WHO urges Asia-Pacific to prepare amid Omicron cases in US: Live – Al Jazeera

Asia-Pacific countries should boost their healthcare capacity and fully vaccinate their people to prepare for a surge in COVID-19 cases heightened by the Omicron variant, officials at the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday, as the United States reported at least 10 new cases of the variant in at least five states.

Earlier, the US states of New York and Hawaii have reported their first cases of the Omicron strain of coronavirus, as the US brought in new measures to combat COVID-19.

New York became the fourth state to confirm cases of the new strain, while Hawaii is the fifth with a total of at least 10 cases now reported around the US, including a second case in California.

Key developments:

  • The new rules to tackle COVID-19 in the US include stricter testing of inbound travellers and stepping up booster jabs.
  • Germany is planning to exclude the unvaccinated from all but essential shops and services and is considering a vaccine mandate from February.
  • A United Kingdom study has found mRNA vaccines provide the biggest booster effect.

Here are the latest developments:

Omicron causing sharp rise in cases in South Africa: Scientists

South Africa is facing an “unprecedented rise” in new COVID-19 cases over a short time due to the Omicron variant, top scientist Michelle Groome of South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases has said.

Groome told a media briefing that although additional data on the varient detected in the country last month is still needed on the severity and transmissibility of the variant, the country was starting to see infections move from the younger age cohort into older people.

Roche develops new research test kits for Omicron variant

Roche’s newly acquired subsidiary TIB Molbiol has developed three new test kits to help researchers detect mutations in the Omicron variant.

“We are able to offer a test that can specifically identify the novel B.1.1.529 Omicron SARS-CoV-2 variant to help better understand its spread and behaviour,” Thomas Schinecker, head of Roche Diagnostics, said in a statement.

India says Omicron may be less severe due to vaccination

India’s health ministry has said the severity of the COVID-19 disease from the Omicron variant in the country could be low because of vaccination and high exposure to the Delta variant.

“Given the fast pace of vaccination in India and high exposure to Delta variant as evidenced by high seropositivity, the severity of the disease is anticipated to be low,” it said in a statement. “However, scientific evidence is still evolving.”

A policewoman directs a pedestrian towards a COVID-19 testing booth in Jammu, India [File: Channi Anand/AP]

South Korea widens vaccine pass requirement

South Korea has announced that people visiting restaurants and cinemas and other public spaces will have to show vaccine passes, amid a surge in COVID-19 infections and six confirmed cases of the Omicron.

The government also re-imposed limits on private gatherings, which had been recently relaxed, as the country posted record numbers of new cases this week.

People queue in line to wait for the coronavirus testing at a makeshift testing site in Seoul [File: Photo/Ahn Young-joon/AP]

Sri Lanka reports first case of Omicron variant

Sri Lanka’s health authorities said they have identified the first Omicron patient in the country.

The Health Ministry said the new COVID-19 variant was identified in a Sri Lankan national who had recently returned from South Africa.

“As a result of our vigilance we have been able to identify an Omicron patient following gene sequencing lab tests. There is no need for us to panic over this. We are dealing with the situation,” Dr. Hemantha Herath Deputy Director of Health Services told reporters.

Nine confirmed cases of Omicron on mainland France

There are currently nine confirmed cases of the Omicron variant on mainland France, the French Health Ministry has said.

According to the government’s top scientific adviser, the new strain could become the dominant variant of the virus in the country by the end of January.

Beijing Olympic venue could bar spectators over Covid: state media

Spectators attending a major venue for the Beijing Olympics must be vaccinated but fans could be barred from the arena entirely if the coronavirus worsens in China, state media has said.

Unlike the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Olympics, which took place last summer in mostly empty stadiums, organisers of February’s Winter Games have vowed to allow spectators, although only people living in China.

Hello, this is Elizabeth Melimopoulos taking over the live blog from my colleague Ted Regencia.

WHO urges Asia Pacific to ready for Omicron-driven surge in infections

Officials at the WHO on Friday advised the Asia-Pacific region to ramp up their health services and increase inoculation rates ahead of an expected surge in coronavirus cases driven by the Omicron strain.

The new variant started gaining a foothold in Asia this week, with cases reported from Australia, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia and India. Many governments have responded by tightening travel rules.

“So far the information available suggests we don’t have to change our approach,” Takeshi Kasai, WHO regional director for the western Pacific, told a virtual media briefing as he told countries to prepare for Omicron’s “high transmissibility”.

