23 January, 2022, 9:34 am Central - 29°C Rain

New COVID variant Omicron emerges in different parts of the world

New COVID variant Omicron emerges in different parts of the world

By fijivillage
Friday 14/01/2022
[Image: the Japan Times]


WHO labels new COVID strain named omicron a variant of concern

By Semi Turaga
Saturday 27/11/2021
[Image: cnbc]

The World Health Organisation has declared a new coronavirus variant to be "of concern" and named it Omicron.

It said the variant had a large number of mutations and early evidence suggested a possible increased risk of reinfection.

BBC News reports it was first reported to the WHO from South Africa on 24th November and has also been identified in Botswana, Belgium, Hong Kong and Israel.

Several countries have banned travel from Southern Africa. It is not uncommon for a virus to change, or mutate, over time. A variant becomes a variant of concern when that mutation might affect things like transmissibility or the effectiveness of vaccines.

In a statement, the WHO said the number of cases of this variant appeared to be increasing in almost all of South Africa's provinces.

The WHO has said it will take a few weeks to understand the impact of the new variant, as scientists work to determine how transmissible it is.

It has warned against countries hastily imposing travel restrictions, saying they should look to a "risk-based and scientific approach".

However, the UK, US, EU countries and Switzerland have temporarily halted flights from some Southern African countries.

[Source: BBC]



COVID: Face masks re-introduced as UK Omicron cases found

By Navitalai Naivalurua
Sunday 28/11/2021
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. [Image: the Guardian]

UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson says face coverings will become mandatory again in shops and on public transport in England from next week under a raft of measures to target the new COVID variant, Omicron.

BBC reports that Johnson announced the restrictions at a Downing Street news conference after it was confirmed that two Omicron cases had been detected in Brentwood, Essex, and Nottingham.

PCR tests for everyone entering the UK will be introduced and all contacts of new variant cases will have to self-isolate, even if fully jabbed.

Officials said the cases were linked and connected to travel in southern Africa.

Johnson says the measures were "temporary and precautionary.

The new variant was first reported from South Africa on Wednesday, with early evidence suggesting it has a higher re-infection risk.

[Source: BBC]



Dr Fong to issue statement later after analysis of the new COVID variant, Omicron detected in different parts of the world

By Vijay Narayan
Sunday 28/11/2021
Permanent Secretary for Health Doctor James Fong.

Permanent Secretary for Health, Doctor James Fong is expected to issue a statement later after a full analysis of the cases detected of the new COVID-19 variant of concern, Omicron in different parts of the world.

Fijivillage has asked the Fijian Health Ministry on our state of preparedness for Omicron.

We have also asked for clarification on the measures to ensure we do not have cases when people come in from December 1st, stay at the hotel for 3 days but move to travel safe areas.

We have also asked what would be the travel safe areas and how will people be transported and monitored.

Fijivillage has also asked whether it would be safe for international visitors to leave the hotel premises during those 3 days and what measures are in place.

We have also asked whether all this will change after assessments following the emergence of Omicron cases in different parts of the world.

Doctor Fong will issue a statement to clarify the matters later.

Meanwhile, the Sydney Morning Herald reports that NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard says it is possible the Omicron variant has already entered the state, where fully vaccinated international arrivals have not been required to enter hotel quarantine since November 1st.

Hazzard says this Omicron variant of the COVID virus is not well understood at this point, noting that it only took three weeks for the Delta variant to spread to 53 countries.

He says they have to expect that Omicron may already be in NSW.

NSW has so far recorded no cases of the Omicron variant in its genomic sequencing program.

The infections of two recent arrivals from southern Africa are currently being urgently sequenced after they tested positive last night. Hazzard says it was difficult to determine how many people arriving in Sydney had been in southern Africa, noting they had initially believed they would have one traveller who had recently been in the region through Sydney Airport last night but actually ended up with 14 on a Qatar Airways flight and 15 on an Emirates flight.

NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet has said it is “inevitable” new variants of COVID-19 will enter Australia, describing changes to rules for international arrivals yesterday as a “precautionary approach” in light of the new Omicron variant.

Perrottet says we need to learn to live alongside the virus and to live alongside the various strains of the virus that will come our way, and the best thing we can do is get vaccinated and get booster shots.

Hotel quarantine was re-introduced for people who had recently been in southern Africa yesterday, in response to the new Omicron variant of COVID-19, which the World Health Organisation declared a variant of concern on Friday.

Perrottet says a total of 29 people had arrived in Sydney after spending time in southern Africa yesterday.

Last night, NSW Health announced changes to its isolation requirements for international arrivals.

Anyone arriving at Sydney Airport from overseas must self-isolate at their home or other accommodation for 72 hours.

In addition, in line with federal measures, people been in South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia, Eswatini, Malawi, or the Seychelles must enter two weeks hotel quarantine on arrival in Australia.

People who have already arrived in NSW will need to isolate for 14 days from their day of arrival at home.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison says the government will remain responsive to new evidence about the latest Omicron variant of COVID-19 and will take steps in line with the national plan.

Morrison expressed support for the 72-hour isolation period for those coming in from overseas as a “sensible and practical” step.

He says the new variant is concerning, though he says it was “not a surprise” during a pandemic.

He says Australia had managed to get through the Delta strain and achieve high vaccination rates.


World on high alert after the emergence of the new COVID variant, Omicron

By Vijay Narayan
Sunday 28/11/2021
[Image: ktvz]

Nations in southern Africa protested bitterly today as more of the world’s wealthiest countries cut them off from travel, renewing a debate over border closures from the earliest days of the coronavirus pandemic and compounding the problems facing poorly vaccinated countries.

The New York Times reports a new coronavirus variant called Omicron, first detected in Botswana, put governments on edge after South Africa announced a surge of cases this week, plunging countries into the most uncertain moment of the pandemic since the highly contagious Delta variant took hold this spring.

As in the early days of Delta, political alarm spread quickly across the world, with officials trading blame over how the failures of the global vaccination effort were allowing the virus to mutate, even as researchers warned that the true threat of the new variant was not yet clear.

