Omicron variant unlikely to lead to ‘reboot of pandemic’ – director of Oxford Vaccine Group
The UK should cut the gap between the second dose of a Covid-19 vaccination and the booster jab from six to five months, the Labour party said on Saturday, Reuters reports.
As the new Omicron variant sparked concern around the world, Alex Norris, Labour’s junior health spokesperson, said:
This new variant is a wake-up call.
The pandemic is not over. We need to urgently bolster our defences to keep the virus at bay.
Yesterday, Labour called on ministers to act quickly to “get a grip” of the issues before Omicron had a chance to take hold.
The director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, which developed the AstraZeneca vaccine, expressed cautious optimism that existing vaccines could be effective at preventing serious disease from the Omicron variant and said it is unlikely to result in a reboot of the pandemic.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Prof Sir Andrew Pollard said:
If you look at where most of the mutations are, they are similar to regions of the spike protein that have been seen with other variants so far and that tells you that despite mutations existing in other variants, the vaccines have continued to prevent very severe disease as we’ve moved through Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta.
At least from a speculative point of view we have some optimism that the vaccine should still work against this variant for severe disease but really we need to wait several weeks to have that confirmed.
But it is extremely unlikely that a reboot of a pandemic in a vaccinated population like we saw last year is going to happen
Pollard added that it was still too early from the data in South Africa to make any decisive conclusions of the impact the Omicron variant will have.
He was also hopeful that a new vaccine, if needed, could be developed rapidly. He said:
The processes of how one goes about developing a new vaccine are increasingly well oiled.
So if it’s needed that is something that could be moved very rapidly.
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Sri Lanka is the latest country to ban travellers from six southern African countries on Saturday over concerns about the new Omicron Covid variant.
From Monday, travellers will not be allowed into the country from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho and Eswatini, a statement from the director general of health services said, local publication the Deccan Herald reports.
Travellers who arrived from these six countries over the past two days will have to undergo mandatory 14 days quarantine.
The number of confirmed Omicron Covid cases in South Africa is still relatively low, with 2,828 new confirmed cases recorded on Friday, but its speed in infecting young people in the country has alarmed health professionals, the Associated Press reports.
“We’re seeing a marked change in the demographic profile of patients with Covid-19,” Rudo Mathivha, head of the intensive care unit at Soweto’s Baragwanath hospital, told an online press briefing.
“Young people, in their 20s to just over their late 30s, are coming in with moderate to severe disease, some needing intensive care. About 65% are not vaccinated and most of the rest are only half-vaccinated,” said Mathivha.
“I’m worried that as the numbers go up, the public health care facilities will become overwhelmed.”
She said urgent preparations are needed to enable public hospitals to cope with a potential large influx of patients needing intensive care.
Diagnostic tests so far indicate the Omicron variant may be responsible for as many as 90% of the new cases, according to South Africa’s health officials.
Early studies show that it has a reproduction rate of 2 — meaning that every person infected by it is likely to spread it to two other people.
Many passengers on the two flights that arrived from South Africa to the Netherlands last night did not wear face coverings, New York Times reporter Stephanie Nolen says.
Nolen, who was on one plane, said many passengers did not follow the health guidelines despite a mask mandate by Dutch airline KLM, which operated both flights.
We now know that dozens of those passengers tested positive for Covid, although authorities have yet to confirm the presence of the Omicron variant.
Passengers were stuck on the airport tarmac for about four hours before being sent to be swabbed, tweeted Nolen, who later said she tested negative.
“… still probably 30% of ppl are wearing no mask or only over mouth. Dutch authorities not enforcing. We’re just all in this unventilated room at hour 12, breathing on each other,” she added.
“After all that time with maskless yellers in an unventilated space – we shall see what the next days bring.”
As Europe braces for a possible outbreak of the new Omicron coronavirus variant, here is a quick visual refresh of where the continent stands in its fight against the coronavirus.
This updated map indicates incidence rates across Europe.
Dutch health authorities said that 61 people who arrived in Amsterdam on two flights from South Africa on Friday tested positive for Covid-19, Reuters reports.
Authorities are conducting further testing to see if any of the infections are with the recently discovered Omicron coronavirus variant.
Around 600 passengers arrived at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport on the two KLM flights on Friday and then faced hours of delays and testing due to concerns over the new virus variant.
The Dutch health ministry said early onn Saturday 61 tests had come back positive.
“Travellers with a positive test result will be placed in isolation at a hotel at or near Schiphol,” health authorities said in a statement. “Of the positive test results, we are researching as quickly as possible whether they are the new variant of concern, now named ‘Omicron’.”
The Dutch government banned all air travel from southern Africa early on Friday. The health minister, Hugo de Jonge, determined that passengers already en route to the Netherlands would have to undergo testing and quarantine upon arrival.
Thailand is now the latest country to ban entry of people travelling from eight African countries it designated as high-risk for the new B 1.1.529 Covid-19 variant, a senior health official said.
Starting in December, travel from Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe, will be prohibited, the official told a news conference, as reported by Reuters.
Hi everyone, it’s Samantha Lock here, ready to take you through all the new Covid developments this weekend.
It’s been a busy past 24 hours on the Covid front with nations racing to close borders and reimpose restrictions after a new Covid variant was detected last week.
Today, the World Health Organization named the variant “omicron” and classified it as a highly transmissible virus of concern.
Belgium detected Europe’s first confirmed case of the new variant on Friday as the US, the UK, Australia, Canada and multiple European nations imposed travel bans on south African nations.
Let’s dive right back in with a quick recap of all the key developments you may have missed from the past few hours.
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