EUROPEAN leaders are scrambling to save Christmas as the Omicron variant with a “Frankenstein mix” of mutations sweeps across the region.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said a “race against time” was now underway to stop the concerning new Covid variant rampaging across Europe.European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said a ‘race against time’ was now underway[/caption]
The UK, Spain, Sweden, Denmark, Portugal, the Netherlands, Germany, the Czech Republic, Italy, and Belgium have all reported cases of the new virus strain.
European leaders have introduced fresh restrictions in a bid to keep the variant at bay, with Christmas markets banned and flights suspended to several southern African countries.
And experts have warned the variant could be a formidable threat to the current vaccines as Omicron has about 50 mutations.
Scientists have reacted more quickly to Omicron than to any other variant – with the president of Moderna, Dr Stephen Hoge, describing it as a “Frankenstein mix” of mutations.
Dr Hoge said scientists got to work immediately after learning about Omicron – the fastest the pharmaceutical company has ever responded to a new variant.
“This thing is a Frankenstein mix of all of the greatest hits,” Dr Hoge told the New York Times.
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“It just triggered every one of our alarm bells.”
Dr Hoge said Moderna could update its current vaccine in about two months and have clinical results in about three months if necessary.
Amid the spread of the new variant, World Health Organisation boss Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned: “Many of us might think we are done with Covid. It’s not done with us.”
The WHO has already warned Europe’s coronavirus death toll could soar by another 700,000 this winter.
Read our Omicron variant live blog for the latest news
Germany has been urged to go into lockdown now amid spiralling Covid cases and as hospitals become overwhelmed in Holland, the country is bracing for a “Code Black” scenario – meaning medics may be forced to choose who lives and dies.
And the Czech Republic will ban Christmas markets and drinking alcohol in public from Friday in a bid to curb the spread of the virus as the country sets repeated records in new daily infections.
The first case of Omicron was detected in South African on November 9 before landing in Europe.
The Dutch government said 13 people who arrived in the Netherlands on flights from South Africa last week have so far tested positive for the variant, while the UK has recorded 11 cases.
Portuguese authorities have identified 13 cases of Omicron among members of the Belenenses professional soccer club.
One case of the coronavirus variant was detected in Sweden on Monday, the Public Health Agency said.
And one of Madrid’s major public hospitals has reported the first case of the variant in Spain in a 51-year-old who had arrived from South Africa after a stopover in Amsterdam.
The total number of cases in Germany stood at three on Sunday, while Italy confirmed a case in a person who had recently been in Mozambique.
Despite the global worry, scientists said it’s still unclear whether Omicron is more alarming than other versions of the virus which has killed more than 5 million people.
South African doctors said new cases of the Omicron variant are resulting in mostly mild symptoms, with patients having flu-like symptoms, dry coughs, fever, night sweats, and body pains.
He also said the vaccinated are faring much better than the unvaccinated.
But nations around the world have slammed their doors shut to in a bid to keep the new variant out.
EU member states have closed their borders to travellers from seven southern African countries – Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe.
In the UK, the government stopped short of a travel ban, but now require anyone who enters the UK to take a PCR test on the second day after arriving in the country, and contacts of suspected cases will be asked to self-isolate for 10 days.
Taking no chances, Japan has reimposed border controls, Israel has decided to bar entry to foreigners, and Morocco said it would suspend all incoming flights for two weeks starting on Monday.
The US is also banning travel from South Africa and seven other southern African countries starting on Monday.
Yet New Zealand announced it will continue plans to reopen internally after months of shutdown – although it’s also restricting travel from nine southern African nations.
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