread of the new strain.
In the United Kingdom, face coverings will be mandatory on public transport and in shops and other closed settings including banks, post offices and hairdressers from Tuesday, when isolation rules will return for international arrivals until they receive a negative PCR test for COVID-19.
The UK also convened an urgent meeting of the Group of Seven health ministers on Monday to discuss the Omicron variant.

Omicron variant might spread among fully vaccinated people, says PM Johnson

London [UK]: As the new COVID-19 variant ‘Omicron’ has caused worry among governments around the world, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Saturday said that there are chances that the new strain could spread among people who are double vaccinated.
“I must stress this, as always with a new variant, there are many things that we just can not know at this early stage. But our scientists are learning more hour by hour. And it does appear that Omicron spreads very rapidly and can be spread between people who are double vaccinated,” Johnson said during a press conference. PM’s remarks came after the United Kingdom reported the first two cases of the Omicron variant.
UK’s Health Secretary Sajid Javid announced on Saturday that the two cases were discovered on Friday, one in Chelmsford and another in Nottingham. Both cases “are linked,” Javid added, stating that both patients are currently isolating at home.
Besides the Uk, Germany has also reported its first two cases of the Omicron variant.
WHO identified the new South African strain as one of concern, as it is reported to carry a high number of mutations — 32 — which possibly makes it more transmissible and dangerous. The WHO has dubbed it Omicron, the 15th letter of the Greek alphabet.
Following the reports about the new variant, the United States, the European Union, Canada, Israel, Australia and other countries have restricted travel from several southern African nations over the health concerns.

Philippines imposes travel ban on seven more countries over Omicron variant

Manila [Philippines]: The Philippines on Sunday imposed travel restrictions on seven European countries to keep out the potentially more contagious new coronavirus variant Omicron, a government spokesman said on Sunday.
Cabinet Secretary and acting Presidential spokesperson Karlo Nograles said Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Belgium, and Italy are placed under the “red list” effective from Sunday until December 15. The Philippines has flagged 14 countries and regions with reported Omicron cases so far. On Friday, it also suspended flights from South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Eswatini, and Mozambique.
“Inbound international travel of all persons, regardless of vaccination status, coming from or who have been to red list countries or jurisdictions or territories within the last 14 days prior to arrival to any port of the Philippines shall not be allowed,” Nograles said in a statement.
He said only Filipinos returning via government-initiated or non-government-initiated repatriation may be allowed entry subject to the prevailing entry, testing, and quarantine protocols for high-risk countries or regions.
Nograles said passengers already in transit and all those who have been to the seven European countries within 14 days immediately preceding arrival to the Philippines and arriving before 1:00 a.m. local time of Nov. 30 shall be allowed entry.
These travellers must undergo facility-based quarantine for 14 days with testing on the seventh day, regardless of a negative RT-PCR swab result.
On the other hand, Nograles said passengers who have already arrived before Sunday are currently undergoing quarantine according to the classifications of their country of origin and their respective testing and quarantine protocols.
Travellers, whether Filipinos or foreign, that merely transited through the flagged countries and stayed at the airport the whole time will be allowed to enter but must comply with existing testing and quarantine protocol.
The government also suspended the entry of fully vaccinated nationals or tourists coming from low-risk, non-visa-required countries or regions.
With the emergence of Omicron, the Philippines vowed to strengthen the local COVID-19 response to tackle the new variant.
The government urged the local government units to heighten their alert for increasing and clustering of cases and to emphasize the need for active case finding.
It also required local authorities to immediately conduct contact tracing and isolation of cases detected from case surveillance among the community, including domestic and international travelers, and to use RT-PCR testing to allow for whole-genome sequencing of collected samples.
The Philippines’ Department of Health (DOH) reported 838 new COVID-19 infections on Sunday, pushing the number of confirmed cases in the Southeast Asian country to 2,831,807.
The country has recorded fewer than 1,000 daily cases for five straight days, and 156 more people have died from COVID-19 complications, bringing the country’s death toll to 48,361.

