Britain is planning to provide around $141.7 million, or 105 million pounds, in emergency assistance to countries considered vulnerable to the new omicron variant of COVID-19, especially those in Africa.
The new variant is reportedly highly contagious, but is also not nearly as potent as earlier strains, according to multiple studies.
Nevertheless, “the UK is providing vital assistance to help tackle the spread of new variants around the world,” British foreign minister Liz Truss said, Reuters reported. “This is key to securing our freedom and ending this pandemic once and for all.”
The money is slated for efforts to reduce transmission of the variant as well as expanding supplies of oxygen and increasing testing.
“The UK is helping other countries most in need. No one is safe until everyone is safe,” Truss added.
Omicron, which contains a great deal more mutations than earlier COVID-19 strains, was discovered in South Africa in late November, spreading quickly to neighboring countries before extending beyond the continent.
“This variant did surprise us. It has a big jump on evolution [and] many more mutations that we expected,” Tulio de Oliveira, director of the Center for South Africa’s Epidemic Response and Innovation, told the BBC in November.
South African Dr. Angelique Coetzee, who discovered the variant, urged calm initially, noting that patients who contracted the new variant experienced “extremely mild symptoms.”
“Their symptoms were so different and so mild from those I had treated before,” she said, adding “currently there’s no reason for panicking as we don’t see severely ill patients.”
“The most predominant clinical complaint is severe fatigue for one or two days, with then the headache and the body aches and pain. Some of them will have what they call a scratchy throat and some will have a cough — a dry cough, but it’s not a constant cough, it comes and goes. And that’s more or less the big symptoms that we have seen,” Coetzee said.
Britain’s aid, however, comes after confirmation from the Foreign Office that the UK made good on a previous pledge to deliver 30 million COVID-19 vaccines to the world by the close of 2021, according to Reuters. In all, the UK has pledged 100 million doses.
The UK and other wealthy countries, for all they have done, are still being criticized in some quarters for not doing enough.
For instance, World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom, who was accused of helping China cover up the initial COVID-19 outbreak, ripped wealthy countries in an op-ed published by USA Today, in which he blamed “narrow nationalism and vaccine hoarding” for creating the “ideal conditions for the emergence of the omicron variant.”
“If we end inequity, we end the pandemic,” he said. “As we enter the third year of this pandemic, I’m confident that this will be the year we end it – but only if we do it together.”
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