Bearing a worrying number of mutations that researchers fear could make it spread easily, Omicron was spotted this weekend in patients in Britain, Germany and Italy, leaving in its wake what scientists estimated to be thousands of cases in southern Africa and tens or hundreds more globally.

One nation after another shut its doors to southern Africa even as they spurned public health measures that scientists said were far more urgently needed to take on the new variant.

Australia, Thailand and Sri Lanka are among the latest countries to join the United States, Britain and the European Union in banning travellers from South Africa and nearby countries.

Israel announced the world’s strictest ban to date, sealing its borders to all foreigners for 14 days after one case was confirmed in the country.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennet of Israel says the key here is caution and minimal risks until they know more.

Health officials in the Netherlands announced that 61 passengers on two flights from South Africa had tested positive for the virus, the latest indication of how difficult it might be to stop the variant from crossing borders.

The cascade of travel closures triggered a wave of resentment among Africans who believed that the continent was yet again bearing the brunt of panicked policies from Western countries, which had failed to deliver vaccines and the resources needed to administer them.

Scientists said richer countries, having already hoarded vaccines for much of 2021, were now penalizing parts of the world that they had starved of shots in the first place. Francois Venter, a researcher at University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg says told you so, referring to warnings from African researchers that delaying vaccinations there risked the emergence of new variants.

Scientists worried that the restrictions would discourage other nations from reporting variant cases, out of fear of being slapped with travel bans.

Border closures have provoked debate during a succession of public health crises, including the Ebola outbreak in 2014, with global health officials warning that such bans can interrupt the flow of medical supplies and do economic damage that makes countries reluctant to report health threats.

The chaotic introduction of the closures in Amsterdam on Friday left some 600 passengers on two flights from South Africa crammed into planes and then unventilated rooms for about 30 hours.

Those who avoided hotel quarantines by testing negative scattered to other destinations after receiving results around 3am Saturday.

Experts say the border closures would wreak havoc in African countries that were counting on reopening.

In South Africa, December is traditionally the high season for tourism, one of the country’s biggest industries, and operators had been banking on a surge in visitors from Britain, which had removed South Africa from its “red list” only last month.

South Africa’s number of daily infections — 2,828 on Friday — was a small fraction of case counts in countries with similarly sized populations, like Germany and Britain, not to mention the United States.

Just over 10 percent of people in Africa have received one dose of a vaccine, compared with 64 percent in North America and 62 percent in Europe.

For the countries imposing travel bans, scientists said, far more consequential than delaying the arrival of new Omicron cases was the question of what they would do with whatever time they had bought themselves to respond.




World on high alert after the emergence of the new COVID variant, Omicron

By Vijay Narayan
Sunday 28/11/2021
[Image: ktvz]

Nations in southern Africa protested bitterly today as more of the world’s wealthiest countries cut them off from travel, renewing a debate over border closures from the earliest days of the coronavirus pandemic and compounding the problems facing poorly vaccinated countries.

The New York Times reports a new coronavirus variant called Omicron, first detected in Botswana, put governments on edge after South Africa announced a surge of cases this week, plunging countries into the most uncertain moment of the pandemic since the highly contagious Delta variant took hold this spring.

As in the early days of Delta, political alarm spread quickly across the world, with officials trading blame over how the failures of the global vaccination effort were allowing the virus to mutate, even as researchers warned that the true threat of the new variant was not yet clear.

Bearing a worrying number of mutations that researchers fear could make it spread easily, Omicron was spotted this weekend in patients in Britain, Germany and Italy, leaving in its wake what scientists estimated to be thousands of cases in southern Africa and tens or hundreds more globally.

One nation after another shut its doors to southern Africa even as they spurned public health measures that scientists said were far more urgently needed to take on the new variant.

Australia, Thailand and Sri Lanka are among the latest countries to join the United States, Britain and the European Union in banning travellers from South Africa and nearby countries.

Israel announced the world’s strictest ban to date, sealing its borders to all foreigners for 14 days after one case was confirmed in the country.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennet of Israel says the key here is caution and minimal risks until they know more.

Health officials in the Netherlands announced that 61 passengers on two flights from South Africa had tested positive for the virus, the latest indication of how difficult it might be to stop the variant from crossing borders.

The cascade of travel closures triggered a wave of resentment among Africans who believed that the continent was yet again bearing the brunt of panicked policies from Western countries, which had failed to deliver vaccines and the resources needed to administer them.

Scientists said richer countries, having already hoarded vaccines for much of 2021, were now penalizing parts of the world that they had starved of shots in the first place. Francois Venter, a researcher at University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg says told you so, referring to warnings from African researchers that delaying vaccinations there risked the emergence of new variants.

Scientists worried that the restrictions would discourage other nations from reporting variant cases, out of fear of being slapped with travel bans.

Border closures have provoked debate during a succession of public health crises, including the Ebola outbreak in 2014, with global health officials warning that such bans can interrupt the flow of medical supplies and do economic damage that makes countries reluctant to report health threats.

The chaotic introduction of the closures in Amsterdam on Friday left some 600 passengers on two flights from South Africa crammed into planes and then unventilated rooms for about 30 hours.

Those who avoided hotel quarantines by testing negative scattered to other destinations after receiving results around 3am Saturday.

Experts say the border closures would wreak havoc in African countries that were counting on reopening.

In South Africa, December is traditionally the high season for tourism, one of the country’s biggest industries, and operators had been banking on a surge in visitors from Britain, which had removed South Africa from its “red list” only last month.

South Africa’s number of daily infections — 2,828 on Friday — was a small fraction of case counts in countries with similarly sized populations, like Germany and Britain, not to mention the United States.

Just over 10 percent of people in Africa have received one dose of a vaccine, compared with 64 percent in North America and 62 percent in Europe.

For the countries imposing travel bans, scientists said, far more consequential than delaying the arrival of new Omicron cases was the question of what they would do with whatever time they had bought themselves to respond.



Fijian Govt steps up entry conditions for red list countries in response to new COVID-19 variant, Omicron

Dr Fong to issue a further statement later as Australia await results of some travellers from southern Africa
By Vijay Narayan
Sunday 28/11/2021
Permanent Secretary for Health Doctor James Fong.

