After discovering two cases of the new potentially more dangerous omicron version of the coronavirus, the United Kingdom tightened its rules on mask-wearing and testing of international arrivals on Saturday, as governments around the world sought to shore up their defenses.
There are mounting concerns that the pandemic and attendant lockdown limitations will last far longer than expected, especially to fears that the recently detected new variation may be more resistant to vaccine protection.
After two persons in England tested positive for the new form, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said it was important to take “targeted and preventive steps,” which will be revisited in three weeks when scientists learn more about omicron.
Johnson told a news conference that anyone arriving in England will be asked to take a a mandatory PCR test for COVID-19 on the second day and must self isolate until they provide a negative test. And if someone tests positive for the omicron variant, then he said their close contacts will have to self-isolate for 10 days regardless of their vaccination status.
He also said mask-wearing in shops and on public transport will be required and that the vaccination program will be accelerated, without providing specific details.
“Right now this is the responsible course of action to slow down the seeding and the spread of this new variant and to maximize our defenses,” he said. “From today we’re going to boost the booster campaign.”
One of the two new cases was found in the southeastern English town of Brentwood, while the other is in the central city of Nottingham. The two cases are linked and involve travel from southern Africa. The two confirmed cases are self-isolating alongside their households while contact tracing and targeted testing takes place.
The British government also added four more countries _ Angola, Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia _ onto the country’s travel red list from Sunday. Six others _ Botswana, Eswatini (formerly known as Swaziland), Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe _ were added Friday. That means anyone permitted to arrive from those destinations will have to quarantine.
Many countries have slapped restrictions on various southern African countries over the past couple of days including Australia, Brazil, Canada, the European Union, Iran, Japan, Thailand and the United States, in response to warnings over the transmissability of the new variant _ against the advice of the World Health Organization.
Despite the banning of flights, there are mounting concerns that the variant has already been widely seeded around the world. In addition to the U.K, cases have been reported in travelers in Belgium, Israel and Hong Kong. Germany also said it suspected a positive case and Dutch authorities were testing whether 61 people who arrived on two flights from South Africa with COVID-19 have the omicron variant.
The jets arrived in the Netherlands from Johannesburg and Cape Town just a few days after the Dutch government banned flights from southern African countries. The 539 visitors who tested negative were permitted to return home or proceed on to other destinations. Those who live in the Netherlands and are allowed to return home must self-isolate for at least five days, according to official laws.
Meanwhile, a German official claims that the omicron form has already arrived in the country with a “very high chance.”