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South Africa announced Thursday a ban on travelers entering the country from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone for fear of the spread of Ebola, which has already left 1,350 dead in West Africa.
In a statement, the Executive, which met Wednesday to discuss Ebola measures, announced “a total travel ban for all non-citizens traveling from high-risk countries unless travel is deemed absolutely essential.”
In the case of South Africans returning from these countries, “they will have to undergo a more stringent monitoring process” that will see them complete a health form “before being allowed back into the country.” Depending on the answers and “if the temperature reading shows anything, they will have to undergo a full medical examination”.
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The World Health Organization met this Friday to evaluate this new variant and announced that it is “a variant of concern” (in contrast to the variant “of concern”, an earlier degree of alert). It also decided on the official designation using the Greek alphabet, as it has done with previous variants. The next available letter was “nu”, but WHO decided to skip this and the following letter (“xi”) and switched to “omicron”.
The European Union considers omicron to have a “high or very high” risk. The EU Centre for Disease Prevention (ECDC) argues in its report that “the omicron variant is the most divergent variant that has been detected in significant numbers during the pandemic so far, raising concerns that it may be associated with increased transmissibility, a significant reduction in vaccine effectiveness and an increased risk of reinfection.”
Early indications from diagnostic laboratories suggest that the variant has increased rapidly in South Africa’s Gauteng province and may already be present in the country’s other eight provinces.
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“The greater the growth advantage of omicron over delta and the greater its circulation in the EU/EEA, the shorter the expected time until omicron causes the majority of SARS-CoV-2 infections.”
“We have monitored these reinfections for the beta variant and for delta, and we have not seen an increase in reinfections above what we expect when the strength of infection changes, when the variant is stopped. However, we have seen an increase in omicron,” Gottberg explained.
Tighter restrictions are likely to be agreed, many of which are aimed at unvaccinated people. The goal is to reduce infection rates and relieve pressure on intensive care wards.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden’s top medical adviser, said Wednesday that following the emergence of the variant of the omicron coronavirus it remains safe for Americans to travel and that he would not recommend anything different from previous guidance on the issue.
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The discovery of a new, potentially more transmissible variant by South African health authorities has provoked a strong reaction around the world. Several countries have imposed travel restrictions on several southern African countries.
U.S. President Joe Biden says precautionary measures will be taken for travel to and from African countries due to the new variant of the virus. The restrictions begin this coming Monday and apply to South Africa and seven other countries on the continent.
The measure will apply to those who have been “physically present” in Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe during the “14-day period preceding their entry or attempted entry into the United States.”
The order will remain in effect until terminated by the president and will not apply to flights scheduled to arrive in the United States that departed before 12:01 a.m. Miami time on Monday.