Fears of new omicron Covid variant prompts Israel to ban entry to foreigners

Israel will on Sunday become the first country to ban the entry of all foreigners as the world races to understand and contain the new worrying variant of Covid-19 that emerged in southern Africa. The government also promised to use controversial phone-tracking technology to track and locate cases of the new omicron variant.

While no cases of the new variant have been detected in the United States, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, told NBC News that mutations displayed by omicron indicate that it may be highly transmissible and able to escape the body’s immune response, including the protection rendered by antibodies induced by the vaccines.

“You don’t want to frighten the American public but when something occurs that you need to take seriously, you take it seriously and you do whatever you can to mitigate against that,” Fauci said. 

Travelers wearing protective face masks arrive at the Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv on Sunday.Ariel Schalit / AP

“If ever there was a reason for unvaccinated people to get vaccinated, and for those who have been vaccinated, when you time comes up, to go and get a booster shot,” he added. 

The U.S. has restricted travel from South Africa and seven neighboring countries, effective Monday. 

But experts, including Fauci, have told NBC News the variant could already be in the U.S.

“It’s already here,” NBC News’ medical contributor Dr Kavita Patel said. “We know from previous variants that by the time we pick it up in Africa and the European Union, it’s already likely.”

While there is still little understanding about omicron and how virulent it can be, a South African doctor who treated early cases of the variant told the BBC Sunday that countries could be “panicking unnecessarily” and the symptoms she had seen were “extremely mild.”

Dr Angelique Coetzee said she had first encountered the variant in patients who had fatigue, aches and pains, but no cough or change in sense of smell or taste, the BBC said. But she acknowledged that understanding of the variant was still developing.

Dr Angelique Coetzee, chair of the South African Medical Association, said she had first encountered the variant in patients…