Australia confirms two cases of ‘Omicron’ coronavirus variant

Sydney, [Australia] : Australian health officials on Sunday confirmed two cases of the new ‘Omicron’ coronavirus strain in the country for the first time.
According to Kyodo News, the state of New South Wales reported two cases of the new ‘Omicron’ variant. The state government said it had confirmed that two travellers who arrived in Sydney on Saturday from Southern Africa were infected with the variant, Kyodo News reported.
The travellers were both vaccinated and had no symptoms, the state government said.
Earlier on Saturday, the United Kingdom had also reported the first two cases of the Omicron variant.
The new Omicron variant, which has been detected first in South Africa, has escalated tensions across the world as it is considered more dangerous than the delta variant.
It has been declared as a ‘variant of concern’ by the World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday.
WHO identified the new South African strain as one of concern, as it is reported to carry a high number of mutations — 32 — which possibly makes it more transmissible and dangerous. The WHO has dubbed it Omicron, the 15th letter of the Greek alphabet.
Following the reports about the new variant, the United States, the European Union, Canada, Israel, Australia and other countries have restricted travel from several southern African nations over the health concerns. 

France extends travel curbs from seven southern African countries

Paris [France] : France has extended travel restrictions from seven southern African countries until December 1, amid the spread of the new coronavirus variant called Omicron.
The reports about the new variant prompted the EU countries to restrict travel from Zimbabwe, South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, and Mozambique, the Russian news agency reported Sputnik. In France, the restrictions were supposed to last until November 29. “The date ‘November 29, 2021’ is changed to ‘December 1, 2021’,” the government said in a decree, which updates the previous one.
On Friday, France suspended flights arriving from the southern African region for 48 hours amid rising concern about a new COVID-19 variant detected in South Africa.
“France suspended flights arriving from the southern African region for 48 hours. The new variant has not yet been detected in France,” said Health Minister Olivier Veran, as quoted by France 24.
A newly identified COVID-19 variant — B.1.1.529 — is causing an increase in new COVID-19 infections in South Africa.
The World Health Organization (WHO) identified on Friday the new South African strain as one of concern, as it is reported to carry a high number of mutations — 32 — which possibly makes it more transmissible and dangerous. The WHO has dubbed it Omicron, the 15th letter of the Greek alphabet.

Delhi CM urges PM Modi to stop flights from countries affected by Covid Omicron variant

New Delhi [India], November 28 (ANI): Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on Sunday wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and urged him to stop flights from countries affected by the new COVID-19 variant Omicron.
In an official letter, Kejriwal wrote, “Our country has fought a tough fight against Corona for the last one and half years. We should do everything possible to prevent the new variant of concern from entering India.” “We should do everything possible to prevent the new variant of concern, recently recognised by WHO, from entering India. A number of countries, including the European Union (EU), have suspended travel to the affected regions. I urge you to stop flights from these regions with immediate effect. Any delay in this regard may prove harmful if any affected person enters India,” he stated.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Friday named the new COVID-19 variant B.1.1.529, which has been detected in South Africa, as ‘Omicron’ and alarmed the siren among countries of the new variant.
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister on Saturday chaired a comprehensive meeting which lasted for almost 2 hours to review the public health preparedness and vaccination-related situation for COVID-19.
As per an official statement issued by Prime Minister Office, officials briefed the PM about the new Variant of Concern ‘Omicron’ along with its characteristics and the impact seen in various countries.
Its implications for India were also discussed. The PM spoke about the need to be proactive in light of the new variant.
The PM highlighted the need for monitoring all international arrivals, their testing as per guidelines, with a specific focus on countries identified ‘at risk’. He also asked officials to review plans for easing international travel restrictions in light of the emerging new evidence.

