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US reports first case of omicron variant in returning traveler

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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) The United States on Wednesday recorded its first confirmed case of the omicron variant in a vaccinated traveler who returned to California after a trip to South Africa as scientists around the world attempt to determine whether the new mutant version of the coronavirus is more dangerous than the previous ones.

Dr Anthony Fauci, America’s foremost infectious disease expert, announced the discovery to the White House.

We knew it was only a matter of time before the first case of omicron was detected in the United States, he said.

The infected person was identified as a traveler who returned from South Africa on November 22, developed mild symptoms and tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday. Researchers at the University of California at San Francisco obtained a sample from the patient on Tuesday night and worked feverishly through the night to put together the genetic sequence.

The person, who had received the two full doses of the Moderna vaccine and was not yet due for a booster, is improving, California officials said.

Fauci and other medical experts have strongly emphasized that Americans should continue to be vaccinated and receive their boosters. The vaccine has been shown to reduce the risk of serious illness and death, and Fauci said it’s reasonable to believe it will provide protection against the omicron variant.

The mild nature of the infection of people in California is testament to the importance of vaccinations, California Secretary of Health Dr. Mark Ghaly said.

All close people have been contacted and have tested negative, officials said. The patient, who agreed to remain in quarantine, was only identified as being between 18 and 49 years old.

California Governor Gavin Newsom has expressed confidence in states’ efforts to control the virus and said he has no plans to impose another stay-at-home order or other arrest measures.

At least 23 other countries have reported omicron infections since South African authorities first identified the variant a week ago, an announcement that has led the United States and many other countries to ban almost immediately. airline travelers from southern Africa.

In South Africa, new cases of COVID-19 nearly doubled in a single day to nearly 8,600, authorities reported on Wednesday, and the country’s National Institute of Communicable Diseases said omicron had now passed. the delta variant among the samples being analyzed at the genetic level.

But the variant is still surrounded by many unknowns, among which: is it more contagious than the other versions, as some scientists are starting to suspect? Does it make people more seriously ill? And can he escape the vaccine?

Any statement of what will or will not happen with this variant, I think it’s too early to tell, Fauci said.

European Union Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has said it will be two to three weeks before it becomes clear what Omicron can do to the world.

This is normally a short period. In times of pandemic, it’s an eternity, she lamented.

In California, genetic analysis of the virus from UCSF patients has been confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

We will likely see this scenario reoccur several times across the country in the coming days or weeks, said Scott Becker, CEO of the Association of Public Health Laboratories.

This particular case shows that the system is working as it was designed to work with someone with a history of travel to South Africa, a nimble laboratory and rapid prioritization of the sample for sequencing, and close coordination with public health officials.

Nigeria and Saudi Arabia also reported omicron infections on Wednesday, marking the first known cases in West Africa and the Persian Gulf region.

Going further than many other countries in trying to contain the virus, Japan has banned foreign visitors and asked international airlines to stop taking new bookings for all flights arriving in the country until the end of December. .

The United States is working to require all air travelers in the country to be tested for COVID-19 within the day before boarding their flights, down from three days currently.

The World Health Organization on Wednesday warned that blanket travel bans make it harder to share lab samples from South Africa that could help scientists understand the new variant.

As the omicron variant spreads new fears and uncertainties, the dominant delta variant continues to wreak havoc, especially in Europe. Many countries are facing an upsurge in infections and hospitalizations, despite a relatively high vaccination rate of 67% of the population of the European Union.

For the first time, von der Leyen said EU countries should consider making vaccinations mandatory. Greece plans to impose fines on people over 60 who do not get vaccinated. And German Chancellor-designate Olaf Scholz has said he will support a proposal to force everyone to get vaccinated.

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Miller and Balsamo reported from Washington. PA journalists from around the world also contributed to this report.

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2/ https://apnews.com/article/coronavirus-pandemic-business-health-europe-japan-192d15ef14bb3dd478bc36ab4aa325f0

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