Panic over omicron has increased around the world as it is spreading faster than other variants of the corona. Moreover, omicron has the ability to infect many people quickly in less time. However, compared to the previous deadly variant Delta, the symptoms of omicron are much milder. Scientists have already begun extensive research into this variant identified in South Africa, which is now available all over the world. However, the researchers have already found out the omicron symptoms. Let's get to know the omicron symptoms and how this variant is different from the delta variant. Symptoms of Omicron Mild to moderate symptoms are observed in those affected by omicron. Further, the death and hospitalization rates are also somewhat lower. But even then, medical experts are reluctant to take it lightly. Because, through such, the corona is sustaining its existence. Can it be said for sure that it will not emerge as a terrifying new variant at any time? Read Hope seen once omicron wave increases global immunity, even as new version of variant found Omicron is quite different from the original types of the corona. It was first found in South Africa last November. After that, it spread rapidly in many countries of the world. A recent study found that omicron inherited some genetic traits from the common cold virus outside its genus. Although the virus is not deadly, everyone should be aware of the symptoms. Tiredness Similar to previous variants, omicron can cause fatigue or extreme fatigue. A person may experience excessive fatigue, lack of energy, and a strong desire to rest, which can disrupt his daily activities. However, it should be kept in mind that not only because of covid but also other causes and health problems can make anyone feel tired. That is why it is necessary to do the covid test to be sure of your physical condition. Read How to Improve Your Central Nervous System? Sore Throat People infected with omicrons are experiencing sore throats, which is unusual. The former variant is associated with pain in the throat and full body. Mild Fever, Goes Away on its Own Mild to moderate fever has been one of the symptoms of covid since the onset of the novel coronavirus. But although the previous strain fever had a long-term effect on patients, omicron brings a lighter temperature to the body then goes away on its own. Sweating and Body Aches at Night Night sweats can be one of the symptoms of the Omicron variant. As per the reports, the patient may feel sweaty at night even if the person sleeps in a cool place. The clothes and bed will get wet too. According to doctors, this can be accompanied by other symptoms, including 'severe body aches.' Read Taking Omicron lightly may cause great damage, warns Health Minister Cough Omicron patients may also experience dry cough, which was also the most common symptom of previous other strains. Congestion or Runny Nose During the recent omicron wave, it was noticed that a runny nose or congestion in the nose was a commonly reported symptom. However, the flu season is also going on, so it is difficult to say if a runny nose or congestion is a definitive omicron symptom. But, it can be one of the symptoms. Hence, it is advised to do the covid test if you have such problems. How is Omicron Different from Delta? Although both Omicron and delta are covid-19 variants, they are different from each other. According to experts, fatigue, joint pain, chills, and headaches are the four symptoms of omicron that differ from Delta. Furthermore, losing taste and odor, one of the symptoms of Delta, is occasionally found in the case of COVID variant omicron. Read 5 more Omicron cases detected in Bangladesh Omicron may not have the same difficulty as Delta, but this can infect the lungs. Unlike Delta, omicron may cause less damage to the lungs. Omicron is highly transmissible and has already broken the record for daily infection rates. Although it is not deadly, the infection rates are exponentially increasing compared to Delta. Another thing is that Omicron sufferers rarely lost their taste buds, while it was common for Delta. Even in this variant, the oxygen level in the corona patient's blood does not drop suddenly. Read Omicron replacing Delta through community transmission: DGHS There are differences in the incubation period too. A small study by the Centers for Disease Control has found that the incubation period for omicron is 3 days while it is 4 days for Delta. How Long Does It Take for the Omicron Symptoms to Appear? Imagine Covid entering your body today. However, the symptoms will not