Omicron variant fears prompt travel restrictions

Nov 29, 2021, 08:46 am

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Citizens wait in line to receive COVID-19 tests at a testing station in Seoul on Nov. 26, 2021./ Source: Yonhap

AsiaToday reporters Lee Sun-young

There are growing fears worldwide over a newly discovered COVID-19 variant, said to be potentially more transmissible than the delta variant. The South Korean government decided to pull down its shutters to block the inflow of the new Omicron variant while preparing a new PCR test method to detect the new variant. However, concerns are still growing about the new variant amid the country’s worsening COVID-19 situation.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said Sunday that all foreigners who have been in eight African countries, including South Africa, will be refused entry to Korea. The move comes after it called an emergency meeting Saturday with 13 ministries to block the inflow of the new omicron variant. 

Omicron has 32 mutations located in its spike protein, which is considered to be more dangerous than the delta variant, which shows 16 mutations. The new variant was first found in South Africa on November 9. So far, nearly 100 cases of the new variant have been confirmed. The World Health Organization (WHO) earlier designated Omicron as a “variant of concern.”

The travel restrictions apply to South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi. Previously, South Korea had imposed travel ban from South Africa only, but it added the seven neighboring countries to the list.

As a result, foreigners who have been in the eight southern African countries will be banned from entering. Korean citizens departing from the southern African countries will be required to quarantine at a government-approved facility for 10 days, regardless of their vaccination status upon arrival. They will be asked to take a PCR test and must test negative before they can be released.

“We plan to review either expanding or adjusting the list of countries under higher warnings by identifying the degree of risk factors and spread through continuous monitoring of the new Omicron variant,” a KDCA official said.

Besides, the government plans to invent and distribute a new PCR test method to detect the Omicron variant. “We plan to develop and distribute a new PCR test method through analysis of Omicron’s S-protein gene,” a KDCA official said.

Currently, only whole genome sequencing or target genome sequencing methods, not PCR tests, are able to detect the new Omicron variant. However, those methods take longer time than the current PCR tests. Therefore, a new PCR test method is needed. 

Despite the government’s response, concerns about the new variant are growing due to the country’s worsening COVID-19 situation.

The country reported 3,928 new COVID-19 cases Sunday. The country added a daily record high of 56 more deaths from the virus. Critically ill patients also reached an all-time high of 647. The country has not yet reported any Omicron variant infection so far. 

#Omicron #travel #ban #South Africa #new variant 
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