Healthcare & Pharmaceuticals

WHO warns against blanket travel bans over Omicron coronavirus variant

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A logo is pictured on the headquarters of the World Health Orgnaization (WHO) in Geneva, Switzerland, June 25, 2020. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

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GENEVA, Nov 30 (Reuters) - Countries should apply "an evidence-informed and risk-based approach" with any travel measures related to the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, including possible screening or quarantine of international passengers, but blanket bans do not prevent its spread, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Tuesday.

The WHO, in its latest guidance to authorities and travellers, said that people over 60 years of age who are not fully vaccinated or do not have proof of previous SARS-COV-2 infection and those with underlying health conditions should be advised to postpone travel as they are at higher risk of disease and death.

First reported in southern Africa a week ago, the variant has brought global alarm, led to travel bans, and highlighted the disparity between massive vaccination pushes in rich nations and sparse inoculation in the developing world. read more

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National authorities in countries of departure, transit and arrival may apply a multi-layered approach to mitigate risk so as to delay or reduce importation or exportation of the Omicron variant, the WHO said on Tuesday.

"Measures may include screening of passengers prior to travel and/or upon arrival, and use of SARS-COV-2 testing or quarantine of international travellers after thorough risk assessment," it said.

All measures should be commensurate with the risk, time-limited and applied with respect to travellers' rights, it said.

"Blanket travel bans will not prevent the international spread, and they place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods," it said.

Some 56 countries were reportedly implementing travel measures aimed at potentially delaying import of Omicron as of Nov, 28, it added.

(This story has been corrected to show that the WHO corrected its statement to say the warning for over 60s is for people who are not fully vaccinated in paragraph 2)

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Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay, Editing by Timothy Heritage and Grant McCool

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