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World: Scotland Officials Concerned Omicron Variant Has Community Spread as 6 Cases Confirmed

Omicron Variant: Germany, Czech Republic Report Suspected Cases After U.K. Confirmation

  Omicron Variant: Germany, Czech Republic Report Suspected Cases After U.K. Confirmation Several countries, including the U.S., Japan and Israel, have announced travel restrictions to avoid the mass spread of the latest COVID variant.Germany's Hessian Ministry for Social Affairs and Integration said Saturday that an individual who traveled to Germany from South Africa is suspected to be infected with the Omicron variant.

After Scotland reported its first six cases of the newly identified COVID-19 Omicron variant, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon expressed concern of a possible spread within the nation's population, the Associated Press reported.

After Scotland reported its first six cases of the newly-identified COVID-19 omicron variant, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon expressed concern of a possible spread within the nation’s population. Sturgeon gives a coronavirus update at the Scottish Parliament Building on November 23, 2021 in Edinburgh, Scotland. © Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images After Scotland reported its first six cases of the newly-identified COVID-19 omicron variant, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon expressed concern of a possible spread within the nation’s population. Sturgeon gives a coronavirus update at the Scottish Parliament Building on November 23, 2021 in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Sturgeon called for increased testing, boosted compliance with the country's existing virus precautions and more opportunities from employers for remote work.

The Latest: Local transmission of virus variant in Scotland

  The Latest: Local transmission of virus variant in Scotland LONDON -- Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said there is evidence of local transmission of the new omicron variant of the coronavirus after the country reported its first six cases. She told a news conference that not all the cases in Scotland had links to recent travel, adding that this suggests “there might already be some community transmission of this variant in Scotland.” The new cases takes the U.K.’s total to nine after three cases were identified in England over the weekend.The arrival of the variant on British shores prompted Prime Minister Boris Johnson to tighten restrictions on mask-wearing and testing of international arrivals to England.

Some of the people affected by the variant had not traveled, seemingly contracting the virus within Scotland's community, the BBC reported.

"There might already be some community transmission of this variant in Scotland," Sturgeon said.

The country is using contact tracing to determine where the cases originated and identify any others who may have been exposed. Those people, if any, will then be directed to self-quarantine for 10 days even if they're vaccinated, and more testing will be introduced in parts of the country where new cases emerge, according to the BBC.

Sturgeon said that there was no evidence pointing to any far-reaching community spread at this point, but the existing cases emphasize the importance of stopping the transmission in its tracks.

Biden addresses nation on omicron variant as some travel bans to US take effect

  Biden addresses nation on omicron variant as some travel bans to US take effect With the omicron variant prompting new travel restrictions this week, President Joe Biden will address the nation on Monday in remarks about the new COVID-19 variant. "While we have said that travel restrictions can slow the speed of omicron, it cannot prevent it. Here's what it does: It gives us time," Biden said in remarks from the White House. "It gives us time to take more actions. To move quicker, to make sure people understand you have to get the vaccine. You have to get the shot. You have to get the booster.

"Right now what I'm asking people to do is to up the level of compliance with all of the protections that are still in place," she said. "These are protections, not restrictions."

Countries throughout the world are taking action to prevent a proliferation of the variant, first identified days ago in South Africa, as scientists are still working to determine the danger it poses. Some nations like Japan have decided to block any foreign visitors in an effort to stop the highly mutated variant from entering its borders even as cases began popping up around the globe, AP reported.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

New cases in Portugal and Scotland might already point toward local spread of the variant outside of southern Africa.

The infections showed the near impossibility of keeping the genie in the bottle in a globalized world of travel and open borders.

Scotland Plans Independence Vote in 2023 Amid Discontent About U.K. Leaving European Union

  Scotland Plans Independence Vote in 2023 Amid Discontent About U.K. Leaving European Union While 52 percent of U.K. voters overall backed leaving the EU in a 2016 referendum, 62 percent of Scottish voters favored remaining in the bloc."Next year, COVID permitting, as we emerge from winter into spring, the campaign to persuade a majority of people in Scotland that our future will be more secure as an independent nation will resume in earnest," Sturgeon said. "In the course of next year, I will initiate the process necessary to enable a referendum before the end of 2023. And just as importantly, our party will set out afresh the positive case for independence.

Yet, many tried to do just that, even against the urging of the World Health Organization, which noted that border closings often have limited effect and can wreak havoc on lives and livelihoods.

Some argued that such restrictions could provide valuable time to analyze the new variant. Little is known about it, including whether it is more contagious, more likely to cause serious illness or more able to evade the protection of vaccines.

The WHO warned, however, that "the likelihood of potential further spread of omicron at the global level is high. Depending on these characteristics, there could be future surges of COVID‐19, which could have severe consequences."

While the initial global response to COVID-19 was criticized as slow and haphazard, the reaction to the new variant came quickly.

"This time the world showed it is learning," said European Union Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, singling out South African President Cyril Ramaphosa for praise. "South Africa's analytic work and transparency and sharing its results was indispensable in allowing a swift global response. It no doubt saved many lives."

