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New coronavirus variant here, but Delta still dominant, says expert as countries impose travel bans

On Friday, the World Health Organisation (WHO) designated SARS-CoV-2 variant B.1.1529 as a ‘variant of concern'. The new coronavirus variant, which has been detected in South Africa, Hong Kong, Israel and Botswana, has been named Omicron.

The WHO classified the variant as a "highly transmissible virus of concern", the same category that includes the predominant delta variant of the coronavirus. In a bid to contain this new Covid-19 threat, countries across the world have rushed to impose travel bans.

However, American epidemiologist Maria Van Kherkhove emphasised that the delta variant is still the dominant one and that the focus needs to be on both vaccinating people and driving transmission down.

She said, "Please keep perspective. We have a new variant of concern Omicron, but do not forget that Delta is dominant worldwide and people are dying unnecessarily because we do not have vaccine equity. We must increase vaccination among those most at risk in all countries and drive transmission down everywhere."



The White House said the US will restrict travel from South Africa and seven other countries in the region from Monday onwards. US President Joe Biden clarified that this means "no travel" to or from the designated countries except for returning US citizens and permanent residents who test negative.

"It seems to spread rapidly. I've decided that we're going to be cautious," US President Joe Biden said.


On Friday, Canada announced it is banning the entry of foreign nationals who have travelled through southern Africa in the last 14 days.

Testing will be mandatory for all Canadians who have travelled to southern Africa in the last 14 days. They will be tested on arrival and must quarantine until they get a negative test result.

Those who have arrived in Canada in the last 14 days were also asked to quarantine and get a Covid-19 test.


Saudi Arabia has suspended flights from seven southern African countries - South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Botswana.


The European Union has imposed a ban on travel from southern Africa. The EU presidency, currently held by Slovenia, also called on all member states "to test and quarantine all incoming passengers".

EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said flights will have to "be suspended until we have a clear understanding about the danger posed by this new variant, and travellers returning from this region should respect strict quarantine rules."


On Friday, the UK applied travel restrictions on arrivals from South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Namibia. The six nations have been moved to the UK's travel ‘red list'.

A temporary flight ban is in place and all travellers who have been in these countries have to quarantine and be tested.

The UK government has said that no cases of the new mutation have been detected in the country so far.


On Saturday, Australia imposed new restrictions on people who have been in nine southern African countries.

Effective immediately, the government will ban non-citizens from the countries from entering Australia and will require 14-day quarantines for Australian citizens and their dependents returning from the countries, said Health Minister Greg Hunt.

The countries are South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, the Seychelles, Malawi and Mozambique.


Brazil will shut its borders to travellers from six southern African countries, the chief of staff to President Bolsonaro said on Friday.

The six countries are South Africa, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe.


On Friday, South Africa said that imposing restrictions on travellers from the country because of the new variant was 'unjustified'.


On Friday, India announced that scheduled international passenger flights will resume from December 15 after 20 months of coronavirus-induced suspension.

As per the government's decision, airlines will be allowed to operate 50 per cent of their pre-Covid scheduled passenger flights between India and South Africa, Hong Kong and Botswana from December 15.

On Thursday, the government had asked all states and union territories to conduct rigorous screening and testing of all international travellers coming from or transiting through South Africa, Hong Kong and Botswana.

The Union health ministry said countries including South Africa, Brazil, Bangladesh, Botswana, China, Mauritius, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, Singapore, Hong Kong and Israel have been put in the "at-risk" category. Passengers coming from 'at-risk' countries have to give their samples at the airport for RT-PCR testing.

As of Friday, no case of the new variant has been detected at the Delhi airport among passengers transiting or coming from 'at-risk' countries.



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