Air travellers to the United States would face tougher COVID-19 testing rules, while more countries tightened their borders amid uncertainty around the virulence of the Omicron variant and its ability to evade vaccine protection.
Japan and Hong Kong said that they would expand travel curbs and Malaysia temporarily banned travellers from countries deemed at risk. Japan, which had already barred all new foreign entrants, reported its second case of the new variant on Wednesday.
Other countries braced for more cases: Australia said that at least two people visited several locations in Sydney while likely infectious and Denmark said that an infected person had taken part in a large concert.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said “blanket travel bans will not prevent the international spread, and they place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods”, while advising those unwell, at risk or 60 years or over and unvaccinated to postpone travel.
Investors remained on edge on Wednesday, even as financial markets came off lows plumbed a day earlier following remarks by the CEO of Moderna (MRNA.O) that raised questions about the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines against Omicron.
Global health officials have since offered reassurances and reiterated calls for people to get vaccinated.
“Our best form of defence still remains our vaccines,” British Health Secretary, Sajid Javid, told journalist. It’s possible of course, it’s possible that it might be less effective. We just don’t know for sure yet. But it’s also very likely that it will remain effective against serious disease,” he said.
European Medicines Agency Executive Director, Emer Cooke, earlier said that laboratory analyses should indicate over the next couple of weeks whether the blood of vaccinated people has sufficient antibodies to neutralise the new variant.
The European Union brought forward the start of its vaccine rollout for five-to-11-year-old children by a week to Dec 13.
BioNTech’s CEO said that the vaccine it makes in a partnership with Pfizer (PFE.N) would likely offer strong protection against severe disease from Omicron. Britain and the United States have both expanded their booster programmes in response to the new variant.
First reported in southern Africa a week ago, Omicron has highlighted the disparity between massive vaccination pushes in rich nations and sparse inoculation in the developing world.
It has spread to more than a dozen countries, with Nigeria among the latest to report cases of the variant. Saudi Arabia confirmed its first case coming from a north African country.
Some 56 countries were reportedly implementing travel measures to guard against Omicron as of Nov. 28, the WHO said. read more
WHO head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he’s concerned that several member states were “introducing blunt, blanket measures”, which “will only worsen inequities”.