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

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.

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