The Fijian Government says it has strengthened its strict conditions for entry for incoming travellers from red list countries in response to the newly-reported Omicron variant of COVID-19.

Permanent Secretary for Health, Doctor James Fong says they are monitoring the Omicron variant closely as it has been shown to carry significant mutations that could spell higher rates of transmissibility and virulence.

Doctor Fong says this new variant is a reminder that for as long as there is a pandemic, Fiji will continue to face a threat from the virus and its variants.

He says the most important step every Fijian can take in response to this variant is to become fully vaccinated and encourage others around us to do the same.

Doctor Fong says we have one of the highest rates of vaccine coverage in the world but Fiji is safest when we achieve as close to 100% coverage as possible, and we must continue to adhere closely to the other health protection measures we know can limit the spread, including good handwashing, mask-wearing and physical distancing.

He says the Ministry of Health and Medical Services is currently establishing genomic sequencing capacity within the Fiji Centre for Disease Control to process any positive samples of concern.

Doctor Fong also says the Ministry is currently administering booster doses to front line health officials and will soon deploy booster doses of COVID-19 vaccines to vulnerable members of the public.

Doctor Fong says they commend South Africa on identifying and publishing the first information on this new variant.

He says so far, field evidence does suggest higher transmissibility however, more study is needed to determine if transmissibility is truly increased, if the variant is less responsive to natural and vaccine-induced immunity, and if the disease caused by the variant is more severe.

Doctor Fong says the process of risk assessment for our red list and Travel Partner Countries was developed with the knowledge that new variants of the virus were highly likely to be detected.

He says it analyses factors such as country vaccine coverage and rates of community transmission.

Doctor Fong says they will continue to rely on that assessment process moving forward.

For Fijians located in red list countries, which have always included the Southern African States, the measures for incoming travellers are that travellers must be fully vaccinated with one of Fiji’s approved vaccines; travellers must undergo escalated pre-departure protocols, which include self-isolation for the five days prior to travel under the oversight of the employer or sponsor and test negative on day 5 and within 72 hours prior to departure; and on arrival to Fiji, the quarantine period for travellers from red list countries will increase to 14 days with a PCR test done on arrival on day 5 and on day 12.

Doctor Fong says the Fijian Government will maintain the entry conditions for tourism arrivals from Travel Partner Countries, which include requirements such as full vaccination with an approved COVID-19 vaccine, a negative COVID-19 PCR test result taken 72 hours prior to departure, a 2-night stay in a Care-Fiji Certified hotel, and an additional COVID-19 test on Day 2 after arrival.

The same conditions apply for returning residents and those visiting friends and relatives, with the exception that they are required to spend three nights after arrival in a Care-Fiji Certified hotel.

He says the preference of the Ministry of Health and Medical Services is that travellers from red list countries go to a listed Travel Partner Country for ten days prior to travelling to Fiji. However, he says given some international border restrictions, particularly in Southern Africa, they understand some Fijian citizens and residents may need to book travel directly to Fiji.

Doctor Fong says the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will provide advice on a process for the public to help them by providing information on citizens in Southern Africa so those citizens can be registered and assisted to adhere with the strict conditions for entry.


World on high alert after the emergence of the new COVID variant, Omicron

By Vijay Narayan
Sunday 28/11/2021
[Image: ktvz]

Nations in southern Africa protested bitterly today as more of the world’s wealthiest countries cut them off from travel, renewing a debate over border closures from the earliest days of the coronavirus pandemic and compounding the problems facing poorly vaccinated countries.

The New York Times reports a new coronavirus variant called Omicron, first detected in Botswana, put governments on edge after South Africa announced a surge of cases this week, plunging countries into the most uncertain moment of the pandemic since the highly contagious Delta variant took hold this spring.

As in the early days of Delta, political alarm spread quickly across the world, with officials trading blame over how the failures of the global vaccination effort were allowing the virus to mutate, even as researchers warned that the true threat of the new variant was not yet clear.

Bearing a worrying number of mutations that researchers fear could make it spread easily, Omicron was spotted this weekend in patients in Britain, Germany and Italy, leaving in its wake what scientists estimated to be thousands of cases in southern Africa and tens or hundreds more globally.

One nation after another shut its doors to southern Africa even as they spurned public health measures that scientists said were far more urgently needed to take on the new variant.

Australia, Thailand and Sri Lanka are among the latest countries to join the United States, Britain and the European Union in banning travellers from South Africa and nearby countries.

Israel announced the world’s strictest ban to date, sealing its borders to all foreigners for 14 days after one case was confirmed in the country.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennet of Israel says the key here is caution and minimal risks until they know more.

Health officials in the Netherlands announced that 61 passengers on two flights from South Africa had tested positive for the virus, the latest indication of how difficult it might be to stop the variant from crossing borders.

The cascade of travel closures triggered a wave of resentment among Africans who believed that the continent was yet again bearing the brunt of panicked policies from Western countries, which had failed to deliver vaccines and the resources needed to administer them.

Scientists said richer countries, having already hoarded vaccines for much of 2021, were now penalizing parts of the world that they had starved of shots in the first place. Francois Venter, a researcher at University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg says told you so, referring to warnings from African researchers that delaying vaccinations there risked the emergence of new variants.

Scientists worried that the restrictions would discourage other nations from reporting variant cases, out of fear of being slapped with travel bans.

Border closures have provoked debate during a succession of public health crises, including the Ebola outbreak in 2014, with global health officials warning that such bans can interrupt the flow of medical supplies and do economic damage that makes countries reluctant to report health threats.

The chaotic introduction of the closures in Amsterdam on Friday left some 600 passengers on two flights from South Africa crammed into planes and then unventilated rooms for about 30 hours.

Those who avoided hotel quarantines by testing negative scattered to other destinations after receiving results around 3am Saturday.

Experts say the border closures would wreak havoc in African countries that were counting on reopening.

In South Africa, December is traditionally the high season for tourism, one of the country’s biggest industries, and operators had been banking on a surge in visitors from Britain, which had removed South Africa from its “red list” only last month.

