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WHO warns against blanket travel bans over omicron coronavirus variant

GENEVA: Countries should apply “an evidence-informed and risk-based approach” with any travel measures related to the omicron variant of the coronavirus, including possible screening or quarantine of international passengers, but blanket bans do not prevent its spread, the World Health Organization (WHO) said.

The WHO, in its latest guidance to authorities and travellers, said that people over 60 years of age and those with underlying health conditions should be advised to postpone travel as they are at higher risk of disease and death.

This was in line with its advice regarding over 60s since December 2020, regardless of a traveller’s vaccination status, and did not represent any change in guidance, a WHO spokesperson said.

First reported in southern Africa a week ago, the variant has brought global alarm, led to travel bans, and highlighted the disparity between massive vaccination pushes in rich nations and sparse inoculation in the developing world.

National authorities in countries of departure, transit and arrival may apply a multi-layered approach to mitigate risk so as to delay or reduce importation or exportation of the omicron variant, the WHO said on Tuesday.

“Measures may include screening of passengers prior to travel and/or upon arrival, and use of SARS-COV-2 testing or quarantine of international travellers after thorough risk assessment,” it said.

All measures should be commensurate with the risk, time-limited and applied with respect to travellers’ rights, it said.

“Blanket travel bans will not prevent the international spread, and they place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods,” it said.

Some 56 countries were reportedly implementing travel measures aimed at potentially delaying import of omicron as of Nov. 28, it added.

Britain’s health Secretary Sajid Javid meanwhile urged people to book a COVID-19 booster shot as he said there were 22 confirmed cases of the omicron virus variant in the country.

Javid said the government believed a booster campaign would help protect against severe disease from omicron, even if it turns out that vaccines are not as effective against the variant as previous strains of the disease.

He said he hoped to know more about omicron within two weeks, as scientists work to understand what impact the new variant will have on transmissibility and serious disease.

“At this point in time the case numbers are very low,” Javid told Sky News. “For the UK we’ve got 22 confirmed cases at the moment and that will go up, it will certainly go up.”

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