Named "Omicron" by the World Health Organization (WHO), the new Covid-19 variant revives the traumas of 2020. According to experts, the 5th wave of the Delta variant, which is likely to be more severe and to last longer than the previous ones, could be even more tragic with Omicron.
The European Union, the United States, Japan, Israel, Singapore, the Philippines, the United Kingdom have already closed their borders with southern Africa and are currently accelerating their vaccination campaign. What is this end of the year going to look like with all the restrictions in place?
South Africa strengthens its vaccination campaign
On Sunday, November 28, the WHO insisted that countries should reopen the links with southern Africa. The organization believes that countries should not give in to panic-provoked selfishness and take a scientific approach based on risk assessment. South Africa considers itself "sanctioned" for having reported the presence of this new variant to the WHO. This comes as a blow for the country, where tourism, one of its economic pillars, has just picked up. As countries around the world announced border closures, the Johannesburg stock exchange fell by almost 2%. The country, which is at alert level 1, is increasing efforts for vaccination from the age of 12.According to the local authorities, 35.6% of the population is fully vaccinated; 41% received at least one dose. The Ministerial Advisory Committee on Vaccines has announced the beginning of the booster dose campaign with the elderly and the immunocompromised. A curfew is imposed from midnight to 4 a.m. (sale of alcohol prohibited during these hours), wearing a mask is compulsory in public spaces and as soon as you come into contact with any person who is not a family member. Regarding large events, indoor gatherings of more than 750 people are prohibited (no more than 50 if space is limited); outdoors, the limit is 2,000 people. In short, the smaller the space will be, the smaller the number of people, especially if it is a closed space. Large group end-of-year celebrations are to be avoided. Funerals should not accommodate more than 100 people.
Israel includes children in vaccination campaign
The pioneer in vaccination against Covid-19 is also the first to kickstart the booster dose campaign and the vaccination of children. To date, 44.1% of the population have already received their booster dose. But the wave of Covid now mainly affects children. Since November 22, a special vaccination campaign has been launched, targeting children aged 5 to 11. The Ministry of Health warned that measures against the pandemic could get tighter if the number of daily infections rises to more than 1,000 (around 600 to date). These restrictions would include a limit on gatherings, even for vaccinated people. The ministry points out that assembly areas are the most at risk of infection.
Restrictions in Latin America
In Chile, Argentina, Colombia and Venezuela, vaccination against Covid-19 is open to children from the age of 3. Nicaragua is lowering the minimum vaccination age to 2 years. The major problem, however, is the effectiveness of vaccines. For example, studies show adverse effects of the Chinese Sinovac vaccine in 12-17-year-olds, but not in 3-5-year-olds. The authorities, therefore, reserve it for young children. Latin American countries are also stepping up their anti-Covid measures such as the compulsory wearing of masks, social distancing, and PCR tests even for vaccinated people. Chile, which recently reopened its borders (November 1), is proceeding differently. From December 1, only people who have received their booster dose do not require PCR testing. But for now, quarantine remains mandatory. Colombia, Cuba (Havana) and Peru have introduced a curfew. In Havana, along with the curfew, non-essential businesses such as bars, restaurants, nightclubs remain closed. In Peru, the wearing of masks is compulsory. Indoors (shopping malls, supermarkets, airports, administrations etc.), the wearing of double masks is recommended.
Japan: under control
With 77% of its population fully vaccinated and less than 100 new daily cases on average, Japan is recovering gradually. The state of emergency has been lifted since October. But the government calls for vigilance. Given the current situation in Europe and the new Omicron variant, a general reopening of borders is not considered for now. Wearing a mask remains compulsory. Small gatherings are permitted except in crowded areas. Companies are encouraged to allow remote working and flexi-time to avoid the rush hours in transports. Restaurants and other leisure venues are expected to do the same. Concerned about the revival of the country's socio-economic activities, Keidanren - Japanese Federation of Employers - still urges the government to open the borders, like South Korea.
China's choice to remain closed
Officially, everything looks fine in China. Xi Jinping's “zero Covid” policy is paying faced with Europe's 5th devastating wave. According to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), this proves that the European and Western strategies have failed. But not everyone same the same views on Chinese policy. Many restrictions have nothing to do with the peaks observed in Europe: international border closure, compulsory negative PCR test of less than 48 hours to travel to certain regions, entry ban in Beijing for any person from an area where a case of Covid has been detected in the previous two weeks, trains stopped or cancelled, entire cities locked down, quarantines, site closures after a single case of Covid detected. Meanwhile, the population can only voice out their feelings online. However, everyone agrees that China would be unable to survive a situation like that in Europe. So the country will remain closed until the Winter Olympics of 2022.
More restrictions in Austria
Locking down the unvaccinated population wasn't enough in Australia. Since Monday, November 22, the country has been totally locked down for the fourth time, until December 13. According to Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg, this was inevitable, considering the new Omicron variant. In practice: no travel pass is required (as previously), non-essential businesses (including restaurants and hotels) remain closed, remote work is strongly recommended, schools are open, but parents are encouraged to keep their children at home. In short, people are only allowed to go out to get some fresh air, go to work, or do essential shopping. For the chancellor, the poor vaccination figures required more drastic measures. With barely 66.7% of inhabitants fully vaccinated as of November 27, Austria is struggling against the upsurge in infections. "A steady rise in the vaccination rate is the only way out of this circle," said Schallenberg at a press conference in Tyrol. The government's objective is to save Christmas.
Immunization emergency in Senegal
The country is determined to avoid similar scenarios to those of the previous waves. According to Professor Souleyemane Mboup last July, there was a general relaxation, a sort of fatigue. Most people respected the restrictions. But the relaxation came at the end of the second wave. He believes that it is difficult to combine economic emergency and Covid restrictions. This is the main challenge for the country since it reopened its borders to international tourism last October. Wearing a mask is compulsory in public and private spaces: open or covered markets, shops, banks, public services, transportation (including taxis), etc. In restaurants, sports, religious, cultural and leisure spaces that are open, social distancing is mandatory, along with the wearing of masks. Anyone caught violating these laws risks a fine and even imprisonment. Large events are also authorized, up to a limit of 500 participants. With barely 5.5% of its population fully vaccinated as of November 24 and an Omicron variant threatening the world, Senegalese is aware that the fight against Covid-19 requires strengthening barrier gestures and speeding up the vaccination campaign provided the country gets enough vaccines through international agreements.
Curfew in Belgium
On November 17, the Belgian authorities reintroduced restrictions including social distancing, wearing a mask from 10 years old (compulsory from 12 years old), generalization of the Covid Safe Ticket + (equivalent to the health pass), remote work as soon as possible: 4 days a week until December 13 (then 3 days a week), the booster dose for all in 2022, etc. The occurrence of the Omicron variant and the discovery of a case in Belgium are game-changers. On November 26, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo announced the closure of nightclubs and a curfew from 11 p.m. for restaurants and Christmas markets. There is no official limit regarding family and friends get-togethers, but the government appeals to the population to limit their contacts.Are Delta and Omicron going to sabotage the holiday season? According to the former director of the Institut Pasteur, Professor Christian Bréchot, virologist, there are hopes for a quiet Christmas, but the risk is omnipresent. Professor Tulio de Oliveira, director of the Epidemic Response Center and innovation, especially notes the lack of international solidarity. In a tweet, he mentions that: "The world should support South Africa and Africa instead of discriminating or isolating them." The WHO has made a similar appeal to other countries. The organization believes that the pandemic will only be contained when all states have equivalent access to vaccines.