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Omicron variant upends global pandemic response.


In a news conference on Saturday evening, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that to curb the spread of the variant, face masks would be required in stores and on public transportation, a rule the country had ended in July.

Britain will also require travelers from abroad to get a PCR test within 48 hours of their arrival and require contacts of those who test positive with a suspected case of Omicron to self-isolate for 10 days, regardless of vaccination status.

The variant was also detected in Hong Kong, which prompted “the most stringent boarding and quarantine requirements” for travelers coming from south African countries. Japan also issued travel restrictions for passengers from Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa or Zimbabwe.

“I think certainly caution is warranted to restrict travel and to watch this closely, but at the end of the day, we really need a lot more data to evaluate this new variant,” Philip A. Chan, an infectious disease doctor at Brown University who has helped lead the Covid-19 response for Rhode Island, said.

What we do know, he said, is that the Omicron variant seems to be overtaking the Delta variant in south African countries. This suggests two things: that the Omicron variant is more contagious than the Delta variant, and that it can overcome some of the natural immunity and vaccine immunity.

“Neither one of those things are good, obviously. And I think that those are the two reasons that have experts and scientists so concerned,” Dr. Chan said. But he still “urges caution and patience.”

“Let’s wait to see what the data shows. Let’s take appropriate precautions,” he said.

Dr. Chan also cautioned that without a robust global vaccination effort, “we are half-treating the pandemic” and leaving the world open to new and more transmittable variants.



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