South Africa’s number of daily infections — 2,828 on Friday — was a small fraction of case counts in countries with similarly sized populations, like Germany and Britain, not to mention the United States.

Just over 10 percent of people in Africa have received one dose of a vaccine, compared with 64 percent in North America and 62 percent in Europe.

For the countries imposing travel bans, scientists said, far more consequential than delaying the arrival of new Omicron cases was the question of what they would do with whatever time they had bought themselves to respond.



Pharmaceutical firms announce they have plans in place to adapt their COVID-19 vaccines if necessary after Omicron cases emerge in some countries

By Vijay Narayan
Sunday 28/11/2021
[Image: File Photo]

With the emergence of the Omicron COVID-19 variant, which has now been detected in southern Africa, Europe, Israel and Hong Kong, a number of pharmaceutical firms are announcing they have plans in place to adapt their vaccines if necessary.

WBNS reports scientists say there is still much to learn about the new variant, which the World Health Organization has listed a "variant of concern."

They know that Omicron is genetically distinct from previous variants including the Beta and Delta variants, but do not know if these genetic changes make it any more transmissible or dangerous.

So far, there is no indication the variant causes more severe disease.

It will also likely take weeks to sort out if Omicron is more infectious and if vaccines are still effective against it.

AstraZeneca, Moderna, Novavax and Pfizer say they already have plans to react.

Pfizer and its partner BioNTech say they have been monitoring for potential variants capable of evading its mRNA vaccine.

Pfizer says in the event that vaccine-escape variant emerges, Pfizer and BioNTech expect to be able to develop and produce a tailor-made vaccine against that variant in approximately 100 days, subject to regulatory approval.

Moderna says it has been developing a strategy since early 2021 to respond to new variants of concern and has identified three response options.



South African medical association says Omicron variant causes 'mild disease'

By Vijay Narayan
Sunday 28/11/2021
[Image: tickernews]

Times of India reports that the chairwoman of the South African Medical Association Angelique Coetzee says the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus results in mild disease, without prominent syndromes.

The World Health Organization has identified the new South African strain as one of concern, as it is reported to carry a high number of mutations - 32 - which possibly makes it more transmissible and dangerous.

The WHO has dubbed it Omicron, the 15th letter of the Greek alphabet.

Coetzee says it presents mild disease with symptoms being sore muscles and tiredness for a day or two not feeling well.

She says so far, they have detected that those infected do not suffer loss of taste or smell.

Coetzee says they might have a slight cough, there are no prominent symptoms and of those infected some are currently being treated at home.

She says at the same time, the situation might be different for the unvaccinated. Coetzee says they will only know this after two weeks.





Pharmaceutical firms announce they have plans in place to adapt their COVID-19 vaccines if necessary after Omicron cases emerge in some countries

By Vijay Narayan
Sunday 28/11/2021
[Image: File Photo]

With the emergence of the Omicron COVID-19 variant, which has now been detected in southern Africa, Europe, Israel and Hong Kong, a number of pharmaceutical firms are announcing they have plans in place to adapt their vaccines if necessary.

WBNS reports scientists say there is still much to learn about the new variant, which the World Health Organization has listed a "variant of concern."

They know that Omicron is genetically distinct from previous variants including the Beta and Delta variants, but do not know if these genetic changes make it any more transmissible or dangerous.

So far, there is no indication the variant causes more severe disease.

It will also likely take weeks to sort out if Omicron is more infectious and if vaccines are still effective against it.

AstraZeneca, Moderna, Novavax and Pfizer say they already have plans to react.

Pfizer and its partner BioNTech say they have been monitoring for potential variants capable of evading its mRNA vaccine.

Pfizer says in the event that vaccine-escape variant emerges, Pfizer and BioNTech expect to be able to develop and produce a tailor-made vaccine against that variant in approximately 100 days, subject to regulatory approval.

Moderna says it has been developing a strategy since early 2021 to respond to new variants of concern and has identified three response options.



South African medical association says Omicron variant causes 'mild disease'

By Vijay Narayan
Sunday 28/11/2021
[Image: tickernews]

Times of India reports that the chairwoman of the South African Medical Association Angelique Coetzee says the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus results in mild disease, without prominent syndromes.

The World Health Organization has identified the new South African strain as one of concern, as it is reported to carry a high number of mutations - 32 - which possibly makes it more transmissible and dangerous.

The WHO has dubbed it Omicron, the 15th letter of the Greek alphabet.

Coetzee says it presents mild disease with symptoms being sore muscles and tiredness for a day or two not feeling well.

She says so far, they have detected that those infected do not suffer loss of taste or smell.

Coetzee says they might have a slight cough, there are no prominent symptoms and of those infected some are currently being treated at home.

She says at the same time, the situation might be different for the unvaccinated. Coetzee says they will only know this after two weeks.



Gavoka urges Govt to remain alert and exercise extreme caution when reopening borders on Wednesday

By Vijay Narayan, Navitalai Naivalurua
Sunday 28/11/2021
SODELPA Leader Viliame Gavoka.

SODELPA Leader Viliame Gavoka is urging the Government to remain alert and exercise extreme caution after the World Health Organisation classified Omicron as a variant of concern.

The Omicron variant was first reported to WHO from South Africa on Wednesday.

He says Fiji is expected to open its borders from this Wednesday, however, reports of this new variant as classified by the WHO is a grave concern.

Gavoka says foreign media have reported that Omicron has also been identified in Botswana, Belgium, Hong Kong, Germany, Italy, United Kingdom and Israel.

He further says scientists in Sydney are working quickly to establish whether Omicron is already in Sydney after two arrivals from southern Africa tested positive to COVID.

He adds its prudent that the Government stands ready to review its border restrictions, quarantine protocols and health measures, particularly now, when there are probable cases emerging in more countries.

The SODELPA Leader says WHO says this variant has a large number of mutations, some of which are concerning adding that preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this variant, as compared to other variants of concern.

He says as an outcome, most major countries have now imposed restrictions on travel from southern Africa, to try and contain Omicron.

