19:20 / 28.11.2021.

Author: Katja Miličić

Omicron variant has more countries tightening travel restrictions

Nova varijanta koronavirusa - omikron

Nova varijanta koronavirusa - omikron

Foto: Thomas Ragina / SHUTTERSTOCK

More and more countries are closing off their borders in the wake of the discovery of a new variant of the coronavirus, Omicron, which despite being detected quickly appears to be present already in many countries around the globe.

In Europe, cases have been confirmed in Germany, the UK, Belgium, the Czech Republic, and Italy.

Croatia, like many countries, has closed itself off to travelers from southern Africa, where scientists first detected the variant. Israel has gone one step further, closing off it borders to all foreigners.

Scientists say it could take weeks to determine the type of disease caused by the variant, define how contagious it is and identify how far it has already spread. Omicron also has more than 30 mutations to the spike protein of the virus, which is what most of the vaccines target. The question is whether those vaccines will be effective and whether people who have recovered from previous variants of the virus will have immunity. The head of the South African Medical Association Angelique Coetzee told the BBC that the cases found so far in South Africa were not severe, but said more time was needed to gather precise information. It should also be noted that only about 24% of South Africa's population is vaccinated.

No cases of the new variant have been detected in Croatia so far, but news of the new variant does appear to indicate that the pandemic is far from over.

Croatian public health authorities reported 3,339 new infections on Sunday and 64 Covid-19 deaths. Hospitals are treating 2,540 patients, of whom 330 are on ventilators.

With respect to the new variant, the Croatian Public Health Bureau has issued a statement describing the omicron variant as potentially more dangerous because of the high number of mutations, nearly double those of the delta variant. However, the Bureau said that despite this, experts do believe that the vaccines will continue to provide a high level of protections against hospitalization and death.

Taking a look at the Covid situation in Croatia's northern region, the County Hospital in Čakovec is treating 116 patients. Chief Administrator Dr. Igor Šegović says the hospital has enough beds for 150 patients but he is hoping that hospitalizations will start coming down soon. The hospital has also seen some younger patients who are severely ill.

"The day before yesterday we had to transport a young man, born in 1984, to Zagreb to get him onto an ECKMO machine,” Dr. Šegović said, adding that he had excellent cooperation and support from colleagues in Zagreb and officials at the Ministry.

In southern Croatia, the Dubrovnik area has seen a decline in cases over the past week. Dubrovnik General Hospital is treating 61 Covid patients, five of whom are in intensive care. The head of the hospital, Dr. Mario Bekić, says more than 80% of patients are unvaccinated and their average age is around 65.

The Covid treatment coordinator at Karlovac General Hospital, Dr. Jasna Tokić, says her hospital is seeing more severely ill patients.

"The state of our patients are trending more serious. They take a turn for the worse much more quickly and have to be put on a ventilator. It's not rare that a patient comes in, goes straight to intensive care and is placed on a ventilator immediately,” said Dr. Tokić.

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