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South Africa ‘punished’ for detecting new Omicron variant

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South Africa has complained it is being punished— instead of applauded— for discovering Omicron, a concerning new variant of Covid.

The foreign ministry made the statement as countries around the world restricted travel from southern Africa as details of the spread emerged.

Early evidence suggests Omicron has a higher re-infection risk.

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The World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Friday that the new variant was “of concern”.

Several cases have now been identified in Europe—two in the United Kingdom, two in Germany, one in Belgium and another one in Italy, while a suspected case was found in the Czech Republic.

Israel, where the new variant has been confirmed, has decided to ban all foreigners from entering the country from midnight Sunday.

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The measure will last for 14 days, according to the Times of Israel.

Omicron cases have also been detected in Botswana, Hong Kong and Israel.

Hundreds of passengers arriving in the Netherlands from South Africa are being tested for the new variant.

Some 61 people on two KLM flights were positive for Covid and have been quarantined at a hotel near Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport while they have further tests, Dutch officials said.

The Netherlands is struggling with a record-breaking surge in cases. An extended partial lockdown comes into force there on Sunday evening.

The new Omicron variant was first reported to the WHO from South Africa on November 24.

A statement by the South African foreign ministry on Saturday strongly criticised the travel bans.

“Excellent science should be applauded and not punished,” it said.

The bans were “akin to punishing South Africa for its advanced genomic sequencing and the ability to detect new variants quicker”.—BBC

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