Update (1420ET): British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced Saturday a series of "temporary and precautionary" health measures to contain the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant.
Speaking at a press conference, Johnson told reporters anyone entering the UK would have to receive a negative PCR test.
He said regardless of vaccination status, anyone suspected of Omicron must isolate for ten days. Face masks will be mandatory in shops and on public transportation but not in restaurants. At the moment, 76% of the population is vaccinated.
The new measures come as all flights from a growing list of countries in Africa, including South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Namibia (soon to include Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Angola), have been suspended to prevent further spreading of the virus.
Johnson described the measures as "temporary and precautionary" that will allow health experts to assess the situation.
The prime minister said: "Our scientists are learning more hour by hour, and it does appear that Omicron spreads very rapidly, and can be spread between people who are double vaccinated."
"There is also a very extensive mutation which means it diverges quite significantly from previous configurations of the virus, and as result, it might — at least in part — reduce the protection of our vaccines over time," he said.
Johnson said the policies would be re-evaluated in three weeks just before Christmas.
Two cases of Omicron have already been confirmed in the UK. Cases are spreading in Europe. One of the most serious is in the Netherlands, where 61 people tested positive for COVID-19 after arriving on two flights from South Africa on Friday.
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Two infections with the new Omicron variant (also known as B.1.1.529 COVID-19 variant) have been detected in the U.K., according to the health secretary.
Health Minister Sajid Javid tweeted Saturday that the U.K. Health Security Agency has been notified about two U.K. cases of the Omicron variant. He said, "the two cases are linked and there is a connection with travel to southern Africa," adding "these individuals are self-isolating with their households while further testing and contact tracing is underway."
Javid said one infection was detected in Chelmsford, Essex, and another in Nottingham. He said, "as a precaution, we are rolling out additional targeted testing in the affected areas," calling the infiltration of the new coronavirus variant "a fast-moving situation."
He added, "We are taking decisive steps to protect public health."
The health secretary announced that four countries – Angola, Mozambique, Malawi, and Zambia – will be added to the "red list," effective from 0400 local time Sunday. Anyone returning from these countries must isolate for ten days and receive "PCR tests."
Last week, scientists first detected the new variant in Botswana and then in South Africa. It has since spread to other countries, including Israel, Hong Kong, and Belgium, prompting officials in Europe, Asia, and North America to restrict travel from Africa.
Citi analyst Andrew Baum spoke with Pfizer's CEO, Albert Bourla, about the new variant, who said laboratory tests are underway and could take up two weeks to decide whether a reformulation of the COVID-19 vaccine is needed. If so, Bourla said it could take 100 days to develop a novel variant vaccine to combat Omicron.
Courtesy of Bloomberg's James Ludden, here are the latest updates on the latest COVID scare:
U.K. Reports Two Cases of Omicron Variant (9:16 a.m. N.Y.)
The U.K. has confirmed two cases of the new Covid-19 strain omicron. "The two cases are linked and there is a connection with travel to southern Africa," Health Minister Sajid Javid said on Twitter. The individuals and their households -- one in Chelmsford and one in Nottingham -- are self-isolating and contact tracing is ongoing, according to the U.K. Health Security Agency
German Scientists Urge Immediate Restrictions (8:03 a.m. N.Y.)
The German National Academy of Science Leopoldina is urging the government to implement stringent contact restrictions immediately for a few weeks to combat the pandemic and address the Omicron variant. These bans must also cover vaccinated people and those who recovered from an infection. The government also must make vaccination mandatory over the coming months, the academy said in a statement on its website.
Highly Probable Omicron Is in Germany (6:21 p.m. H.K.)
It's "very likely" the new coronavirus strain, omicron, has arrived in Germany, a state official said Saturday. A traveler returning from South Africa on Friday night showed several symptoms typical of the new variant, Kai Klose, minister of social affairs in the German state of Hesse, said on Twitter without providing more detail. While the virus sample hasn't been sequenced, there's a "high level of suspicion" that the person has the new strain, Klose said. The traveler has been isolated at home.
Modi Wants to Review Easing of Travel Rules (6:02 p.m. H.K.)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked Indian officials to review plans for the easing of international travel restrictions after the emergence of the new omicron variant. India needs to be "proactive in light of the new variant," Modi said during a meeting on the Covid-19 situation and the pace of vaccinations in the country. On Friday, the Press Trust of India cited the civil aviation ministry as saying scheduled international flights to and from India will resume starting Dec. 15.
Dutch: 61 Flyers From S. Africa Test Positive (5:49 p.m. H.K.)
Sixty-one people arriving in the Netherlands on separate flights from South Africa tested positive for the coronavirus and were in isolation Saturday, the A.P. reported. Further tests are underway to determine if any of those who arrived at Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport are infected with the new omicron variant. The planes arrived in the Netherlands on Friday shortly after the Dutch government imposed a ban on flights from some southern African nations following discovery of the new variant.
New Zealand, Australia Tighten Borders (4:17 p.m. H.K.)
New Zealand joined Australia in banning entry to travelers from nine African countries in an effort to protect against the new omicron variant. The restrictions start Sunday night but don't apply to returning citizens, Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said. New Zealanders returning from those nations are required to undergo testing and a 14-day managed isolation period, he said. Earlier, Australia said direct flights from South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, the Seychelles, Malawi and Mozambique were being suspended, Health Minister Greg Hunt said. Returning citizens and their dependents who have been in any of those countries in the past 14 days must enter supervised quarantine on arrival.
Thailand Bars Entry From Eight African Nations (2:38 p.m. H.K.)
Thailand will ban entry from eight southern African nations from Dec. 1, after Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha ordered agencies to step up vigilance against the new omicron variant. Arrivals from Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe will be forbidden, said Opas Karnkawinpong, director general of the Disease Control Department.
N.Y. Governor Declares State of Emergency (8:35 a.m. H.K.)
New York Governor Kathy Hochul declared a state of emergency on Friday due to a rise in the state's Covid cases and the threat of the omicron variant. She said the variant hasn't yet been detected in New York but she decided to sign an executive order to allow the health department to limit non-essential, non-urgent procedures at hospitals and acquire critical supplies more quickly. The order takes effect Dec. 3 and will be re-assessed Jan. 15.
CDC Concerned Vaccines May Not Work Well (5:49 a.m. H.K.)
Based on omicron's mutation profile, partial immune escape is likely, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control said in a threat assessment report Friday. The E.U.'s health agency is among the first official authorities to acknowledge that vaccines may not work well against the new strain. The ECDC pushed authorities to "urgently" reinforce pandemic restrictions, avoiding travel to affected areas, and the vaccination of holdouts.
U.S., Canada Curb Travel From Southern Africa (2:05 p.m. N.Y.)
President Joe Biden's administration will restrict travel from South Africa and seven other countries starting on Monday, according to senior administration officials. In addition to South Africa, they include Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi. The policy doesn't apply to American citizens and lawful permanent residents, though they must still test negative prior to travel to the U.S. Canada is banning the entry of foreign nationals who have traveled through southern Africa in the last 14 days.
As anyone who works in P.R. and or marketing knows, global elites need to keep their COVID narrative fresh, relevant and scary. We urge everyone to read what we know so far about variant in Friday's note titled "A Scared Nu World: Here's What We Know About The COVID "Omicron" Strain."
Here's a possible guide of what could happen next:
Remember, U.S.' top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, did say months ago that the U.S. may face a "dark winter." How long until he blames the unvaccinated?