Single tick bite can cause a life-threatening meat allergy: report

Have you ever eaten steak at dinnertime and then developed hives at midnight?

As tick season kicks into gear, it’s a good idea to know about a potentially life-threatening food allergy called alpha-gal syndrome that may occur after certain tick bites – especially the lone star tick, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“An allergy to ‘alpha-gal’ refers to having a severe and potentially life-threatening allergy to a carbohydrate molecule called galactose-alpha-1,3-galactose that is found in most mammalian or ‘red meat,’” according to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology.

The lone star tick, named for its characteristic white star shape on its back that some suggest is shaped like Texas and commonly found in the South, first picks up the alpha-gal molecule from mammalian animals that they commonly bite, like cows and sheep, then transfers it to humans after a bite, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Anyone bitten by the tick, especially multiple times, becomes “sensitized” where the immune system produces antibodies against alpha-gal, so allergic reactions can occur not only when re-exposed to mammalian meat, but also future bites and even medications that contain alpha-gal, per American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology.

“It all started with the cancer drug cetuximab. The year it was released, it became obvious that some patients were having bad reactions to it in VirginiaNorth CarolinaTennesseeArkansas, southern Missouri and eastern Oklahoma,” said Dr. Thomas Platts-Mills, who made the original discovery of the meat allergy.

He proved if patients had the type of antibody that is well known to be related to allergies, known as IgE, to the cancer drug before taking it, they were 30 times more likely to have an allergic reaction to it. He also discovered with his team that these antibodies were binding to alpha-gal in patients who suffered delayed allergic reactions to red meat, according to a 2017 news release

He was working with Jake Hosen, a specialist-doctor in training at the time known as a fellow, who spent two days researching other diseases that fit “…the same geographic pattern as the alpha-gal allergy and the only one that matched was Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and we know that is spread by Lone Star ticks,” said Platts-Mills, professor of medicine and microbiology at University of Virginia

“That’s when we started asking patients if they noticed the allergies beginning after they received tick bites.”

So this is why some people who are bitten by ticks can have a meat allergy, because a subset who develop a strong immune response to the carbohydrate molecule may also develop a food allergy when they eat mammalian products, such as beef, pork, lamb, venison, rabbit, according to Mayo Clinic.

Symptoms range from mild to severe reactions from an itchy rash or hives to difficulty breathing and swelling of the lips or tongue that can require immediate emergency care, per the CDC.

Unlike other reactions from typical food allergies, like peanuts or shellfish, which occur within minutes, alpha-gal allergy is delayed within three to eight hours after an exposure, according to the allergy society.

And recent research suggests some patients with unexplained, frequent anaphylaxis, which is a life-threatening allergic reaction, may have undiagnosed alpha-gal syndrome, according to Mayo Clinic.

Ticks hide in grasses and wooded areas across the United States and tick-borne diseases are on the rise, so it’s important to know how to prevent tick bites as the warmth of spring season lures them into the open, according to the CDC.

“Ticks ‘quest,’ they hang on some vegetation with their back legs while holding out front legs to grasp a host that walks by,” said Dr. Amy Korman, an entomology expert

There is no cure for alpha-gal allergy, so prevention is key, but if you find a tick on your skin, the CDC advises to remove it immediately.

“Use clean, fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible. Pull upward with steady, even pressure,” according to the CDC

The agency warns to avoid twisting the tick when removing it, because that may leave part of the tick embedded in the skin, recommending instead if the tick can’t be easily removed with tweezers, to leave it alone and let the skin heal on its own. 

And don’t forget to clean the bite area and wash your hands with either rubbing alcohol or soap and water.

The CDC notes other prevention strategies include avoiding places where ticks lurk, like wooded or brushy areas, wearing long sleeves and pants when camping or hiking, treating clothing with at least 0.5% permethrin products and using EPA registered repellents that can be found here.