Gavoka says SODELPA thanks frontliners that have been working tirelessly for the health of Fiji and preparations being carried out for December 1st.

He says while they recognise the need for Fiji to rebuild its economy, SODELPA stresses extreme caution and that the health and well-being of the Fijian people should always remain paramount.

The Fijian Government says it has strengthened its strict conditions for entry for incoming travellers from red list countries in response to the newly-reported Omicron variant of COVID-19.

Permanent Secretary for Health, Doctor James Fong says they are monitoring the Omicron variant closely as it has been shown to carry significant mutations that could spell higher rates of transmissibility and virulence.

Doctor Fong says this new variant is a reminder that for as long as there is a pandemic, Fiji will continue to face a threat from the virus and its variants.

He says the most important step every Fijian can take in response to this variant is to become fully vaccinated and encourage others around us to do the same.

Doctor Fong says we have one of the highest rates of vaccine coverage in the world but Fiji is safest when we achieve as close to 100 percent coverage as possible, and we must continue to adhere closely to the other health protection measures we know can limit the spread, including good handwashing, mask wearing and physical distancing.

He says the Ministry of Health and Medical Services is currently establishing genomic sequencing capacity within the Fiji Centre for Disease Control to process any positive samples of concern.

Doctor Fong also says the Ministry is currently administering booster doses to front line health officials and will soon deploy booster doses of COVID-19 vaccines to vulnerable members of the public.

Doctor Fong says the process of risk assessment for our red list and Travel Partner Countries was developed with the knowledge that new variants of the virus were highly likely to be detected.

He says it analyses factors such as country vaccine coverage and rates of community transmission.

Doctor Fong says they will continue to rely on that assessment process moving forward.

For Fijians located in red list countries, which have always included the Southern African States, the measures for incoming travellers are that travellers must be fully vaccinated with one of Fiji’s approved vaccines; travellers must undergo escalated pre-departure protocols, which include self-isolation for the five days prior to travel under the oversight of the employer or sponsor and test negative on day 5 and within 72 hours prior to departure; and on arrival to Fiji, the quarantine period for travellers from red list countries will increase to 14 days with a PCR test done on arrival on day 5 and on day 12.

Doctor Fong says the Fijian Government will maintain the entry conditions for tourism arrivals from Travel Partner Countries, which include requirements such as full vaccination with an approved COVID-19 vaccine, a negative COVID-19 PCR test result taken 72 hours prior to departure, a 2-night stay in a Care-Fiji Certified hotel, and an additional COVID-19 test on Day 2 after arrival.

The same conditions apply for returning residents and those visiting friends and relatives, with the exception that they are required to spend three nights after arrival in a Care-Fiji Certified hotel.

He says the preference of the Ministry of Health and Medical Services is that travellers from red list countries go to a listed Travel Partner Country for ten days prior to travelling to Fiji. However, he says given some international border restrictions, particularly in Southern Africa, they understand some Fijian citizens and residents may need to book travel directly to Fiji.

Doctor Fong says the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will provide advice on a process for the public to help them by providing information on citizens in Southern Africa so those citizens can be registered and assisted to adhere with the strict conditions for entry.



First Australian cases of Omicron COVID-19 strain confirmed in Sydney travellers from southern Africa

By Vijay Narayan
Sunday 28/11/2021
Photo: abc.net.au

NSW Health has confirmed two returned travellers have tested positive for the new Omicron COVID-19 variant in Sydney.

ABC News reports both people, who are fully vaccinated, arrived in Sydney from southern Africa on Saturday, November 27th.

They are among 14 people who arrived on Qatar Airways QR908, Doha to Sydney.

The remaining 12 passengers from southern Africa are undertaking 14 days of hotel quarantine, also in Special Health Accommodation.

NSW Health says about 260 passengers and aircrew who were also on the flight are considered close contacts and have been directed to isolate.

Meanwhile Fiji’s borders open to international visitors from this Wednesday.

Majority of the visitors are expected to come from Australia.

It was earlier confirmed that 30,000 people were booked on flights to Fiji in December while another 40,000 people are booked to come in January.

Meanwhile Permanent Secretary for Health, Doctor James Fong is expected to issue a further statement later after a full analysis of the cases detected of the new COVID-19 variant of concern, Omicron in different parts of the world.

Fijivillage has asked for clarification on the measures to ensure we do not have cases when people come in from this Wednesday, stay at the hotel for 3 days but move to travel safe areas.

We have also asked what would be the travel safe areas and how will people be transported and monitored.

Fijivillage News has also asked whether it would be safe for international visitors to leave the hotel premises during those 3 days and what measures are in place.

We have also asked whether all this will change after assessments following the emergence of Omicron cases in different parts of the world.



Delay the opening of the borders by 3 weeks - Rabuka

By Vijay Narayan
Monday 29/11/2021
People’s Alliance Leader Sitiveni Rabuka

People’s Alliance Leader, Sitiveni Rabuka says in light of the World Health Organisation declaring the new COVID variant Omicron a concern and with several countries, including our neighbour Australia, banning or restricting travel to and from southern Africa, the Fijian Government should delay the opening of its international borders by 3 weeks.

Rabuka says that concerned scientists in South Africa have expressed that Omicron may be 500 percent more infectious than Delta, which the Ministry of Health is currently still addressing through its vaccination programs.

He says given that science is still trying to gather more data to establish how dangerous Omicron is and whether the virus can indeed evade vaccine immunity, it is only wise that Government delays the opening of borders.

Rabuka says a 3-week delay should be sufficient time for the appropriate science to come up with the data as to the danger posed by Omicron.

He says that Fiji with its broken economy aggravated by the COVID-19 Delta Pandemic which tragically has resulted in 700 deaths, is too fragile to effectively handle another immediate new COVID crisis.




Two cases of Omicron confirmed in quarantine - Dr Fong

By Vijay Narayan
Monday 06/12/2021

Permanent Secretary for Health, Doctor James Fong has confirmed the two travellers from Africa currently in quarantine are confirmed positive for the Omicron variant.