appear right away. It will then take possession of one cell at a time and begin to replicate itself. After a while, if the body's immune system loses to this disease, the symptoms will appear. The question is, how long is this time? Experts have found that in the case of the previous variants, the symptoms appeared within 5 to 6 days after the virus entered. In some cases, the symptoms appeared within 14 days. Read Grocery Shopping Hacks: Proven tips to choose best foods at grocery stores However, in the case of omicron, the symptoms appear within 2 to 10 days. Hence, the omicron symptoms show up faster than any other corona variants. What to do If you have omicron Symptoms? If you think you have omicron symptoms, isolate yourself first and consult a doctor immediately. Do the covid test and follow the Covid rules. The mask must be worn maintaining all the rules. Wash your both hands properly using sanitizer or soap for at least 20 seconds. Read New Zealand adds new COVID restrictions as omicron spreads How to Prevent Covid-19 Variant Omicron? To prevent omicron, one should follow the regular covid-19 protocols. For example, maintaining one meter physical distance, wearing a good quality mask, keeping the windows open for proper ventilation, avoiding the crowded place, using tissues in the case of cough or sneeze, and keeping hands clean. Final Words Omicron is considered less deadly than the delta variant. But in terms of infection, it has surpassed the Delta as well. Omicron is now the most influential type of coronavirus all over the world. So, knowing the symptoms will help us to stay alert about omicron. Read Panic Attacks: Symptoms, Causes, Remedies, and Treatment
The omicron variant of the coronavirus has been detected in 89 countries, and COVID-19 cases involving the variant are doubling every 1.5 to 3 days in places with community transmission and not just infections acquired abroad, the World Health Organization said Saturday. Omicron's "substantial growth advantage" over the delta variant means it is likely to soon overtake delta as the dominant form of the virus in countries where the new variant is spreading locally, the U.N. health agency said. Read: Booster at least 80% effective against severe Omicron
Two members of the Bangladesh women’s cricket team, which remains in quarantine since returning from Zimbabwe amid the Omicron scare late last month, were confirmed on Saturday as the country’s first identified cases of the latest coronavirus variant of concern. Since first being identified by South African doctors in the province of Gauteng, which includes Johannesburg in mid-November, Omicron has spread quickly around the globe, and was said to be present in at least 57 countries by the WHO as of Thursday – before Bangladesh confirmed its cases. Africa recorded more than 107 000 cases in the week ending on 5 December, up from around 55 000, according to WHO – up 93% over the previous week. Countries in southern Africa, where the variant is known to have been in circulation since early November, recorded the highest increase with a 140% hike mainly driven by an uptick in South Africa. Scientists around the world are poring over the early data out of SA in order to gain a grasp of what to expect in the event of a new wave of infections driven by Omicron. At this stage, the weight of evidence indicates although an Omicron wave may well be inevitable, it is likely to be typified by milder cases, with less severe disease than what was witnessed during the Delta wave. Data which looked at hospitalisations across South Africa between 14 November and 4 December found that ICU occupancy was only 6.3% – which the WHO says is “very low” compared with the same early period of the wave linked to the Delta variant in July. Out of more than 1200 admissions, 98 were receiving supplemental oxygen and only four were on ventilation. Most of the people admitted to the health facilities were under the age of 40 – this isn’t unusual, as the early part of a wave is often fuelled by the young, who tend to be more outgoing, as well as less vaccinated. WHO has warned that as the clinical profile of patients changes, the impact of Omicron may change. This would apply even more in countries with a different demographic profile to South Africa, which has a very young population. But we found some reassuring similarities between the demographic profiles of South Africa and Bangladesh, and even the proportion of the population in each country vaccinated, which makes a deep dive into the early data out of South Africa much more worthwhile. Similarities between SA and BD Statistics South Africa, which is a government agency, estimated the population of South Africa was 58.8 million in 2019. In this regard it is dwarfed by Bangladesh, where the population in 2019 was 164.6 million, as per the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics. But there the dissimilarities end. According to the World Population Review, which uses projections of the latest United Nations data, the median age in the two countries is very similar – 27.1 in South Africa (26.9 for males, 27. 