Omicron fears: Aircraft takes off to bring home the Romanians in South Africa

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A plane left, on Sunday night to Monday, for South Africa, from where it will bring home the national rugby champions and other Romanian citizens, blocked after the European Union canceled the flights to this part of the world.

The European Union has suspended air links with 8 countries in southern Africa due to fears about the new coronavirus variant, Omicron.

B.1.1.529, or Omicron is a strain of the COVID-19 with over 30 mutations for that part of virus targeted by the existing vaccines, and is, probably, much stronger than the one detected through tests.

 

The Foreign Ministry announced there are 39 Romanians to be repatriated with the special flight. The TAROM aircraft will also take other European citizens. The plane, which has three crews, is to return to Romania on Tuesday morning.

Marius Popescu, TAROM spokesman said that the plane “will make a stopover in Mombasa, Kenya, where it will stay for 12 hours”. “Later, another crew will take over this aircraft and take off for Johannesburg, South Africa. We are talking about an aircraft with 116 seats. Only 90 seats will be occupied for this aircraft to fly as far as possible. We are talking about 90 passengers, over 50 passengers will be European. European citizens will be redistributed according to expected needs,” he explained.

The head of the Department For Emergency Situations (DSU), Raed Arafat, had announced that a TAROM plane will be sent to bring back the Romanian citizens that are trapped in South Africa, after several flights were canceled.

It was established that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, through DSU and the Ministry of Transportats, that they will work together for repatriating the Romanian citizens that cannot get back to Romania because of the interference with air transportation in that area, several flights being canceled and more of them being full, that are reaching Europe. We started to undertake measures along with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Transportation, through Tarom, for sending a plane, following the Government’s decision, that will leave from Bucharest – Mombasa – Pretoria and will bring the Romanian citizens back”, Arafat said on Sunday.

According to him, through the European civil protection mechanism, assistance will be granted to other European citizens as well.

At the start of the Government session, PM Nicolae Ciuca announced that a Tarom aircraft will fly to Pretoria to recover the Romanian citizens trapped in South Africa, and also highlighted that it is the Government’s duty to take such decisions for its citizens.

Cancelling flights to the European Union is taking place because of a discovery of a new variant of coronavirus in South Africa.

Omicron, the new concerning Covid variant in sight

On 26 November 2021, WHO designated the variant B.1.1.529 a variant of concern, named Omicron, on the advice of WHO’s Technical Advisory Group on Virus Evolution (TAG-VE).  This decision was based on the evidence presented to the TAG-VE that Omicron has several mutations that may have an impact on how it behaves, for example, on how easily it spreads or the severity of illness it causes. Here is a summary of what is currently known.

On 26 November 2021, WHO designated the variant B.1.1.529 a variant of concern, named Omicron, on the advice of WHO’s Technical Advisory Group on Virus Evolution (TAG-VE).  This decision was based on the evidence presented to the TAG-VE that Omicron has several mutations that may have an impact on how it behaves, for example, on how easily it spreads or the severity of illness it causes. Here is a summary of what is currently known.

Two rugby teams that participated in the South Africa’s tour, also attended by the Romanian rugby players from Baia Mare, could not leave South Africa after two positive Covid-19 cases were confirmed in their squad. One of the case is suspect of Omicron variant.

Cardiff Rugby have been unable to depart South Africa following two positive cases of Covid-19, one of which is suspected to be the new variant Omicron,” the team announced on Twitter.

Current knowledge about Omicron 

Researchers in South Africa and around the world are conducting studies to better understand many aspects of Omicron and will continue to share the findings of these studies as they become available.

Transmissibility: It is not yet clear whether Omicron is more transmissible (e.g., more easily spread from person to person) compared to other variants, including Delta. The number of people testing positive has risen in areas of South Africa affected by this variant, but epidemiologic studies are underway to understand if it is because of Omicron or other factors.

Severity of disease: It is not yet clear whether infection with Omicron causes more severe disease compared to infections with other variants, including Delta.  Preliminary data suggests that there are increasing rates of hospitalization in South Africa, but this may be due to increasing overall numbers of people becoming infected, rather than a result of specific infection with Omicron.  There is currently no information to suggest that symptoms associated with Omicron are different from those from other variants.  Initial reported infections were among university students—younger individuals who tend to have more mild disease—but understanding the level of severity of the Omicron variant will take days to several weeks.  All variants of COVID-19, including the Delta variant that is dominant worldwide, can cause severe disease or death, in particular for the most vulnerable people, and thus prevention is always key.

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