The World Health Organization on November 26 declared the recently-discovered B.1.1.529 strain of COVID-19, first detected in southern Africa, to be a variant of concern and renamed it Omicron. The classification puts Omicron into the most-troubling category of COVID-19 variants, along with the globally-dominant Delta, plus its weaker rivals Alpha, Beta and Gamma.
With a new coronavirus variant detected in South Africa, scientists and health experts in India have said that new waves of infection are anticipated and unless we act quickly and efficiently, the country will possibly see repeat waves. India has better tools in hand now compared to two years ago, said Vinod Scaria, scientist at CSIR-Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (IGIB). He added the country, however, had to improve its vaccination drive, public health measures, health infrastructure and genomic surveillance to be better prepared.
Here are the latest developments:
PM to chair important meeting on COVID-19 situation on Saturday
Prime Minister Narendra Modi will chair an important meeting on the Covid situation and the vaccination drive in the country with top officials on Saturday, official sources said.
The meeting comes amid rising global concerns over a new strain of the coronavirus which the World Health Organization has named ‘Omicron’ and classified as a highly transmissible virus of concern.
“The prime minister will chair an important meeting on the situation relating to COVID-19 and vaccination with top officials at 10:30 am today,” a source said.
India’s active cases comes down to 1,07,019, lowest in 541 days
India saw a single-day rise of 8,318 new coronavirus infections taking the country’s tally of COVID-19 cases to 3,45,63,749, while the active cases have declined to 1,07,019, the lowest in 541 days, according to Union Health Ministry data updated on Saturday.
The death toll has climbed to 4,67,933 with 465 daily fatalities, according to the data updated at 8 am.
The daily rise in new coronavirus infections has been below 20,000 for 50 continuous days and less than 50,000 daily new cases have been reported for 153 consecutive days now.
The active cases have declined to 1,07,019 comprising 0.31% of the total infections, the lowest since March 2020, while the national COVID-19 recovery rate was recorded at 98.34%, the highest since March 2020, the health ministry said. -PTI
Australia starts 14-day quarantine for citizens travelling from southern Africa
Australia will introduce 14-day quarantine for citizens and their dependents travelling from nine countries in southern Africa due to the new coronavirus variant, its health minister said on Saturday.
“Anyone who is not a citizen of Australia or their dependents, and who has been in African countries where the Omicron variant has been detected and spread within the past 14 days will not be able to enter Australia,” Health Minister Greg Hunt told a press briefing. -Reuters
Merck’s COVID-19 pill shows lower efficacy in updated data
Merck & Co said on Friday updated data from its study on its experimental COVID-19 pill showed the drug was less effective in cutting hospitalizations and deaths than previously reported.
The drugmaker said its pill showed a 30% reduction in hospitalizations and deaths, based on data from over 1,400 patients. In October, its data showed a roughly 50% efficacy, based on data from 775 patients. -Reuters
Countries suspend flights with South Africa over COVID-19 concerns
U.S. President Joe Biden will restrict travel to the United States from eight southern African countries effective Monday over concerns about a new COVID-19 variant found in South Africa, a senior administration official said on Friday.
Saudi Arabia has suspended flights to and from South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Lesotho and Eswatini due to concerns related to the spread of COVID-19, the state news agency (SPA) reported on Friday.
Morocco banned entry to travellers arriving from South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Zimbabwe due to concerns related to the spread of a new variant of the COVID-19 virus discovered in South Africa, foreign ministry said on Friday.
Cyprus on Friday said it was banning arrivals from a number of African states, including South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe, following the detection of a new COVID-19 variant.
European Union states have agreed to temporarily suspend travel to southern Africa after the detection of a new COVID-19 variant, the presidency of the EU said on Friday.
The Swiss government on Friday banned direct flights from South Africa and the surrounding region due to the detection of a new COVID-19 variant, while also imposing restrictions on travel from other countries including Hong Kong, Israel and Belgium.
Turkey closed its borders to passengers from five countries as a measure against the new coronavirus variant, Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said on Friday.
The United Arab Emirates has suspended entry for travellers from South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Mozambique starting from Nov. 29 due to concerns about a new variant of the COVID-19 virus, the state news agency reported on Friday.
Canada is closing its borders to the citizens of seven southern African nations to help stop the spread of a newly identified variant of COVID-19, Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos told reporters on Friday.
Iran has banned the entry of travelers from South Africa and five neighbouring countries after the discovery of a new coronavirus variant in the region, a top Iranian epidemiology official said on Friday.
Egypt suspends direct flights to and from South Africa due to concerns about a new variant of the COVID-19 virus, the state news agency (MENA) reported on Friday.
Brazil will ban arrivals from six countries in southern Africa due to the emergence of the Omicron COVID-19 variant, the government said in a Friday night statement. -Reuters
Students travelling to Europe, South-East Asia face hurdles
With COVID-19 vaccine administered in India not recognised in some countries, students got admission in those countries are having a rough time.
A student accepted for a programme in Austria learnt to his dismay that although he can enter that country he cannot use the Indian certificate for Covishield vaccine to visit restaurants and gyms.
Novavax testing vaccine that targets new COVID-19 variant
Novavax Inc said on Friday it had started working on a version of its COVID-19 vaccine to target the variant detected in South Africa and would have the shot ready for testing and manufacturing in the next few weeks.
The company’s COVID-19 shot contains an actual version of the virus’ spike protein that cannot cause disease but can trigger the immune system. The vaccine developer said it had started developing a spike protein specifically based on the known genetic sequence of the variant, B.1.1.529. -Reuters
South African health minister says travel bans “unjustified”
South African Health Minister Joe Phaahla said on Friday that preliminary studies suggest a new COVID-19 variant detected in his country may be more transmissible, but the decision of other countries to impose travel restrictions is “unjustified”. -Reuters
Ireland extends COVID-19 booster shots to all adults
Ireland, one of the world’s most vaccinated nations, will make COVID-19 booster shots available to all adults in a sharp ramping up of plans to provide additional protection, the health minister said on Friday.
Almost 90% of Ireland’s eligible 3.9 million people over the age of 12 have been fully vaccinated and booster shots had previously been approved for those over the age of 50 and for those with underlying health issues. -Reuters
FIH Junior Women’s World Cup in South Africa put on hold owing to COVID-19
The upcoming FIH Junior Women’s Hockey World Cup in South Africa was on Saturday put on hold as a new variant of COVID-19 in the country stoked worldwide fears.
The prestigious tournament was to be held in the Rainbow Nation from December 5 to 16.
However, following the outbreak of a new coronavirus variant in South Africa, the International Hockey Federation (FIH), the South African Hockey Association and the North-West University of Potchefstroom have jointly decided that the tournament “will not happen under these circumstances”. -PTI
India has exported vaccines to 95 countries
India has delivered around 70.70 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines to 95 countries till November 22 and out of these, 12.7 million doses were given to 47 nations by the government, Union minister Jitendra Singh said on Friday. He said the remaining 58 million were supplied by the Serum Institute of India under its commercial and COVAX obligations.
International flights to be resumed from Dec 15
Scheduled international flights to and from India will be resumed from December15 after 20 months of coronavirus-induced suspension, the Civil Aviation Ministry said on Friday. However, the countries deemed ‘at risk’ of COVID-19 by the Health Ministry will be allowed to operate only a certain percentage of their pre-COVID scheduled flights, the Aviation Ministry clarified.