More cases of the Omicron COVID-19 variant have been reported this week as the variant, first discovered in South Africa, continues to spread worldwide.
So far, according to officials worldwide, the variant has been found in at least 20 countries, a list that started with South Africa last week and has grown to include the Netherlands, Australia, Germany, Italy, Israel, Portugal, the U.K., Spain, Canada, and more.
On Wednesday afternoon, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that the first Omicron infection in the U.S. had been recorded in San Francisco, a person who returned to the United States from South Africa on Nov. 22. The expectation from health officials has always been that the variant would be found in the U.S.
The world is still very much in the very stages of discovery with the variant, and officials are urging calm in the face of its spread, which so far has been reported to be less deadly than previous COVID-19 variants including Delta.
South Africa Say Most Omicron Patients Have Milder Cases
Doctors in South Africa, which first discovered the variant last week, continue to report that most of the people that have been infected with the variant are younger and are experiencing milder cases.
Most cases are not causing hospitalization and those who are being hospitalized are largely unvaccinated.
WHO Recommends Against Travel for Some People
On Tuesday, the World Health Organization (WHO) gave a recommendation that people over 60-years-old, along with those with no vaccination or no antibodies from recovery and those with comorbidity, postpone travel to COVID-19 hotspots in wake of the omicron news.
There is also a “very high risk” that the virus spreads globally despite its low numbers right now, according to the organization.
Still, the WHO also this week said that preliminary data shows that most cases from the strain are mild and no severe cases have yet to be reported.
Canada Expands Testing Requirements, Travel Ban
Canada is imposing new testing requirements on all air travelers coming from outside Canada aside from those coming from just beyond its southern border in the United States.
All non-Americans and non-Canadians landing at a Canadian airport will need to be tested after they land on top of their pre-departure test. Previously international travelers were tested randomly coming into Canada.
Those who test positive will need to isolate until they get a negative test and those who are unvaccinated will be forced to isolate for two weeks.
“Our government continues to take unprecedented and swift action to protect the health and safety of Canadians as we introduce new robust, science-based measures to prevent COVID-19 variants of concern from being spread in Canada. The new requirements announced today are another layer of protection to safeguard Canadians’ health,” Minister of Transport Omar Alghabra said in a statement.
At the same time, Canada is adding more African countries to its travel band list—Nigeria, Malawi, and Egypt. Those three join South Africa, Mozambique, Botswana, Zimbabwe, and more that were announced last week.
Anyone who has traveled to those countries in the last 14 days will be banned from entering Canada.
U.S. CDC to Tighten Testing Time
Authorities in the United States are reportedly moving to tighten testing time for inbound international travelers.
While previously, vaccinated travelers were able to get tested within 72-hours, now air travelers could be required to show a negative COVID-19 test taken within one day of arrival. The same 24-hour testing period will remain for unvaccinated travelers.
"CDC is working to modify the current Global Testing Order for travel as we learn more about the Omicron variant; a revised order would shorten the timeline for required testing for all international air travelers to one day before departure to the United States," the CDC said in a statement to the AP.
The new requirement would apply to both U.S. citizens and non-citizens.
The CDC is also reportedly considering requiring another test taken within three to five days after arrival in the United States, according to Reuters.
A report from the Washington Post also referenced other measures, including a mandatory seven-day self-quarantine and a mandatory second test three to five days after travel, that were on the table. The public should find out the extent of the current U.S. response and the new protocols on Thursday when President Joe Biden addresses the nation.