And the agency reminds to always check for ticks after you return home, wash all clothes in hot water afterwards and shower to remove loose ticks.

And not even former presidents are immune to tick bites.

In the summer of 2007, President George W. Bush developed a rash on his lower left leg, which was diagnosed as Lyme disease by the White House physicians, according to a 2007 Washington Post report.

But given his frequent visits to Texas in the summer, some experts suggested the diagnosis was incorrect, instead thinking the rash was most likely southern-tick-associated-rash-illness, otherwise known as STARI.

STARI is caused by the lone star tick, the tick most implicated in alpha-gal syndrome, and although its rash mimics the “bulls-eye” rash typical of Lyme disease, it is one tick that is endemic in Lone Star State whereas Lyme disease is not, per the Post report. 

The CDC provides this handout on tips and common questions regarding what to do after a tick bite, including symptoms to watch for and tips on how to remove a tick. 

Avian Flu Fast Facts

Here’s a look at avian flu.

Avian influenza, also called avian flu or bird flu, is an illness that usually affects only birds.

There are many different strains of avian flu: 16 H subtypes and 9 N subtypes. Only those labeled H5, H7 and H10 have caused deaths in humans.

The most commonly seen and most deadly form of the virus is called “Influenza A (H5N1),” or the “H5N1 virus.”

Diagnosis/Treatment

Most cases of human bird flu infections are due to contact with infected poultry or surfaces that are contaminated with infected bird excretions: saliva, nasal secretions or feces.

Symptoms of avian flu include fever, cough, sore throat and sometimes severe respiratory diseases and pneumonia.

The CDC recommends oral oseltamivir (brand name: Tamiflu), inhaled zanamivir (brand name: Relenza) and intravenous permavir (brand name: Rapivab) for the treatment of human illness associated with avian flu.

The mortality rate is close to 60% for infected humans.

Timeline

Early 1900s –The avian flu is first identified in Italy.

1961 – The H5N1 strain is isolated in birds in South Africa.

December 1983 – Chickens in Pennsylvania and Virginia are exposed to the avian flu and more than five million birds are killed to stop the disease from spreading.

1997 – Eighteen people are infected by the H5N1 strain in Hong Kong, six die. These are the first documented cases of human infection. Hong Kong destroys its entire poultry population, 1.5 million birds.

1999 – Two children in Hong Kong are infected by the H9N2 strain.

February 2003 – Eighty-four people in the Netherlands are affected by the H7N7 strain of the virus, one dies.

February 7, 2004 – Twelve thousand chickens are killed in Kent County, Delaware, after they are found to be infected with the H7 virus.

October 7, 2005 – The avian flu reaches Europe. Romanian officials quarantine a village of about 30 people after three dead ducks there test positive for bird flu.

November 12, 2005 – A one-year-old boy in Thailand tests positive for the H5N1 strain of avian influenza.

November 16, 2005 – The World Health Organization confirms two human cases of bird flu in China, including a female poultry worker who died from the H5N1 strain.

November 17, 2005  Two deaths are confirmed in Indonesia from the H5N1 strain of avian influenza.

January 1, 2006 – A Turkish teenager dies of the H5N1 strain of avian influenza in Istanbul, and later that week, two of his sisters die.

January 17, 2006 – A 15-year-old girl from northern Iraq dies after contracting bird flu.

February 20, 2006 – Vietnam becomes the first country to successfully contain the disease. A country is considered disease-free when no new cases are reported in 21 days.

March 12, 2006 – Officials in Cameroon confirm cases of the H5N1 strain. The avian flu has now reached four African countries.

March 13, 2006 – The avian flu is confirmed by officials in Myanmar.

May 11, 2006 – Djibouti announces its first cases of H5N1 – several birds and one human.

December 20, 2011 – The US Department of Health and Human Services releases a statement saying that the government is urging scientific journals to omit details from research they intend to publish on the transfer of H5N1 among mammals. There is concern that the information could be misused by terrorists.

