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13 cases of omicron variant in Portuguese soccer team

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TOKYO, Nov. 29, (AP): Portuguese health authorities said Monday they have identified 13 cases of omicron, the new coronavirus variant believed to be more contagious, among team members of a professional soccer club. The Ricardo Jorge National Health Institute said Monday that one of those who tested positive at the Lisbon-based Belenenses soccer club had recently traveled to South Africa, where the omicron variant was first identified. The others, however, had not traveled to South Africa, indicating that this may be one of the very first cases of local transmission of the virus outside of southern Africa.

Portuguese Primeira Liga soccer match between Belenenses SAD and SL Benfica, on Nov. 27. (AP)

Those who have been in contact with the positive cases have been ordered to isolate, regardless of their vaccination status or their exposure to possible contagion, and will be regularly tested for COVID- 19, the institute said. As cases of a new coronavirus variant are confirmed around the world, Japan announced Monday that it will suspend entry of all foreign visitors, joining an increasing number of countries that are tightening their borders as fear spreads of yet another extension of pandemic suffering. Japan, which has yet to detect any cases of the recently identified omicron variant, reimposed border controls that it eased earlier this month for short-term business visitors, foreign students and workers. Despite the global worry, however, scientists cautioned that it’s still unclear whether omicron is more dangerous than other versions of a virus that has killed more than 5 million people. Some countries are continuing with previous plans to loosen restrictions, with signs of reopening in Malaysia, Singapore and New Zealand. “We are taking the step as an emergency precaution to prevent a worst-case scenario in Japan,” Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said of the measure that begins Tuesday. Japan has kept its border closed to foreign tourists from all nations.

Kishida urged people to continue wearing masks and pursuing other basic anti-virus measures until further details of the new omicron variant are known. Kishida, whose predecessor lost his job in part because of disappointment over his handling of the virus, was not alone in choosing an aggressive approach until details of what omicron can do emerge. Israel decided to bar entry to foreigners, and Morocco said it would suspend all incoming flights for two weeks starting Monday – among the most drastic of the growing raft of travel curbs being imposed by nations around the world as they scrambled to slow the variant’s spread. Scientists in several places – from Hong Kong to Europe to North America – confirmed its presence. On Monday, the Scottish government announced the discovery of six new cases of the omicron variant of coronavirus, taking the U.K. total to nine. It has asked public health authorities to undertake enhanced contact tracing in all cases. Over the weekend, British health authorities found three cases of the variant.

Others to report new cases over the weekend were the Netherlands, which has 13 confirmed cases, while Canada has found two. In Malaysia, however, officials went ahead with the partial reopening of a bridge connecting it to the island city-state of Singapore. And New Zealand announced it will continue plans to reopen internally after months of shutdown, while also restricting travel from African nations. The World Health Organization, noting that the variant has already been detected in many countries and that closing borders often has a limited effect, called for frontiers to remain open. The variant was identified days ago by researchers in South Africa, and much about it is still unclear, including whether it is more contagious, more likely to cause serious illness or more able to evade the protection of vaccines. Health officials in Australia’s Northern Territory announced that the state confirmed its first case of omicron on Monday, a South African man who fl ew into Darwin last Thursday. Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt said the prime minister is convening the National Security Committee to review actions that could be taken over omicron.

In New South Wales, Premier Dominic Perrottet said Monday there could be a third omicron case in his state. Health authorities there announced Sunday that two travelers returning from South Africa had tested positive. They were asymptomatic and fully vaccinated. Arrivals from nine African countries are now required to quarantine in a hotel upon arrival. New Zealand has restricted travel from nine southern African countries in response to the omicron threat, but Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she didn’t anticipate any further restrictions. And omicron hasn’t changed New Zealand’s plans to ease restrictions in Auckland and move the nation into a new, more open phase of its pandemic response, Ardern said Monday. Bars, restaurants and gyms in Auckland can reopen from late Thursday, 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. Malaysians working in Singapore held joyful reunions with loved ones after returning to their homeland following the partial reopening of a land border that was shuttered for nearly two years because of the pandemic. Buses ferried fully vaccinated passengers across the Causeway Bridge that connects the island of Singapore with the Malaysian peninsula. Strict measures included pre-departure and on-arrival COVID- 19 tests. Malaysia’s health minister tweeted that a COVID-19 case was detected during a screening, but didn’t elaborate. The causeway was one of the world’s busiest land borders before the pandemic struck. Air travel also reopened with fewer restrictions, allowing anyone who is fully vaccinated to travel quarantine-free between the two countries.

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