There is global concern and widespread alarm at the discovery of SARS-CoV-2 variant B.1.1.529, which the World Health Organization (WHO) has called Omicron.
The WHO classified Omicron as a “variant of concern” because it has a wide range of mutations. This suggests vaccines and treatments could be less effective.
Australia has followed other countries and regions — including the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the European Union — and banned travelers from nine southern African countries.
Australians seeking to return home from southern Africa will still be able to do so. But they will enter hotel quarantine and be tested. Those who have returned from the nine countries — South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, the Seychelles, Malawi, and Mozambique — in the past 14 days will have to isolate.
But Omicron has already been detected in other regions, including the UK, Germany, Israel, Hong Kong, and Belgium. So while a travel ban on southern African countries may slow the spread and buy limited time, it’s unlikely to stop it.
As the Australian government and others act to protect their own citizens, this should be accompanied by additional resources to support countries in southern Africa and elsewhere that take prompt action.
Vaccines remain the mainstay of protection against the most severe effects of COVID-19.
As the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response noted in May: “Public health actors only see downsides from drawing attention to an outbreak that has the potential to spread.”
The panel recommended creating incentives to reward early response action. This could include support to:
- establish research and educational partnerships
- strengthen health systems and communicable disease surveillance
- greatly improve vaccine availability, distribution, and equity
- consider financial compensation, through some form of solidarity fund against pandemic risk
Read the full article about Omicron by Anthony Zwi at Global Citizen.
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