New information shows that omicron spread wider earlier than expected – Twin Cities

By RAF CASERT

BRUSSELS (AP) – New results on the coronavirus’s omicron variant made it clear on Tuesday that the new threat slipped into countries long before their defenses were up, with two distant nations announcing their first case and a third reporting its presence before South Africa officials issued alarm.

The Dutch RIVM Health Institute found omicron in samples from 19 and 23 November. The World Health Organization said South Africa first reported the variant to the UN Health Agency on 24 November. Meanwhile, Japan and France reported their first case of new variant, which in turn has forced the world to pinball between the hope of returning to normal and the fear that the worst is yet to come.

It is still unclear where or when the variant first appeared, or how contagious it could be – but that has not stopped cautious nations from rushing to impose travel restrictions, especially for visitors coming from southern Africa. These measures have been criticized by South Africa and the WHO has called on them to note their limited impact.

Recent news, however, made it increasingly clear that travel bans would fight to stop the spread of the variant. German authorities said they had an omicron infection in a man who had neither been abroad nor had contact with anyone who was.

The WHO warned on Monday that the global risk from omicron is “very high” and that early evidence suggests it may be more contagious. Others sent more reassuring messages, such as the head of the European Medicines Agency Emer Cooke, who insisted that the EU’s 27 countries were well prepared for the variant. Although it is not known how effective current vaccines against omicron are, Cooke said the shots could be adapted within three or four months if needed.

But almost two years after the virus first held the world in its grip, the current reaction in many ways reflected the chaos of the early days, including random travel bans and a poor understanding of who was in danger and where.

Many officials tried to allay fears, insisting that vaccines remain the best defense and that the world must redouble its efforts to get shots fired at all parts of the globe.

The latest variant makes these efforts even more important, said US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, noting, as many have done before, that “as long as the virus replicates somewhere, it can mutate.”

In the light of the new variant, some new measures were introduced aimed at mitigating the spread.

England made face-covering mandatory again in public transport and in shops, banks and hairdressers. And a month before Christmas, the head of Britain’s health safety agency, Jenny Harries, urged people not to socialize if they did not need to.

And after COVID-19 already led to a year of postponement of the summer games, the Olympic organizers began to worry about the winter games in February in Beijing.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said the omicron “would certainly bring some prevention and control challenges.”

Japan had announced that it would ban all foreign visitors from Tuesday – but it turned out to be too late. It confirmed its first case that day, a Namibian diplomat who had recently arrived from his country.

World markets continued to tip all medical news, either worrying or reassuring.

Global equities fell mostly on Tuesday as investors cautiously weighed how much damage omicron could trigger on the global economy.

Some analysts believe that a severe economic downturn, such as the one that occurred last year, is likely to be averted because many people have been vaccinated. But they also believe that a return to pre-pandemic levels of economic activity, particularly in tourism, has been dramatically delayed.

In a world already nervous about the more contagious delta variant that filled hospitals again in many places, even in some highly vaccinated nations, recent developments underscored the need for the entire globe to get their hands on vaccines.

“We have vaccination rates in the US, in Europe of 50, 60, 70%, depending on exactly who you count. And in Africa it is more like 14, 15% or less, ”said Blinken.

“We know, we know, we know that none of us will be completely safe until everyone is.”

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AP journalists from around the world contributed.

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Follow the AP’s coverage of the coronavirus pandemic at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic

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