Countries around the world have reimposed travel restrictions in response to the new Omicron variant [File: Thomas Peter/Reuters]
SOURCE: Al Jazeera and News Agencies

The US is moving to require that all air travellers entering the country show a negative COVID-19 test performed within one day of departure in response to concerns about the new Omicron variant, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said.

Currently, vaccinated international air travellers can present a negative test result obtained within three days from their point of departure. Nearly all foreign nationals must be vaccinated to enter the United States. Unvaccinated travellers currently must get a negative COVID-19 test within one day of arrival.

The new one-day testing requirement would apply equally to US citizens as well as foreign nationals.

Closing borders not the ‘answer’, WHO’s Nicksy Gumede-Moeletsi says

Dr Nicksy Gumede-Moeletsi, Regional Virologist, WHO Regional Office for Africa. (Image courtesy WHO Africa)

Dr Nicksy Gumede-Moeletsi of WHO Africa said they’re trying to warn other countries of the “emergency that might be coming through”, adding that shutting down borders is not the answer.

“Those countries, they’re going to … try their level best to get prepared,” she said.

“But closing the borders or banning certain countries from entering – I don’t think is the answer.”

‘If you’re not vaccinated, get vaccinated’: Anthony Fauci

Dr Anthony Fauci, the US’s top infectious disease official, has urged those who are not vaccinated to get the jab, and those who are, to seek a booster shot.

“If you’re not vaccinated, get vaccinated,” Fauci said. “Get boosted if you are vaccinated,” he added.

He also called on people to continue to use the “mitigation methods”, such as wearing “masks, avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated spaces”.

“Choose outdoors rather than indoors, keep your distance, wash your hands, test and isolate if appropriate,” he added.

US panel backs first-of-a-kind COVID-19 pill

COVID-19 treatment pill, molnupiravir, has got a narrow approval from scientists [File: Reuters]

A panel of US health advisers narrowly backed a closely watched COVID-19 pill from Merck, setting the stage for a likely authorisation of the first drug that Americans could take at home to treat the coronavirus.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) panel voted 13-10 that the antiviral drug molnupiravir’s benefits outweigh its risks, including potential birth defects if used during pregnancy.

“I see this as an incredibly difficult decision with many more questions than answers,” said panel chair Dr Lindsey Baden of Harvard Medical School, who voted in favour of the drug. He said the FDA would have to carefully tailor the drug’s use for patients who stand to benefit most.

Molnupiravir has already been authorised for use in the United Kingdom.

UK urges people to book booster shots as Omicron cases grow

British Health Secretary Sajid Javid urged people to book a COVID-19 booster shot as he said there were 22 confirmed cases of the Omicron virus variant in the country.

Javid said the government believed a booster campaign would help protect against severe disease from Omicron, even if it turns out that vaccines are not as effective against the variant as previous strains of the disease.

Britain plans to offer all adults a COVID-19 booster shot by the end of January. Government data shows 81 percent of the population aged over 12 have had two doses of the vaccine while 32 percent have had a booster shot or third dose.

“Our best form of defence still remains our vaccines,” Javid said. “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.”

EU pushes for daily travel reviews, mass booster shots over Omicron

Image via Ursula von der Leyen Twitter.

The European Union needs daily reviews of its travel restrictions and rapid deployment of vaccine booster doses to limit entry and protect its citizens from the Omicron variant, the European Commission said.

Europe is experiencing a surge of COVID-19 cases and a growing number of infections by the Omicron variant.

“We are now facing a double challenge in the fight against COVID-19,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a tweet. “The rapid resurgence of Delta across Europe and a new variant of concern: Omicron.”

EU launch of Pfizer/BioNTech COVID shot for younger children brought forward to Dec 13

The European Union-wide roll-out of Pfizer and BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine version for five- to 11-year-old children will begin December 13, one week earlier than previously planned, Germany’s health ministry said.

Germany is due to receive 2.4 million doses for use as a two-dose regimen, the ministry said, adding it has commitment on the new date from the manufacturer.

“Given the current pandemic situation, this is good news for parents and children. Many are awaiting this eagerly,” acting health minister Jens Spahn said in the statement.

First two cases of Omicron variant detected in Brazil

The first two cases of the Omicron variant were detected in Brazil, which could also be the first cases in Latin America.

Samples from two Brazilians who tested positive for the variant through the renowned Albert Einstein Hospital would be sent for confirmatory laboratory analysis, a statement from Brazil’s health surveillance agency Anvisa said.

According to the news portal G1, the cases involve Brazilian missionaries living in South Africa.