Fully-vaccinated California traveller who visited South Africa tested positive in late November as European official warns to ‘prepare for the worst’.
Fears over the impact of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus have risen after the first case was reported in the United States and the Japanese central bank warned of economic pain as countries tighten containment measures.
The first known US case was a fully vaccinated person in California who returned to the United States 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 actually is.
BioNTech’s CEO earlier said the vaccine it makes in a partnership with Pfizer was likely to offer strong protection against severe disease from Omicron.
Here are the latest updates:
FASTEST SURGE TO DATE—The #OmicronVarient is up swinging much faster in both new daily cases and positivity, than all previous waves in South Africa 🇿🇦, according to @nicd_sa data illustrated by @jburnmurdoch. This supports the faster transmission theory of #Omicron. 🧵 pic.twitter.com/BBdAsEGUk0
— Eric Feigl-Ding (@DrEricDing) December 2, 2021
Fauci: It could take weeks to gain more insight on Omicron
Top US infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci said it could take two weeks or more to gain an insight into how easily the Omicron variant spreads, the severity of the illness that 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 suggested 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 has said Japan’s economic recovery may miss expectations if the spread of the Omicron variant 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 cases of the Omicron variant 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 of COVID-19.
Von der Leyen made the statement on Wednesday as the European Union 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 United States 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.