Potentially more contagious than previous variants, Omicron has now been detected in Australia, Belgium, Botswana, Britain, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands and South Africa.

Asian markets and oil prices regained some composure as investors settled in for a few weeks of uncertainty as they wait for more details


SYDNEY:

The global spread of the Omicron variant of coronavirus has brought new cases in Australia, Denmark, France and the Netherlands, prompting nations to reconsider plans for international travel as they scramble to avert an outbreak.

News of the variant triggered alarm and a sell-off last week in financial markets, as countries clamped on new curbs for fear it could resist vaccinations and upend a nascent economic re-opening after a two-year global pandemic.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Sunday that it is not yet clear if the new Omicron coronavirus variant is more transmissible compared to other SARS-CoV-2 variants or if it causes more severe disease.

It warned that deciding the severity level of Omicron, identified first in South Africa, could take “days to several weeks” in the absence of information that its symptoms differed from those of other variants.

“Preliminary data suggests that there are increasing rates of hospitalization in South Africa, but this may be due to increasing overall numbers of people becoming infected, rather than a result of specific infection with Omicron,” it said.

However, in a statement, the agency reiterated that preliminary evidence suggests there may be a higher risk of reinfection from the variant.

The WHO said it is working with technical experts to understand the potential impact of the variant on existing countermeasures against COVID-19 disease, including vaccines.

Asian markets and oil prices regained some composure as investors settled in for a few weeks of uncertainty as they wait for more details.

Australia will review plans to re-open to skilled migrants and students from Dec. 1, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Monday, while adding it was a “bit too early” to reinstate two-week mandatory hotel quarantine for foreign travellers.

“So we just take this one step at a time, get the best information, make calm, sensible decisions,” Morrison told broadcaster Nine News.

A national security panel will meet later in the day to assess border relaxations due from Wednesday, he added, with leaders of all states and territories to meet by Tuesday.

He called for calm as the severity, transmissibility and vaccine resistance of Omicron had not been determined, echoing remarks by the WHO, which dubbed it a “variant of concern”.

Potentially more contagious than previous variants, Omicron has now been detected in Australia, Belgium, Botswana, Britain, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Israel, Italy, the Netherlands and South Africa.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said on Monday that Japan will bar entry to foreign visitors from Nov 30 as the country seeks to respond to the spread of the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

Japanese returning from a number of specified nations can enter but will have to quarantine in designated facilities, he said.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday the country will move into a system of living with the COVID-19 virus later this week despite the new Omicron variant posing a fresh health threat to the world.

There were no cases of the Omicron variant in New Zealand at this stage but the developing global situation showed why a cautious approach was needed at the borders, she said.”Omicron is a reminder of the risk that still exists at our borders,” Ardern said at the news conference.

New Zealand has some of the toughest border controls in the world and plans to keep borders closed to most international travellers for a further five months.

Singapore and Malaysia reopened one of the world’s busiest land borders on Monday, allowing vaccinated travellers to cross after nearly two years of being shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Although travellers welcomed the chance to reunite with family and friends, there were concerns the border might be closed again due to the new coronavirus variant Omicron.

Symptoms of Omicron were so far mild and could be treated at home, a South African doctor, one of the first to suspect a different variant, has said. read more

TRAVEL CURBS

Countries from Indonesia to Saudi Arabia have imposed travel curbs for visitors from southern Africa to limit the spread. read more

Singapore has deferred the start of vaccinated travel lanes with some Middle Eastern countries, such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, given “their proximity as transport nodes to the affected countries”, its health ministry said.

Britain said it would call an urgent meeting of G7 health ministers on Monday.

In the most far-reaching effort against the variant, Israel is to ban the entry of foreigners and re-introduce counter-terrorism phone-tracking technology, it has said. read more

South Africa has denounced the measures as unfair and potentially harmful to the economy, saying it was being punished for its scientific ability to identify variants early.

“The prohibition of travel is not informed by science, nor will it be effective in preventing the spread of this variant,” President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Sunday.

“The only thing (it) … will do is to further damage the economies of the affected countries and undermine their ability to respond.”

President Joe Biden will give an update on the variant and the U.S. response on Monday, the White House said in a statement. read more

It will take about two weeks to get definitive information about the transmissibility and other features of Omicron, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious diseases official, has told Biden, it added.

Fauci believes existing vaccines “are likely to provide a degree of protection against severe cases of COVID”, the White House said.