July 31, 2012 – Scientists announce that H3N8, a new strain of avian flu, caused the death of more than 160 baby seals in New England in 2011.

March 31, 2013 – Chinese authorities report the first human cases of infection of avian flu H7N9 to the World Health Organization. H7N9 has not previously been detected in humans.

December 6, 2013 – A 73-year-old woman infected with H10N8 dies in China, the first human fatality from this strain.

January 8, 2014 – Canadian health officials confirm that a resident from Alberta has died from H5N1 avian flu, the first case of the virus in North America. It is also the first case of H5N1 infection ever imported by a traveler into a country where the virus is not present in poultry.

April 20, 2015 – Officials say more than five million hens will be euthanized after bird flu was detected at a commercial laying facility in northwest Iowa. According to the US Department of Agriculture, close to eight million cases of bird flu have been detected in 13 states since December. Health officials say there is little to no risk for transmission to humans with respect to H5N2. No human infections with the virus have ever been detected.

January 15, 2016 – The US Department of Agriculture confirms that a commercial turkey farm in Dubois County, Indiana, has tested positive for the H7N8 strain of avian influenza.

January 24, 2017 – Britain’s Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs releases a statement confirming that a case of H5N8 avian flu has been detected in a flock of farmed breeding pheasants in Preston, UK. The flock is estimated to contain around 10,000 birds. The statement adds that a number of those birds have died, and the remaining live birds at the premises are being “humanely” killed because of the disease.

February 12, 2017 – A number of provinces in China have shut down their live poultry markets to prevent the spread of avian flu after a surge in the number of infections from the H7N9 strain. At least six provinces have reported human cases of H7N9 influenza this year, according to Chinese state media, Xinhua.

March 5-7, 2017 – The USDA confirms that a commercial chicken farm in Tennessee has tested positive for the H7N9 strain of avian flu, but says it is genetically different from the H7N9 lineage out of China. The 73,500-bird flock in Lincoln County will be euthanized, according to Tyson Foods.

February 14, 2018 – Hong Kong’s Centre for Health Protection announces that a 68-year-old woman has been treated for the H7N4 strain. This is the first case of this strain in a human.

June 5, 2019 – Since 2013 there have been 1,568 confirmed human cases and 616 deaths worldwide from the H7N9 strain of avian flu, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

December 2019 – The United Kingdom Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs confirms that a case of H5N1 avian flu has been detected at a poultry farm in Suffolk. 27,000 birds are humanely killed because of the disease.

April 9, 2020 – The USDA confirms that a commercial turkey flock in Chesterfield County, South Carolina has tested positive for the H7N3 strain of avian flu.

January 2021 – India culls tens of thousands of poultry birds after avian influenza is detected in ducks, crows and wild geese in at least a dozen locations across the country.

February 18, 2021 – Russian authorities notify WHO that they have detected H5N8 in humans. “If confirmed, this would be the first time H5N8 has infected people,” a WHO Europe spokesperson says in a statement.

June 1, 2021 – China’s National Health Commission announces the first human case of H10N3.

February 2022 – The USDA confirms that wild birds and domestic poultry in the United States have tested positive for the H5N1 strain of avian flu. By mid April, the CDC reports there are 31 states with infected wild birds and 25 states with poultry outbreaks.

Repost from CNN

It doesn’t take a lot of exercise to fight depression, study says

Get up and move — even small doses of physical activity, such as brisk walking, may substantially lower the risk of depression, according to a new data analysis. “Most benefits are realized when moving from no activity to at least some,” the study authors wrote.

Recommended levels of exercise in the United States, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, include aerobic activity at moderate levels (such as a brisk walk) for 2.5 hours a week, along with a workout of all major muscle groups twice a week.

Alternatively, a person can choose a vigorous aerobic exercise, such as running, for 1.25 hours each week, along with the same amount of strength training.