3 for females), and 26.7 in Bangladesh (26 for males, 27.3 for females). The two countries also have very similar population pyramids (see image), showing the distribution of the population through different age groups. Using World Bank data, we find there are similarities in the age structures of the two nations too. In South Africa, 28.8% of the population is aged between 0-14 years; 65.6% is aged between 15-64; and 5.5% are 65 and over. Read: South African doctors see signs omicron is milder than delta In Bangladesh, 26.8% of the population falls in the 0-14 years category; 68% are between 15-64; and 5.2% are 65 and over. There are striking similarities in the vaccination numbers too. In South Africa, 41% of the adult population has had at least one dose of the vaccine. In Bangladesh, a greater percentage of the population targeted for vaccination (which includes adults plus some other groups such as students) has had at least a single dose – 52%. South Africa however has done a better job of fully vaccinating its adult population – 36% are double-jabbed. In Bangladesh, 32% of the targeted population have had their two doses of the vaccine. South Africa’s Fourth Wave In order to assess the situation in South Africa, we’ll look at data from the country’s National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD), a division of the country’s National Health Laboratory Service, hospital groups, and statements of senior healthcare professionals. The first thing to note is that cases in South Africa are undoubtedly surging. The country confirmed 22,391 new cases on Thursday, 19,018 on Friday, and 17,154 on Saturday, up from about 200 per day a few weeks ago – interestingly, about the level Bangladesh finds itself at present. The positivity rate hit 29.8% on Thursday, a sharp increase from 1.2% reported during the first week of November. The new surge has infected 90,000 people in the past month, Minister of Health Joe Phaahla said Friday. “Omicron has driven the resurgence,” Phaahla said, citing studies that say 70% of the new cases nationwide are from omicron. The R value, signifying the coronavirus reproduction rate - the number of people likely to be infected by one person – for South Africa’s current wave is 2.5, which is very high, and the highest that South Africa has recorded during the pandemic.
Omicron, the new Covid variant having the high mutation capability, may turn deadly if it enters Bangladesh although it now seems to be less lethal in many countries, warn experts. As the highly transmissible new variant is spreading fast in different countries, including India, they said emergency preparedness should be in place as Omicron may make its way into Bangladesh any time. Prof Nazrul Islam, ex VC of BSMMU, Dr AM, Zakir Hossain, former director of IEDCR, Prof Dr Bijon Kumar Sil, head of Gono Bishwabidyalay’s Microbiology department and Prof Dr MH Chowdhury (Lenin), head of Health and Hope Hospital’s Medicine department, made the observations while talking to UNB. The analysts said the government should take proper steps to strictly implement its 15-point guideline and intensify monitoring and screening of the incoming passengers through air and land ports and ensure their quarantine. They also said the enforcement of the law is also now necessary to force people to maintain health protocols and wear masks since most people are now reluctant about following the health safety rules due to the current very low Covid infection rate. It’s just matter of time Dr Lenin said Omicron has already spread to 52 countries in the world, including India, Sri Lanka and Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, the USA and the UK. “As Bangladesh has strong communications and connectivity with these countries, we fear this virus may enter Bangladesh at any time.” At the same time, he said, a good number of people returned to Bangladesh from African countries and the Omicron-affected nations over the last three weeks. Also read: How can I protect myself from the new omicron variant?
