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WHO Omicron warning for unvaccinated vulnerable travelers

Robin Millard - Agence France-Presse
WHO Omicron warning for unvaccinated vulnerable travelers
A COVID-19 testing facility is advertised at Newark Liberty International Airport on November 30, 2021 in Newark, New Jersey. The United States, and a growing list of other countries, has restricted flights from southern African countries due to the detection of the COVID-19 Omicron variant last week in South Africa. Stocks in the travel and airline industry have fallen in recent days as fears grow over the spread and severity of the variant.
Spencer Platt / Getty Images / AFP

GENEVA, Switzerland — The WHO said Tuesday that those not fully vaccinated against Covid-19 who are also vulnerable to the disease, including over-60s, should put off travel to areas with community transmission.

The World Health Organization also said blanket travel bans would not stop the spread of the Omicron variant.

The new Covid-19 variant of concern, which the WHO says poses a "very high" risk globally, has prompted many countries to shut their borders.

"Blanket travel bans will not prevent the international spread, and they place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods," the WHO said in a travel advice statement on Omicron.

"In addition, they can adversely impact global health efforts during a pandemic by disincentivising countries to report and share epidemiological and sequencing data."

First reported to the WHO less than a week ago after being detected in southern Africa earlier this month, Omicron has already appeared in several countries.

The WHO noted the increasing number of governments introducing travel measures, including temporarily banning arrivals from countries where the variant has been found.

The WHO said that as of Sunday, 56 countries were reportedly implementing travel measures aimed at potentially delaying the importation of the new variant.

"It is expected that the Omicron variant will be detected in an increasing number of countries as national authorities step up their surveillance and sequencing activities," it said.

The WHO later issued a correction to the final part of that travel advice, relating who should be advised to postpone travel, and to where.

"Persons who have not been fully vaccinated or do not have proof of previous SARS-CoV-2 infection and are at increased risk of developing severe disease and dying, including people 60 years of age or older or those with comorbidities that present increased risk of severe Covid-19 (e.g. heart disease, cancer and diabetes) should be advised to postpone travel to areas with community transmission," the WHO's corrected line said.

Elsewhere, the WHO advised countries to apply an "evidence-informed and risk-based approach" when implementing travel measures.

The UN health agency said national authorities in countries of departure, transit and arrival could apply mitigation measures that might delay or reduce the exportation and importation of the variant.

They could include screening passengers, testing and quarantine.

"All measures should be commensurate with the risk, time-limited and applied with respect to travellers' dignity, human rights and fundamental freedoms."

The WHO said that "essential international travel", including for humanitarian missions, repatriations and transport of vital supplies, should always be prioritised during the pandemic.

'Calm, coordinated, coherent'

Earlier Tuesday, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told member states to keep calm and take "rational" steps in response to Omicron.

"We call on all member states to take rational, proportional risk-reduction measures," he said.

"The global response must be calm, coordinated and coherent."

Tedros stressed that it remains unclear how dangerous the variant is.

"We still have more questions than answers about the effect of Omicron on transmission, severity of disease, and the effectiveness of tests, therapeutics and vaccines," he said.

The WHO chief said it was understandable that countries wanted to protect their citizens "against a variant that we don't yet fully understand".

"But I am equally concerned that several member states are introducing blunt, blanket measures that are not evidence-based or effective on their own, and which will only worsen inequities."

COVID-19 VARIANT

OMICRON VARIANT

As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: June 3, 2022 - 2:57pm

Follow this page for updates on the new COVID-19 variant, dubbed Omicron and originally detected in South Africa. Photo courtesy of the The STAR/Miguel de Guzman

June 3, 2022 - 2:57pm

The Department of Health confirms the detection of the COVID-19 Omicron subvariant BA.5 in the Philippines.

The DOH says two individuals from the same household in Central Luzon tested posiive with the subvariant.

Both patients have unknown exposure and have no travel history.

May 13, 2022 - 1:53pm

The first cases of Omicron BA.2.12.1 COVID-19 variant have been detected in the National Capital Region and Palawan, the Department of Health says.

The first two cases in NCR have both received their booster shot and are now tagged as asymptomatic and recovered after completing home isolation.

Meanwhile, 14 tourists and 1 local tested positive in Puerto Princesa City on April 29. All cases are now asymptomatic.

May 12, 2022 - 8:43am

North Korea on Thursday confirms its first-ever case of Covid-19, with state media calling it a "severe national emergency incident" after more than two years of keeping the pandemic at bay.

The official KCNA news agency says the case was "consistent with" the virus' highly transmissible Omicron variant. — AFP

May 5, 2022 - 7:56am

Two new Omicron sub-variants are driving an increase in reported Covid cases in South Africa, the World Health Organization said Wednesday, stressing the importance of testing to monitor virus mutations and spread.

The heavily mutated and highly transmissible Omicron variant of Covid-19, which was first detected in southern Africa in November last year and rapidly spread globally, is now the dominant variant, accounting for almost all new cases. 

Omicron has long been known to have several sub-variants, with BA.2 by far the most dominant. 

But now the South African scientists who first identified Omicron are pointing to two other Omicron sub-variants, BA.4 and BA.5, "as the reason for a spike in cases" in the country, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a press conference. — AFP

April 27, 2022 - 5:35pm

The Department of Health says it has detected the country’s first case of BA.2.12 Omicron subvariant.

The case is a Finnish woman who arrived from Finland last April 2.

According to DOH, the woman went to a university in Quezon then to Baguio to conduct seminars. — Gaea Katreena Cabico

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