Moderate to vigorous exercise is good for us, according to the CDC. It improves sleep; lowers blood pressure; protects against heart disease, diabetes and cancer; reduces stress; boosts mood; and fights anxiety and depression.

But in today’s busy world, many people find it difficult to fit in a jog or a visit to the gym. Add depression to the mix, and the motivation for exercise drops even further, experts say.

The meta-analysis, published Wednesday in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, looked at 15 studies involving over 190,000 people to determine how much exercise was needed to reduce depression.

Adults who did activities equivalent to 1.25 hours of brisk walking per week had an 18% lower risk of depression compared with those who did not exercise, the study said.

Moving up to an “activity volume equivalent to 2.5 hours of brisk walking per week was associated with 25% lower risk of depression,” the study authors said.

The benefits were strongest when a person transitioned from being a couch potato to adding movement to the day, the study said. However, exercising over the recommended levels did not provide any additional benefits.

“Our findings therefore have important new implications for health practitioners making lifestyle recommendations, especially to inactive individuals who may perceive the current recommended target (of exercise) as unrealistic,” the authors wrote.

A study published in 2018 found similar results: People who exercised had about 43% fewer days of poor mental health.

“Even just walking just three times a week seems to give people better mental health than not exercising at all,” study author Adam Chekroud, an assistant adjunct professor of psychiatry at Yale University, told CNN at the time.

Exercising in 45-minute sessions three to five times a week was the most beneficial for improving mental health, the 2018 study found. However, even doing household chores reduced poor mental health days by about 10%, the study said.

study published in 2020 found that even light exercise helped protect children against developing depression. The 2020 study revealed that 60 minutes of simple movement each day at age 12 was linked to an average 10% reduction in depression at age 18.

The types of movement included running, biking and walking, as well as activities like doing chores, painting or playing an instrument.

By Sandee LaMotte, CNN

Zika virus transmission and symptoms

Zika virus, which is similar to dengue fever, is spread mostly through the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquitos, usually Aedes aegypti.

According to World Health Organisation (WHO), these mosquitoes typically bite during the day, with peaks during early morning and late afternoon or evening.

Besides being transmitted through mosquito bites, Zika virus can also be passed via sexual contact, blood transfusion or infected organ transplants.

What are the symptoms of Zika?

Many people infected with Zika virus usually don’t have symptoms or suffer only mild ones. These symptoms include fever, rash, conjunctivitis, muscle and joint pain, malaise and headache.

After being exposed to it, symptoms of Zika usually appear between three to 14 days, according to the WHO. The symptoms generally last for two to seven days.

Those who get infected by Zika are not usually sick enough to be hospitalised and rarely die from the virus. They may also be protected from future infections if they’ve been infected once.

Who is at risk from Zika virus?

Zika infections in women during pregnancy are dangerous as they can lead to birth defects of the brain – such as microcephaly – in the baby. The virus is also linked to other problems like miscarriage, stillbirth and other birth defects.

WHO has also warned there are increased reports of Guillain-Barré syndrome, which affects the nervous system, in parts of the world affected by Zika.

How to prevent Zika virus

There is currently no vaccine or medicine to prevent against Zika. The best way to avoid infection is to protect yourself and your family from mosquito bites.

If you do get Zika, make sure you get plenty of rest and drink fluids to prevent dehydration. In terms of medication, you can take medicines like acetaminophen to reduce fever and pain.

The CDC advises against taking aspirin or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs until your doctor can rule out dengue fever to reduce the risk of bleeding, so if you’re taking these medicines for another health condition, consult your doctor.

If you have Zika, reduce the risk of passing it on by using condoms and dental dams or abstaining from sex until you have recovered.

You should also check the government website for Zika risk ratings of various countries before you travel.

Top U.S. general Milley tests positive for COVID-19: spokesman

WASHINGTON, Jan 17 (Reuters) – U.S. Joint Chiefs Chairman General Mark Milley tested positive for COVID-19 on Sunday and is experiencing very minor symptoms while isolating and working remotely, a spokesman said on Monday.