People of Gujarat need not worry on Covid New Variant: Gujarat Health Minister

Ahmedabad (Gujarat) [India]: Gujarat Health Minister Rushikesh Patel on Saturday assured the people of the state that there is no need to worry about another COVID-19 wave as the state government is well prepared and has increased preparedness by 2.5 times.
“We are well prepared, irrespective of whether a third wave hits India or not. From oxygen cylinders, ventilators to beds, arrangements have been increased by 2.5 times. Be it third, fourth, or fifth wave, it won’t affect us. People of Gujarat need not worry,” the state’s health minister told ANI. His statement comes amid rising concern over the new COVID-19 variant, Omicron, that was first detected in South Africa.
“Omicron cases have been reported in 7-8 nations, we have made an action plan for travellers from the said nations. Travellers from Hong Kong, South Africa, Botswana will be screened at the airport and quarantined as and when required,” said the minister.
The Gujarat government on Saturday mandated RT-PCR testing for travellers landing at the airports in the state. The travellers arriving from 11 countries including Europe, the United Kingdom, Brazil, South Africa, Bangladesh, Botswana, China, Mauritius, New Zealand, Zimbabwe and Hong Kong have to get tested after landing at the airports in the state.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Friday named the new COVID-19 variant B.1.1.529, which has been detected in South Africa, as ‘Omicron’ and alarmed the siren among countries of the new variant.
Taking action amid concerns over the new variant of the virus, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday chaired a comprehensive meeting to review the public health preparedness and vaccination-related situation for COVID-19.
As per an official statement issued by Prime Minister Office, officials briefed the PM about the new Variant of Concern ‘Omicron’ along with its characteristics and the impact seen in various countries.
Its implications for India were also discussed. The PM spoke about the need to be proactive in light of the new variant. The PM highlighted the need for monitoring all international arrivals, their testing as per guidelines, with a specific focus on countries identified ‘at risk’. He also asked officials to review plans for easing of international travel restrictions in light of the emerging new evidence.

Pakistan restricts travel from 6 South African nations, Hong Kong over new COVID-19 variant

Islamabad [Pakistan]: Pakistan on Saturday restricted travel from six southern African nations and Hong Kong amid rising concerns over the newly detected variant of COVID-19.
Taking to Twitter, Pakistan Federal Planning and Development Minister Asad Umar on Saturday said , “the emergence of new variant makes it even more urgent to vaccinate all eligible citizens 12 years and older”, Dawn reported. “Based on the emergence of the new covid variant, notification has been issued to restrict travel from 6 south African countries and Hong Kong. The emergence of new variant makes it even more urgent to vaccinate all eligible citizens 12 years and older,” Umar tweeted.
The new Omicron variant, which has been detected first in South Africa, has escalated tensions across the world as it is considered more dangerous than the delta variant.It has been declared as a ‘variant of concern’ by the World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday.
WHO identified the new South African strain as one of concern, as it is reported to carry a high number of mutations — 32 — which possibly makes it more transmissible and dangerous.
he WHO has dubbed it Omicron, the 15th letter of the Greek alphabet.
Following the reports about the new variant, the United States, the European Union, Canada, Israel, Australia and other countries have restricted travel from several southern African nations over the health concerns.

India to screen, test travellers from several countries including UK amid new Covid variant ‘Omicron’