As the omicron coronavirus variant spreads in southern Africa and pops up in countries all around the world, scientists are anxiously watching a battle play out that could determine the future of the pandemic. Can the latest competitor to the world-dominating delta overthrow it? Some scientists, poring over data from South Africa and the United Kingdom, suggest omicron could emerge the victor. “It’s still early days, but increasingly, data is starting to trickle in, suggesting that omicron is likely to outcompete delta in many, if not all, places,” said Dr. Jacob Lemieux, who monitors variants for a research collaboration led by Harvard Medical School. But others said Monday it’s too soon to know how likely it is that omicron will spread more efficiently than delta, or, if it does, how fast it might take over. Also read: More omicron detected as US hospitals strain under delta surge “Especially here in the U.S., where we’re seeing significant surges in delta, whether omicron’s going to replace it I think we’ll know in about two weeks,” said Matthew Binnicker, director of clinical virology at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Many critical questions about omicron remain unanswered, including whether the virus causes milder or more severe illness and how much it might evade immunity from past COVID-19 illness or vaccines. On the issue of spread, scientists point to what’s happening in South Africa, where omicron was first detected. Omicron’s speed in infecting people and achieving near dominance in South Africa has health experts worried that the country is at the start of a new wave that may come to overwhelm hospitals. The new variant rapidly moved South Africa from a period of low transmission, averaging less than 200 new cases per day in mid-November, to more than 16,000 per day over the weekend. Omicron accounts for more than 90% of the new cases in Gauteng province, the epicenter of the new wave, according to experts. The new variant is rapidly spreading and achieving dominance in South Africa’s eight other provinces. “The virus is spreading extraordinarily fast,” said Willem Hanekom, director of the Africa Health Research Institute. “If you look at the slopes of this wave that we’re in at the moment, it’s a much steeper slope than the first three waves that South Africa experienced. This indicates that it’s spreading fast and it may therefore be a very transmissible virus.” But Hanekom, who is also co-chair the South African COVID-19 Variants Research Consortium, said South Africa had such low numbers of delta cases when omicron emerged, “I don’t think we can say” it out-competed delta. Also read: How can I protect myself from the new omicron variant? Scientists say it’s unclear whether omicron will behave the same way in other countries as it has in South Africa. Lemieux said there are already some hints about how it may behave; in places like the United Kingdom, which does a lot of genomic sequencing, he said, “we’re seeing what appears to be a signal of exponential increase of omicron over delta.” In the United States, as in the rest of the world, “there’s still a lot of uncertainty,” he said. “But when you put the early data together, you start to see a consistent picture emerge: that omicron is already here, and based on what we’ve observed in South Africa, it’s likely to become the dominant strain in the coming weeks and months and will likely cause a surge in case numbers.” What that could mean for public health remains to be seen. Hanekom said early data from South Africa shows that reinfection rates are much higher with omicron than previous variants, suggesting the virus is escaping immunity somewhat. It also shows the virus seems to be infecting younger people, mostly those who are unvaccinated, and most cases in hospitals have been relatively mild. But Binnicker said things could play out differently in other parts of the world or in different groups of patients. “It’ll be really interesting to see what happens when more infections potentially occur in older adults or those with underlying health conditions,” he said. “What’s the outcome in those patients?” As the world waits for answers, scientists suggest people do all they can to protect themselves. “We want to make sure that people have as much immunity from vaccination as possible. So if people are not vaccinated they should get vaccinated,” Lemieux said. “If people are eligible for boosters, they should get boosters, and then do all the other things that we know are effective for reducing transmission -- masking and social distancing and avoiding large indoor gatherings, particularly without masks.”
Former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has urged world leaders to gear up the global vaccination drive and synergize sustainable and inclusive recovery as the new variant of Covid-19, ‘Omicron’, posed new challenges. “The spread of Omicron variant underlines this urgency,” he said in a video message on the occasion of the two-day World Peace Conference that began in Dhaka on Saturday, noting that cooperation and elevated political will is critical. Now it is the second year that Covid-19 pandemic continues to cause immense sufferings with huge economic losses while reports suggest Omicron has been found in close to 40 countries. However, the World Health Organization (WHO) has said the world should not panic about the new Omicron variant of Covid-19 but it should prepare. Speaking at a conference on Friday, top WHO scientist Soumya Swaminathan said the situation now was very different to a year ago. In his video message played during the inaugural session of the conference, the former UN chief highlighted the great importance of coming together to holistically advance peace through social inclusion during the period of great change. Read:India reports first two Covid cases of Omicron variant “I believe we’ve invaluable opportunities to change the world for the better, but to do this we need to work together through a driving commitment to peace, sustainability, inclusion, the power of partnership and multilateral cooperation,” Ban said. He said the Covid-19 pandemic amplified the inequalities and the ongoing recovery will be prolonged. “We need to ensure equitable distribution of Covid-19 vaccine and fight against vaccine inequity. This is the most pressing task ahead of us.”
