Botswana Strain Driving New COVID Surge

( – The Delta variant may no longer be the strongest mutation or the most contagious version of COVID-19. The Omicron variant, which was first identified in Botswana in early November and was officially named just days ago, is the latest concern that has prompted countries around the world to reinstate travel bans within weeks of the peak holiday travel season.

Botswana’s Omicron Variant Could Become Dominant Strain

The latest in a quickly-growing list of mutations has the potential to become the most common strain throughout Botswana, South Africa, and neighboring countries, again raising concerns surrounding whether it can realistically be kept from affecting the rest of the world. The latest COVID-19 surges in South Africa and Botswana include a high percentage of Omicron cases, which have the potential to overtake other variants.

Early studies of the Omicron variant, which was first identified just weeks ago, indicate that it appears to have mutated more than other variants and may be the most transmissible version yet. Although it is still mostly confined to Africa, a few cases have been detected in Canada, the Netherlands, Denmark, Australia, and other countries.

Travel Restrictions Ramp Back Up in the Midst of Holiday Travel

As American travelers head home after Thanksgiving and the world prepares for a sharp increase in holiday travel over 2020’s numbers in just a few weeks, many countries are restricting or even banning travel to or from Botswana, South Africa, and other countries that have already been significantly affected by the Omicron variant. Although the overall success of travel restrictions in controlling the initial outbreak of COVID-19 or the Delta variant were questionable at best, the UK, the US, and other countries are hoping that a faster response will create a better opportunity to contain the Omicron variant.

Although no Omicron variant cases have been identified in the UK, an immediate travel ban went into effect on Friday, November 26 that restricts all nonessential travel to six countries that are currently affected and prohibits flights between the UK and these countries. The United States has also issued an immediate travel ban prohibiting entry from Botswana, South Africa, and six other countries by anyone who is not a US citizen or permanent resident, and several other countries have implemented similar restrictions or are expected to do so in the coming days.

Such restrictions ultimately had little impact on containing the initial virus or its other variants, so what might make the same response to the Omicron variant any more successful? Could a faster response finally keep the latest variant from spreading around the world, or is it simply too evasive and already in countries where it has not officially been identified yet?

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