Alarm spreads as new “highly mutated” COVID variant arises

coronavirus image -- a white sphere with red corona spikes emanating outwardThis illustration, created at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reveals ultrastructural morphology exhibited by coronaviruses. (public domain image)

[The Cobb County Courier has a general policy of sticking tightly to local news coverage, but there are some issues (e.g. immigration, COVID-19) that directly impact the county but have to be covered in the context of national and international news. So in those cases, we expand our scope]

The discovery of a new and possibly vaccine-resistant [correction: an earlier version of this incorrectly worded it as “virus-resistant” — thanks to an eagle-eyed reader for pointing it out] COVID variant in southern Africa has resulted in a call from the European Commission for EU member countries to halt air travel from countries where the variant has been discovered.

The variant is designated the Omicron variant [correction: earlier version of this article called in the Nu variant, but the WHO variant met and designated it the Omicron variant] , and Eric Feigl-Ding, a Senior Fellow at the Federation of American Scientists tweeted:

Feigl-Ding indicates on his Twitter feed that cases of the newly-discovered variant have been found in South Africa, Israel, and Hong Kong.

According to an article in Reuters, the World Health Organization cautioned against immediate travel bans.

“At this point, implementing travel measures is being cautioned against,” Reuters quoted Lindmeier from a U.N. briefing in Geneva. “The WHO recommends that countries continue to apply a risk-based and scientific approach when implementing travel measures.”

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen issued the following statement:

We are taking the news about the new highly mutated COVID variant very seriously.

We do know that mutations could lead to the emergence and spread of even more concerning variants of the virus that could spread worldwide within a few months.

It is now important that all of us in Europe act very swiftly, decisively and united.

The European Commission has today proposed to Member States to activate the “emergency brake” on travel from countries in southern African and other countries affected to limit the spread of the new variant.

All air travel to these countries should be suspended until we have a clear understanding about the danger posed by this new variant.

And travellers returning from this region should respect strict quarantine rules.

I have spoken about the situation in several phone calls and video conferences with scientists and vaccine manufacturers today.

They too fully support such precautionary measures to avoid international spreading of this concerning variant.  

It also depends on all of us as citizens to contribute to a better control of the pandemic.

Please get vaccinated as soon as possible, if not done yet.

And follow the known rules to protect yourself.

Boosters provide even better protection.

That is why Europeans should take every opportunity to protect themselves through vaccination.

We have gained experience with other means like masks, hand hygiene and social distancing but also travel bans and border measures.

This helps slow down the spread of viruses.

This is important because it buys us valuable time.

Time for more vaccinations and booster shots.

The European Union’s contracts with manufacturers say that the vaccine must be adapted immediately to new variants as they emerge.

Europe has taken precautions.