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US President Joe Biden has urged people to get booster shots and wear masks indoors as scientists study the omicron variant. Several countries have imposed fresh travel restrictions to stop its spread. DW has the latest.
Biden said that the US would "face the new threat just as we have faced those that have come before it." He urged everyone over the age of five to get their vaccines and acquire boosters six months after their second dose.
The president also encouraged people to wear masks indoors so that the country could continue on its path to normality.
"If people are vaccinated and wear their mask, there's no need for lockdowns," Biden said.
But despite the reassurances, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said that recent increase in infections and the emergence of the omicron variant "pose downside risks to employment and economic activity and increased uncertainty for inflation."
Powell said the new variant could also worsen supply chain disruptions.
The US was one of the first countries to cut air travel links with southern African countries, where the variant was first detected last week.
Noting that the strain sprang up in areas with lower vaccination rates, Biden said it was in his country's interest to increase global inoculation.
The White House has already donated over 275 million COVID-19 doses and expects to deliver 1.1 billion doses by September, 2022.
"Now we need the rest of the world to step up as well," Biden said. "We can't let up until the world is vaccinated."
US top infectious disease official Anthony Fauci said that it could not yet be predicted if omicron will become the dominant variant in the country.
The United States Food and Drug Administration (US FDA) could authorize the use of BioNTech-Pfizer COVID-19 boosters for 16- and 17-year-olds as soon as next week, reported the Wall Street Journal on Monday.
Brazil registered 98 new COVID-19 deaths and 3,843 additional cases on Monday, according to the country’s Health Ministry. In total, Brazil has now recorded 614,376 coronavirus deaths and 22,084,749 confirmed cases. Only the US and India are worse-affected.
Mexico’s Health Ministry reported 53 deaths from COVID-19 on Monday. This brings the total death toll in the country to 293,950. The ministry has said the real toll is likely higher.
Venezuela registered six new deaths from COVID-19 on Monday, meaning that the country has reached 5,144 coronavirus deaths in total. According to the country’s Communication Ministry, Venezuela had had 600 new cases of COVID-19 infection over the previous 24 hours, reaching 431,296 total cases since the start of the pandemic.
Ecuador will bar travelers from a number of African nations from entering the country, announced Ecuadorian president Guillermo Lasso on Monday. He also announced the reopening of the country's land border with Colombia, which will be carried out 'in stages' starting on Wednesday.
In a new statement, the WHO said there is "substantial uncertainty" regarding how contagious omicron is or how well current COVID vaccines hold up against the new variant. The UN health agency added that the variant carries a "very high" risk of global infection surges.
Vaccine producers say they need two or three weeks to get a better picture of the variant's numerous mutations. The agency also said that donations of vaccines must be organized better.
The WHO's World Health Assembly held a special meeting on Monday to discuss a potential "pandemic treaty." While representatives from the body's 194-member states will discuss how to handle the next pandemic — uncertainties over the omicron variant will likely cast a shadow over the talks.
G7 health ministers held emergency talks on Monday to discuss their response to the new COVID variant, as well as travel bans. They voiced support for the new WHO initiatives to fight future pandemics.
The head of vaccine maker Moderna, Stephane Bancel, said it might take two to six weeks to get data on how effective vaccines are against the omicron variant. Talking to US broadcaster CNBC, he also said it would take months until new, omicron-specific can be shipped. Germany's BioNTech said they were already working on developing a modified vaccine, while simultaneously checking their old vaccine's efficacy against omicron.
More omicron cases are cropping up in Europe, with several countries confirming the presence of the variant on Monday.
Scotland confirmed six new cases of the variant, bringing the UK's total up to nine. Portugal has detected 13 cases, all of which are related to players on the Lisbon soccer team Beleneses — although only one player recently traveled to South Africa.
France is awaiting lab confirmation for eight suspected cases, while Switzerland also logged its first suspected case. All of the cases are linked to people who recently traveled to southern Africa.
Dutch military police detained a couple who tried to flee a hotel where they were in quarantine after testing positive for COVID-19.
