Some countries try to close borders as Omicron variant spreads rapidly
Some countries impose travel and local restrictions as variant spreads rapidly
LONDON/AMSTERDAM: The new Omicron coronavirus variant kept spreading around the world yesterday, with 13 cases found in the Netherlands and two each in Denmark and Australia, even as more countries tried to seal themselves off by imposing travel restrictions.
Dutch health authorities announced that the 13 cases of the variant were found among passengers who were on flights from South Africa that arrived in Amsterdam last Friday.
The authorities had tested all of the more than 600 passengers on the two KLM flights and had found 61 coronavirus cases, going on to test those for the new variant.
"It is not unlikely more cases will appear in the Netherlands," Health Minister Hugo de Jonge told a news conference in Rotterdam. "This could possibly be the tip of the iceberg."
Discovered in South Africa, the variant has now been detected in Britain, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Denmark, Belgium, Botswana, Israel, Australia and Hong Kong.
The discovery of Omicron, dubbed a "variant of concern" last week by the World Health Organisation, has sparked worry around the world that it could resist vaccines and prolong the nearly two-year Covid-19 pandemic.
Denmark's infectious disease authority said yesterday it had registered two cases of the variant in travellers from South Africa.
Health officials in Australia's most populous state, New South Wales, said two passengers who arrived in Sydney from southern Africa on Saturday evening had tested positive for the variant.
Austria was investigating a suspected case yesterday, and in France, Health Minister Olivier Veran said the variant was probably already circulating there.
In the most far-reaching effort to keep the variant at bay, Israel announced late on Saturday it would ban the entry of all foreigners and reintroduce counter-terrorism phone-tracking technology to contain the spread of the variant.
In Britain, where two linked cases of Omicron identified on Saturday were connected to travel to southern Africa, the government announced measures to try to contain the spread, including stricter testing rules for people arriving in the country and requiring mask wearing in some settings.
The German state of Bavaria also announced two confirmed cases of the variant on Saturday.
In Italy, the National Health Institute said a case of the new variant had been detected in Milan in a person returning from Mozambique.
Although epidemiologists say travel curbs may be too late to stop Omicron from circulating, many countries - including the United States, Brazil, Canada, European Union nations, Australia, Japan, South Korea and Thailand - have announced travel bans or restrictions on southern Africa.
More countries imposed such curbs yesterday, including Indonesia and Saudi Arabia.
Mexico's Deputy Health Minister Hugo Lopez Gatell said travel restrictions are of little use as a response to the new variant, calling measures taken by some countries "disproportionate".
"It has not been shown to be more virulent or to evade the immune response induced by vaccines. They affect the economy and well-being of people," he tweeted. - REUTERS