A new strain of the coronavirus has been detected in several countries. The WHO has called on all countries to increase surveillance and genome sequencing to better understand the newly circulating variant.
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AMSTERDAM, SUNDAY – A new strain of the novel coronavirus first detected in South Africa has caused a number of countries to impose lockdowns or at least close their borders. The new variant, Omicron, has already been detected in several countries.
Dutch health authorities said on Sunday (11/28/2021) that the Omicron variant had been found in 13 passengers on two flights from South Africa. The cases were discovered after 61 of the 600 passengers on two KLM flights tested positive for COVID-19 when they arrived at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam last Friday.
“The investigation has not yet been completed. The new variant could still be detected in more samples,” said the National Institute for Public Health (RIVM).
As of Sunday, the Omicron variant had been detected in Australia, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Israel, Italy, England, Hong Kong and Germany. Australia reported that two travelers from southern Africa were confirmed to have the Omicron strain (variant B.1.1.529).
South Africa first reported the variant to the World Health Organization (WHO) on 24 Nov. Preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this variant compared to other variants of concern.
In Jakarta, the government has tightened the borders and arrivals from abroad to keep the Omicron variant from entering. The Law and Human Rights Ministry’s immigration directorate general has issued a regulation to restrict international travelers from entering Indonesian territory.
This regulation prohibits the entry of foreigners who have been in South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Mozambique, Eswatini and Nigeria within 14 days before entering Indonesia.
“Returning Indonesian citizens who have a travel history from these countries will be quarantined for 14 days,” said Coordinating Maritime Affairs and Investment Minister Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan.
The government has also increased the quarantine period for foreigners and Indonesian citizens from abroad, outside of the countries listed, to seven days, from the previous three days.
The Health Ministry will also seek to improve genome sequencing to detect the Omicron variant, especially in patients with a history of overseas travel. “We expect that with good international cooperation, it will take around one to two weeks to better understand how the Omicron variant affects vaccines and the antibodies formed from natural infections,” said Luhut.
Indonesian Public Health Experts Association chairman Ede Surya Dharmawan said the government had to increase genome surveillance to detect new variants entering the country. This would need to be complemented by screening at the borders, especially at the gates of arrivals from abroad.
Chinese health expert Zhong Nanshan said controlling the COVID-19 pandemic would become increasingly challenging with the discovery of Omicron. Although information is still limited, the Omicron strain, so far, is known to have more mutations. Referring to information from other countries, Zhong stressed the importance of accelerating vaccinations.
According to Ravi Gupta, a University of Cambridge professor, the Beta variant may be able to bypass certain immune protections and may have the potential to so at high levels. (AP/AFP/REUTERS/RAZ/PDS/EVY/CAS)