Philippines reports COVID-19 case from South Africa

The Philippines has reported that one person who arrived from South Africa has tested positive for COVID-19, and the passenger’s test result is undergoing genome sequencing to determine the infection’s variant.

The positive case was detected from 254 passengers who arrived from South Africa. At least 83 of those arrivals have already been tested negative, 134 are still waiting for their results and 35 were not required to take a swab test, according to the health department.

Malaysia detects first case of Omicron variant

Malaysian Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin announced on Thursday that the country has detected its first case of the Omicron coronavirus variant.

Khairy said the case was detected in a foreign visitor from South Africa who arrived in Malaysia through Singapore on November 19.

He said that the eight close contacts of the visitor would undergo PCR swab tests on Friday.

South Korea makes vaccine pass mandatory for many large venues

South Korea announced on Friday that people visiting restaurants, cinemas and other public spaces will have to show vaccine passes starting December 6, amid a surge in COVID-19 infections and five confirmed cases of the Omicron variant.

The government also reimposed limits on private gatherings, which had been recently relaxed, as the country posted record numbers of new cases this week.

Authorities also halted quarantine exemptions on Thursday for fully vaccinated inbound travellers and made a 10-day quarantine mandatory.

Mexican president’s rally criticised amid threat of Omicron variant

Panama blocks travellers from eight African countries due to Omicron variant

Panama has announced that it would temporarily ban the entry of travellers from eight African countries due to concerns over the spread of the Omicron coronavirus strain.

The restriction applies to travellers who have been to South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe or Malawi within a two-week period, Panama’s government said in a statement.

Panamanians and residents of the country who are vaccinated must present a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of arriving in the country, while those who are not inoculated must place themselves in “preventative quarantine,” the government said.

California reports second Omicron case in two days

The US state of California is reporting its second confirmed case of the Omicron coronavirus variant in as many days.

The Los Angeles County public health department says a county resident is self-isolating after apparently contracting the infection during a trip to South Africa last month.

Additional cases were reported Thursday in the New York City area, Minnesota, Hawaii and Colorado bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the US to at least 10.

Epidemiologist warns of reinfection risks due to Omicron variant

Australia reports possible community transmission of Omicron mutation

Australia’s state of New South Wales (NSW) has reported its ninth Omicron case, which authorities say could be the first one acquired through community transmission.

NSW Health said the “virus may have been acquired in the community as the case has no overseas travel history or links to people with overseas travel history”.

Authorities said the case involves a student in western Sydney.

Hawaii reports first Omicron variant

The US state of Hawaii has confirmed its first case of the Omicron strain, saying it was a case of community spread and the person had no history of travel.

The person, an Oahu resident, had moderate symptoms. The person had previously been infected with COVID-19 but had not been vaccinated, the Department of Health said in a statement on Thursday.

Hawaii becomes the fifth US state to detect the variant, bringing the total number of cases in the country to nine.

New York finds five Omicron cases

New York has found five cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant, according to its governor.

That makes it the fourth US state to detect the variant.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul told the media one of the cases involved a 67-year-old Long Island woman with mild symptoms of a headache and cough who had recently returned from South Africa.

The other four people were New York City residents, but the governor said further information was not yet available.

“No cause for alarm,” Hochul said. “We don’t have more information at this time but we suspect there will be more cases emerging, and the best thing everyone can do is to realize we are not defenseless against this variant at all, that vaccines, we know, are going to ensure there is less severe symptoms.”

mRNA vaccines provide biggest booster effect

A UK study has found the COVID-19 mRNA vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna provide the biggest boost to antibody levels when given 10-12 weeks after the second dose.

The “COV-Boost” study found that six out of the seven boosters examined enhanced immunity after initial vaccination with Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine, while all seven increased immunity when given after two doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine.

“A third dose will be effective for many of the vaccines we’ve tested and in many different combinations,” Professor Saul Faust, an immunologist at the University of Southampton and the trial’s lead scientist, told reporters.

The study found that a full dose or half dose of Pfizer or a full dose of Moderna gave a very effective boost to antibody and T-cell levels, regardless of whether the person initially received Pfizer or AstraZeneca.

INTERACTIVE- COVID19 - Omicron(Al Jazeera)

Click here for all the updates from Thursday, December 2.


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