The Irish Times

The Irish Times online. Latest news including sport, analysis, business, weather and more from the definitive brand of quality news in Ireland.

Countries scramble to prevent Omicron spread as cases appear in Europe.

The Omicron variant of the coronavirus has appeared in an increasing number of European countries, leaving governments around the world scrambling to stop the spread.

The UK on Saturday tightened its rules on mask-wearing and on testing of international arrivals after finding two cases.

New cases were also confirmed in Germany and Italy, with Belgium, Israel and Hong Kong also reporting that the variant has been found in travellers.

In the US, Dr Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious diseases expert, said he would not be surprised if the Omicron variant was already in the country.

“We have not detected it yet, but when you have a virus that is showing this degree of transmissibility . . . it almost invariably is ultimately going to go essentially all over,” Dr Fauci said on NBC television.

Because of fears that the new variant has the potential to be more resistant to the protection offered by vaccines, there are growing concerns around the world that the pandemic and associated lockdown restrictions will persist for far longer than hoped.

Nearly two years since the start of the pandemic that has claimed more than 5 million lives around the world, countries are on high alert.

Many have already imposed travel restrictions on flights from southern Africa as they seek to buy time to assess whether the Omicron variant is more transmissible than the current dominant delta variant.

In England, prime minister Boris Johnson said it was necessary to take “targeted and precautionary measures”, such as increased mask-wearing, after two people tested positive for the new variant.

He told a news conference: “Right now this is the responsible course of action to slow down the seeding and the spread of this new variant and to maximize our defences.”

The British government also added four more countries — Angola, Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia — onto the country’s travel red list from Sunday.

Six others — Botswana, Eswatini (formerly Swaziland), Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe — were added on Friday.

Many countries have slapped restrictions on various southern African countries over the past couple of days, including Australia, Brazil, Canada, the EU, Iran, Japan, New Zealand, Thailand and the US, in response to warnings over the transmissibility of the new variant.

This goes against the advice of the World Health Organisation (WHO), which has warned against any overreaction before the variant was thoroughly studied.

Despite the banning of flights, there are mounting concerns that the variant has already been widely seeded around the world.

Italy and Germany were the latest to report confirmed cases of the Omicron variant.

An Italian who had travelled to Mozambique on business landed in Rome on November 11th and returned to his home near Naples.

He and five family members, including two school-age children, have since tested positive, the Italian news agency LaPresse said. All are isolating in the Naples suburb of Caserta in good condition with light symptoms.

Italy’s health ministry is urging all regions to increase its tracing of the virus and sequencing to detect cases of the new variant first identified in South Africa.

Australia confirmed on Sunday that two people arriving from southern Africa over the weekend had tested positive for the Omicron variant.

Health officials in New South Wales, the most populous state, said both passengers had arrived in the state capital, Sydney, on Saturday evening and tested positive for Covid-19 late that night, before genome sequencing confirmed the Omicron variant on Sunday.

In Germany, the Max von Pettenkofer Institute, a Munich-based microbiology centre, said the Omicron variant was confirmed in two travellers who arrived on a flight from South Africa on November 24th.

The Dutch public health institute said the Omicron variant was “probably found in a number of the tested persons” who were isolated after arriving on Friday in Amsterdam on two flights from South Africa.

The institute said in a statement that further sequencing analysis is under way to determine for sure that it is the new variant. The results were expected on Sunday. A total of 61 people were tested.

Israel said it detected the new strain in a traveller who had returned from Malawi and was tracing 800 travellers who returned recently from southern African countries.

The variant’s swift spread among young people in South Africa has alarmed health professionals even though there was no immediate indication whether the variant causes more severe disease. – AP/Reuters

White House avoids questions on soft-on-crime policies.

White House avoids questions on soft-on-crime policies.

'The Five' panelists weigh in on the White House's refusal to weigh in on radical district attorneys. #FoxNews #TheFive Subscribe to Fox News! Watch more Fox News Video: Watch Fox News Channel Live: FOX News Channel (FNC) is a 24-hour all-encompas...

Demand for Peloton bikes, treadmills fall

Demand for Peloton bikes, treadmills fall

The CEO of Peloton denied a report that the company was idling factories.

1 31

Ukraine crisis: UK says Russia has 'not learnt lesson' as UK warns against conflict.

Ukraine crisis: UK says Russia has 'not learnt lesson' as UK warns against conflict.

RUSSIA is set to encircle Europe with massive war games alongside China and Iran as fears grow over a possible invasion of Ukraine. Putin plans to hold naval drills in the Atlantic, Arctic, Mediterranean and the Pacific this month, Moscow's Minist...

Growing Cities Struggle To Keep Up With Housing Shortage.

Growing Cities Struggle To Keep Up With Housing Shortage.

Home prices have skyrocketed during the pandemic while supply chains and labor issues have crippled contractors, leading to a nationwide housing shortage. NBC News’ Guad Venegas reports from Reno, Nevada, a booming town struggling to keep up with ...

Meat Loaf, ‘Bat Out of Hell’ singer, has died at 74.

Meat Loaf, ‘Bat Out of Hell’ singer, has died at 74.

Meat Loaf, the larger-than-life singer whose 1977 record "Bat Out of Hell" is one of the best-selling albums of all time, has died at age 74, according to a statement on his verified Facebook page. #CNN #News

How are kids holding up in the coronavirus pandemic? - COVID-19 Special.

How are kids holding up in the coronavirus pandemic? - COVID-19 Special.

The closure of daycare centers and schools during coronavirus lockdowns has led to many children experiencing psychological issues and falling behind. A new study indicates there is no need to close daycare centers, but opening schools remains con...