‘Don’t Freak Out’ About Omicron: EU Tightens Travel Restrictions As New Variant Infections Soar

Written by | Friday, December 3rd, 2021

The Omicron variant will likely be detected in over half of all cases of Covid-19 in Europe within the next few months, the European Centre for Disease Prevention said on Thursday (2 December). Omicron is estimated to be likely more contagious than the current Delta variant, but experts in the EU and elsewhere are still analyzing Omicron’s transmissibility and how effective vaccines are against it. The emergence of the new and more-contagious variant reveals “why the world needs a new accord on pandemics,” the chief of the World Health Organisation (WHO) said earlier in the week (29 November), calling for a “legally-binding” agreement. The new global deal, expected by 2024, would provide a framework for global pandemic preparedness, strengthening alert systems, data-sharing and research for vaccines and treatments. The Omicron variant shows how “perilous and precarious” the situation was, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO chief, warned when opening a special session to discuss global cooperation in the fight against pandemics.
The Omicron strain was first detected in South Africa in the early days of November, but it has since been reported in at least a dozen countries around the world since – including the UK, Germany, France, Denmark, Portugal, Israel, the US, Australia, Canada and Hong Kong. The European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said that South Africa’s analytic work was “a model of how international cooperation should work in the face of cross-border health threats”. She argued that “only collective, effective and immediate responses can work against viruses that do not respect either borders or good intentions”. And although it is still unclear whether Omicron is associated with more transmission, more severe disease, more reinfections, or more risk of evading vaccines, many EU countries have already put in place travel restrictions on South Africa and neighbouring countries in a bid to control the spread of the new variant. This has led the European Commission to warn member states against imposing further travel restrictions on those who have a valid EU digital Covid-19 certificate.
Meanwhile, the hastily imposed travel restrictions, especially on visitors coming from Southern Africa, have been criticised by South Africa while the WHO has urged against them, noting their limited effect. The WHO has called for countries to keep calm and take “rational” measures in response to the new coronavirus strain.“We call on all member states to take rational, proportional risk-reduction measures,” WHO chief said in a briefing on Tuesday (30 November). To that end, in a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal, the CEO of BioNTech, Ugur Sahin said that while Omicron may infect more vaccinated people, they will likely remain protected against severe illness. His main message for those who are worried about the Omicron variant of the coronavirus was: “Don’t freak out, the plan remains the same: Speed up the administration of a third booster shot.”

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