Dr. Sikhulile Moyo was analyzing COVID-19 samples in his lab in Botswana last week when he noticed they looked startlingly different from others. Within days, the world was ablaze with the news that the coronavirus had a new variant of concern, which appears to be driving a dramatic surge in South Africa, providing a glimpse of where the pandemic might be headed. New cases in South Africa have burgeoned from about 200 a day in mid-November to more than 11,500 on Thursday. In the week since omicron was discovered to be present in the country's most populous province, Gauteng, infections have surged 300%, Health Minister Joe Phaahla said Friday. The variant has also now spread to all of the other eight provinces, he added. Even with the rapid increase, infections are still below the 25,000 daily new cases that South Africa reported in the previous surge in June and July. Little is known about the new variant, but the spike in South Africa suggests it might be more contagious, said Moyo, the scientist who may have been the first to identify the new variant, though researchers in neighboring South Africa were close on his heels. Omicron has more than 50 mutations — and scientists have called it a big jump in the evolution of the virus. Read: India reports first two Covid cases of Omicron variant It's not clear if the variant causes more serious illness or can evade the protection of vaccines. Phaahla noted that only a small number of people who have been vaccinated have gotten sick, mostly with mild cases, while the vast majority of those who have been hospitalized were not vaccinated. South Africa's hospitals are so far coping with the new surge, he said. Even hospitals in Gauteng province, which accounts for more than 70% of all new daily infections, have the capacity to handle the new admissions, he said. This picture could change because most of those infected thus far have been younger people, who generally do not get as sick as older patients. But Moyo expressed hope that vaccines would not be sidelined by the new variant. "I have a lot of hope from the data that we see, that those vaccinated should be able to have a lot of protection," he said. That dovetails with what officials from the World Health Organization in Asia said Friday. While warning that cases could well rise quickly because of omicron, Dr. Takeshi Kasai, the WHO regional director for the Western Pacific, said the measures used against the delta variant — which itself caused surges the world over — should remain at the core of the response. "The positive news in all of this is that none of the information we have currently about omicron suggests we need to change the directions of our response," Kasai told reporters. Read: US reports 1st case of omicron variant in returning traveler That means continuing to push for higher vaccination rates, abiding by social-distancing guidelines, and wearing masks, among other measures, said WHO Regional Emergency Director Dr. Babatunde Olowokure. While more than three dozen countries worldwide have reported omicron infections, the numbers so far are small outside of South Africa. That has led many countries to race to impose travel restrictions on visitors from southern Africa — a move the WHO officials said may buy some time, though the agency has previoulsy urged against border closures. The travel restrictions have been severely criticized by South Africa, which says it is being punished for being transparent and moving so quickly to alert the world to omicron. WHO said it was notified by the country on Nov. 24 about the new variant. "What we must reemphasize is that while our scientists and those in Botswana were the first discover and report on the variant, no one knows where it originated," Phaahla said.
