Countries scramble to impose new travel restrictions as new variant 'Omicron' emerges
Updated: 2021-11-29 05:35:27 KST
A new COVID-19 variant, (Ohm-nee-chron) 'Omicron' is setting off alarm bells in South Korea and around the world.
Countries have sealed their borders in an attempt to stop the strain arriving on their shores.
Not much is known about it yet, but some experts have speculated it could be even more infectious and more resistant to vaccines than the Delta strain.
For more COVID-19 updates, we have our reporter Yeon-seung in the studio with us.
Welcome back Yeon-seung,
Thank you for having me.
So what is Omicron?
Fill us in with the details.
So it's this new variant of concern.
South Africa first sounded the alarm on this new strain to the WHO less than a week ago,.. after finding the some of the first cases in the country earlier this month.
Since then.. a growing number of countries have detected the strain within their borders.
Botswana, Britain, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Australia and Israel have identified cases, and many others are scrambling to update prevention guidlelines to counter this new threat.
What are the experts' saying? Whould we be concerned about this new variant?
There's still so much unknown about this virus.
Some say it could be more evasive to vaccine protection and more transmissible compared to other strains.
Doctors in South Africa, though, reported very mild symptoms among their Omicron patients.
Most suffered from fatigue and muscle pain that lasted for a few days, while none have reported the more notorious COVID-19 symptoms like the loss of smell or taste yet.
Still, countries are on edge about this new strain seeping across their borders.
U.S. top health official, Anthony Fauci, said that although there are no Omicron cases reported in the states as of yet,.. it will inevitably come and possibly spark a fifth wave of COVID.
As for South Korea, the problem with the virus is that the current domestic PCR tests can only identify four of the variant strains of COVID, Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and Delta.
So South Korea currently are less prepared than they'd like to be ahead of any spread of this new variant among the domestic population.
Can you tell us why is this new strain has been dubbed 'Omicron'?
Well, the WHO is going down the Greek alphabet to name the variants, and Omicron is the 15th letter of the alphabet.
You know earlier this year, I remember interviewing an expert on the emergence of the Lambda variant, which was the 10th mutant strain to be detected.
And he said that eventually,.. there are going to be so many COVID-19 variants that there are not going to be enough letters in the Greek alphabet to name them after.
Now, seeing as there's only 9 letters in the Greek alphabet left, his harrowing prediction seems like it might come true.
And what are countries doing to try and stop this new variant infecting their citizens?
Many countries have been imposing travel bans on countries in Southern Africa.
The European Union has narrowed entry across its borders from seven countries in the region, while South Korea and the U.S. have targeted travel restrictions for eight countries.
Israel enforced one of the toughest measures yet,.. by sealing off its borders to all foreign nationals for two weeks after finding their first case of Omicron.
These bans are simply a stopgap measure.
Officials and experts reluctantly accept the fact that it's impossible to fully close off borders to Omicron, but through this travel ban, they're trying to give themselves more time to come up with a plan on how to do deal with the situation when it does come into the country.
Right, a looming new strain definitely is concerning, considering how South Korea is already dealing with the recent spike of infections and critical cases.
Exactly, health authorities are pulling out all the stops to contain the rising concerns over COVID-19, and this virus strain looks like it has the potential to thwart all their best efforts.
South Korea's ICU beds are more than 75 percent full nationwide, while the number of critical cases keeps hitting record-highs, 647 critically ill patients reported as of Sunday.
Almost 28-hundred new infections were reported as of Sunday 9PM.
The current situation may bring changes to the current 'gradual easing of restrictions.'
An announcement on the possibly tweaked measures is due later today.
Health authorities will also expand booster shots, now to military personnel.. who can get their jabs starting from the 27th of next month.