Malawi on high alert following emergence of Omicron COVID-19 variant

A woman receives the COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in Blantyre, Malawi, on March 26, 2021. (Xinhua/Joseph Mizere)

Authorities in Malawi have stepped up their COVID-19 surveillance and response mechanisms following the emergence of the new COVID-19 variant, Omicron, which is suspected to be more infectious than previous variants of the virus.

The B.1.1.529 variant was first reported to the World Health Organization from South Africa on November 24 and has been identified in some southern African countries, like South Africa and Botswana.

FILE PHOTO: A woman receives the COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in Blantyre, Malawi. /Xinhua

The variant is reported to be responsible for an increased number of coronavirus infections in some countries and has also been detected in nations outside the continent like Belgium, Hong Kong, Italy, Germany and the UK.

Malawi’s health minister Charles Mwansambo said health authorities have intensified their tracking of the variant and the screening of travellers at all points of entry to curb the importation of such cases.

“So far, from the samples that we have been collecting, the Omicron variant has not been isolated. However, surveillance on the same has been intensified and the country will be informed accordingly on any developments,” Mwansambo said in a statement on Sunday.

The emergence of the variant has prompted several nations such as the United States, Brazil, Canada, Australia and European Union nations to announce travel bans or restrictions on southern Africa.

Mwansambo appealed to the public to continue strictly adhering to the existing health regulations regardless of the fact that the virus was mutating.

He also called for persons aged 18 years and above to get vaccinated amid the threat of a possible fourth wave of the pandemic.

Mwansambo added that Malawi was liaising with Israel regarding media reports of a traveler from the southern Africa nation to Israel testing positive for the variant.

This, he said, was to confirm the incident and facilitate contact tracing to contain any spread of the virus.

Israel has so far confirmed one case of Omicron, with seven suspected cases.

“It is important to note that we screen both the incoming and outgoing travellers to ensure that they have a negative PCR test certificate. Those that are COVID-19 positive are not allowed to leave the country.”

“There is a possible risk of getting infected with COVID-19 whilst in transit hence all travellers are encouraged to strictly follow all the preventive measures.”

Israel said it would ban the entry of all foreigners into the country as from midnight between Sunday and Monday and reintroduce counter-terrorism phone-tracking technology to contain the spread of the variant.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said the ban, which still needs government approval, would last 14 days.

(Story compiled with assistance from wire reports)