The governor of New York on Friday declared a state of emergency as COVID transmission reached rates not seen since April 2020, while insisting that the troubling new variant of COVID that first emerged in Botswana is ‘coming’.
Her warning came as a leading epidemiologist told DailyMail.com the new strain was deeply troubling, urging tougher travel restrictions and saying the virus could spark ‘pandemic 2.0’.
Earlier on Friday, the U.S. banned flights from eight Southern African countries to try and prevent the mutant strain, Omicron, from arriving. The ban goes into effect on Monday, meaning direct flights from Johannesburg will still land in the U.S. over the weekend.
On Friday night a flight from South Africa landed in the Netherlands, with ‘dozens’ of people infected with the Omicron. All passengers on board have been quarantined, and are being tested.
Kathy Hochul, the Empire State governor, said that all non-urgent procedures could be postponed beginning December 3 if the hospital’s capacity falls dangerously low.
If a hospital finds that it has less than 10 percent of ‘staffed bed capacity’ free, then it will be permitted to cancel non-urgent, or elective, procedures, she ruled.
She also issued a declaration of disaster emergency, noting that COVID transmission is at a level not seen since April 2020. The declaration unlocks sweeping powers for her to take emergency measures, without the usual state congressional approval.
‘We continue to see warning signs of spikes in COVID this winter, and while the new Omicron variant has yet to be detected in New York State, it’s coming,’ Hochul tweeted.
The CDC said they had not detected any Omicron cases so far nationwide, and were confident they would find them quickly.
‘No cases of this variant have been identified in the U.S. to date,’ it said.
‘CDC is continuously monitoring variants and the U.S. variant surveillance system has reliably detected new variants in this country.
‘We expect Omicron to be identified quickly, if it emerges in the U.S.’
Hours earlier, President Joe Biden confirmed that travel from South Africa and seven other countries in the region – Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi – had been halted.
The new variant was first found in Botswana and has since moved to South Africa, where it is spreading rapidly through six provinces.
It has also been found in Hong Kong, Israel and Belgium – and, as of Friday night, the Netherlands.
Hochul’s declaration of a disaster emergency acknowledges that the state is struggling – even before Omicron possibly hits.
‘A disaster has occurred in New York State, for which the affected local governments are unable to respond adequately,’ the declaration states.
‘New York is now experiencing COVID-19 transmission at rates the State has not seen since April 2020.
‘The rate of new COVID-19 hospital admissions has been increasing over the past month to over 300 new admissions a day.’
It means that she can acquire pandemic supplies and enact the emergency hospital plan.
Hochul’s predecessor, Andrew Cuomo, had declared a disaster emergency on March 7, 2020.
It ran until June 24 of this year and was ended amid controversy, with Cuomo’s critics saying he had used the emergency powers to consolidate his own personal power and rule in an authoritarian way, bypassing the legislature.
Cuomo said at the time that the decree could be lifted because of progress made in combatting the pandemic.
‘Given New York’s dramatic progress against COVID-19, with the success in vaccination rates, and declining hospitalization and positivity statewide the state of emergency will expire,’ he had said.
Hochul said Friday that the current data is worrying, and again urged New Yorkers to get vaccinated, noting that just under 10 percent of adults in the state had still not received their first jab.
‘The vaccine remains one of our greatest weapons in fighting the pandemic, and I encourage every New Yorker to get vaccinated, and get the booster if you’re fully vaccinated,’ she said.