New Omicron cases detected as coronavirus variant spreads: Live | Coronavirus pandemic News

New cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant have been detected around the world, with two cases reported in Australia, and more countries try to seal themselves off by imposing travel restrictions.

First discovered in South Africa, Omicron has since been recorded in Belgium, Botswana, Germany, Hong Kong, Israel, Italy, and the United Kingdom.

Austria was investigating a suspected case on Sunday and in France, Health Minister Olivier Veran said Omicron was probably already there.

The discovery of Omicron, dubbed a “variant of concern” on Friday by the World Health Organization, sparked worries that it could resist vaccines and prolong the nearly two-year COVID pandemic.

Omicron is potentially more contagious than previous variants, but experts do not know yet if it will cause more or less severe COVID-19.

Countries have imposed a wave of travel bans or curbs on southern Africa. In the most far-reaching effort to keep the variant at bay, Israel announced late on Saturday it would ban the entry of all foreigners and reintroduce counterterrorism phone-tracking technology to contain the spread of the variant.

Here are the latest updates:


UK to enforce new COVID rules from Tuesday

Britain’s government has defended the pace and scale of its response to the new Omicron strain of COVID-19 against criticism that it was again falling behind the curve.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said mandatory mask-wearing will return to shops and public transport in England on Tuesday, and told families to plan for Christmas “as normal”, despite new rules to tackle the Omicron variant.

Also from Tuesday, all passengers arriving in Britain are being instructed to take a PCR test for COVID-19, and self-isolate until they register negative.


Dozens on S Africa flights test positive for COVID in Netherlands

Dutch health authorities say they have detected 61 COVID-19 cases among people who flew in from South Africa and say they believe some of the infections are of the new omicron variant.

In a statement on Saturday, the Dutch Health Authority (GDD) said that the cases were discovered among 624 passengers who arrived at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport on two flights on Friday.

Read more here.

People walk inside Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, Netherlands [Eva Plevier/Reuters]

Swiss voters look set to back COVID-19 response plan

Swiss voters looked likely to back the government’s pandemic response plan in a referendum, paving the way for continuation of exceptional measures to stem the rising tide of COVID-19 cases.

Early government tallies of Sunday’s polls showed a little more than 60 percent of the votes so far supporting the law passed this year to provide financial aid to people hit by the COVID-19 crisis and to require proof of COVID-19 vaccination, recovery or a negative test to enter bars, restaurants and certain events.

Restrictions to public life to curb coronavirus infections have sparked opposition in Switzerland, triggering a binding referendum under the country’s system of direct democracy, even as cases have risen to levels the government this week deemed “critical”.



Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Sudan ban flights from African countries

Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan have suspended flights with a number of African countries due to Omicron.

Saudi state news agency SPA, citing a source with the Interior Ministry, said direct flights with Angola, Comoros, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Seychelles, and Zambia had been suspended.

On Friday, the kingdom banned flights from Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe amid Omicron fears.

Bahrain also banned passengers from Angola Malawi, Mozambique, and Zambia, according to the state news agency BNA. Bahraini nationals and holders of valid visas to Bahrain, however, were allowed to enter.

Health authorities in Sudan also banned flights from Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe over variant.


Omicron variant likely in France: Health minister

Omicron is probably already circulating in France, its health minister said, adding that the government was tightening restrictions to contain it.

“Once the variant is circulating in England, in Italy, in Belgium, it is probable that there are already cases in circulation here. We will identify them and (…) we will slow down its spread as much as possible,” Olivier Veran told reporters at a vaccination centre in Paris.

France is in the midst of a fifth wave of the virus. It recorded more than 37,000 positive cases on Saturday and a sharp rise in the number of patients in intensive care.

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