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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: January 19, 2022 - 1:59pm

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

January 19, 2022 - 1:59pm

The Philippines reports the detection of 492 additional cases of the hyper-transmissible Omicron variant of COVID-19.

Of the total, 332 are locals, while 160 are returning overseas Filipinos.

This brings the total number of Omicron cases in the country. — Gaea Katreena Cabico

January 19, 2022 - 8:36am

France's daily reported new coronavirus cases broke a new record on Tuesday with an average of over 300,000 a day in the past week, with the headline figure approaching half a million.

The latest data issued by Public Health France showed that there were 464,769 new cases in the last 24-hour period as the Omicron variant of Covid-19 spread unabated.

A day earlier, 102,144 people had tested positive for the virus. — AFP

January 18, 2022 - 11:29am

China's postal service has ordered workers to disinfect international deliveries and urged the public to reduce orders from overseas after authorities claimed mail could be the source of recent coronavirus outbreaks.

China Post on Monday published a statement ordering workers to disinfect the outer packaging of all international mail "as soon as possible" and requiring employees handling foreign letters and packages to receive booster vaccine shots.

The postal service also asked the public to reduce purchases and deliveries from "countries and regions with a high overseas epidemic risk" and said domestic mail should be handled in different areas to prevent cross-contamination. — AFP

January 14, 2022 - 11:45am

Preliminary data from a trial shows AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine increased antibodies against the coronavirus Omicron variant for a booster dose.

The British-Swedish pharmaceutical reports that the response against both Omicron and Delta variants was seen in those who received the booster while initially vaccinated with either the AstraZeneca shot or another mRNA vaccine.

January 11, 2022 - 11:09am

Omicron is now the dominant COVID-19 variant in the Philippines says Health Secretary Francisco Duque III, citing results of the latest genome sequencing on January 3.

The newest "variant of concern" has surpassed the Delta variant, believed to be behind the second wave of the pandemic in March last year.

Omicron is even more transmissible than the Delta variant.

FULL STORY: Omicron dominant COVID-19 variant in latest genome sequencing — DOH

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