Milley’s most recent contact with President Joe Biden was on Jan. 12 at the funeral of retired General Raymond Odierno, the spokesman said.

Milley had tested negative several days prior to and each day following contact with Biden, until yesterday, the spokesman added. Milley is vaccinated and has received his booster, the spokesman added.

All other Joint Chiefs of Staff except for one tested negative for COVID-19 yesterday, the spokesman said. The other chief who tested positive, Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps General David Berger, will continue performing his duties unaffected, a Marine Corps spokesperson said. Reuters news

Drone helps save cardiac arrest patient in Sweden

An autonomous drone has helped to save the life of a 71-year-old man who was suffering a cardiac arrest.

The drone delivered a defibrillator to a doctor helping the man, who became ill while shovelling snow outside his house in Trollhattan, Sweden.

The man, who didn’t wish to be named, told the BBC it was “fantastic” that it arrived so quickly.

The company behind the drone says it meant that defibrillation could begin before the arrival of an ambulance.

Everdrone says it took just over three minutes from the alarm being raised until the Automated External Defibrillator (AED) was delivered.

Passing doctor

The patient told the BBC he doesn’t remember what happened that day in early December.

He was clearing thick snow from his driveway but when the cardiac arrest hit, “everything went black”, he said.

His wife later told him how lucky he had been.

Dr Mustafa Ali, who happened to be driving past at the time, rushed to help and told Everdrone: “I was on my way to work at the local hospital when I looked out the car window and saw a man collapsed in his driveway.

“The man had no pulse, so I started doing CPR while asking another bystander to call 112 (the Swedish emergency number).

“Just minutes later, I saw something flying above my head. It was a drone with a defibrillator

Everdrone chief executive Mats Sallstrom believes the technology played a part in a team effort to save the patient’s life.

“It’s a medical doctor doing CPR, it’s the early defibrillation, it’s the treatment in the ambulance on the way to the hospital,” he told the BBC.

“It’s important to understand that there’s a chain of events saving the person’s life, and the drone is a very critical part of how that system works.”

The drone is a partnership between the Karolinska Institutet – Sweden’s largest medical university – together with the national emergency operator SOS Alarm, Region Vastra Gotaland and Everdrone.

In 2020, the group explored the use of drones to deliver defibrillators in Gothenburg and Kungalv in western Sweden.

Over the four-month study, the Karolinska researchers found that drones were dispatched to 12 out of 14 cases of suspected cardiac arrest, and successfully delivered an AED in all but one.

In seven cases the drones arrived before the ambulances.

In the December incident, it was fortunate that a doctor was nearby, but questions remain about whether members of the public without medical training would know what to do with a defibrillator.

In the 2020 study no devices were attached to patients, though the reasons why are unclear.

Mr Sallstrom said they are designed for an untrained person to use, adding: “In these scenarios you are also on the phone to the emergency centre and they can guide you.”

Since 2020, Everdrone says the system has got a lot faster – the focus now is to work closely with the dispatchers who give instructions to the people on site.

Everdrone is in talks to bring the technology to other countries, including the UK – though the firm won’t say to which ones it has been speaking.

Drones are already in use by some UK emergency services. Earlier this year, an 83-year-old man’s family said his life was “saved” when he was found by a police drone after being missing for 18 hours.

Ready to go

The key to the Swedish system is having an integrated system ready to go, Everdrone says.

The drone system is electronically integrated with the emergency dispatch system and can get ready to fly as soon as an emergency call suggesting a cardiac arrest is received, Mr Sallstrom said.

Although the drone is autonomous, there is also a “pilot in command” – who oversees the operation for safety reasons and can obtain clearance to take off from air traffic control.

Covid: Deadly Omicron should not be called mild, warns WHO

The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned against describing the Omicron variant as mild, saying it is killing people across the world.

