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Omicron variant: Australia, Dutch confirm 2 cases; Israel bars all foreign nationals

10:52 PM Nov 28, 2021 | Associated Press

Australian officials confirmed on Sunday that two overseas travellers who arrived in Sydney had tested positive for the Omicron variant of the coronavirus; they were asymptomatic and were both vaccinated. The remaining 12 who arrived with them have been placed in quarantine. Two suspected cases of Omicron were also detected among travellers entering Denmark from South Africa.

Dutch authorities, meanwhile, have detected at least 13 such cases among 61 incoming travellers from South Africa. Additional cases could emerge, as health officials were still examining test samples.

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Cases have already been confirmed on multiple continents, with Germany, Italy, Belgium, Israel and Hong Kong all reporting cases in recent days.

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Scientists cautioned that relatively little is known about the new variant, and that only a small number of confirmed cases have surfaced globally. The “new variant doesn’t necessarily mean a new wave, or that the variant is more dangerous.” What is causing panic is that Omicron could have spread more widely before scientists in South Africa discovered it last week. The countries are only playing safe, acting as though this variant is potentially dangerous.

The United States' top infectious diseases expert, Dr Anthony Fauci, said he would not be surprised if the Omicron variant was already in the US, too. “We have not detected it yet, but when you have a virus that is showing this degree of transmissibility ... it almost invariably is ultimately going to go essentially all over,” Fauci said on NBC television.

MASKS MUST IN UK: As the super variant circled the globe, UK announced masks will be compulsory again in shops and on public transport from Tuesday. The authorities will also enforce day-two PCR tests for arrivals in Britain. Despite the panic and fears of an impending lockdown, the Health Secretary urged people to keep planning for the festive season, as ‘it is going to be a great Christmas.' The Cabinet minister said he was still only aware of two confirmed cases in the UK.

ISRAEL BARS ALL FOREIGN NATIONALS: Israel went a step further, barring entry to all foreign nationals, mandating quarantine for all Israelis arriving from abroad and red-listing travel to 50 African countries. It also approved use of the Shin Bet internal security agency's controversial phone monitoring technology to perform contact tracing of individuals confirmed with the new variant in Israel.

The governments around the world introduced travel closure steps even as scientists raced to learn more about the variant – how lethal it is and whether it can pierce the vaccine regimen.

Tourist-dependent Thailand, which only recently began loosening its tight border restrictions to leisure travellers from certain countries, announced a ban of its own on visitors from eight African countries. Similar restrictions took effect in the business hub of Singapore, which is barring entry and transit to anyone with a recent history of travel to seven southern African nations.

Sri Lanka banned disembarkation of passengers from southern Africa, as did the Maldives, the luxury Indian Ocean resort archipelago.

Some experts, including the W.H.O., said that the rush to reintroduce travel bans and border closures was premature and would unfairly punish African countries that have already suffered from delayed and insufficient vaccine supplies caused in large part by Western countries hoarding doses.

Also Read: Omicron variant: Returnees from abroad to MP in last one month to undergo COVID-19 test, says CM Chouhan

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