Monday, January 17

The omicron variant spreads across 38 countries on the eve of Christmas

In just ten days the new variant of the coronavirus, omicron, has already spread to 38 countries, has reactivated restrictions and closed borders and worries the health authorities and the World Health Organization, which is currently unaware of the consequences of this new strain. The positive part was communicated precisely by the WHO this Friday: it has not detected any death linked to this variant.

A fact that comes to support what both the health authorities and the South African experts already suggested of those first infections last weekend: it seems that the new variant is expanding faster, but the symptoms are milder. However, it is early to determine, in scientific terms, if the infection is really milder, if it is true that it spreads faster, or what the effects of vaccines are. “We will have the answers that everyone needs,” said WHO emergency director Michael Ryan on Friday.

While the answers arrive and this new variant continues to expand, the WHO has asked “to be prepared and be cautious”, but also “not to panic, because we are in a different situation than a year ago”. Speaking at a conference organized by Reuters, the organization’s chief scientist, Soumya Swamintathan, considered that omicron may become the dominant variant, due to its high transmission, but insisted that a new vaccine against it may not be needed. Just in case, some pharmaceutical companies are already working on this forecast. Moderna estimates that a hypothetical development of a new vaccine could be ready by early 2022.

“We can be sure that this variant will expand. Delta also started in one place and is now the predominant variant,” agreed WHO spokesman Christian Lindmeier at a press conference this Friday. “Once a variant is detected and surveillance begins, more and more cases appear. When it is discovered, it is because there is already a group of cases somewhere,” he explained.

An exponential increase in cases

In South Africa, the country where the new variant was first detected on November 24, the increase in new cases is “exponential.” Dr. Michelle Groome, of the National Institute of Communicable Diseases of South Africa (NICD, for its acronym in English), already warned this week that infections by omicron have gone from an average of 300 cases a day during the first week; 1,000, last week; and 3,500 in the last days.

The new restrictions and limitations on travel from this and other countries in the southern part of the continent have not prevented the detection of local transmissions in other parts of the world as well. The latest cases have been in the United States and Australia. The American Center for Disease Control and Prevention warned that it had detected cases of omicron in six other states, and there are already eleven, although it does not rule out that it could be in more.

President Joe Biden announced on Thursday a strategy to contain the spread of the virus and limit the advance of this variant in the country. Among the new measures, which will be applied as of Monday, is the requirement to present a negative coronavirus test carried out during the 24 hours prior – instead of 72 – to enter the country, regardless of the country of origin or the state. vaccination.

In Australia they already count nine cases of omcricon arrived from abroad and the first community contagion, detected in Canberra, while the authorities investigate a local outbreak in Sydney and thousands of people demonstrate this Saturday in Melbourne against the laws that seek to stop the pandemic.

Norway announced on Thursday new measures to contain the advance of the pandemic in general and omicron in particular: negative antigen test for anyone, vaccinated or not, who wants to enter the country, mandatory mask indoors in areas with the highest incidence and capacity limitations. By the time these measures came into force, this Friday, 50 positives had already been detected after a Christmas party in Oslo, of which at least 13 go up to the account of the new variant.

No welcome to 2022

If last weekend, as new omicron cases were announced by different countries, many of them were imposing or analyzing new restrictions, the trickle of ads has not stopped in recent days. The most recent in Europe: Belgian schools will close a week before for Christmas holidays; the German lander will again ban fireworks on New Years to avoid crowds; Ireland limits seating in bars and home visits.

The mayor of Rio de Janeiro, Eduardo Paes, announced this Saturday that there will be no official New Year’s Eve party, an event that every December 31 usually attracts millions of tourists in Copacabana. Brazil has registered six cases of omicron in its territory, which has put regional and local authorities on guard. In total, the celebrations, events and concerts to welcome 2022 have been canceled in 21 of the 27 regional capitals of the country.

This Friday, the Malaysian and Sri Lankan authorities reported their first cases of omicron and Singapore confirmed two new infections from this variant. In Canada, 15 cases of omicron have already been detected, eleven of them notified this Friday. Meanwhile, in South Korea, there is a mass in a church with hundreds of people, attended by some of the nine confirmed cases in the country.

Restrictions “before omicron, due to the increase in delta”

However, the WHO has indicated that many of these measures had already been applied before the arrival of omicron to stop the increase in incidence and new cases that had been occurring in recent weeks, when there was still no evidence of the new variant . “The lockdowns, the closure of certain economic activities, of Christmas markets in parts of Europe … This has happened before omicron and the reason was the increase in cases of the delta variant,” warned Lindmeier. “Let’s not lose that perspective,” he said before asking that “instead of closing borders, it is better to prepare the country and the health system for the cases that arrive.”

Source: Johns Hopkins University

In Spain, the minister spokesman for the Government, Isabel Rodríguez, has indicated that thanks to the current strategy and the high vaccination rate, the country will withstand the new “onslaught of the virus.” In an interview with the EFE Agency, Rodríguez insisted that it will not be necessary to apply more restrictive measures in the face of Christmas, as is the case in other European countries.