Omicron, identified by the World Health Organization as a new variant “of concern”, is already circulating in six countries in the hemisphere: the US, Brazil, Canada, Mexico, Chile and Argentina. Although there’s still no definitive evidence regarding the severity of the Covid disease it causes, it’s known to be more transmissible. Over a dozen nations have already adopted travel and activities restrictions as a preventive measure.
“A new variant that can rapidly spread could damage confidence [about economic recovery]. In that sense, we’ll probably see cutbacks in our October projections of 4.9% global growth,” assured Kristalina Georgieva, managing director of the International Monetary Fund.
Fear of Omicron’s becoming the most predominant strain and causing more Covid 19 hospitalizations and deaths, caused the US to expand requirements for international travelers entering the country. In addition to proof of vaccination, or “Covid passport”, travelers must now show a negative Covid-19 test taken 24 hours before departing for the country, and 72 hours before entering.
Similarly, they demand that all travelers wear masks in the airports, as well as on planes and all public transport. As of December 7, the United States has confirmed the presence of the Omicron in 19 states: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin.
In Nicaragua, the Ministry of Health hasn’t released any information about the new variant. They have also not explained the impact of the other four variants of concern in the country, following their November 16th confirmation that these variants were circulating
Rio de Janeiro cancels its official New Year’s Eve party
Brazil was the first country in Latin America and the Caribbean to identify this new variant. They were one of the countries most hard-hit by COVID-19, with 22 million infections, and 615,000 deaths. This time, authorities moved quickly to close their borders to travelers from six African countries. There are speculations that the 2022 Carnaval could be suspended.
In Rio de Janeiro, Brazil’s second largest city, authorities have already cancelled the official year’s end party. “I made this decision with sadness, but we can’t organize the celebration without the approval of our public health authorities,” announced city mayor Eduardo Paes on December 2nd.
Paes’ decision echoed that of neighboring Brazilian states; 21 regional capitals, of a total of 27, have also opted not to organize any kind of public event or concert to bring in 2022. Among other cities cancelling was Sao Paulo, the country’s most populous city.
South African travelers barred from a number of countries
Following confirmation of the rapid spread of the Omicron variant, Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, Guatemala and Peru all passed restrictions on citizens entering from South Africa and six other African countries: Botswana, Mozambique, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, and Egypt.
In the case of Peru, authorities advanced a series of restrictive measures that were originally set to take effect on December 10, in an effort to avoid an outbreak due to holiday celebrations. These include the need to present digital or paper proof of vaccination to enter into public spaces.
During the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, the Peruvian government has announced curfews that will be in effect from 1 to 4 am. “We’re going to be very strict about everything that has to do with crowding on the beaches, and we’re coordinating this with the local governments,” they informed. Holiday crowds on the beaches proved a major source of COVID spread in 2020.
Argentina established a quarantine for all those entering the country from Africa, or who had been on that continent in the 14 days previous to arrival. Travelers must also take an antigen test when they arrive.
Europe widens restrictions in view of Omicron
Several European countries also passed restrictions or accelerated vaccination efforts. In response to concerns about the spread of Omicron, France intensified its Covid-19 booster shot campaign and tightened the entry norms for those arriving from destinations outside the European Union.
Portugal strengthened its controls at all the air and seaports, as well as along its land borders. All passengers arriving by sea or air must present a negative Covid test upon arrival, except for people who are certified as recovering from the disease.