Go home and stay home. That was the simple message echoing around the world Sunday as successive national governments raced to meet the challenge posed by a new, mutated coronavirus strain.
Scientists want to determine the threat posed by the strain known as Omicron — particularly whether it can evade existing vaccines.
Several countries have also announced plans to restrict travel from southern Africa, where it was first detected, including key travel hub Qatar, the United States, Britain, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the Netherlands.
New York State has already declared a state of emergency over the Omicron variant, despite the fact 100 percent of New York’s sampled cases in the last two weeks were the Delta variant of the virus, as Breitbart News reported.
In the UK, Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered an immediate return to compulsory wearing of masks – indoors and out.
The strictest international response is found in Israel, which said Sunday it would close its borders to all foreigners in a bid to curb the spread of the variant — just four weeks after reopening to tourists after a prolonged closure due to Covid, AFP reports.
“We are raising a red flag,” Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said, adding the country would order 10 million PCR test kits to stem the “very dangerous” strain.
The virus strain has now been found everywhere from the Netherlands to Hong Kong and Australia, where authorities Sunday said they had detected it for the first time in two passengers from southern Africa who were tested after flying into Sydney.
They were aboard Qatar Airways flight QR908, Doha to Sydney.
The arrival of the new variant comes just a month after Australia lifted a ban on citizens travelling overseas without permission, with the country’s border also set to open to skilled workers and international students by the year’s end.
AFP reports scientists in South Africa last week said that they had detected the new B.1.1.529 variant with at least 10 mutations, compared with three for Beta or two for Delta — the strain that hit the global recovery hard and sent millions worldwide back into lockdown.
South Africa has since complained it is being unfairly hit with “draconian” air travel bans for having first detected the strain, which the World Health Organization has termed a “variant of concern”.
“Excellent science should be applauded and not punished,” its foreign ministry said in a statement.
AFP contributed to this story