Just when you think our battle with this disease was coming to an end and life would slowly return to normal, COVID-19 throws another viral spanner in the works.

The sad thing is that the above sentence could have been uttered at numerous points during the pandemic.

It seems that the coronavirus was mostly hibernating for the last few months, and woke up to discover that we were getting increasingly optimistic about the future.

So, it sprang into action, delivering another concerning variant, and now we’re forced to take a couple of steps back.

S’pore Defers VTL With Qatar, Saudi Arabia & UAE Due to Omicron Variant

I’m afraid there’s some bad news for those who had planned vacations to the Middle East in December.

The authorities have deferred the launch of our Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) arrangement with Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), thanks to the emergence of the Omicron variant.

Our VTLs with these three countries were supposed to begin on 6 Dec, with the health ministry’s announcement to defer them coming just a night before applications were supposed to open.

No cases of the Omicron variant have been discovered in Singapore as of yet, but this is a precautionary move to prevent the risks of importation.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) explained that the three countries are in closer proximity to the affected countries of Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe.

The deferment will be in place until further notice, with more details of a review of these border measures to follow.

What We Know & Don’t Know About Omicron

While governments around the world have been alarmed enough to impose travel bans on affected countries, there’s a lot we still don’t know about the Omicron variant.

For one, scientists are still trying to figure out if the variant is more transmissible. The reason it has sparked such concern across the globe is that it has an unusually high number of mutations – roughly 50, including 30 over the virus’ spike protein.

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And research so far has shown that it shares some mutations with other variants that are more contagious.

But we don’t know if it can break through a vaccine’s defences, or even whether it’s more deadly – quite the opposite could be true, in fact.

Speaking to The Telegraph, a doctor in South Africa who detected the Omicron variant in around 24 infected patients found that the symptoms they experienced were typically milder. They were, however, a very small sample size, which is why countries are taking no chances.

Some scientists, however, have criticised the travel bans, saying that South Africa is being “punished” for reporting a new variant, and noted that this could discourage other countries from doing the same in the future.

Many countries in southern Africa have also been targeted, the scientists said, even though other nations outside the region have had confirmed Omicron cases.

In any case, let’s hope that the Omicron variant is nowhere near as transmissible or deadly as the Delta. That’s the only wish most of us will have for the holiday season.

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