The Israeli Health Ministry says it has detected the country’s first case of a new coronavirus variant in a traveler who returned from Malawi. After the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) labeled it a “variant of concern,” The U.S. will restrict non-U.S. travel from South Africa and seven other countries.
The Health Ministry said a traveler and two other suspected were put into isolation on Friday. The three are said to be vaccinated, but their exact vaccination status is being examined.
The Israeli government declared South Africa and six other African nations to be “red countries,” foreign nationals are not allowed to travel to Israel. Israelis coming back from those countries are required to undergo a period of isolation.
The U.S. will also restrict travel from the following African nations: Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, and Malawi.
[The] World Health Organization assigned the newly identified variant the Greek letter omicron and formally recognized the strain, previously referred to as lineage B.1.1.529, as a “variant of concern.”
Health experts are deeply concerned about the transmissibility of the omicron variant, given that it has an unusual constellation of mutations and a profile that is different from other variants of concern. It is not clear how severe infections would be for vaccinated patients.
It is feared a sharp upswing of Covid cases in South Africa’s Gauteng province — where the heavily mutated strain of the virus was first identified — could mean it has greater potential to escape prior immunity than other variants.
President Biden addressed the U.S. decision to restrict travel; he called the move a “precautionary measure” until additional information on the variant emerges.
“This morning, I was briefed by my chief medical advisor, Dr. Tony Fauci, and the members of our COVID response team, about the Omicron variant, which is spreading through Southern Africa,” Biden said in a statement. “As a precautionary measure until we have more information, I am ordering additional air travel restrictions from South Africa and seven other countries. These new restrictions will take effect on November 29. As we move forward, we will continue to be guided by what the science and my medical team advises.”
“For now, I have two important messages for the American people, and one for the world community. First, for those Americans who are fully vaccinated against severe COVID illness – fortunately, for the vast majority of our adults — the best way to strengthen your protection is to get a booster shot as soon as you are eligible,” the president continued. “Boosters are approved for all adults over 18, six months past their vaccination and are available at 80,000 locations coast-to-coast. They are safe, free, and convenient. Get your booster shot now, so you can have this additional protection during the holiday season. Second, for those not yet fully vaccinated: get vaccinated today.”
“In addition, I call on the nations gathering next week for the World Trade Organization ministerial meeting to meet the U.S. challenge to waive intellectual property protections for COVID vaccines, so these vaccines can be manufactured globally. I endorsed this position in April; this news today reiterates the importance of moving on this quickly,” he concluded.
Late last year, Israel launched one of the world’s first and most successful vaccination campaigns; nearly half of the population has received a booster shot. Israel has included children as young as five in the vaccination campaign.
Other countries, namely, European Union, the United Kingdom, and Canada, have also decided to restrict travel from the African countries.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said, “All air travel to these countries should be suspended until we have a clear understanding about the danger posed about this new variant and travelers returning from these regions should respect strict quarantine rules.”