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Timor-Leste on alert over Omicron variant

Tiny Catholic-majority country continues to roll out its Covid vaccination program

Timor-Leste on alert over Omicron variant

Minister of Health Odete Maria Freitas Belo is directly involved in vaccinating residents in Ermera municipality on Oct. 3, part of the government's efforts to involve ministers in the vaccination campaign. (Photo: Ministry of Health)

Published: December 03, 2021 09:52 AM GMT

Updated: December 03, 2021 09:56 AM GMT

Following the detection of the new Omicron Covid variant in several countries, including neighboring Australia, Catholic-majority Timor-Leste is on the alert while continuing to boost its vaccination program.

Noe da Silva Ximenes, chairman of the Committee for Health, Social Security and Gender Equality, urged the Health Ministry to implement strict controls at border checkpoints and airports to prevent the spread of the new variant.

“We have heard about the new variant spreading around the world, including Australia. The government needs to tighten our border controls. Mandatory quarantine is imposed for those who wish to enter the country," state news agency Tatoli quoted him as saying on Dec. 2.

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The Omicron variant, which was first detected in South Africa on Nov. 24, has spread to several countries around the world. Australia reported nine new cases on Dec. 3 and there has been local transmission of the virus.

Ximenes said it was important for the government to continue to disseminate information about the Omicron threat and hoped to continue to boost the vaccination rate.

As of Dec. 1, some 60 percent of Timor-Leste's population had been fully vaccinated and 81 percent had received the first dose out of the population of 754,864 aged 18 and over. For children aged 12-17, some 33,866 had received the first dose and 13,324 were fully vaccinated.

We have to be careful because Australia has detected some cases, so the new variant can enter our country via flights

“If the situation worsens, then the decision lies with the president to close the borders and airports or implement a limited isolation or lockdown,” said Minister of Health Odete Maria Freitas Belo.

She said her ministry will continue to share information with the inter-ministerial technical team.

“We have to be careful because Australia has detected some cases, so the new variant can enter our country via flights. We hope that Indonesia does not detect this virus," she added.

Meanwhile, Fidelis Manuel Leite Magalhaes, chairman of the Council of Ministers, said he hoped to get detailed information about the virus from countries that have adequate health facilities.

"This information is very important for us to take extra action," he said.

He said although Omicron poses a high risk of infection, previous measures are still useful to prevent and combat this variant, including social distancing, wearing masks and washing hands regularly.

The small country with a population of 1.4 million currently has only three active Covid-19 cases.

Efforts to deal with Covid-19 are largely dependent on the assistance of other countries. Danina Coelho, spokeswoman for the Inter-Ministerial Commission for the Implementation of Covid-19 Prevention, said of the 1.3 million doses they have received, all were donations from countries such as Australia, Japan, Portugal, New Zealand and China.

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