First US Omicron case adds to global alarm over COVID: Live news | News

Fears over the impact of the Omicron coronavirus variant have risen after the first case was reported in the United States and the Japanese central bank is warning of economic pain as countries tighten containment measures.

The case was a fully vaccinated person in California who returned from South Africa on November 22 and tested positive seven days later.

President Joe Biden is working on the US strategy for fighting COVID-19 this winter and sources briefed on the matter said one step will be extending requirements for travellers to wear masks until the middle of March.

The White House also plans to announce stricter testing rules for international visitors.

World Health Organization (WHO) epidemiologist Maria van Kerkhove said on Wednesday that data should be available “within days” that will give an indication of how contagious Omicron is.

BioNTech’s CEO earlier said the vaccine it makes in partnership with Pfizer should offer strong protection against severe disease from Omicron.

Here are the latest updates:

Japan retracts flight bookings ban after criticisms

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida admitted that the decision to stop taking reservations for inbound international flights caused public confusion and requested the transport ministry to consider people’s wishes to travel home.

The request was put forward the previous day by the transport ministry as an emergency precaution to defend against the Omicron variant. The decision though was reversed after the government received criticisms that the ban was too strict and tantamount to abandoning its own people.

Australia’s New South Wales reports seventh Omicron case

Australia’s tally of people with the new Omicron variant of COVID-19 edged higher on Thursday, prompting state governments to bolster domestic border controls.

The country’s most populous state, New South Wales, reported its seventh case of the variant, a person who arrived on November 23 from Doha, Qatar, and noted that the person had not been in southern Africa.

“We know this virus is dangerous, it does come out in some different forms,” New South Wales Health Minister Brad Hazzard told reporters on Thursday. “Don’t take it lightly.”

Indonesia tightens travel curbs as it braces for Omicron arrival

Authorities in Indonesia have tightened border curbs, extended quarantine and limited movement on strategic toll roads, in a preemptive move to limit the spread of the Omicron COVID-19 variant

New domestic travel measures include limiting the volume of traffic on toll roads to reduce people movement, according to the transport minister.

“This policy… will be evaluated every now and then as we understand and continue digging more information about this new variant,” senior minister Luhut Pandjaitan said in a statement on Wednesday.

Fauci: It could take weeks to gain more insight on Omicron

Top US infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci says it could take two weeks or more to gain an insight into how easily Omicron spreads, the severity of illness it causes, and whether it can evade currently available vaccines.

Much remains unknown about the new variant, which was first detected by South African researchers on November 8 and has spread to at least two dozen countries.

South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) said early epidemiological data suggests Omicron was able to evade some immunity, but existing vaccines should still protect against severe disease and death.

Japan’s bank chief warns of slower economic recovery

Bank of Japan board member Hitoshi Suzuki says Japan’s economic recovery may miss expectations if the spread of Omicron hurts consumption, or supply bottlenecks persist.

“If the impact of supply constraints are bigger or lasts longer than expected, there’s a risk economic growth may further undershoot expectations” next year, Suzuki said.

S Korea halts quarantine exemptions for vaccinated travellers

South Korea has halted quarantine exemptions for fully vaccinated inbound travellers for two weeks after reporting a new high of daily coronavirus cases.

South Korea confirmed its first five Omicron cases on Wednesday.

‘Prepare for the worst, hope for the best’

“Prepare for the worst, hope for the best,” Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, told reporters amid the spread of the Omicron variant.

Von der Leyen made the statement on Wednesday as the EU brought forward the start of its vaccine rollout for 5-to-11-year-olds by a week to December 13, with the president of the EU’s executive body saying it was in a “race against time” to stave off the new variant.

Britain and the US have both expanded their booster programmes in response to the new variant, although the WHO says wealthy countries should instead share more vaccines with vulnerable people in poorer countries where variants are most likely to emerge as long as inoculation rates are low.

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