New Delhi [India]: Amid rising concern about a new COVID-19 variant ‘Omicron’ first detected in South Africa, India on Friday added several countries to the list from where travellers would need to follow additional measures on arrival in India, including post-arrival testing for infection.
Ministry of Health and Family Welfare adds Hong Kong and Israel to the list of countries from where travellers would need to follow additional measures on arrival in India, including post-arrival testing considering the detection of new COVID variant ‘Omicron’ in South Africa. Countries from where the travellers would need to follow additional measures on arrival in India are South Africa, Brazil, Bangladesh Botswana, China, Mauritius, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, Singapore, Israel, Hong Kong, countries in Europe including the UK.
Earlier, Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan, in a letter to health secretaries of all states and Union Territories, said: “lt has now been reported by National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) that multiple cases of a COVID-19 variant B.1.1.529 (named as Omicron) have been reported in Botswana (3 cases), South Africa (6 cases) and Hong Kong (1 case).
List of countries with which the Government of India has an agreement for mutual recognition
of vaccination certificate for individuals fully vaccinated with Nationally recognized or WHO recognized COVID-19 vaccine and those exempting Indian citizens fully vaccinated with Nationally recognized or WHO recognised vaccines.
This variant is reported to have a significantly high number of mutations, and thus, has serious public health implications for the country, in view of recently relaxed visa restrictions and opening up of international travel.”
Meanwhile, Switzerland has also joined the ranks of countries that announced the suspension of travel from southern Africa over the spread of the new Omicron coronavirus variant, Russian news agency Sputnik reported.
The United Kingdom was the first to halt flights from South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho and Eswatini.
Several other countries including the United States, the Philippines, Spain, Israel, Austria, Morocco have imposed travel restrictions from Africa.
Besides, Canada has also banned the entry of foreign nationals who have travelled to the southern Africa region over the last 14 days.

New COVID-19 variant confirmed in Belgium

Brussels [Belgium]: A new COVID-19 variant known as B.1.1.529 has been confirmed in Belgium, Belgian Minister of Health and Social Affairs Franck Vandenbroucke said on Friday.
Two suspect samples were being analyzed, according to Belgian virologist Marc Van Ranst of the Catholic University of Louvain. One sample was confirmed as the novel B.1.1.529, the virologist tweeted on Friday. The new variant first detected in South Africa features “unusual” alterations that are concerning since they may let it evade the immune system and become more transmissible.
Belgium decided on Friday to suspend flights from the southern African region, following a proposal from the European Commission. Belgian travellers returning from South Africa and other nearby countries must adhere to a ten-day quarantine.
Several European countries, notably the United Kingdom, Germany and Italy, have already decided to close their borders to the region.

UK suspends flights to six African countries as new COVID variant emerges

London [UK]: UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid on Thursday announced a temporary suspension of flights from six countries after reports emerged that a new COVID variant with more than 30 mutations is spreading in South Africa.
It comes as Variant B.1.1.529 is declared a Variant under Investigation (VuI) by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA). “The variant includes a large number of spike protein mutations as well as mutations in other parts of the viral genome. These are potentially biologically significant mutations which may change the behaviour of the virus with regards to vaccines, treatments and transmissibility. More investigation is required,” UK Health Security Agency said in a statement.
Taking to Twitter, Javid said UKHSA is “investigating a new variant and more data is needed but we’re taking precautions now.” “From noon tomorrow six African countries will be added to the red list, flights will be temporarily banned, and UK travellers must quarantine,” he said.
“We are taking precautionary action to protect public health and the progress of our vaccine rollout at a critical moment as we enter winter, and we are monitoring the situation closely,” he added.
This announcement comes after media reports said that a new COVID-19 variant of “serious concern” has been detected in South Africa.
The World Health Organization (WHO) is convening an emergency meeting Friday to discuss the potentially rapidly spreading COVID strain found in South Africa and Botswana, the Financial Times reported, citing sources.
Earlier, UK media reports said that scientists from the UK had warned of the appearance of a coronavirus strain, which contains 32 mutations, in Botswana.
Many of the mutations indicate its high transmissibility and resistance to vaccines, the strain has more changes in the spike protein than all other COVID-19 variants, the Russian news agency reported. The South African National Institute of Infectious Diseases later also confirmed that the new strain had been found in South Africa.

