Governments act quickly as new Covid-19 variant causes concern

By James Hagan 

Governments are taking action to deter the spread of the Covid-19 variant B.1.1.529, named Omicron which, since its discovery, has been discovered across Africa, the EU and Australia. 

Originally sampled in Botswana, Omicron is far more evolved than similar strains of the virus, with 32 known mutations. Virologist Tom Peacock notes it’s “horrific” make up which has over double the mutations of the Delta variant. 

President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen announced Thursday, November 26th proposals to initiate an ‘emergency brake’ on all air travel from southern African regions in order to curb the spread of the variant. 

With nations such as Germany, the Netherlands, Italy and the UK confirming cases, NPHET is yet to give clear guidelines on how to deter the spread in Ireland.

AFP News reported via Twitter that the WHO have asked for borders to remain open, and South Africa’s president Cyril Ramaphosa has also announced he wants border bans to be lifted urgently.

RTÉ reported this variant has a severely different spike protein from the original strand of Covid-19. Current vaccines were able to combat the virus by targeting this strain, yet many believe a new vaccine will be required to offer more efficient protection.

Journalist Jane Merrick reported via Twitter that the mutations found in the variant are associated with ‘vaccine escape’ – confirming current vaccines are likely ineffective.

 While Merrick’s Coivd-19 updates come directly from WHO envoys, some believe the variant may be a setback rather than a new pandemic. Professor Francois Balloux, who has been on the forefront of reporting study updates of the Omicron variant, suggests that Omicron is more of an obstacle than ‘the next pandemic’. 

Balloux has said the variant is likely in several countries, yet the current lack of understanding may be preventing the ability to identify cases.

Pharmaceutical companies have ensured progress in understanding the Omicron variant, yet no definitive information on current vaccine validity, or new vaccine development, has been announced. 

Bloomberg reports that the Moderna chief medical officer doubts current vaccine efficiency against the Omicron variant, yet a reformulated shot could be created for early 2022. 

Journalist Gavin Reilly has reported a huge surge in hospitality cancellations, the possible reintroduction of hotel quarantining, and a possible 11 suspected cases of the Omicron variant in Ireland already.

As new information is announced daily regarding Omicron, NPHET and the Irish government have already began taking measures to reduce possible transmission. The first decision to deter the spread requires arrivals to have a lab-conducted antigen test or PCR test completed before arrival. 

The antigen option is only available to people who are vaccinated, with no exceptions. This requires those without a vaccine or who have recovered to acquire their PCR test before entry. 

However, with daily cases hovering around 3,000 daily, hospitality and cultural sectors have been given new restrictions for the Christmas period, until at least January 9th 2022.

This includes, but is not limited to, nightclub closure, social distancing measures being reverted to the level prior to October 22nd, a maximum of 6 people per table in restaurants, and table-only service being reinstated. 

With the news of the reclosure of nightclubs, the latest that any hospitality-based event or venue may close is midnight.

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