Amid a global scare over the new Omicron variant of Covid, India on Tuesday issued new rules for international travellers to limit the possible spread of the virus. In a statement, the Indian government said that all passengers from "at-risk" countries will have to undergo a mandatory Covid-19 test -- RT-PCR -- and can't leave the airport till its results are available. If any passenger from any "at-risk" country is found positive, they will be isolated and treated, and their samples will immediately be sent for genome sequencing to find out the strain of the virus, the government said. Read: Omicron scare: Bangladesh put on India's 'at-risk' list Those found Covid negative will have to undergo a seven-day home quarantine and be re-tested on the eighth day, according to the government. The new travel rules, effective from the midnight of November 30, were announced barely four days after India's Civil Aviation Ministry said that it would resume regular international flights from December 15. "The matter of resumption of scheduled commercial international passenger services, to and from India, has been examined in consultation with the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Ministry of External Affairs and the Ministry of Health, and it has been decided... may be resumed from December 15," the Ministry had said. Read: Wary, weary world slams doors shut, fearing omicron variant However, restrictions on regular international flights to and from 14 countries include the UK, France, Germany, China, Botswana and South Africa, will continue, according to the government. The Indian government put curbs on all domestic and international flights in March last year in the wake of the Covid-induced lockdown. Though it allowed domestic flights from May 2020, restrictions prevailed on international flights till it allowed the entry of all foreigners except tourists in October that year.
South African scientists identified a new version of the coronavirus that they say is behind a recent spike in COVID-19 infections in Gauteng, the country's most populous province. It's unclear where the new variant first emerged, but scientists in South Africa alerted the World Health Organization in recent days, and it has now been seen in travelers arriving in several countries, from Australia to Israel to the Netherlands. On Friday, the WHO designated it as a "variant of concern," naming it "omicron" after a letter in the Greek alphabet. WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT OMICRON? Health Minister Joe Phaahla said the variant was linked to an "exponential rise" of cases in the last few days. From just over 200 new confirmed cases per day in recent weeks, South Africa saw the number of new daily cases rocket to more than 3,200 Saturday, most in Gauteng. Struggling to explain the sudden rise in cases, scientists studied virus samples and discovered the new variant. Now, as many as 90% of the new cases in Gauteng are caused by it, according to Tulio de Oliveira, director of the KwaZulu-Natal Research Innovation and Sequencing Platform. WHY ARE SCIENTISTS WORRIED ABOUT THIS NEW VARIANT? After convening a group of experts to assess the data, the WHO said that "preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this variant," as compared to other variants. That means people who contracted COVID-19 and recovered could be subject to catching it again. The variant appears to have a high number of mutations — about 30 — in the coronavirus' spike protein, which could affect how easily it spreads to people. Sharon Peacock, who has led genetic sequencing of COVID-19 in Britain at the University of Cambridge, said the data so far suggest the new variant has mutations "consistent with enhanced transmissibility," but said that "the significance of many of the mutations is still not known." Lawrence Young, a virologist at the University of Warwick, described omicron as "the most heavily mutated version of the virus we have seen," including potentially worrying changes never before seen all in the same virus. READ: What is this new COVID variant in South Africa? WHAT'S KNOWN AND NOT KNOWN ABOUT THE VARIANT? Scientists know that omicron is genetically distinct from previous variants including the beta and delta variants, but do not know if these genetic changes make it any more transmissible or dangerous. So far, there is no indication the variant causes more severe disease. It will likely take weeks to sort out if omicron is more infectious and if vaccines are still effective against it. Peter Openshaw, a professor of experimental medicine at Imperial College London said it was "extremely unlikely" that current vaccines wouldn't work, noting they are effective against numerous other variants.