Recent studies suggest that Omicron is less likely to make people seriously ill than previous Covid variants.

But the record number of people catching it has left health systems under severe pressure, said WHO chief Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

On Monday, the US recorded more than one million Covid cases in 24 hours.

The WHO – the UN’s health agency – said the number of global cases has increased by 71% in the last week, and in the Americas by 100%. It said that among severe cases worldwide, 90% were unvaccinated.

“While Omicron does appear to be less severe compared to Delta, especially in those vaccinated, it does not mean it should be categorised as mild,” Dr Tedros told a press conference on Thursday.

“Just like previous variants, Omicron is hospitalising people and it is killing people.

“In fact, the tsunami of cases is so huge and quick, that it is overwhelming health systems around the world.”

Omicron is highly contagious and can infect people even if they are fully vaccinated. However, vaccines are still pivotal as they help protect against severe disease that could put you in hospital.

On Thursday, the UK reported 179,756 cases and 231 Covid-related deaths. A number of hospitals have declared “critical” incidents due to staff absence and rising pressures due to Covid.

Elsewhere, hospital numbers are also rising. France’s health minister Olivier Veran warned this week that January would be tough for hospitals.

He added that Omicron patients were taking up “conventional” beds in hospitals while Delta was putting a strain on ICU departments. France on Thursday reported 261,000 cases.

Serbia’s President, Aleksandar Vucic, said the country’s healthcare system is currently under great pressure. The country recorded more than 9,000 cases on Thursday, according to local media.

In his latest comments, Dr Tedros repeated his calls for greater vaccine distribution to help poorer countries jab their populations.

He said that based on the current vaccine rollout, 109 countries will miss the WHO’s target for 70% of the world to be fully vaccinated by July.

Last year, the WHO chief said the world will have enough doses of the vaccine in 2022 to jab the entire global adult population – if Western countries do not hoard vaccines to use in booster programmes. BBC

Covid: US reports record infections as Europe’s Omicron cases also soar

The US and several European countries have reported their highest daily rises in Covid cases since the pandemic began, as the Omicron variant spreads.

More than 440,000 new cases were recorded in the US on Monday, health officials said.

France, Italy, Greece, Portugal and England have also reported record numbers of daily infections.

Officials have said the high figures could be due in part to reporting delays over the Christmas period.

Studies suggest that Omicron is milder than the previously dominant Delta variant, but fears remain that the sheer number of cases stemming from the highly infectious Omicron could overwhelm hospitals.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that the risk posed by Omicron “remains very high”.

Poland on Wednesday recorded 794 Covid-related deaths, the highest number in its fourth wave of the pandemic, with more than three-quarters of the victims unvaccinated.

In the US, cases recorded by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) rose by 441,278 on 27 December – by far the highest number of daily cases ever reported to the agency.

The CDC data tracker says US media report the seven-day average rise in infections is now at its highest level since January 2021.

A CDC spokeswoman told news site Politico that the latest infection figures could be overestimated due to lags in testing and test centre closures over the Christmas period, adding that case numbers would “become more stable after the new year”.

The health agency has also expanded its travel warnings for parts of Europe, adding Malta, Moldova and Sweden to a list of countries where travel poses a very high risk of infection.

Travellers are asked to avoid these countries under the CDC’s Level 4 criteria, which a destination receives if it reports more than 500 cases per 100,000 people.

US infectious disease expert Amesh Adalja told the BBC that Omicron could “get round the protection afforded by vaccines” and “affect anybody at will”.

“So we are going to see cases rise,” he said. “The key is to keep this away from high-risk people… we’re really going to have to focus on severe cases and hospitalisations.”

According to a report published by the WHO on Tuesday, the number of new Covid infections of all variants grew by 57% in Europe in the week before 26 December, and by 30% in the Americas.

On Tuesday, France reported 179,807 new infections, Europe’s highest ever number of daily cases.