The Ministry of Health and Medical Services announced last week that travellers who had arrived from an African state and were undergoing quarantine in a border quarantine facility had tested positive for COVID-19.

Their samples had been sent to the reference laboratory in Australia for urgent genomic sequencing.

Doctor Fong says the two travellers are Fijian citizens who had travelled back into Fiji from Nigeria, arriving on Fiji Airways flight FJ1392 from Hong Kong on November 25th – the day the discovery of the Omicron variant was announced internationally.

Both travellers tested negative for COVID-19 before departure and before they left Nigeria.

Doctor Fong says they entered a government-designated border quarantine facility immediately upon arrival into Fiji, tested positive while in quarantine, currently have no symptoms, and were fully vaccinated.

With the exception of four passengers, all those on the flight were from non-travel partner countries, and therefore entered a border quarantine facility upon arrival to undergo the full quarantine protocol of 10 days.

Doctor Fong says that has since been extended to 14 days.

The four passengers on the flight who were from a travel partner country have tested negative.

The Fiji Airways crew and accompanying passengers from FJ 1392 have tested negative at least twice.

Doctor Fong says the indications are that we have averted community transmission at this time, and the measures they had put in place to prevent, or at least delay, community transmission through the importation of cases from red zone countries have worked well so far.

He says Fiji’s red zone designated countries are countries that we consider at high risk of proliferating variants.

These are countries with low vaccination rates, poor testing data, and an ongoing outbreak.

Doctor Fong says as previously highlighted, the protocols in place for the red zone countries were to isolate for 5 days and test negative twice before we approve their re-entry.

In Fiji, they undergo 14 days of strict quarantine and testing in a government-designated border quarantine facility.

Doctor Fong says the evidence on Omicron variant’s impact on the transmissibility of the virus, severity of disease, and effect of prior immunity (from vaccination or infection) is still in the very early stages so conclusions cannot be made yet.

However, he says the preliminary evidence is that this variant may be more transmissible than the Delta variant; it may cause reinfection in people who have been previously infected with another variant; and it has been seen to infect people who are fully vaccinated – although, so far, the fully vaccinated cases have been generally mild or with no symptoms.

The Permanent Secretary says it must be re-emphasized that, if a variant is transmissible enough, stringent border and community measures will only delay the inevitable entry and spread of current and future variants of the COVID-19 virus, especially as the Omicron variant is also spreading into some of our travel partner countries.

He says to protect ourselves, our loved ones, and our country, we must all get vaccinated when it is our turn, and even with our high vaccination levels, we must maintain COVID safe habits: mask wisely by carrying a well-fitted mask when you leave your home and wear the mask properly in public indoor spaces, public service vehicles, and outdoor crowded spaces; open windows to improve ventilation; avoid poorly ventilated or crowded spaces; 2-metre physical distancing and ensure you are wearing a mask if you cannot maintain distance; cough or sneeze into a bent elbow or tissue, wash your hands frequently with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.


Dr Fong asks spotters to escalate fining of individuals and companies where there is evidence of non-compliance with COVID safe measures

The key to avoiding future restrictions and lockdowns is for us all to remain cautious
By Vijay Narayan
Monday 06/12/2021
Permanent Secretary for Health Doctor James Fong

Permanent Secretary for Health, Doctor James Fong has requested all spotters from Health, Commerce and Security Ministries to escalate the fining of individuals and corporate bodies where there is evidence of non-compliance with COVID safe measures.

Doctor Fong says these spot fines must be seen as a means to promote COVID safe measures; as such, it is not the intention that every single transgression will be picked up and fined.

He says all of us who live in Fiji need to understand that any large resurgence in cases is likely to undermine our social and economic recovery program, irrespective of whether it’s from the Delta variant or the entry of the Omicron variant.

Doctor Fong says finding the Omicron variant in travellers in border quarantine is not unexpected, given how quickly it has spread worldwide, but it is a sharp reminder to ourselves that the key to avoiding future restrictions and lockdowns is for us all to remain cautious about how we engage in the greater freedom we will enjoy.

He says whilst the easing of restrictions is needed to facilitate livelihoods, we must ensure that together with vaccination, we continue to observe our COVID safe measures and avoid contained spaces and crowds.

The Permanent Secretary for Health and Medical Services is also extremely concerned at the lack of adherence to COVID safe measures in gatherings throughout the country, especially the adherence to masking in indoor public spaces.

He says after the Delta outbreak this year, it is understandable that many will feel the urge to relax and celebrate now that case numbers are low, especially during the festive season, and many of us have let our guards slip.

Doctor Fong says we are all human but this must stop now if we hope to reduce the impact of the impending third wave of COVID-19 expected early in 2022.

He hopes that we will all take this advice to heart and do what is right.




Omicron spreading in the community in the UK

By Semi Turaga
Tuesday 07/12/2021
[Image: City.am.com]

Health Secretary Sajid Javid has confirmed there is community transmission of the Omicron coronavirus variant in multiple regions of England.

He told MPs the variant was continuing to spread in the UK and around the world and there were now cases in the UK with no links to international travel.

BBC News reports there have been 336 confirmed cases of the highly-mutated variant across the UK.

Of the confirmed Omicron cases, 261 were in England, 71 in Scotland and four in Wales while Northern Ireland is yet to have a confirmed case.

It has been stressed by experts that evidence on Omicron variant’s impact on the transmissibility of the virus, severity of disease, and effect of prior immunity (from vaccination or infection) is still in the very early stages so conclusions cannot be made yet.

[Source: BBC]



Dr Fong concerned about the irresponsible behaviour of adults who organize big gatherings without ensuring COVID safe practices

Ministries to escalate the fining of individuals and corporate bodies
By Vijay Narayan
Tuesday 07/12/2021
Permanent Secretary for Health, Doctor James Fong.

Permanent Secretary for Health, Doctor James Fong stresses that all of us who live in Fiji need to understand that any large resurgence in COVID-19 cases is likely to undermine our social and economic recovery program, irrespective of whether it’s from the Delta variant or the entry of the Omicron variant.

