WHO warns about Omicron, Southeast Asia tightens travel with African countries

27/11/2021| 21:13

The World Health Organization (WHO) warns, although Covid-19 cases are on a downward trend in most Southeast Asian countries, the region still needs to warn, strengthen epidemic prevention measures, increase the intensity of the epidemic vaccine coverage.

WHO warns about Omicron, Southeast Asia tightens travel with African countries

"Although the number of Covid-19 cases is decreasing in most countries in the region (Southeast Asia), the number of infections elsewhere continues to increase, combined with the emergence of a worrying variant that is a warning. threat warning persists. We need to continue doing our best to protect ourselves against the threat of the virus and prevent it from spreading. At all costs, we must not let our guard down," said Dr. Poonam Khetrapal Singh, WHO regional director for Southeast Asia, warned. "The more the virus spreads, the more it has a chance to mutate and the longer the pandemic will last," she stressed. The WHO official recommended that Southeast Asian countries need to assess the risk of entry of the Omicron variant and take appropriate response measures. Countries in the region need to strengthen their surveillance and genetic sequencing capabilities, while continuing to take both health and social measures to prevent the virus from spreading. These measures include wearing a mask in public, keeping a distance, avoiding large crowds in enclosed spaces, washing hands frequently and getting vaccinated.

According to Ms. Singh, by the end of this week, about 31% of the population of Southeast Asia had received two doses of the Covid-19 vaccine, 21% had received one, while nearly 48% of the population or a billion people had not yet received the vaccine . The recommendation was made in the context of the scientific community expressing concern about the appearance of B.1.1.529, a new strain of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes the Covid-19 pandemic. B.1.1.529 was first detected in Botswana on 11/11 and has also appeared in South Africa, Belgium, Hong Kong, Israel, the Czech Republic and possibly Germany. WHO on November 26 officially assigned this strain the name Omicron and classified it as a "worrying" variant. According to the scientists, Omicron has a total of about 50 mutations, including 32 mutations in the spike protein, the structure the virus uses to attach and enter human cells. This is the most mutated version of the virus to date, raising fears that it may be even more dangerous than Delta - a global dominant strain that has caused many countries to falter. However, scientists need a few more weeks to determine whether the mutations make Omicron more contagious, reduce the effectiveness of the vaccine or evade immunity.

Southeast Asia tightens travel with many African countries Concerned that Omicron could cause a new wave of Covid-19, some Southeast Asian countries have immediately restricted travel to many African countries. Thai authorities on November 27 announced that they will temporarily suspend entry for people from eight African countries considered to be at high risk for the Omicron strain. Opas Karnkawinpong, a senior Thai health official, said that starting from December 1, 2021, Thailand will not accept arrivals from African countries including Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe. Visitors from these countries will not be allowed to apply for entry into Thailand starting today. People coming from other parts of Africa, including vaccinated people, are not exempt from quarantine under current regulations. Malaysia also started tightening travel with some African countries from today. Accordingly, people are not allowed to go to 7 countries including South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe. Foreigners with a history of traveling through these countries within 14 days are also not allowed to enter Malaysia, Malaysian Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said. Citizens and permanent residents of Malaysia returning from the above 7 countries must be isolated for 14 days, even if they have been vaccinated.

Previously, on November 26, the Philippines and Singapore also announced travel restrictions with the above 7 African countries. Singapore's ban on entry and transit for people from these countries takes effect from November 27, while the Philippines' ban takes effect from November 26 to December 15. In addition, the Philippines will epidemiologically trace all individuals with worrisome travel history who have entered the Philippines in the past week. These people will have to undergo 14-day concentrated medical isolation and undergo PCR testing. Singapore still allows entry with citizens and permanent residents returning from the above African countries, but with the condition of 10 days of concentrated medical isolation.