New variant of COVID-19 Delta strain detected in Norway

Oslo [Norway], Russia: A new variant of the Delta strain of the coronavirus has been detected in Norway, which is assumed to be no more infectious than other strains, the NRK broadcaster reported Monday, citing the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH).
The NIPH reported the first case of the Norwegian version of the Delta virus in late June, and since then it has spread around the country, according to the news. Experts believe it to be no more dangerous than the regular Delta virus, and the existing vaccines do not lose their efficiency against it, the NRK noted. “We have no data that the vaccine does not work against this variant, there are no significant reasons for concern,” Karoline Bragstad, a senior researcher at NIPH, was quoted as saying.
The variant has been recognized internationally as AY.63 and labeled as “first seen in Norway,” the broadcaster said.

No new variant of COVID-19 detected in Bengaluru, says Karnataka health secretary

Bengaluru (Karnataka) [India] : Karnataka Health Secretary D. Randeep said no new variant of COVID-19 has been detected in Bengaluru.

The state health secretary said, “No new variant of COVID-19 has been detected in Bengaluru recently. The number of deaths in the state has risen to 9. It could be due to late reporting of deaths by some hospitals.” On Wednesday, Karnataka reported 328 new COVID-19 cases during the last 24 hours, as per the state health bulletin.
During the same duration, 247 people recovered from the infection while nine people succumbed to the deadly virus, taking the tally of the current active COVID-19 cases to 8,027.

New Zealand reports 75 new community cases of COVID-19 Delta variant

Wellington, Sep 1: New Zealand reported 75 new community cases of Delta variant of COVID-19, including 74 in the largest city Auckland and one in the capital Wellington on Wednesday, bringing the total number of cases in the country’s community outbreak to 687.
Auckland has 671 community cases and Wellington has 16 cases, according to the Ministry of Health.
All of the cases have or will be transferred safely to a quarantine facility, under strict infection prevention and control procedures, including the use of full PPE (Personal Protective Equipment), Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield told a press conference.
There are 632 cases that have been clearly epidemiologically-linked to another case or sub-cluster, and a further 55 for which links are yet to be fully established, Bloomfield said.
Of the current community cases, 32 cases are in hospital, including eight cases in intensive care units (ICUs), he said.
New Zealand also reported one new case in recent returnees who have remained in a managed isolation and quarantine facility in Auckland, according to a statement of Ministry of Health.
The total number of confirmed cases in New Zealand since the start of the pandemic is 3,288, it said.
Auckland will remain at the top level 4 national lockdown for two more weeks, with the area south of Auckland moving to level 3 at 11:59 p.m. local time Tuesday for a week. Northland will move to level 3 at 11:59 p.m. local time on Thursday if no new cases emerge.
Under the Alert Level 4 lockdown, businesses and schools are closed except for essential ones such as supermarkets, pharmacies and service stations. Life under level 3 will be relaxed to some degree as construction work and takeaway services can resume with the necessary safety measures in place.
The country has moved to a lockdown since midnight Aug. 17 after the first COVID-19 Delta variant case in the Auckland community was identified.

New Zealand reports 49 new community cases of COVID-19 Delta variant

Wellington, Aug 31: New Zealand reported 49 new community cases of Delta variant of COVID-19, all in the largest city Auckland on Tuesday, bringing the total number of cases in the country’s community outbreak to 612.

The total number of community cases in Auckland is now 597 and in the capital Wellington is 15, according to the Ministry of Health.

All of the cases have or will be transferred safely to a quarantine facility, under strict infection prevention and control procedures, including the use of full PPE (Personal Protective Equipment), Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield told a press conference.

There are 566 cases that have been clearly epidemiologically-linked to another case or sub-cluster, and a further 46 for which links are yet to be fully established, Bloomfield said.
Of the current community cases, 33 cases are in hospital — 25 are in a stable condition in the ward and eight cases are in a stable condition in intensive care units (ICUs), he said, adding there are appropriate isolation and infection prevention and control plans in place at all hospitals where these patients are being managed.
New Zealand also reported one new case in recent returnees. The case came from Nepal and has remained in a managed isolation and quarantine facility in Christchurch, according to a Ministry of Health statement.
The total number of active cases being managed in New Zealand is currently 651, and the total number of confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic is 3,213, it said.
Auckland will remain at the top level 4 national lockdown for two more weeks, with the area south of Auckland moving to level 3 at 11:59 p.m. local time Tuesday for a week. Northland will move to level 3 at 11:59 p.m. local time on Thursday if no new cases emerge, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told a press conference on Monday.
Under the Alert Level 4 lockdown, businesses and schools are closed except for essential ones such as supermarkets, pharmacies and service stations. Life under level 3 will be relaxed to some degree as construction work and takeaway services can resume with necessary safety measures in place.
The country has moved to a lockdown since midnight Aug. 17 after the first COVID-19 Delta variant case in the Auckland community was identified.