Face masks again mandatory in England amid variant spread

  Face masks again mandatory in England amid variant spread LONDON (AP) — New measures to combat the new omicron variant of coronavirus came into force in England Tuesday, with face coverings again compulsory in shops and on public transport. From Tuesday morning, all travelers returning to the U.K. must also take a PCR test and self-isolate until they receive a negative result. Previously they had been able to take a lateral flow test and there was no requirement to isolate. The reintroduction ofFrom Tuesday morning, all travelers returning to the U.K. must also take a PCR test and self-isolate until they receive a negative result. Previously they had been able to take a lateral flow test and there was no requirement to isolate.

The WHO has praised Botswana as well as South Africa for quickly alerting the world to the presence of the new variant—and many have warned the countries should not be punished for their speed.

But that did not hold von der Leyen back from pushing the 27-nation EU toward imposing an immediate ban on flights from seven southern African nations—similar to measures many countries have taken.

Cases had already been reported in Belgium, Denmark and the Netherlands before Portuguese authorities identified 13 cases of Omicron among team members of the Belenenses professional soccer club. Authorities reported that one member recently traveled to South Africa. Its game against Benfica over the weekend had be abandoned at halftime for lack of players.

Quarantining also became an issue when Dutch military police had to arrest a husband and wife who left a hotel where they were being held after testing positive and boarded a plane bound for Spain.

"Quarantine is not obligatory, but we assume people will act responsibly," spokeswoman Petra Faber said.

Taking no chances, Japan, which has yet to detect any omicron cases, reimposed border controls that it eased earlier this month for short-term business visitors, foreign students and workers.

"We are taking the step as an emergency precaution to prevent a worst-case scenario in Japan," Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said. The new measures begin Tuesday.

New Poll Shows That Concern About Omicron Variant Is Split Down Party Lines

  New Poll Shows That Concern About Omicron Variant Is Split Down Party Lines Democrats were more than twice as likely as Republicans to agree that the Omicron COVID-19 variant "poses a serious risk to all Americans."A poll released on Tuesday by YouGov found that Democrats were much more likely to be concerned about the new variant than Republicans. Although 80 percent of Democrats said they were "somewhat concerned" or "very concerned" about Omicron, only 35 percent of Republicans agreed.

Israel likewise decided to bar entry to foreigners, and Morocco said it would suspend all incoming flights for two weeks starting Monday.

Despite the global worry, scientists cautioned that it is still unclear whether omicron is more alarming than other versions of the virus that has killed more than 5 million people.

And in some parts of the world, authorities were moving in the opposite direction.

In Malaysia, officials went ahead with the partial reopening of a bridge connecting it to the city-state of Singapore.

And New Zealand announced it will press ahead with plans to reopen internally after months of shutdown, though it is also restricting travel from nine southern African nations.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that she didn't anticipate any further restrictions and that bars, restaurants and gyms in Auckland can reopen, ending a coronavirus lockdown that began in August.

"We've come through the past two years of COVID in better shape than nearly anywhere in the world," Ardern said, pointing to low death rates, a growing economy and high vaccination rates.

Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health in the United States, meanwhile, said no data as yet suggests the new variant causes more serious illness than previous versions.

Collins echoed several experts in saying the news should make everyone redouble their efforts to use the tools the world already has, including vaccinations, booster shots and measures such as mask-wearing.

The U.S. is banning travel from South Africa and seven other southern African countries starting Monday. "It's going to give us a period of time to enhance our preparedness," the United States' top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said on ABC's This Week.

Who Discovered the Highly Mutated Omicron Variant, Now Found in More Than a Dozen Countries?

  Who Discovered the Highly Mutated Omicron Variant, Now Found in More Than a Dozen Countries? The scientific community has praised the efforts of scientists from South Africa, Botswana and Hong Kong for their early detection of the variant of concern.In a press briefing on Tuesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden and director of the U.S. National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said cases had been confirmed in at least 20 countries and "you're going to expect to see those numbers change rapidly.

Fauci said it will take approximately two more weeks to have more definitive information on the transmissibility, severity and other characteristics of omicron, according to the White House.

Despite the global worry, scientists caution that it's still unclear whether the omicron COVID-19 variant is more dangerous than other versions of the virus that has killed more than 5 million people. Students wearing face masks to protect from COVID-19 are escorted by a teacher as they leave school after classes in Beijing, Monday, Nov. 29, 2021. Andy Wong/AP Photo © Andy Wong/AP Photo Despite the global worry, scientists caution that it's still unclear whether the omicron COVID-19 variant is more dangerous than other versions of the virus that has killed more than 5 million people. Students wearing face masks to protect from COVID-19 are escorted by a teacher as they leave school after classes in Beijing, Monday, Nov. 29, 2021. Andy Wong/AP Photo

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Fauci Says COVID Could Be Controlled Not Eliminated With Vaccines Amid Omicron Spread .
"Better control is what I think we need to look for and then we can get back to some form of normality to our lives," Dr. Anthony Fauci said."I don't think there's a chance you're going to eradicate this because we've only eradicated one virus for humans in history and that was smallpox. Elimination is tough," he said on Friday during a TV appearance with Neil Cavuto on Fox Business Network. "I'm not so sure we're going to be able to do that, at least not in the near future. That's aspirational.

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