EU plans ’emergency break’ policy amid threat of Omicron

 

Seeing a potential threat in the discovery of a more lethal and contagious variant of the deadly coronavirus disease or Covid-19, the European Union is proposing for a ban on air travel from southern Africa where the new variant has been first identified recently.

 

BRUSSELS, Belgium — In an announcement, EU commission president Ursula von der Leyen proposed activating what has been termed as the union’s ’emergency brake’ policy that would halt travel from the region in order to deal with the “variant of concern.”

“All air travel to these countries should be suspended until we have a clear understanding about the danger posed by this new variant,” von der Leyen said.

In Ireland, Tanáiste and Minister for Trade, Enterprise and Employment Leo Varadkar disclosed that Irish authorities will be ‘acting quickly’ against the new variant.

He added that Ireland and the United Kingdom had been slow to act against the Delta variant last year but this time it would be different and measures will be rapidly implemented to respond to the threat.

The UK has also banned flights from South Africa and neighboring countries over fears of the new variant.

Belgium reported one case of the new variant, known as B.1.1.529, in a person who traveled to the country from abroad.

The threat of the new Covid-19 variant comes at a time when several EU member states are battling a significant spike of infections. The Netherlands has imposed a partial lockdown due to rising infections while Austria has reimposed a full national lockdown to help curb the spread of infection.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), it would take several weeks to fully understand the impact of the new variant and pending evaluation by its virologists, it has yet to announce whether the B.1.1.529 is a variant of concern or a variant of interest.

Fewer than 100 cases of the variant have been reported, with most cases diagnosed in South Africa. However, there have also been cases in Israel, Hong Kong, Belgium, and Botswana. Most of the cases have been reported in the South African province of Gauteng, of which Johannesburg is the capital city.

Only 24 percent of South Africans have been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, leading to concerns among experts that the new variant could spread rapidly through the country.

Scientists in Ireland revealed from initial studies that the B.1.1.529 variant has the most mutations of any strain of coronavirus to date and are trying to determine whether it is more transmissible and resistant to the Covid-19 vaccine.

German biotech company BioNTech, which developed a COVID-19 vaccine with Pfizer, is also currently studying the new variant and how it interacts with the vaccine. It expects to have data on the Pfizer vaccine’s efficacy against the variant within two weeks. (TRC/Headline PH)

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