The Netherlands confirmed 13 cases of the new omicron variant of the coronavirus on Sunday and Australia found two as the countries half a world apart became the latest to detect it in travelers arriving from southern Africa. Israel decided to bar entry to foreigners and Morocco said it would suspend all incoming air travel from around the world for two weeks starting Monday — the most drastic of a growing raft of travel curbs being imposed by nations around the world as they scramble to slow the variant's spread. Confirmed or suspected cases of the new variant have already emerged in several European countries, in Israel and in Hong Kong, just days after it was identified by researchers in South Africa. The "act first, ask questions later" approach reflected growing alarm about the emergence of a potentially more contagious variant nearly two years into a pandemic that has killed more than 5 million people, upended lives and disrupted economies across the globe. While much remains to be learned about the new variant, researchers are concerned that it may be more resistant to the protection provided by vaccines and could mean that the pandemic lasts for longer than anticipated. The Dutch public health authority confirmed that 13 people who arrived from South Africa on Friday have so far tested positive for omicron. They were among 61 people who tested positive for the virus after arriving on the last two flights to Amsterdam's Schiphol airport before a flight ban was implemented. They were immediately put into isolation, most at a nearby hotel, while sequencing was carried out. Authorities in Australia said two overseas travelers who arrived in Sydney from Africa became the first in the country to test positive for the omicron variant. Arrivals from nine African countries are now required to quarantine in a hotel upon arrival. Two German states reported a total of three cases in returning travelers over the weekend. Read: South African scientists brace for wave propelled by omicron Israel moved to ban entry by foreigners and mandate quarantine for all Israelis arriving from abroad. "Restrictions on the country's borders is not an easy step, but it's a temporary and necessary step," Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said at the start of the weekly Cabinet meeting. Dr. Ran Balicer, head of the government's advisory panel on COVID-19, told Israel's Kan public radio that the new measures were necessary for the "fog of war" surrounding the new variant, saying it was "better to act early and strictly" to prevent its spread. Morocco's Foreign Ministry tweeted Sunday that all incoming air travel to the North African country would be suspended to "preserve the achievements realized by Morocco in the fight against the pandemic, and to protect the health of citizens." Morocco has been at the forefront of vaccinations in Africa, and kept its borders closed for months in 2020 because of the pandemic. Dutch Health Minister Hugo de Jonge said he asked his country's public health institute for advice on whether additional travel restrictions are needed, but he wants to coordinate with his European Union counterparts because "I think those are really steps that we will have to take together." Many countries have restricted or banned travel from various southern African countries — among the latest New Zealand, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. Places that already had imposed restrictions include Brazil, Canada, the EU, Iran, and the U.S. This goes against the advice of the World Health Organization, which has warned against any overreaction before the variant is thoroughly studied. South Africa's government responded angrily to the travel bans, which it said are "akin to punishing South Africa for its advanced genomic sequencing and the ability to detect new variants quicker." It said it will try to persuade countries that imposed them to reconsider. "Whilst we respect the right of all countries to take the necessary precautionary measures to protect their citizens, we need to remember that this pandemic requires collaboration and sharing of expertise," the minister for international relations and cooperation, Naledi Pandor, said in a statement. Read: Britain tightens COVID rules as world on alert over omicron The United States' top infectious diseases expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said he wouldn't be surprised if the omicron variant was already in the U.S., though it hasn't yet been detected there. In Europe, much of which already has been struggling with a sharp increase in cases over recent weeks, officials also were on guard. The U.K. on Saturday tightened rules on mask-wearing and on testing of international arrivals after finding two omicron cases. Spain announced it won't admit unvaccinated British visitors starting Dec. 1. Italy was going through lists of airline passengers who arrived in the past two weeks after a business traveler who returned from Mozambique and landed in Rome on Nov. 11 tested positive for omicron. The Lazio region's top health official, Alessio D'Amato, said that "controls at airports, ports and train stations have been reinforced." French Health Minister Olivier Veran said that, while his country had no confirmed cases yet, "it is probable that there currently are cases in circulation." While it is not clear yet how existing vaccines work against the omicron variant, Veran said France isn't changing its strategy to fight the latest surge of infections driven by the delta variant, which centers on increasing vaccinations and boosters. David Hui, a respiratory medicine expert and government adviser on the pandemic in Hong Kong, said that even though it is not clear if current coronavirus vaccines are effective against the new variant, the city's vaccination rate should be increased and booster doses should be implemented as soon as possible. He said the two people who tested positive for the omicron variant had received the Pfizer shot and exhibited very mild symptoms, such as a sore throat. "Vaccines should work but there would be some reduction in effectiveness," he said.