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G7 calls for ‘urgent action’ on Omicron COVID-19 variant

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Following warnings of potentially “severe” consequences by the World Health Organisation (WHO), health ministers of G7 countries on Monday called for “urgent action” to combat the highly transmissible new Omicron Covid-19 variant spreading across the world.

No deaths have yet been reported from Omicron, and it remains unclear how infectious and how resistant the strain may prove to vaccines.

Many governments, particularly in western Europe, had already struggled with rapid rises in cases and have reintroduced mandatory mask-wearing, social-distancing measures, curfews or lockdowns, while some have already shut their borders.

“The global community is faced with the threat of a new, at a first evaluation, a highly transmissible variant of COVID-19, which requires urgent action,” ministers said following the emergency G7 talks called by its chair, Britain.

The WHO had warned that the overall risk from Omicron was “very high” and warned that any major surge would put pressure on health systems and cause more deaths.

Read also: Expert explains Covid-19 Omicron variant symptoms

“If another major surge of Covid-19 takes place driven by Omicron, consequences may be severe,” the WHO cautioned, concluding that “the overall global risk related to the new VOC (Variant of Concern) Omicron is assessed as very high.”

On Monday, Japan joined Israel in announcing plans to bar all new foreign travellers. Australia announced it would delay by two weeks the relaxation of restrictions that would have allowed skilled workers and foreign students to enter the country from Wednesday.

The growing list of countries to impose travel curbs on southern Africa includes Britain, Indonesia, the Netherlands, Saudi Arabia and the United States.

However, the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called against penalising Africa for the new variant saying, “The people of Africa cannot be blamed for the immorally low level of vaccinations available in Africa — and they should not be penalised for identifying and sharing crucial science and health information with the world.”

Also, China’s President Xi Jinping on Monday pledged Africa one billion Covid vaccine doses as the continent struggles to acquire enough jabs to immunise against the disease.

Following the travel ban on the country by many nations, South Africa on Monday said it was “regrettable… (and) sad” that fellow African nations had joined a rush by wealthy countries to impose travel bans over the new Covid variant.

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