Travel curbs tightened globally as more Omicron cases pop up, WHO says unsure if it's more contagious
Nov 29, 2021
The detection of the new Omicron variant coronavirus has posed a new challenge globally. Several countries have tightened travel restrictions and lockdowns have been imposed in some. The Government of India on Sunday issued revised guidelines for international arrivals in India which will come into effect from December 1.
The revised guidelines mandate submitting 14 days' travel details and uploading a negative RT-PCR test report on the Air Suvidha portal before the journey.
The variant was identified days ago by researchers in South Africa, and much is still not known about it, including whether it is more contagious, more likely to cause serious illness or more able to evade the protection of vaccines.
But many countries rushed to act, reflecting anxiety about anything that could prolong the pandemic that has killed more than 5 million people.
INDIA REVISES GUIDELINES FOR INTERNATIONAL TRAVELLERS
As per Health Ministry's guidelines, travellers from 'countries at-risk' will need to take Covid test post arrival and wait for the results at the airport. If tested negative, they'll follow home quarantine for seven days. A re-test on the 8th day and, if negative, further self-monitor for the next seven days.
Travellers from countries excluding the 'countries at risk' will be allowed to leave the airport and should self-monitor their health for 14 days. A sub-section (5% of total flight passengers) should undergo post-arrival testing at random at the airport on arrival.
On Saturday, the government listed a number of countries in the 'at risk' category. These include South Africa, China, Botswana, those in Europe including the UK, Brazil, Israel, Bangladesh, Mauritius, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, Singapore, Israel and Hong Kong. The Centre also directed the state and union territory governments to increase Covid-19 testing, augment healthcare infrastructure, and increase genome sequencing.
WHAT DOES THE WHO SAY?
The World Health Organisation has said it is "not yet clear" whether the newly detected coronavirus variant Omicron is more transmissible or causes more severe disease compared to other variants, including the highly-transmissible and globally prevalent Delta variant. "There is currently no information to suggest that symptoms associated with Omicron are different from those from other variants," the WHO said.
It added that initial reported infections were among university studies -- younger individuals who tend to have more mild disease -- but understanding the level of severity of the Omicron variant will take days to several weeks.
Further, preliminary evidence suggests there may be an increased risk of reinfection with Omicron (i.e., people who have previously had Covid-19 could become reinfected more easily with Omicron), as compared to other variants of concern, but information is "limited", the WHO said.
SOUTH AFRICA TO REMAIN ON LOWEST LOCKDOWN LEVEL
South Africa will remain on the lowest 'Level One' of its five-level lockdown strategy to fight the Covid-19 pandemic despite the global panic around the detection of the Omicron variant in the country, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced on Sunday. Ramaphosa also called on more than 20 countries that have imposed travel bans to and from South Africa and its neighbours to immediately end the ban to avoid further harm to the economies of these countries, which have already been battered by the pandemic.
Commenting on the travel ban, Ramaphosa called for an immediate reversal of the ban. "(The ban) is a clear and completely unjustified departure from the commitment that many of these countries made at the meeting of G20 countries in Rome last month."
NETHERLANDS MOVE INTO TOUGHER LOCKDOWN
The Netherlands moved into a tougher lockdown on Sunday that was announced amid spiking infections even before the country recorded its first confirmed cases of the new Omicron virus variant. Bars, restaurants, nonessential stores, cinemas and theaters were among the public places forced to shut from 5 pm until 5 am under the new lockdown.
The restrictions took effect hours after Health Minister Hugo de Jonge announced that at least 13 travellers who arrived at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport on Friday tested positive for the new variant. He urged other travellers who arrived last week from southern Africa to get tested as well.
FACE MASKS COMPULSORY IN UK
A third case of the Omicron coronavirus variant has been detected in the UK, the Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said on Sunday. The latest case is linked to travel to southern Africa, where the variant was identified, but the individual is no longer in the UK. The UK government had announced that face coverings will become a compulsory requirement in shops and public transport in England from Tuesday, as part of the tighter Covid-19 curbs being enforced in response to two cases of the new Omicron variant detected in the country.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the requirement of compulsory PCR tests to be taken by all overseas arrivals into the UK will also be enforced "as soon as possible". The minister asserted that he expects all the new measures, being introduced to give scientists more time to analyse the infectiousness and vaccine-resistance levels of Omicron, to be lifted again "within weeks".
ISRAEL TIGHTENS TRAVEL RESTRICTIONS
Israel on Sunday approved barring entry to foreign nationals and the use of controversial technology for contact tracing as part of its efforts to clamp down on a new coronavirus variant.
The Health Ministry said the country's coronavirus Cabinet had authorized a raft of measures, including red-listing travel to 50 African countries, banning entry by foreigners and mandating quarantine for all Israelis arriving from abroad.
MOROCCO HALTS ALL INCOMING FLIGHTS
Morocco is suspending all incoming air travel from around the world from Monday for two weeks because of the rapid spread of the new omicron variant, the Foreign Ministry announced Sunday.
The ministry tweeted that the decision was taken to "preserve the achievements realized by Morocco in the fight against the pandemic, and to protect the health of citizens." It noted the spread of omicron in Africa and Europe.
SPAIN TO NOT ALLOW UNVACCINATED BRITISH VISITORS FROM DEC 1
Spain announced it won't admit unvaccinated British visitors starting December 1. Italy was going through lists of airline passengers who arrived in the past two weeks. France is continuing to push vaccinations and booster shots.