Cruise ships confirm outbreaks as omicron spreads and coronavirus upends travel plans

Instead, her cruise ship, the Carnival Freedom, sailed past its destination Wednesday after a port turned away the boat because of coronavirus infections onboard. At least four sailings on Royal Caribbean, Holland America, Carnival and others this week were altered by coronavirus outbreaks as cruise ships prepared for pre-pandemic levels before sailings were paused. Although vessels resuming cruising have beefed up coronavirus precautions, requiring vaccinations and testing passengers, the wave of new infections, fueled by the quickly proliferating omicron variant, has knocked the devastated industry and alarmed cruisers.

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UCSF Lab Worked Quickly To Confirm San Francisco’s Omicron Case – CBS San Francisco

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — When word of a possible COVID omicron case reached UC San Francisco infectious disease specialist Dr. Charles Chiu, he knew that his team would have to work quickly.

Like all of us, he had heard the predictions and dire forecasts. Omicron was on its way. It would be here in the United States any day. That day arrived at 4 a.m. Wednesday morning.

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“We have worked very closely with the San Francisco Department of Public Health, the California Department of Public Health and Color Genomics on genome surveillance of the virus,” Chiu said. “When we identify positive cases, COVID-19 cases in this city and county, we make an attempt to sequence all the cases.”

The UCSF lab received the suspicious positive test from the Color Lab Tuesday evening. The San Francisco resident had fallen ill after returning to San Francisco International Airport after a trip to South Africa — a hotbed of the new strain — on Nov. 23. A sample taken from the patient had tested positive for COVID, but what strain was it?

“This particular sample, I heard about it yesterday at about 3 p.m.,” Chiu said at a morning news conference. “We were able to receive the sample in the laboratory by 8 p.m. We ran a very fast molecular test which looks for spike gene dropout. What this test can tell you that you may have detected omicron, but it’s not conclusive.”

The team then worked well into the early hours of Wednesday morning further testing the sample. They had to sequence the viral genome using a high-tech device known as a nanopore sequencer, a device just slightly larger than a USB stick.

“It’s powered by the USB port in your laptop. It enables us to do very rapid sequencing,” said Chiu. “That’s how we were able to get a result and identify this variant within a few hours. If we had to run this on a traditional instrument, typically it takes at least a day.”

“We were able to confirm the detection of omicron in five hours and had nearly the entire genome in eight hours. At 4 a.m. last night we were able to conclusively demonstrate that this was an infection of the omicron variant.”

In a news release, San Francisco officials confirmed the individual was a traveler who returned from South Africa on November 22.

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“The individual, who is a San Francisco resident, is self-isolating and is experiencing mild symptoms,” the officials said. “We are continuing to speak with the individual about any persons with whom they have been in contact.”

The individual, who was not named, fell ill and sought medical treatment that led to the discovery on Monday.

“The patient themselves reached out to San Francisco Department of Public Health as soon as they found out they were positive, because they were concerned themselves,” said Scott Topper, Vice President of Clinical Operations for Color Health.

The World Health Organization designates omicron a “variant of concern.” In a technical brief released this week, WHO noted that the variant poses a “very high” global risk. The variant was first identified by scientists in South Africa and has since been detected in several countries.

Scientists are working to determine how transmissible the variant is, how sick it makes people and how well current vaccines work against it. Until more information is learned about the variant, the United States restricted travel from South Africa and seven other countries.

Chiu believes this is not the only case of the omicron variant in the U.S., just the only detected one.

“I’m almost certain that this finding is only the tip of the iceberg and that we will continue to see cases in the United States.”

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Andria Borba contributed to this report.

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Netherlands, Australia, Denmark confirm omicron cases as Israel shuts borders.

The omicron coronavirus variant keeps spreading around the world with more countries reporting cases on Sunday, leading some experts to warn that the travel bans governments have rushed to implement may be too late. Health authorities in the Netherlands said 13 cases of the new COVID-19 variant were detected among passengers on two flights that arrived from South Africa to Amsterdam on Friday. Officials had already said there were 61 COVID-19 cases among the more than 600 passengers on the flights. “It is not unlikely more cases will appear in the Netherlands,” Health Minister Hugo de Jonge told a news conference. “This could possibly be the tip of the iceberg.”

Thousands of miles away, Australian officials confirmed that two travelers arriving in Sydney from southern Africa became the first in the country to test positive for the omicron variant. The two passengers were asymptomatic and fully vaccinated for COVID-19. The 12 other people who had traveled with them were placed in quarantine. “This clearly demonstrates the pandemic is not over,” Dominic Perrottet, the premier of New South Wales state, which is where Sydney Is located, told reporters on Sunday. “There are limits to what the state and federal government can do: These variants will get into the country. It is inevitable.”

Denmark also said on Sunday it had detected the variant in two travelers from South Africa. Earlier, the variant that was first discovered in South Africa had been detected in Britain, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Botswana, Israel, Australia, and Hong Kong. The list of countries is only likely to keep growing as Austria said it was investigating a suspected case and France’s health minister warned the variant was likely already circulating.

As governments around the world implemented travel bans from countries in southern Africa, Israel decided to take a more extreme route. Israel said late Saturday that all foreigners would be banned from entering the country for 14 days to give experts time to analyze how effective the current crop of vaccines are against the new variant. Fully vaccinated Israelis will have to undergo a three-day quarantine while those who have not been fully vaccinated will have to quarantine for seven days. “The key here is caution and minimal risks until we know more,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennet said at a news conference. Morocco went even further, saying that it would halt all incoming foreign air travel for two weeks starting on Monday.

Many other countries, including the United States, are taking less extreme measures and have decided to ban travel from South Africa and other neighboring countries. These types of bans could help countries buy a few days but are unlikely to really stop the new variant. “By the time we have enough information to institute a travel ban, the cat’s already out of the bag, so to speak,” Nicole A. Errett, a professor at the University of Washington, tells the Washington Post. “Omicron has already been detected in other continents. A travel ban could in theory buy some time by reducing the spread of new seed cases, but we are talking on the order of days to weeks.”

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Traditional owners reverse decision to block access to Cape York Tip but confirm visitor’s fee – The Cairns Post

Traditional owners reverse decision to block access to Cape York Tip but confirm visitor’s fee  The Cairns Post

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Travel latest news: Cyprus and Seychelles confirm reopening dates for Britons

Cyprus will reopen to tourists who have been fully inoculated against Covid-19 from May 1, while the Seychelles has said it welcome all visitors from March 25, irrespective of their vaccination status. 

British holidaymakers are the largest visitor market for Cyprus and it is the first European country to confirm it will waive other restrictions for Britons who have received both doses of an approved vaccine – however, May 17 is the earliest UK travellers will be permitted to take foreign holidays under the Government’s roadmap out of lockdown.

“We have informed the British government that from May 1 we will facilitate the arrival of British nationals who have been vaccinated … so they can visit Cyprus without a negative test or needing to quarantine,” the country’s deputy tourism minister Savvas Perdios told the Cyprus News Agency.

Sun-starved Britons will also find optimism in the Seychelles announcement that as of March 25 quarantine requirements will be waived for all visitors (except those from South Africa due to the Covid variant first detected there) with a negative PCR test taken 72 hours before departure, the only remaining condition of entry. 

Sylvestre Radegonde, the Seychelles’ minister for foreign affairs and tourism, said on Thursday: “The measures being announced reflect broadly the recommendation of our tourism partners and have been done in full consultation with and the endorsement of our health authorities.”

Scroll down for the latest travel updates.​

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