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Singapore restricts travellers from 7 African countries hit by more contagious Covid-19 variant



SINGAPORE: Singapore will restrict entry of people with recent travel history to seven African countries after reports that a potentially more contagious Covid-19 variant may be circulating there, the Ministry of Health said on Friday.
From 11.59 PM (local time) on Saturday, all long-term pass holders and short-term visitors with travel history within the last 14 days to Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe will not be allowed to enter Singapore or transit here.
The restrictions also apply to those who have obtained prior approval for entry into Singapore.
Singapore citizens and permanent residents returning from these countries will have to serve a 10-day stay-home notice at a dedicated facility.
“There have been recent reports of a potentially more contagious variant of the COVID-19 virus, the B.1.1.529, which may be circulating in Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe,” the Channel News Asia quoted the MOH as saying.
“Scientists around the world are still finding out more about the new variant of virus, such as whether it is more transmissible than the Delta variant, whether it is more likely to lead to severe illnesses, and efficacy of existing vaccines against this new variant.”
While Singapore currently has no cases of this variant, “we should take the necessary precautions to reduce the risks” of it spreading here, the MOH said.
South Africa was previously a Category II country with travellers serving a seven-day stay-home notice at their declared place of accommodation after arriving in Singapore. It has now been reclassified as a Category IV country.
The other six are Category IV countries, with arriving travellers with recent travel history to these countries currently required to serve a 10-day stay-home notice at dedicated facilities.
Singapore ranks countries from Category I to IV to determine what type of travel restrictions are put in place.
The new border restrictions will initially apply for four weeks, and the MOH will review and extend the restrictions if necessary.
“While the variant has been suggested to be more transmissible, there is currently insufficient evidence to determine if this variant is associated with any change in disease severity, antibody response or vaccine efficacy. These aspects are being investigated,” the MOH said.
“The Ministry of Health will evaluate the data as it emerges and review our border measures accordingly,” the Channel quoted the ministry as saying.
Meanwhile, Singapore reported 1,275 new Covid-19 infections on Thursday, down from 2,079 on Wednesday and the lowest daily tally since September 21.
Three people aged between 69 and 74 died of complications linked to Covid-19, the MOH said.
The latest deaths take the total number of fatalities in Singapore to 681.
The new infections comprised 1,228 cases in the community, 31 in migrant worker dormitories and 16 imported cases.
The total number of cases in Singapore now stands at 258,785.


Daily recoveries rise to 251 in Pune Metropolitan Region as Covid cases decline to 208; four more dead | Pune News



PUNE: The number of people recovering from Covid-19 infection increased to 251 in the Pune Metropolitan Region (PMR) on Saturday, while new cases dropped to 208.
The rural areas and Pune municipal limits reported over 100 recoveries each. Among the new additions, the PMC areas added 94 new cases, 79 patients were recorded in the rural and Cantonment areas while Pimpri Chinchwad added 35 new cases.

A report released by district health officer Bhagwan Pawar stated that over 14,100 samples were tested in the region on Saturday. This pushed the tally of sample testing in PMR above 86 lakh. The report further stated that four Covid-19 patients succumbed to the infection in the region on Saturday.

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Omicron: World races to contain new Covid variant



Several European nations on Saturday announced their first cases of a highly infectious new coronavirus strain, as governments worldwide began pulling down the shutters to contain the new Omicron variant.

Britain, Germany and Italy confirmed their first cases of the new Covid-19 strain, while Dutch authorities quarantined 61 passengers from South Africa who tested positive for Covid-19.

South Africa complained it was being punished with air travel bans for having first detected the strain, which the World Health Organization has termed a “variant of concern”.

A series of countries across the world began restricting travel from the region, to try to head off any threat to global efforts against the pandemic.

Scientists are racing to determine the threat posed by the heavily mutated strain, particularly whether it can evade existing vaccines. It has already proved to be more transmissible than the dominant Delta variant.

Travellers thronged Johannesburg international airport, desperate to squeeze onto the last flights to countries that had imposed sudden travel bans. Many of these people had cut short holidays, rushing back from South African safaris and vineyards.

“It’s ridiculous, we will always be having new variants,” British tourist David Good told AFP, passport in hand. “South Africa found it, but it’s probably all over the world already.”

– ‘Worrisome variant’ – The virus has already slipped through the net, with cases discovered in Europe, Hong Kong and Israel and in southern Arica.

Britain on Saturday announced tougher entry rules for all arriving passengers and the return of a mask mandate, after confirming its first two cases of the new Omicron strain of Covid-19.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said face masks would again be required in shops and on public transport.

A hospital in the Czech Republic confirmed a case of the Omicron variant in a female patient who had travelled from Namibia.

Germany confirmed its first two cases in travellers who arrived at Munich airport from South Africa.

Italy announced its first case of the new Covid strain in a traveller from Mozambique.

And Dutch officials said the Omicron variant was “probably” among 61 passengers who had arrived on two flights from South Africa a day before and tested positive for Covid-19.

