London- A new, heavily mutated Covid-19 variant spread across the globe on Monday, shutting borders, renewing curbs, and sparking fears for the fight against the nearly two-year-old coronavirus pandemic, according to AFP.
Dubbed Omicron, the strain has cast doubt on global efforts to battle the pandemic because of fears that it is highly infectious, forcing countries to reimpose measures many had hoped were a thing of the past.
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.
"The investigation has not yet been completed. The new variant may be found in more test samples," the National Institute for Public Health warned.
Britain recorded the third case of the newly identified Omicron coronavirus variant, the UK Health Security Agency said on Monday, adding that the individual, who was no longer in Britain, was linked to travel to Southern Africa, reported Reuters.
The agency said that while in Britain, the individual was in Westminster in central London.
Germany said it had detected a total of three cases of the new Omicron coronavirus variant, reported The Guardian.
Australia, too, reported the first Omicron cases, the British daily said.
The variant has been detected in Germany, Italy, Belgium, Botswana, Israel and Hong Kong, reported The Independent, adding that Austria was investigating a suspected case on Monday.
OPEC is moving two technical meetings to later this week in order to give committees more time to evaluate the impact of the new Omicron coronavirus variant, Bloomberg News reported.
European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said on Monday the world was in a "race against time" to understand the new Covid variant, calling for precautions to give scientists time to analyse the Omicron strain.
"We know we are now in a race against time," von der Leyen said during a visit to Riga, adding that vaccine manufacturers needed two to three weeks "to get a full picture of the quality of the mutations".
Despite the alarm, in Austria tens of thousands rallied to protest against the government's introduction of compulsory vaccination -- the first EU country to do so.
With many European nations, including Germany and France, already bringing back curbs to counter surges in infections, Swiss voters broadly backed a proposed Covid pass law in a referendum on Monday.
In Britain, Health Secretary Avid Javid said new Covid rules will be enforced from tomorrow.
Mask-wearing will again be mandatory in shops and on public transport in England. All passengers arriving in Britain will have to take a PCR test and self-isolate until negative.
Scientists are racing to determine the threat posed by the heavily mutated strain -- particularly whether it can evade existing vaccines.
But a long list of countries have already imposed travel restrictions on southern Africa, where it was first detected, including key travel hub Qatar, the US, Britain, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the Netherlands.
Angola became the first southern African country to suspend all flights from its regional neighbours Mozambique, Namibia and South Africa.
Israel announced some of the strictest curbs, closing the borders to all foreigners -- just four weeks after reopening to tourists following a prolonged closure due to Covid.
Israeli citizens will be required to present a negative PCR test and quarantine for three days if they have been vaccinated against the coronavirus and seven days if they have not.
But the virus strain has already slipped through the net, and has now been found everywhere from the Netherlands to Hong Kong and Australia, where authorities on Monday said they had detected it for the first time in two passengers from southern Africa who were tested after flying into Sydney.
Denmark confirmed its first Omicron infections, in two passengers who arrived on a flight from South Africa.
The speed at which governments slammed their borders shut took many by surprise, with travellers thronging Johannesburg international airport, desperate to squeeze onto the last flights to countries that had imposed sudden travel bans.
In Amsterdam, 61 passengers tested positive after arriving on two flights from South Africa in an ordeal one passenger described as "Dystopia Central Airline Hallway".
The Philippines on Monday further tightened border controls, adding seven European countries to a travel ban that initially covered seven African nations.
The Philippines coronavirus task force placed Austria, Czech Republic, Hungary, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Belgium and Italy under its so-called "red list" until December 15, banning the entry of travellers from these countries.
The ban initially covered South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Eswatini, and Mozambique.
Morocco is suspending all incoming air travel from around the world, from today, for two weeks, The Guardian reported citing the country’s Foreign Ministry.
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