Philippines extends travel ban on India, 9 other countries as Delta variant spreads

Manila, Aug 13: The Philippines has extended its travel ban for all inbound travelers from India and nine other countries to Aug 31 as Delta variant cases rise across the country, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said on Friday.

The Delta variant has spread in the Philippines, where 627 cases have been reported, including 11 deaths.

Aside from India where the Delta variant was first detected, the Philippines also banned travelers from Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates, where the variant has spread.

However, the country allows returning overseas Filipino workers under its repatriation program, but they will be isolated for 14 days upon the arrival.

The Philippines is grappling with soaring COVID-19 infections fueled by the highly transmissible Delta variant, prompting the government to reimpose a hard lockdown in Metro Manila and other regions.

The Philippines now has more than 1.7 million confirmed COVID-19 cases, including 29,539 deaths.

Variant worse than Delta could be coming, may double cases in the US: Dr Fauci

Washington [US]: US top coronavirus adviser Dr Anthony Fauci on Wednesday (local time) said that COVID-19 cases may double as variant worse than Delta could be coming.
“If America’s current COVID-19 surge continues unabated into the fall and winter, the country will likely face an even more deadly strain of the virus that could evade the current coronavirus vaccines, Fauci told McClatchy, reported Axios. His comments underscore the importance of acting quickly to vaccinate the tens of millions of Americans who have not been inoculated against the virus.
The current surge in coronavirus cases nationwide is being driven by the Delta variant, which is already more contagious than the original strain of the virus.
Recent data shows that vaccinated people who still get infected with the delta variant also have high viral loads and can spread it to others, even when they aren’t showing symptoms or are experiencing the mild disease. “We’re now dealing with, really, a different virus,” said Fauci.
As the virus continues to spread due to insufficient vaccination rates, it is being given “ample” time to mutate into a more dangerous new variant in the fall and winter, Fauci said.
“[Q]uite frankly, we’re very lucky that the vaccines that we have now do very well against the variants — particularly against severe illness,” Fauci said, emphasizing that this might not be the case with a new variant.
“If another one comes along that has an equally high capability of transmitting but also is much more severe, then we could really be in trouble,” he said.
“People who are not getting vaccinated mistakenly think it’s only about them. But it isn’t. It’s about everybody else, also.”
Moreover, other variants are already cropping up. South Korea has reported two cases of highly transmissible delta plus variant of the coronavirus.
It is the first time that the country has reported the Delta Plus variant, considered a sublineage of the Delta variant, Yonhap News Agency reported on Tuesday citing the country’s Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).
Some experts believe the Delta Plus variant could be more contagious than the Delta variant.
The Lambda variant, which originated from Peru last year, has already been detected in the US, reported Axios.

Highly Transmissible Delta Strain Becomes Dominant Variant In US

The highly transmissible Delta strain has overtaken the Alpha variant to become the dominant variant in the US, according to new estimates from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Delta, which was first found in India and is now in over 100 countries, represented 51.7 per cent of new infections in the US over the two weeks ending July 3, Xinhua news agency reported citing the CDC.

Meanwhile, the proportion of new cases caused by Alpha, which was first detected in Britain, was just 28.7 per cent over the same time period, according to the CDC.

Recently, health officials and experts have warned that the Delta variant was on track to become the dominant variant in the US, as its prevalence in the nation doubles about every two weeks.