People on the two KLM flights, which took off before the Dutch announced their ban on travellers from the region, were being kept quarantined in a hotel.

In the US, a White House official said President Joe Biden had been briefed on the Omicron situation and that health officials were monitoring events.

Already on Friday Belgium announced its first case in an unvaccinated person returning from abroad.

The WHO said it could take several weeks to understand the variant, which was initially known as B.1.1.529. It cautioned against travel curbs while scientific evidence remains scant.

– ‘Draconian’ measures – South Africa called the travel curbs “draconian” and on Saturday said the flight bans were “akin to punishing South Africa for its advanced genomic sequencing and the ability to detect new variants quicker.

“Excellent science should be applauded and not punished,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.

The main countries targeted by the shutdown include South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini (Swaziland), Lesotho, Namibia, Zambia, Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe.

But US Secretary of State Antony Blinken “praised South Africa’s scientists for the quick identification of the Omicron variant and South Africa’s government for its transparency in sharing this information, which should serve as a model for the world”, a State Department statement said.

The statement was a thinly veiled slap at China’s handling of information about the original outbreak in Wuhan, which the United States has criticized as being uncooperative.

Biden said richer countries should donate more Covid-19 vaccines and give up intellectual property protections to manufacture more doses worldwide.

“The news about this new variant should make clearer than ever why this pandemic will not end until we have global vaccinations,” he said.

But with memories still fresh of the way global air travel helped the spread of Covid after it first emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019, countries clamped down swiftly.

Australia and Belgium became the latest to act, banning all flights from nine southern African countries.

And Australian health authorities said they were undertaking “urgent genomic testing” to look for the Omicron strain in two passengers — whose trip originated in southern Africa — who had tested positive for the virus after arriving on a flight from Doha to Sydney. South Korea and Thailand restricted flights from eight countries, as did the United States, Brazil, Canada and Saudi Arabia.

EU officials agreed in an emergency meeting to urge all 27 nations in the bloc to restrict travel from southern Africa. Many members had already done so. The World Trade Organization called off a ministerial conference, its biggest gathering in four years, at the last minute Friday due to the new variant.

Vaccine manufacturers have held out hope that they can modify current vaccines to target the Omicron variant. Germany’s BioNTech and US drugmaker Pfizer said they expect data “in two weeks at the latest” to show if their jab can be adjusted.

Moderna said it would develop a booster specific to the new variant.

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Karnataka issues fresh curbs amid concern over new Covid variant. Details here



The Karnataka government has announced stricter rules related to Covid-19 after the virus’ new variant has created tension across the globe due to its easily transmissible nature. The state’s chief minister Basavaraj Bommai chaired a meeting yesterday and directed officials to strictly monitor bordering districts like Kerala and Maharashtra. The Karnataka government has mandated travellers arriving in the state from South Africa, Botswana, and Hong Kong to undergo RT-PCR Covid-19 test upon arrival.

Here’s a list of fresh curbs imposed by the Karnataka government:

1. People coming from Kerala and Maharashtra will have to mandatorily show a negative RT-PCR report to get entry into Karnataka. 

2.Deputy Commissioners of the districts bordering Kerala, Dakshina Kannada, Kodagu, Chamarajanagar, and Mysuru have to ensure that the already established check posts are vigilant and taking 100% screening on arrivals from Kerala as per the protocols.

3. Those students who have arrived from Kerala to medical and paramedical colleges and other such educational institutions within Karnataka between November 12 and November 27, will be subjected to mandatory RT-PCR tests. 

4.Students who are residing in a hostel will have to undergo an RT-PCR test again on the 7th day after the negative report.

5. The Karnataka government has also decided to impose a temporary ban on cultural programmes in schools and colleges.

6. Students and other people visiting Karnataka daily for education, business, and other reasons will have to undergo an RT-PCR test once every 14 days and possess a negative Covid-19 test report for entry into the southern state.

7. Government office staff and people working in malls, cinema halls, zoos, hotels, and other such places should be fully vaccinated against Covid-19.

Yesterday two persons were tested positive for Covid-19 after reaching Bengaluru from South Africa. They have been found positive for delta variants.

The World Health Organisation had on Friday called the new strain of COVID-19 a “variant of concern”. The first cases of new strain were reported from South Africa. The WHO has named the new strain Omicron.

Yesterday, Karnataka reported a total of 322 fresh Covid-19 cases ad three deaths in 24 hours. As per the state’s health department, the total case tally touched 29,95,285. Presently, Karnataka has 6,754 active cases. The death toll in the state is 38,196. The case fatality rate is 0.93%

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Narendra Modi also chaired a comprehensive meeting to review the public health preparedness and vaccination-related situation for COVID-19. The PM highlighted the need for monitoring all international arrivals, their testing as per guidelines, with a specific focus on countries identified ‘at risk’. He also asked officials to review plans for easing international travel restrictions in light of the emerging new evidence.

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