With the level of complacency rising and people not adhering to the COVID safe measures, people are reminded that while they continue to be concerned about the Omicron variant, we still have the Delta variant in Fiji which can cause severe illness mainly for those people who are not vaccinated.

People continue to be seen with no masks in buses, crowded gatherings and functions indoors. We have also witnessed that many people are not scanning the CareFiji QR Code in and out of supermarkets and other businesses.

While responding to our questions, Doctor Fong says he has requested all spotters from Health, Commerce and Security Ministries to escalate the fining of individuals and corporate bodies where there is evidence of non-compliance of COVID safe measures.

Doctor Fong says these spot fines must be seen as a means to promote COVID safe measures; as such, it is not the intention that every single transgression will be picked up and fined.

He says the teams are being reorganized to facilitate this.

When asked on what is his message to the adults who are fully vaccinated and are not adhering to the COVID safe measures despite many unvaccinated children in the country, Doctor Fong says it is the irresponsible behaviour of adults who organize big gatherings without ensuring COVID safe practices and therefore no regard for the educational aspirations of our children that he finds very disappointing at this time.

Doctor Fong says our children need to get back to school, and we need to ensure all COVID safe measures continue to be followed.

When asked on whether MOH has worked out the total eligible population for vaccination including children as many children are not vaccinated, Doctor Fong says they have the data and they are using it to refine their strategy based on the fact that most parents will have been vaccinated and support vaccination.

He says once school starts, they will continue the vaccination program.



Preliminary evidence indicates that the Omicron variant does not make people sicker than the Delta and other strains – Dr Fong

By Naveel Krishant
Thursday 09/12/2021
Permanent Secretary for Health Dr James Fong

Permanent Secretary for Health Dr James Fong says preliminary evidence indicates that the Omicron variant does not make people sicker than the Delta and other strains.

Dr Fong says they are aware of misinformation being peddled widely on social media and it needs to be reiterated that the evidence on Omicron variant’s impact on the transmissibility of the virus, severity of disease, and effect of prior immunity (from vaccination or infection) is still in the very early stages so conclusions cannot be made yet.

He further says if anything, the direction is towards less severity adding they again emphasize that this data is very early and more will be known once more people, including the most vulnerable, get infected.

Dr Fong adds furthermore, this variant may be more transmissible than the Delta variant; it may cause reinfection in people who have been previously infected with another variant; and it has been seen to infect people who are fully vaccinated – although, so far, the fully vaccinated cases have been generally mild or with no symptoms.


Dr Fong remains extremely concerned at the lack of adherence to COVID safe measures in gatherings throughout the country

By Naveel Krishant
Thursday 09/12/2021

The Permanent Secretary for Health Dr James Fong remains extremely concerned at the lack of adherence to COVID safe measures in gatherings throughout the country, especially the adherence to masking in indoor public spaces.

Dr Fong says after the Delta outbreak this year, it is understandable that many will feel the urge to relax and celebrate now that case numbers are low, especially during the festive season.

He says and many of us have let our guards slip, we are all human, but this must stop now if we hope to reduce the impact of the impending third wave of COVID-19 expected early in 2022.

Dr Fong adds he hopes that we will all take this advice to heart and do what is right, but he has also requested all spotters from Health, Commerce, and Security Ministries to escalate the fining of individuals and corporate bodies where there is evidence of non-compliance with COVID safe measures.

He says these spot fines must be seen as a means to promote COVID safe measures; as such, it is not the intention that every single transgression will be picked up and fined.

Dr Fong adds all of us who live in Fiji need to understand that any large resurgence in cases is likely to undermine our social and economic recovery program, irrespective of whether it’s from the Delta variant or the entry of the Omicron variant.





Pfizer, BioNTech vaccine neutralises Omicron with three shots

By Vijay Narayan
Thursday 09/12/2021

BioNTech and Pfizer say a three-shot course of their COVID-19 vaccine is able to neutralise the new Omicron variant in a laboratory test, an early signal that booster shots could be key to protection against infection from the newly identified variant.

The German and U.S. companies say two doses of their vaccine resulted in significantly lower neutralising antibodies but could still be protective against severe disease.

Reuters reports that BioNTech Chief Medical Officer Ozlem Tuereci said at a press conference that the first line of defence, with two doses of vaccination, might be compromised and three doses of vaccination are required to restore protection.

The companies also said they could deliver an upgraded vaccine targeted specifically at the Omicron variant in March 2022 if one is needed.

BioNTech and Pfizer are the first manufacturers of a COVID vaccine to issue an official update on the efficacy of their shot against Omicron.

In samples of blood taken around a month after the third shot the Omicron variant was neutralised about as effectively as two doses neutralised the original virus identified in China.

The Omicron variant, first detected in southern Africa and Hong Kong last month, has triggered global alarm about another surge in infections. Cases have already been reported from Japan to the United States and across Europe.

BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin suggested that countries might consider shortening the time period between second and third doses of the vaccine to combat the new variant.

He cited recent moves by countries including Britain to bring the third shot forward to three months after the second shot, from six months previously.

The World Health Organization classified Omicron on Nov. 26 as a "variant of concern" but said there was no evidence to support the need for new vaccines specifically designed to tackle the variant and its mutations.

Nevertheless, the companies said they would continue efforts to bring an Omicron-specific COVID-19 vaccine to market. Work started on November 25th.

They said their planned production of 4 billion doses of the Comirnaty vaccine in 2022 was not expected to change if an adapted vaccine was required. BioNTech said that even if an adapted vaccine was available in March, it would not be broadly available for some time, noting that perhaps 25 to 75 million doses of the new vaccine would be ready at first.

Pfizer scientist Kena Swanson said the company is considering also testing two doses of an Omicron-specific vaccine in currently unvaccinated people.

There is no significant data yet on how vaccines from Moderna (MRNA.O), Johnson & Johnson (JNJ.N) and other drugmakers hold up against the new variant but they are expected to release their own data within weeks.



First UK death recorded with Omicron variant

By Semi Turaga
Tuesday 14/12/2021
[Image: itv.com]

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson says at least one person in the UK has died with the Omicron coronavirus variant.