The married couple made it to "an airplane that was about to depart" when authorities detained them. The arrests came after officials in the Netherlands said 61 people who flew into the country on Friday had tested positive for COVID — 13 of whom had contracted the omicron variant.
Spain imposed a mandatory 10-day quarantine travelers from South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe. Later on Monday, Madrid's regional health authority reported that a 51-year-old who travelled to South Africa had tested positive for the omicron COVID-19 strain.
The Czech Republic reported its first case of the omicron variant after further tests, a hospital spokesperson in the city of Liberec said on Monday.
The infected person had returned from a trip to Namibia, with a stopover in South Africa.
Czech citizens will be able to take booster shots from Monday six months after their second jab by registering online. Elderly residents and the chronically ill will be able to reduce that interval to five months, health officials said.
Sweden's public health agency reported Monday that a person who arrived from South Africa last week was the first person to have contracted the new strain in the country.
Germany logged a new record-high incidence rate on Monday as the country battles a fourth wave of infections.
The seven-day incidence rate hit a high of 452.4 new infections per 100,000 people per week, Robert Koch Institute (RKI) reported on Monday. A week ago, the rate was 386.5 while a month prior the rate was at 64.3.
The RKI also logged 29,364 new cases and 73 deaths in the last 24 hours. Germany has already confirmed at least three cases of the omicron variant.
South Africa is working with countries that quickly imposed travel bans, in the hopes of reversing them, Health Minister Joe Phaahla said. Officials are also doing as much as possible to ensure health facilities are prepared to handle potentially higher caseloads due to the omicron variant.
The government previously criticized the travel bans, saying South Africa is being "punished" for detecting and sounding the alarm over the new variant.
Rwanda has stopped all flights to and from nine southern African countries and ordered passengers who arrived from those areas in the last week to go into quarantine.
"While the (omicron) variant has not been detected in Rwanda its effects are potentially dangerous," its prime minister Edoard Ngirente said late Sunday.
Rwanda has imposed some of the strictest measures against the coronavirus pandemic in all of Africa, testing and contract tracing vigorously.
China offered one billion COVID-19 vaccine doses to Africa on Monday in a speech to a China-Africa summit in Senegalese capital Dakar.
Chinese President Xi Jinping said his country would send 600 million doses directly and 400 million via other sources like investment in production centres of the vaccine.
Israel confirmed a second case of the omicron variant, local media reported. The second case was found in a fully-vaccinated person who returned to Israel from South Africa. The Health Ministry is also checking another 11 suspected cases of the new variant, reported the Haaretz newspaper.
Just weeks after loosening some entry rules, Japan will once again ban entry to all foreign arrivals to curb the spread of the omicron variant, officials announced on Monday.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said the ban for foreign travelers would take effect on Tuesday. Japanese returnees from 14 countries where the variant has been found will be required to quarantine at designated facilities.
"In order to avoid a worst-case scenario and as an emergency precautionary measure, Japan will first of all ban the entry of foreigners into the country from midnight on Nov. 30," Kishida said at a press conference.
The Philippines kicked off an ambitious campaign to vaccinate 9 million people over the next three days. Thousands of volunteers and security forces have been deployed to help roll out the vaccine drive in the archipelago nation. The Philippines has been hit particularly hard by COVID-19 and its vaccine rollout has been slow compared to its neighbors. Around one third of the country's 110 million population are fully vaccinated.
Malaysia and Singapore moved forward with plans to reopen their land border on Monday. The border, one of the busiest in the world, had been closed for nearly two years. While many were happy to reunite with family and friends, travelers voiced concerns that the omicron variant could once again close the border.
Australia confirmed a third case of the new omicron variant on Monday in a traveler who had recently arrived from South Africa. The first two cases were confirmed in two other travelers from South Africa who were both fully vaccinated and had shown no symptoms. All three people are currently in quarantine. Australian officials are meeting on Monday to consider whether to continue with plans to relax border restrictions later this week.
New Zealand, meanwhile, is pushing ahead with its plans to ease COVID curbs. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said restaurants, bars and gyms in Auckland will reopen as scheduled on Thursday. The city had been under lockdown since August.
rs,jc/nm (AFP, Reuters, AP, dpa, EFE)