First Omicron case in US stirs global alarm over variant coronavirus

The first known American case was a fully vaccinated person in California who returned from South Africa.

Tokyo / Washington:

Fears over the impact of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus rose on Thursday after the first case was reported in the United States and the Japanese central bank warned of economic pain as countries respond with containment measures more stringent.

The first known American case was a fully vaccinated person in California who returned from South Africa to the United States on November 11. 22 and tested positive seven days later.

President Joe Biden is working on the US strategy to fight COVID-19 this winter and sources knowledgeable about it told Reuters that one step would be to extend requirements for travelers to wear masks until the half-March. An official announcement is expected Thursday, the sources said.

The White House also plans to announce stricter testing rules for international visitors.

Airlines in the United States have been ordered to hand over the names of passengers arriving from areas of southern Africa affected by Omicron, according to a letter from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention seen by Reuters.

Much remains unknown about the new variant, which was first found on November 11. 8 in South Africa and has spread to at least two dozen countries.

Leading US infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci said on Wednesday it could take two weeks or more to understand how easily the variant spreads, the severity of the disease it causes and whether it can escape vaccines. currently available.

The South African National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD) said early epidemiological data suggested Omicron was able to evade some immunity, but existing vaccines should still protect against serious illness and death.

World Health Organization (WHO) epidemiologist Maria van Kerkhove said in a briefing that data should be available “within days” on the contagiousness of Omicron.

The CEO of BioNTech said the vaccine he is making in partnership with Pfizer is likely to offer strong protection against serious illnesses from Omicron.

Early indications suggesting that Omicron could be significantly more contagious than previous variants rocked financial markets amid fears that further restrictions could stifle an attempt to recover from the economic ravages of the pandemic.

Major stock indexes in Japan and Australia were weaker in morning trading Thursday after major Wall Street averages fell more than 1% on Wednesday as investors reacted to the first US case and growing concerns about inflation .

Bank of Japan board member Hitoshi Suzuki said Japan’s economic recovery could fall short of expectations if the spread of the Omicron variant hurts consumption or if supply bottlenecks persist.

“If the impact of supply constraints is greater or lasts longer than expected, there is a risk that economic growth will fall further than expected,” Suzuki said.

The governor of the central bank of the Philippines adopted a more optimistic tone.

“We’re not so concerned about… the new variant. I think there is too much exaggeration on the impact of this,” Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Governor Benjamin Diokno said at a conference Press.

Travel restrictions

About 56 countries are said to have implemented travel measures to guard against Omicron as of November 30. 28, said the WHO.

In the latest restrictions, South Korea on Thursday suspended quarantine exemptions for fully vaccinated inbound travelers for two weeks as the daily number of coronavirus cases hit a new high. South Korea confirmed its first five cases of the Omicron variant on Wednesday.

Indonesia has also tightened border barriers, extended quarantine and restricted travel on strategic toll roads in a bid to limit the spread of the Omicron variant if it were to reach the largest country in Southeast Asia.

The United States has banned nearly all foreigners who have visited any of the eight countries in southern Africa.

The European Union has brought forward by one week to December the start of the deployment of its vaccine for 5 to 11 year olds. 13, as stated by the president of the executive body of the European Union, there was a “race against time” to stave off the new variant.

“Prepare for the worst, hope for the best,” said Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, at a press conference.

Britain and the United States have both expanded their booster programs in response to the new variant, although the WHO says rich countries should share more vaccines with vulnerable people in poorer countries instead. where variants are most likely to emerge as long as inoculation rates are low.

(Except for the title, this story was not edited by NDTV staff and is posted from a syndicated feed.)

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