The director of the UK's Oxford Group, which developed the AstraZeneca vaccine, expressed cautious optimism on Saturday that the omicron variant won't result in a "reboot" of the pandemic.
"It is extremely unlikely that a reboot of a pandemic in a vaccinated population like we saw last year is going to happen," Professor Sir Andrew Pollard said.
"The vaccines have continued to prevent very severe disease as we’ve moved through alpha, beta, gamma, and delta," he told the BBC.
Pollard also said he was hopeful that a new vaccine, if needed, could be developed "very rapidly."
Pollard's comments come after UK-based health analyst Dr. John Campbell told DW that omicron is "not likely to completely invalidate the vaccines."
"It might reduce the efficacy but it's looking like the vaccines will continue to prevent severe illness, hospitalization and death in the vast majority of cases."
Here is a roundup of the latest COVID news from around the world.
South African Health Minister Joe Phaahla believes travel bans imposed on them and several neighboring countries are "unjustified."
The bans come after the discovery of the new COVID-19 variant omicron in southern Africa.
But Phaahla said that for some countries the decision was about "finding scapegoats to deal with what is a worldwide problem."
The UK was the first to take action, and instituted a flight ban from countries in southern Africa, just hours after South African health authorities had given their briefing on the variant's discovery.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has cautioned against introducing travel curbs at this point, saying it could still take a number of weeks to determine the nature of the new variant.
Phaahla said the travel bans were "a wrong approach — it's misdirected and goes against the norms and advice by the WHO."
The health minister pointed out that some countries had infection rates of 50,000 new cases per day, while on Friday South Africa had reported 3,000 daily infections, which was up from the 300 reported two weeks previously.
Tulio de Oliveira, the virologist who announced the discovery, also questioned the wisdom behind the flight bans. "Scientifically it does not make much sense. A lot of time people take decisions based on emotions not rationality," he said.
The travel bans have hit Zimbabwe, Namibia, Mozambique, Malawi, Lesotho, Eswatini and Botswana, as well as South Africa.
Cases of the new omicron COVID-19 variant have been discovered in Germany, UK, Italy and the Netherlands.
The chairman of the World Medical Association (WMA) thinks Germany could see a COVID incidence rate of between 700 and 800 per 100,000 people within the next 10 days.
In an interview with the Funke media group, WMA chief Frank Ulrich Montgomery called for new contact restrictions and for Christmas markets to be closed nationwide.
Germany's overall seven-day incidence rate stands at 444 cases per population of 100,000 as of Saturday, according to data from the Robert Koch Institute. The daily number of cases has been hitting new highs every day for almost three weeks.
Health Minister Jens Spahn also announced on Saturday that 10% of the German population has now received a booster vaccine.
SPD lawmaker and health expert Karl Lauterbach has said "it's the big events, the crowded venues, the crowded stores, that are causing us the problems."
In an interview with ARD, Lauterbach was particularly critical of the restrictions currently in place not being enacted when visiting crowded environments, such as Christmas markets.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced Saturday that people will have to wear masks in shops and on public transport as he tightened restrictions for arrivals to the country.
Johnson said that anyone arriving in the UK would have to take a PCR test for COVID-19 "by the end of the second day after their arrival" and self-isolate for ten days if they test positive.
But he said the UK was in a "much stronger position" to handle the new variant thanks to its vaccination and booster program.
Authorities in the Czech Republic are also investigating a possible omicron case after they found a "positive specimen" of the new variant in an individual who had recently been in Namibia.
Health authorities in the Netherlands have been testing passengers who arrived on two flights from South Africa on Friday to check for the newly discovered variant.
Of the around 600 passengers, 61 tested positive for COVID-19, according to health authorities. Those infected would be isolated in nearby hotels.
Authorities are racing to determine if any of the infections were of the omicron variant.
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) has said there is a "high to very high" risk that omicron will spread in Europe.
According to an ECDC risk report, the "overall level of risk for the EU/EEA associated with SARS-CoV-2 variant omicron is assessed as high to very high."
Next week's World Trade Organization (WTO) ministerial conference in Geneva has been postponed due to the new variant.
The decision was made four days before the summit was due to begin and hours after the WHO declared omicron a variant of concern.
New WTO director-general Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was also hoping to make progress toward a deal on lifting COVID vaccine patents.
The mutation of the omicron variant shows the need to vaccinate more in poorer countries, the Switzerland-based Gavi Vaccine Alliance said Saturday.
"We will only be able to prevent the emergence of variants if we protect everyone in the world, not just the rich," Gavi chief Seth Berkley said in Geneva.
South Africa has fully inoculated just 36% of its adult population so far.
India has restarted exports of COVID-19 shots to the global vaccine-sharing network COVAX for the first time since April.
Serum Institute of India (SII), the world's biggest vaccine maker, has a deal to provide 550 million doses to the program, which gets vaccines to low-income countries, but has so far only delivered around 30 million.
The SII stopped exporting eight months ago as cases surged in India, but has since reached its target of producing 1 billion AstraZeneca shots ahead of time.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also said on Saturday that the recent plan to ease entry restrictions for passengers from countries "at risk" of COVID-19 outbreaks should be reviewed.
The emergence of the omicron variant of concern has "highlighted the need for monitoring all international arrivals," Modi said.
Thailand has also announced a travel ban for people entering from eight African countries deemed as high risk due to the omicron variant, including South Africa, Botswana and Mozambique. The ban will come into effect on December 1.
Several Chinese cities have taken measures to curb rises in local cases. The major hub of Shanghai has limited tourism activities and sealed off certain residential compounds with higher infections.
The city of Xuzhou has restricted public transport as well as closing several highway entrances while the capital Beijing has called off its annual marathon.
Australia has also banned flights from nine southern African countries, to prevent the entry of the new omicron variant.
Non-Australians who visited South Africa, Zimbabwe and several other nations in the past fortnight will also be barred from entering Australia, Health Minister Greg Hunt said. Citizens and residents traveling from the listed countries will have to quarantine for 14 days.
jsi, ab, mm, kb/wmr (AFP, Reuters, dpa, AP)