Omicron variant: Latest on the worldwide spread of Covid-19

Medical personnel wearing personal protective equipment take blood samples during Covid-19 rapid testing.

Medical personnel wearing personal protective equipment take blood samples during Covid-19 rapid testing.

Suryanto Putramudji/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The heavily mutated Omicron Covid-19 variant is likely to spread internationally, the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned on Monday.

A top South African infectious disease expert said existing vaccines should be highly effective at preventing severe disease and hospitalisation from the newly identified variant.

EUROPE

* German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the European Union backed the WHO launching negotiations for a binding international accord on preventing pandemics.

* A Spain hospital confirmed its first case of the Omicron variant, saying it was a traveller from SA.

* Sweden confirmed its first case of the variant, also a traveller from SA. 

* Britain is moving towards offering everyone a booster vaccine, a member of Britain’s vaccine advisory committee said, ahead of an expected decision on whether to extend and speed up booster shots.

* Russia’s coronavirus task force will soon announce new restrictions related to the Omicron variant, the RIA news agency cited the foreign ministry as saying.

* Portugal detected 13 cases of the new variant, all involving players and staff members of Lisbon soccer club Belenenses SAD, after one player recently returned from South Africa.

* Scotland reported six cases of Omicron, some of which were not linked to travel in southern Africa, raising concerns that the new variant is already spreading in the community.

* The first probable case of the new variant was detected in Switzerland as the country tightened entry restrictions, while Austria also identified a first case.

* Dutch health authorities have found another case of the new Covid-19 variant among passengers from South Africa, bringing the total to 14, the health minister said on Monday.

AMERICAS

* The US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screened 2.45 million airline passengers on Sunday, the highest number of daily passengers since the start of the pandemic, the agency said.

ASIA-PACIFIC

* Japan will shut its borders to foreigners to prevent the spread of the new variant, joining Israel in imposing some of the strictest border controls since Omicron’s discovery in southern Africa.

* South Korea shelved plans to further relax Covid-19 curbs due to the strain on its healthcare system from rising hospitalisation and death rates as well as the threat posed by the new variant.

* India will make on-arrival Covid-19 testing mandatory for flyers from more than a dozen countries.

* The Philippines launched an ambitious drive to vaccinate nine million people against Covid-19 in three days, deploying security forces and thousands of volunteers in a programme made urgent by the threat of the Omicron variant.

MIDDLE EAST AND AFRICA

* South Africa’s government is doing everything possible to prepare its health facilities to cope with the Omicron variant, the health minister said.

* China’s President Xi Jinping on Monday said China would offer another 1 billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines to African countries and would encourage Chinese companies to invest no less than $10 billion in Africa over the next three years.

ECONOMIC IMPACT

* A semblance of calm returned to world markets as investors waited for more details to assess the severity of Omicron’s impact on the world economy, allowing battered stock markets and oil prices to recover.

* The detection of new virus variants and Covid-19 outbreaks in the euro zone are increasing uncertainty and making economic predictions more difficult, ECB Vice-President Luis de Guindos said.

* Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda voiced confidence the country’s economy will overcome the impact of the pandemic in coming months due to dramatic progress made in vaccinating the population.

* South Africa’s rand firmed, recovering from last week’s plunge to its lowest since October 2020 on concerns around the discovery of the Omicron variant in the country.

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