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MALTATODAY 28 November 2021

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3 maltatoday | SUNDAY • 28 NOVEMBER 2021 NEWS Opera onal Programme I – European Structural and Investment Funds 2014-2020 "Fostering a compe ve and sustainable economy to meet our challenges" Project part-financed by the Cohesion Fund Co-financing rate: 85% European Union Funds; 15% Na onal Funds Visit to find more tips. GARDENING WATERING HABITS REMEMBER TO CHANGE YOUR BOTH INDOOR AND OUTDOOR PLANTS REQUIRE LESS WATER DURING THE AUTUMN & WINTER MONTHS. ADJUST YOUR WATERING HABITS ACCORDINGLY. IT WILL SAVE BOTH YOUR PLANTS, AND YOUR WATER! CONTINUED FROM PAGE 1 The latest surge in cases, wit- nessed across several European countries, comes at a time of glob- al concern over a heavily-mutat- ed COVID variant that was given the name Omicron by the World Health Organisation. WHO has declared the variant to be "of concern" and scientists are rushing to determine whether it can evade immunity provided by the current vaccines. Countries have also been swift to ban travel from several southern African states, where Omicron was first detected. The European Centre for Dis- ease Prevention and Control (ECDC) has said preliminary data on the risks of Omicron, was of "high concern". The variant is the most divergent detected in significant numbers during the pandemic to date. It is raising serious concerns that it may significantly reduce the effec- tiveness of vaccines and increase the risk of reinfections. "There is still considerable un- certainty related to the transmis- sibility, vaccine effectiveness, risk for reinfections and other proper- ties of this variant," ECDC direc- tor Dr Andrea Ammon said. "At this stage, based on our experience with previous variants we must be proactive and implement meas- ures as a precaution to buy time until we gain more knowledge." Ammon said it was imperative that adults over 40 are prioritised for booster shots and called for the timely, reinforced implemen- tation of non-pharmaceutical in- terventions. Malta's booster dose campaign has now reached people aged 50 and over, who are being encour- aged to register for the vaccine. A high percentage of people aged 60 and over have already received the booster shot. Workers in the healthcare and education sectors are also being inoculated with the third vaccine dose. Malta has banned travel to and from southern Africa as of mid- night Saturday to minimise the risk of the new variant being im- ported. The European Commis- sion has recommended an EU- wide ban on travel with the region. The variant was first detected in Botswana and South Africa. Subsequently, travel-related cases were also found in Belgium, Hong Kong and Israel. On Saturday, the UK said it reg- istered two cases of the Omicron variant. "There is considerable uncer- tainty related to the transmissi- bility, vaccine effectiveness, risk for reinfections and other proper- ties of the Omicron variant," the ECDC said, warning that the risk of community spread was high. "In a situation where the Del- ta variant is resurgent in the EU/ EEA, the impact of the introduc- tion and possible further spread of Omicron could be very high." Festive season risks The ECDC said the risk of a rise in COVID cases over the Christ- mas period demanded greater use of face masks, teleworking, reduction of crowding on public transport, adequate ventilation in closed spaces, and maintenance of hygiene measures. "Setting limits for the number of participants in social and public events during end-of-year cele- brations will support physical dis- tancing efforts," the ECDC said. Increases in case notifications, hospitalisations and intensive care unit admissions have been driven by circulation of the Delta variant and insufficient vaccine uptake, as well as a relaxation of COVID re- strictions. "Whilst the burden from COV- ID-19 is particularly high in a number of countries experienc- ing low vaccine uptake, there is evidence of rising burden even among countries with higher up- take," the ECDC said. To date, 65.4% of the total popu- lation and 76.5% of the adult pop- ulation in the EU/EEA have been fully vaccinated against COV- ID-19. The Maltese health authorities have so far refrained from impos- ing any new restrictions given the low rate of hospitalisations that has also remained stable over the past month. 'Considerable uncertainty' about new variant

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