They are concerned the variant will cause a surge in new cases this fall, hitting the unvaccinated population the hardest.

Increasing cases were reported in states with lower vaccination rates, including Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi, according to the CDC.

Although Delta is highly contagious, research show that most vaccines still remain highly effective at preventing hospitalizations and deaths caused by the variant.

US President Joe Biden on Tuesday pushed for all eligible Americans to get Covid-19 vaccinations, stressing the importance of being protected against Delta.

The country reached its highest vaccination rate in mid-April when the seven-day average of doses administered daily topped about 3.4 million. But the rate has dropped since then.

About 47.6 per cent of the US population is fully vaccinated against Covid-19, and 55.1 per cent of the population has received at least one shot as of Wednesday, CDC data show.

Biden set a goal in May of having 70 per cent of American adults receive at least one Covid-19 shot by the Fourth of July. But just 18 states and Washington, DC surpassed that goal by the date, according to a Forbes report.

Delta Variant Continues To Evolve And Mutate; WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus Warned

The world is in a very “dangerous period” of the COVID-19 pandemic compounded by more transmissible variants like Delta, which is continuing to evolve and mutate, World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has warned.

He said in countries with low vaccination coverage, terrible scenes of hospitals overflowing are again becoming the norm.

“Compounded by more transmissible variants, like Delta, which is quickly becoming the dominant strain in many countries, we are in a very dangerous period of this pandemic,” Ghebreyesus said at a press briefing on Friday.

“But no country is out of the woods yet. The Delta variant is dangerous and is continuing to evolve and mutate, which requires constant evaluation and careful adjustment of the public health response,” he said.

Noting that the Delta variant has been detected in at least 98 countries and is spreading quickly in countries with low and high vaccination coverage, he said there are essentially two ways for countries to push back against new surges.

“Public health and social measures like strong surveillance, strategic testing, early case detection, isolation and clinical care remain critical,” he said, adding that masking, physical distance, avoiding crowded places and keeping indoor areas well ventilated are the basis for the response.

Ghebreyesus underscored that the world must equitably share protective gear, oxygen, tests, treatments and vaccines and stressed that he has urged leaders across the world to work together to ensure that by this time next year, 70 per cent of all people in every country are vaccinated.

“This is the best way to slow the pandemic, save lives, drive a truly global economic recovery and along the way prevent further dangerous variants from getting the upper hand. By the end of this September, we’re calling on leaders to vaccinate at least 10 per cent of people in all countries,” he said.

As new manufacturing hubs- including for mRNA vaccines- are being developed, the WHO chief said this could be accelerated by companies openly sharing technology and know-how.

“In particular, I urge those companies- BioNTech, Pfizer and Moderna- to share their know-how so that we can speed up the development of new production. The sooner we start building more vaccine hubs and upping global vaccine capacity, the sooner we can diminish deadly surges,” he said.

The Delta variant, first detected in India, is now being reported in nearly 100 countries, which is “likely an underestimate” and the highly transmissible strain is expected to rapidly outcompete other variants and become dominant globally over the coming months, WHO had said this week.

The COVID-19 Weekly Epidemiological Update published by WHO said that as of June 29, 2021, “96 countries have reported cases of the Delta variant, though this is likely an underestimate as sequencing capacities needed to identify variants are limited. A number of these countries are attributing surges in infections and hospitalizations to this variant.”

It said given the increase in transmissibility, the Delta variant is “expected to rapidly outcompete other variants and become the dominant variant over the coming months.”

WHO noted that the tools that exist today to combat the coronavirus- including individual, community level-public health and social measures, infection prevention and control measures, that have been used since the beginning of the pandemic-remain effective against current variants of concern, including the Delta variant.

