Coronavirus digest: Germany confirms third case of omicron variant | DW | 28.11.2021

Germany said Sunday it had detected a total of three cases of the new omicron coronavirus variant after a suspected infection in the western state of Hesse was confirmed.

“The sequencing has confirmed the result — the suspected case which was made public yesterday morning is the omicron variant,” Kai Klose, Social Affairs Minister in the state of Hesse tweeted.

On Saturday he said a suspected omicron case had been found in a passenger arriving from South Africa in Hesse, home to Frankfurt airport, one of Europe’s busiest air hubs.

On Saturday, health officials in the southern state of Bavaria detected two cases of the Omicron variant.

Restrictions on air travel from South Africa took effect on Sunday after it was classified as a virus-variant area.

They mean airlines can fly only Germans to Germany from South Africa and even those who are vaccinated must spend 14 days in quarantine.

The new variant has caused alarm in Germany which, like many other European countries, is struggling to contain a fourth wave, with a surge in virus cases.

Here is a roundup of the latest COVID news from around the world.

Europe

A growing number of European countries have reported cases of the newly discovered variant.

As well as the three confirmed cases in Germany, the Netherlands said Sunday that 13 people have so far tested positive for the omicron variant.

They were among 61 positive COVID cases on two separate flights from South Africa, which landed on Friday at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport.

In the Czech Republic, a hospital in the northern city of Liberec reported it had found the variant in a female patient and confirmed it with “90% probability.”

Denmark has registered two cases of omicron. Austria said Sunday it was investigating a suspected case on Sunday and in France, Health Minister Olivier Veran said the variant was probably already circulating there.

In Italy, the National Health Institute said a case of the new variant was detected in Milan in a person coming from Mozambique.

UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid said mandatory mask-wearing will return to shops and public transport in England on Tuesday.

Also from Tuesday, all passengers arriving in Britain are being instructed to take a PCR test and self-isolate until they register negative. 

The UK was the first to impose bans on travelers from southern African countries after South African scientists made their discovery known about the variant.

In Germany, President Frank-Walter Steinmeier has called on Germans to voluntarily reduce their contacts to avoid having to go into another lockdown.

“It’s important that we act together now,” he wrote in the newspaper Bild am Sonntag. “Let’s stick to the rules and reduce our contacts again. Let’s do it so that schools and nurseries don’t have to close, so that we don’t have to completely shut down public life again.”

The German Hospital Association said three-quarters of the country’s hospitals are not functioning normally, and surgeries are being postponed. 

Meanwhile, German police have closed down an unauthorized event billing itself as a vaccination center after a doctor began administering COVID-19 vaccine shots he had invented himself, German media reported.

Authorities said some 50 individuals appeared to have received the mystery shot, at Lübeck airport in the north of the country. Over 200 more people were in line when the police showed up.

Liquids, syringes and lists of those who had been vaccinated that day were seized.

Switzerland has added the UK, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, Egypt and Malawi to its quarantine list as it tries to stall the arrival of the omicron variant.

Travelers from these countries will have to show a negative COVID-19 test result and must quarantine for 10 days.

Meanwhile, Swiss voters on Sunday rejected a proposal to scrap the COVID certificates that restrict unvaccinated people from entering public spaces.

In Austria, tens of thousands of people rallied on Saturday to protest against the introduction of compulsory vaccinations and a new lockdown. Austria is the first EU state to do so, which the chancellor said was “a minor interference” compared to the alternatives.

One of the largest demos was held in the southern city of Graz, where police said around 25,000 people gathered.

Africa

Chair of the South African Medical Association (SAMA), Angelique Coetzee, has said people who have caught the omicron variant in the country do not appear to be seriously ill. 

“The patients are mostly complaining about a sore body and extreme tiredness,” she said. However, she also added that research into the variant is still at a very early stage, and that most of the patients so far have been younger people. 

Coetzee expressed concern about the potential effects of the variant on older people, or those with pre-existing medical conditions like diabetes or heart disease.

Meanwhile, as DW’s Adrian Kriesch reports from Cape Town, many South Africans now fear the restrictions imposed due to omicron more than the virus.

Morocco will ban all inbound international passenger flights for two weeks starting November 29
due to concerns over the omicron variant, the government said in a statement Sunday.

Americas

The United States has praised South Africa for its speedy identification of the omicron variant. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with his South African counterpart, Naledi Pandor, about the country’s response. 

“Secretary Blinken specifically praised South Africa’s scientists for the quick identification of the omicron variant and South Africa’s government for its transparency in sharing this information, which should serve as a model for the world,” the statement said.

The health regulator in Brazil has recommended widening travel restrictions to include Angola, Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia in a travel ban. 

The regulator, Anvisa, has no authority to enforce the recommendation, and would therefore need government approval before it could be implemented.

Asia

China could face more than 630,000 COVID-19 infections a day if it dropped its zero-tolerance policies by lifting travel curbs, according to a study by Peking University mathematicians.

Using data for August from the United States and Europe, the team assessed the potential results if China adopted the same pandemic control tactics as those countries.

The daily new cases would reach at least 637,155 if Beijing adopted the United States’ pandemic strategy, the report said. And daily cases would hit 275,793 if China took the same approach as Britain.

In India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi told officials on Saturday to review plans to ease travel restrictions as concerns rise over the new variant.

Officials said Modi “highlighted the need for monitoring all international arrivals, with a specific focus on countries identified ‘at risk’.”

The world’s second-worst affected country by COVID had only Friday decided to resume international flights from higher-risk countries, while ordering tightened border screening.

Indonesia and the Philippines also ordered restrictions on arrivals from countries where cases of the omicron variant have been found. 

Oceania

In Australia, health authorities have confirmed the first detected cases of the variant in two passengers who arrived in Sydney from southern Africa.

They had previously tested positive for COVID-19, but the health department of New South Wales carried out urgent genomic testing to find out the variant of the virus.

The passengers have been taken to special accommodation where they will quarantine for 14 days.

mm, ab, jc, kb/rc (Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa)

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