French Health Minister Olivier Véran warned that “everything suggests” France could see as many as 250,000 daily cases by the start of January.

The French Hospital Federation has said that the “most difficult weeks are yet to come”.

Prime Minister Jean Castex announced new restrictions earlier this week. The country’s booster rollout has ramped up, with more than 23 million people having received a booster to date.

A number of other European countries also reported record daily cases on Tuesday:

  • Infections in Italy topped 78,000 cases, hitting a new record since the start of the pandemic. It also recorded 202 deaths, bringing the total number of deaths in the country to 136,753
  • Portugal recorded 17,172 new cases
  • Greece: Health Minister Thanos Plevris called for calm after the country reported 21,657 cases
  • Health authorities in England reported a record 117,093 cases. Full UK-wide Covid data has been unavailable over the Christmas period. BBC

Travel stocks fall as Omicron spurs mass flight cancellations for fourth day

Dec 27 (Reuters) – Shares of U.S. airlines and other travel-related companies fell on Monday as rising Omicron cases and weather-related problems forced the cancellation of hundreds more flights, leaving travelers stranded across the country during the holidays.

Over 1,000 flights were canceled within, into, or out of the United States on Monday, data from flight-tracking website FlightAware.com showed. Globally, more than 2,600 flights were scrapped.

That was on top of over 3,000 U.S. flight cancellations during the Christmas holiday weekend, typically a peak time for travel for Americans.

Shares of American Airlines Group Inc (AAL.O), United Airlines Holdings Inc and Delta Air Lines Inc (DAL.N)were down about 1% in afternoon trade. Southwest Airlines Co’s(LUV.N) shares recovered losses to trade about flat.

Most airline stocks have rallied this year on hopes of a travel boom as travelers start visiting friends and family after dealing with pandemic-related restrictions last year.

8However, staff shortages at airlines, weather-related disruptions and now the fast-spreading Omicron variant have disrupted flights frequently this year. 

As long as the Omicron variant continues to infect people who are vaccinated and quarantine restrictions remain in place, air travel is expected to be hit by staffing shortages, research firm Third Bridge Group’s Peter McNally said.

Southwest Airlines said it had canceled about 50 of the 3,600 flights scheduled Monday due to weather-related problems. United Airlines said it had called off 115 of the 4,000 flights that were scheduled, while Deltaexpects to cancel over 200 of 4,166 its scheduled flights

Omicron: Australia pauses next phase of border reopening

Australia has paused plans to reopen its borders to some foreign nationals amid fears over the new Covid variant.

The country was due to allow vaccinated skilled migrants and international students entry from 1 December.

But Prime Minister Scott Morrison said a delay of a fortnight was “necessary” following Omicron’s discovery.

The heavily mutated variant was detected in South Africa earlier this month, with initial evidence suggesting it has a higher re-infection risk.

It prompted the UK, EU and US to issue a travel ban on Southern African countries – a decision criticised by South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Japan announced on Monday that all foreigners would be banned from entering as a result of the variant, which the World Health Organization (WHO) has said poses a high risk globally.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida did not say how long the measures would last, and told reporters that he was ready to face criticism for being too cautious.

“These are temporary, exceptional measures that we are taking for safety’s sake, until there is clearer information about the Omicron variant,” Mr Kishida said. Japan has yet to detect any cases.

Australia – which has so far found five Omicron infections among travellers arriving in the country – has not announced rolling back any of the restrictions it had already eased.

The country has until recently had some of the strictest border policies in the world, barring even its own people from leaving the country under a strategy sometimes dubbed “Fortress Australia”.

The policy was praised for helping to control Covid, but it has also controversially separated families.

The measure was only eased in November this year, giving long-awaited freedoms to vaccinated citizens and their relatives. Under the current rules, permanent residents and fully vaccinated travellers from New Zealand and Singapore are allowed into Australia.BBC