Travel restrictions no match for Omicron . . .
China is the latest Asian country to report cases of Omicron, the new COVID-19 variant that is causing alarm due to its high number of mutations. Both of the Chinese cases were detected in recent travellers – one in the city of Tianjin, two hours from Beijing, and the other in the southern city of Guangzhou. Omicron has now reached more than 60 countries. Asia Pacific countries or jurisdictionsthat have detected Omicron include Australia, China, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Malaysia, South Korea, and Thailand.
Vaccines only partially effective . . .
Scientists have been racing to determine the characteristics of this novel variant. On Sunday, the WHO announced that preliminary data indicate that Omicron appears to be more transmissible than the Delta variant, and will likely overtake Delta as the dominant variant. The WHO also reported that there are early indications that Omicron may be less virulent than Delta, resulting in less severe disease, while cautioning that more data is required to confirm its reduced virulence. However, multiple studies, including one from Hong Kong, indicate that current vaccines are far less effective against Omicron than against Delta. There have been several reports of breakthrough infections in vaccinated people or re-infection of those with immunity from previous infection. On a positive note, early findings indicate that booster doses appear to greatly enhance protection against Omicron. This will likely induce many highly vaccinated countries to accelerate their plans to roll out boosters to their populations.
Omicron could pop Olympic bubble . . .
Although most Asian countries are taking a ‘wait-and-see’ approach before deciding how Omicron will affect their re-opening plans, reverberations are already being felt in the sporting world. Japan has cancelled the Ski Jumping World Cup, scheduled to take place in January. China, which continues to adhere to a policy of ‘zero-COVID,’ continues to attempt to stamp out flare-ups before the Beijing Olympics in February. The International Olympic Committee insists that the Games will go ahead, and that current plans are for the Chinese public to have access as spectators. However, China’s strict zero-COVID measures and continued uncertainty over the stringency of Olympic quarantine protocols have prompted concerns that Canada’s National Hockey League will opt out of the Games.