World on alert as Omicron spreads
The new Covid-19 variant Omicron has continued its global spread since the World Health Organization announced it was a “variant of concern” on November 24, after it was detected in southern Africa. Scientists worldwide are racing to establish how contagious and deadly Omicron is, and if current treatments and vaccines are effective against it.
The WHO and the global scientific community have cautioned against drawing conclusions after two South African health experts said that Omicron symptoms had so far been mild: flu-like with dry coughs, fever, night sweats and body pains.
Omicon, or the B.1.1.529 variant as it is also known, has appeared in at least two dozen countries since it was first reported to the WHO from South Africa on November 24. It has started gaining a foothold in Asia, and could account for more than half of all infections in Europe within months, the European Union's public health agency said.
Many governments have responded to the Omicron outbreak by tightening border controls. Such restrictions are wreaking havoc on the aviation industry, impacting markets and undermining major economies just as they were beginning to recover from the lockdowns triggered by the Delta variant.
Situation in southern Africa
South Africa is eyeing a mandatory vaccine policy to combat a rapid rise in new Covid-19 cases after the discovery of Omicron. The country’s National Institute for Communicable Disease said it appeared that Omicron was rapidly becoming the dominant variant in South Africa. Cases have also been reported in Botswana and Zimbabwe as well as Ghana and Nigeria in West Africa.
Edited by Andrew London
Sources: Johns Hopkins University, Hong Kong government, Reuters, Agence France-Presse, Associated Press, South African Medical Association