There are 4,713 confirmed cases of the Omicron variant in the UK,

BBC News reports Omicron has risen to more than 44% of cases in London.

[Source: BBC]



NSW records 2,482 new COVID-19 cases, the highest daily figure ever recorded in any Australian jurisdiction

By Semi Turaga
Saturday 18/12/2021
[Image: rnz]

NSW has recorded 2,482 COVID-19 cases and one death, the highest ever number of infections recorded in any Australian jurisdiction in a 24-hour reporting period.

There are now 206 people admitted to the hospital for COVID-19 treatment.

Abc News reports the latest figures were taken from more than 137,149 tests conducted in the reporting period.

Two weeks ago, the daily infection figure was 325 and then 560 cases were recorded a week after that on December 11.

The latest case numbers have surpassed Victoria's daily COVID-19 infection peak of 2,297 on October 14.

[Source: Abc.news.com.au]



Covid-19: More than 10,000 new Omicron cases found in the UK

By Semi Turaga
Sunday 19/12/2021

A major incident has been declared in London and more than 10,000 new Omicron cases have been confirmed in the UK.

BBC News reports a further 90,418 daily Covid cases have been reported across the UK after days of record highs.

Scientific advisers have warned England's hospital admissions could reach 3,000 a day without new measures.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan said the major incident in the capital showed how serious things are.

BBC News reports restrictions similar in scale to the national lockdown would be required to keep hospital admissions from Covid below previous peaks.

[Source: BBC]



Omicron and Delta driving tsunami of cases - WHO

By Semi Turaga
Thursday 30/12/2021
[Image: wnct.com]

The World Health Organisation says the combination of Delta and Omicron variants is driving a dangerous tsunami of COVID-19 cases.

This comes after the US and countries across Europe reported record new cases.

France reported Europe's highest ever daily figure for the second day in a row, at 208,000 cases.

And the US has reported a record average of 265,427 cases a day over the last week, according to Johns Hopkins.

Denmark, Portugal, the UK and Australia have all also reported record-breaking figures.

[Source: BBC]



Health Ministry assessing whether the increase in COVID-19 cases is being driven by a resurgence of the Delta variant or the new Omicron variant

I am confident Omicron is already around – Dr Fong
By Semi Turaga
Thursday 30/12/2021
Permanent Secretary for Health Doctor James Fong. Photo: Ministry of Health

The Health Ministry is now assessing whether the current increase in COVID-19 cases is being driven by a resurgence of the endemic Delta variant or the new and highly transmissible Omicron variant.

They are also working on the assumption that the Omicron variant is already here and is being transmitted within the community.

The Permanent Secretary for Health Doctor James Fong says they expect that genomic sequencing results of COVID-19 positive samples sent overseas will confirm this in due course.

He further says should this wave be driven by the Omicron variant, based on what they are seeing overseas, they should expect a large number of cases and they will also expect that infections will occur in vaccinated persons and those who have previously been infected with the Delta variant.

He adds it is important to remember that those who are vaccinated or had booster doses are far less likely to become sick enough to require hospitalization.

Doctor Fong says the main focus of the vaccination program is to prevent severe illness and death which will also help to limit the strain on our medical services.

He adds the three divisional hospitals are reporting an increase in positive cases admitted to the hospital, however, none of the cases so far are presenting with COVID-related medical problems.

Doctor Fong says they are being admitted for other medical conditions and are testing positive during mandatory testing for all admissions to the hospital.

He stresses that the overall goal of the Health Ministry COVID-19 pandemic response and recovery has always been to minimize severe illness and deaths.

Speaking in Labasa, Doctor Fong says he is confident that Omicron is around, he just needs the tests to confirm it.

He says this goal remains, along with reducing severe societal disruption as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the priority is the promotion of individual COVID safe measures which is vaccination, masking, physical distancing, avoiding crowds and hand hygiene followed by settings-based measures such as social gathering restrictions, indoor capacity restrictions, ventilation, and curfews.

Doctor Fong further adds they intend to avoid population blanket measures, like lockdowns, as much as possible as, almost two years into the pandemic, such measures are damaging to the community on many different levels and in our own recent experience, have limited value in controlling the spread of COVID-19 in Fiji.

He says with more than 91% of adults in Fiji vaccinated, plus added immunity expected due to the large number of people that were infected during the last wave on Viti Levu, we are no longer the COVID-naive population that we were before.

Doctor Fong adds the immunity that has been built through vaccination, and prior infection is expected to have a significant impact on reducing severe disease in this next wave.



Novak Djokovic admits breaking isolation while COVID positive

By Naveel Krishant
Wednesday 12/01/2022
Novak Djokovic

Novak Djokovic has admitted breaching isolation rules after testing positive for Covid-19 last month, describing it as an "error of judgement".

In an Instagram post today, the Serbian admitted meeting a journalist for an interview two days after he tested positive on 16th December.

He wrote he accepts that he should have rescheduled.

His activity has been scrutinised as the Australian government considers whether to deport him.

Djokovic, who is unvaccinated, is hoping to defend his Australian Open title next week. He had his visa revoked last week shortly after he arrived in the country amid questions over the vaccine exemption that would have permitted him to enter.

On Monday, however, a judge overturned the decision and ordered the release of the player from detention.

But the Australian government has not ruled out further action - and the possibility remains that the country's immigration minister could cancel his visa for a second time just days before the tournament begins.

Djokovic says he felt obliged to go ahead and conduct the L'Equipe interview as he didn't want to let the journalist down.

He adds he socially distanced and wore a mask except when his photograph was being taken.

He said other reports about him appearing in public following his positive test on 16th December were "misinformation".

Djokovic, meanwhile, also admitted making a false declaration on his travel form prior to entering Australia.

He said his agent had made a mistake when filling in a section of the form that covered his recent travel history. The form stated that he had not travelled in the 14 days before his arrival in Australia.

Djokovic says his agent sincerely apologises for the administrative mistake in ticking the incorrect box adding this was a human error and certainly not deliberate.

Ha adds his team has provided additional information to the Australian government to clarify this matter.

[Source: BBC]




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