G7 health ministers were to hold an emergency meeting Monday on the new Omicron Covid-19 strain spreading the globe and forcing border closures, as experts race to understand what the variant means for the fight to end the pandemic.
The meeting was called by G7 chair Britain, which is among a steadily growing number of countries detecting cases of the heavily mutated new strain.
Omicron, first discovered in southern Africa, represents a fresh challenge to global efforts to battle the pandemic. Several countries have already re-imposed restrictions many had hoped were a thing of the past.
“We know we are now in a race against time,” said European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen. Vaccine manufacturers needed two to three weeks “to get a full picture of the quality of the mutations”, she added.
A long list of countries has already imposed travel restrictions on southern Africa, including key travel hub Qatar, as well as the United States, Britain, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the Netherlands.
egional neighbours Mozambique, Namibia and South Africa.
South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa on Sunday called on countries to lift the travel bans “before any further damage is done to our economies”.
Malawi’s President Lazarus Chakwera accused Western countries of “Afrophobia” for shutting their borders.
The head of the World Health Organization in Africa also urged countries to follow the science rather than impose flight bans in a bid to contain the new Covid strain.
“With the Omicron variant now detected in several regions of the world, putting in place travel bans that target Africa attacks global solidarity,” said WHO regional director Matshidiso Moeti.
– Race to determine threat level –
Dutch health authorities said they had identified at least 13 cases of Omicron among 61 quarantined passengers who tested positive for coronavirus after arriving from South Africa.
Border police there announced Sunday they had arrested a couple on a plane at Schiphol Airport after they fled a hotel where the passengers were being quarantined.