South African Experts: Anti-Covid-19 Vaccines Pfizer And J&J Are More Effective Against The Delta Variant Of The Coronavirus Than The Beta Strain

The anti-COVID-19 vaccines by US pharma majors Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson (J&J) that are being used in South Africa are more effective against the Delta variant of the coronavirus than the Beta strain, experts have said.

The Beta variant, which was first detected in South Africa, caused a second wave at the beginning of this year whereas the Delta variant, first detected in India, is driving the current third wave in South Africa, resulting in increased lockdown restrictions as the number of infections and deaths have already surpassed those of the previous two waves.

In a media briefing led by Acting Health Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi on Friday, experts said that results in both laboratory research and field studies had shown that the vaccines were effective against the Delta virus.

“What we have seen in the in vitro work is that the J&J vaccine works better against the Delta variant and gets better over time where both the Delta and Beta variants are concerned,” said Professor Glenda Gray, President and CEO of the South African Medical Research Council.

Gray said there was no need yet to get a booster jab of the J&J vaccine. Referring to the studies so far, she said that a single shot worked just as well as two doses given to health care workers over a period.

“Right up to eight months we may say that we have durable immune responses as measured in people who we are following up over time,” she said.

“Quite unequivocally, the single shot of J&J vaccine works against both the Delta and the Beta variants of concern at eight months. So this is just to reassure the public that we don’t need to boost the J&J vaccine just yet, but we need to keep following up the participants to see when the durability of the immune response wanes,” Gray said.

Professor Penny Moore of the University of Witwatersrand confirmed that existing laboratory data suggested that the vaccines currently being used in South Africa work better against the Delta variant than they have against the Beta variant.

“In a large measure, our epidemic now in South Africa is driven by the Delta variant, so it is very crucial that we understand how that variant reacts to the various vaccines that we have in South Africa.

“Against the Pfizer vaccine, the antibodies were really good at 1,000 (but) with the AstraZeneca vaccine the antibodies dropped right down to 146, indicating that the vaccine would not work so well against the Beta variant. But when we look at the Delta variant which is now circulating in South Africa, the numbers have gone back up again,” Moore said.

WHO earlier expressed concern about possible new waves in Europe due to the Delta variant, which has been detected in over 25 countries around the globe. The Delta variant is more transmissible than the previous two variants.

With vaccine stocks running out as vaccination campaigns are stepped up, the health minister said that South Africa will get delivery of 2.1 million more Pfizer doses this month, together with 500,000 Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccines that are still due for delivery.

The epicentre of South Africa’s third wave is the economic hub of Gauteng Province. A two-week lockdown that started on Monday has prohibited travel into or out of the province except under special circumstances to contain the exponentially rising infections and deaths.

By Friday, South Africa had passed two million infections. With 381 deaths from COVID-19 related issues overnight, the current death toll has touched 61,029.

Delta Variant Expected To Become The Dominant Covid-19 Strain In Germany

The Delta variant is expected to become the dominant Covid-19 strain in Germany with its share of positive cases approaching 80 per cent, Health Minister Jens Spahn said.

The share of new Covid-19 infections caused by the more infectious Delta variant has already more than doubled since last week and currently stands at 37 per cent, according to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), the federal agency and research institute responsible for disease control and prevention.

The German government would likely be able to keep its promise to vaccinate the entire adult population by the end of summer, Xinhua news agency quoted the Minister as saying to reporters on Thursday. The more people receive their second vaccine dose, the higher the level of protection will be against the Delta variant, he added.

Till date, almost 31 million people in Germany have already been fully vaccinated, bringing the country’s vaccination rate to 37.3 per cent, according to the RKI. Spahn urged his non-vaccinated compatriots to get tested regularly.

“This is another important difference from last year, we have tests available on a large scale,” he said.

Meanwhile, the number of daily Covid-19 infections is continuing to fall as 892 new cases were registered within 24 hours on Thursday, 116 less than one week ago, the RKI said.

To date, 3,736,959 cases have been officially registered in Germany since the onset of the pandemic early last year. The death toll stood at 90,938, according to the RKI.

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