The United States, the European Union and nations across the globe imposed new travel restrictions, financial markets swooned, and visions of finally emerging from the pandemic have started to dim following its emergence.
The Bangladesh government is aware of the emergence of the new variant and has decided to suspend travel from South Africa, Minister of Health and Family Welfare Zahid Maleque said on Saturday, amid fears of the new variant spreading to other parts of the world.
“This new variant is extremely aggressive and so we are suspending travel from South Africa immediately,” he said. “We are also strengthening screening procedures at all airports and land ports.”
“We have also sent out instructions at the district level to step up enforcement of health regulations, including the wearing of masks. We must also be cautious about citizens travelling from other countries. We will check if they have received the vaccine and the RT-PCR test.”
The Directorate General of Health Services is also taking action in response to the latest reports regarding the variant, the minister said.
The new variant, labelled B.1.1.529, was first reported in South Africa on Wednesday.
Since then, the World Health Organization has named it a ‘variant of concern’ – its most serious category. Given the name ‘omicron’, it is the first entry into the category since the delta variant emerged a year ago.
This designation means that the variant may be more contagious, more virulent, or render vaccines and other preventive measures less effective. However, scientists have yet to establish whether this is the case.
The WHO and scientists on multiple continents cautioned that very little is known about the omicron variant or about whether the dangers it poses will justify the fears it is stoking, The New York Times reports.
The number of cases definitively identified, all of them within the past three weeks, is still small, under 100. Cases of the variant have been identified in South Africa, Botswana, Hong Kong, Belgium and Israel.
But the swift global responses demonstrated that after nearly two years of facing accusations that they were too slow and timid in tackling the pandemic, many policymakers would rather risk overreacting to a new threat than underreacting.