Governments, citizens, and companies are concerned after cases of the omicron COVID-19 variant popped up in countries on opposite sides of the world.
First identified by researchers in South Africa, places such as Israel, Morocco, the Netherlands, Canada, and Australia, have rushed to share information about the virus, even as scientists caution against closing off their borders.
Much is still not known about the new variant, including whether it is more contagious, more likely to cause serious illness, or more able to evade the protection of vaccines. But it has still caused many countries to act, reflecting lingering anxieties about the pandemic that has killed more than 5 million people.
While Israel and Morocco are among the most drastic place to curb travel, scientists around the globe continue to scramble to slow the variant’s spread. From Hong Kong to Europe, its presence has been instantly felt. In the aforementioned Netherlands, 13 omicron cases were reported on Sunday, Nov. 28, and both Canada and Australia each found two.
The World Health Organization has called for frontiers to remain open, despite many countries wanting to cease all incoming and outgoing travel.
Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health in the United States, emphasized that there is no data yet that suggests the new variant causes more serious illness than previous COVID-19 variants.
“I do think it’s more contagious when you look at how rapidly it spread through multiple districts in South Africa. It has the earmarks therefore of being particularly likely to spread from one person to another…What we don’t know is whether it can compete with delta,” Collins said on CNN’s State of the Union.
Thirteen people who arrived in the Netherlands from South Africa have tested positive for omicron. They were among 61 people who tested positive for the virus after arriving on the last two flights to Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport before a flight ban was implemented. They were immediately put into isolation, most at a nearby hotel.
This is a still-developing story.