President of the European Commission said that the European Union needs to buy time to assess fully the implications of the new Omicron coronavirus variant.
It needs time to prepare, notably by pushing for greater vaccination rates, Ursula Von der Leyen, said during a visit to Latvia.
The variant, first discovered in South Africa, has now been detected in EU countries Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands, along with Australia, Botswana, Britain, Hong Kong and Israel.
“We know that we are in a race against time…. And the scientists and manufacturers need two to three weeks to have a full picture about the quality of the mutations of this Omicron variant,” she told reporters.
Time should be spent focusing on precautionary action, notably increasing the rate of vaccinations and of booster shots, she urged.
Her views reflected the Commission’s proposal last week that EU residents should receive extra doses.
The Commission had concluded a third contract with BionTech for up to 1.8 billion vaccine doses in May.
“The general line is hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. The highest priority right now is social distancing, reduce the contact, but vaccinate and boost as much as possible.”
Meanwhile, several nations have taken steps to curb the spread of the new variant.
The U.S. had already announced its plans to ban travel from South Africa and seven other southern African countries from Monday.
South Africa’s government responded angrily to the travel bans, which it said are “akin to punishing South Africa for its advanced genomic sequencing and the ability to detect new variants quicker.” It said it will try to persuade countries that imposed them to reconsider.
The U.K. Saturday tightened rules on mask-wearing and on testing of international arrivals after finding two omicron cases.