The first confirmed case of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 has been detected in a person in California, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Wednesday, while France made a negative Covid-19 test mandatory for all travellers arriving from outside the EU in a bid to prevent the fast-spreading new variant from taking a hold in the country.
The Omicron variant was first detected in South Africa last week, and has since spread to dozens of countries worldwide. The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that the new strain poses a "very high" global risk, and has urged governments to accelerate vaccination of high-priority groups.
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22:15 Paris time: First two cases of Omicron recorded in the Gulf
Saudi Arabia recorded the Gulf's first confirmed case of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, followed hours later by a case in the UAE, health ministries in both countries said Wednesday.
"One case of the Omicron variant has been detected in the kingdom -- it was a citizen coming from a North African country," a Saudi health ministry official told the state SPA news agency.
"He has been put in isolation, as have his contacts, and the necessary health measures have been taken."
The neighbouring United Arab Emirates announced later that it had also detected its first Omicron case, in an "African woman arriving from an African country via an Arab country", the health ministry said on Twitter.
20:00 Paris time: First confirmed US case of Omicron identified
The first confirmed case of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 has been detected in a person in California, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Wednesday.
"The individual was a traveler who returned from South Africa on November 22, 2021," the agency said.
"The individual, who was fully vaccinated and had mild symptoms that are improving, is self-quarantining and has been since testing positive. All close contacts have been contacted and have tested negative."
Chief Medical Officer Dr Anthony Fauci said this person had not had a booster shot yet. Fauci also repeated that it was only a matter of time before Omicron was found in the US.
19:35 Paris time: UN's Guterres slams travel bans
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday slammed travel bans targeting specific countries and regions imposed over the new Covid-19 variant as "unfair" and "ineffective".
"With a virus that is truly borderless, travel restrictions that isolate any one country or region are not only deeply unfair and punitive -- they are ineffective," Guterres said at a news conference, calling instead for increased testing for travelers.
Dozens of countries imposed restrictions on travel from southern African states after the Omicron variant of the coronavirus was first reported in the region last week.
18:30 Paris time: Airline passengers entering Denmark from Doha or Dubai must take mandatory Covid test
Airline passengers arriving to Denmark from Doha or Dubai must take a mandatory Covid-19 test, a move aimed at delaying the spread of the new Omicron variant, Danish health minister Magnus Heunicke said on Wednesday.
"People who land from Dubai and Doha must have a test before they leave the airport," Heunicke told a news briefing.
17:17 Paris time: WHO expects to know transmissibility of new variant in days not weeks
The WHO expects to have more information on the transmissibility of the new Omicron variant within days, its technical lead on Covid-19, Maria van Kerkhove, said in a briefing on Wednesday.
That was faster than the "weeks" the WHO had predicted last week that it would take to assess the data available on the variant after designating it a "variant of concern", its highest rating.
Van Kerkhove said one possible scenario was that the new variant, which was first reported in southern Africa, may be more transmissible than the dominant Delta variant. She said it was not yet known if Omicron makes people more ill.
WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan said the agency believes the existing Covid-19 vaccines will work against the variant.
16:55 Paris time: WHO warns 'toxic mix' of low vaccination and testing rates creates fertile breeding ground for new variants
The WHO warned a "toxic mix" at the global level of low vaccination coverage and testing rates was creating fertile breeding ground for new Covid-19 variants.
"Globally, we have a toxic mix of low vaccine coverage and very low testing - a recipe for breeding and amplifying variants," WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a press conference on Wednesday.
Tedros said the emergence of the Omicron variant "should not surprise us, this is what viruses do" and that this pattern will continue so long as the virus is allowed to spread.
There's more to learn on its transmission, severity and the efficacy of tests, he said.
On travel bans, Tedros said: "It's deeply concerning to me that those countries [that first reported the variant] are now being penalised for doing the right thing."
"Blanket travel plans will not prevent the international spread of Omicron and they place a heavy burden on lives and livelihood."
14:10 Paris time: Travellers from outside EU require negative Covid-19 test to enter France
Travellers arriving into France from outside the European Union must have a negative Covid-19 test, regardless of their vaccination status, French government spokesman Gabriel Attal said on Wednesday.
The move is part of a bundle of measures aimed at tackling a new surge in infections as worries caused by the newly detected Omicron variant loom.
Talking to journalists after a government meeting, Attal said that decisions regarding travel within the EU would be coordinated by European leaders later this week.
13:22 Paris time: EU to make vaccines available for children as of December 13
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has announced that Covid-19 vaccines will be made available across the bloc for children aged between five and 11 as of December 13.
The EU executive is urging all 27 member states to step up their vaccination campaigns as Europe faces what Von der Leyen described as "a severe double challenge".
"On one hand, we are amid the fourth wave... On the other hand, we are facing a new threat that is the new variant Omicron," she said.
13:00 Paris time: Ghana, South Korea, Ireland report first Omicron cases
Ghana, South Korea and Ireland on Wednesday joined the growing list of countries to report their first cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant.
12:10 Paris time: Portugal steps up Covid-19 restrictions
Portugal on Wednesday tightened its passenger controls in airports, seaports and land borders, by requiring negative coronavirus tests for most incoming visitors in a bid to shield itself from the Omicron variant. It also reintroduced mandatory face mask measures in enclosed spaces and a requirement for people to show proof of coronavirus vaccinations or Covid-19 recovery tests to enter restaurants, cinemas, gyms and hotels.
11:58 Paris time: Denmark says person infected with Omicron attended large concert
A person who has tested positive for the Omicron coronavirus variant in Denmark attended a large concert over the weekend, health officials said Wednesday.
The concert was held in the city of Aalborg and was attended by almost 2,000 people.
According to Danish broadcaster DR, everyone who attended the concert has now been urged to get tested.
It was not immediately clear whether the concert-goer was one of the four Omicron cases that Denmark has already confirmed, or whether it was a new case.
11:50 Paris time: Norway reports its first Omicron cases
Norway has identified its first two cases of the new Omicron coronavirus variant, the Oeygarden municipality said in a statement, adding that both of the people infected had been on a trip to South Africa.
Norway on Friday decided to impose a quarantine on any travellers arriving from South Africa or neighbouring countries, following a similar decision by neighbouring Denmark and many other countries around the world.
11:00 Paris time: Germany reports highest Covid-19 death toll in nine months
Germany on Wednesday reported 446 Covid-19 related deaths - the highest daily figure since mid-February - bringing the country's total death toll to 101,790.
Gernot Marx, president of the DIVI association for intensive care medicine, warned that the country could still have 6,000 people in intensive care by Christmas, which would be above the peak of last winter.
"The situation is really becoming increasingly tight," Marx told ZDF television, calling for the government to consider a temporary lockdown. "We need to save the clinics from collapse."
09:45 Paris time: 'Rapid increase in coronavirus cases in South Africa'
Since South Africa detected the new Omicron variant last week, the number of new Covid-19 cases in the country has surged. In some areas, hospitalisations have as much as tripled in the past few days.
In the video below, FRANCE 24's South Africa correspondent Nadine Theron reports on the latest developments.
09:10 Paris time: Nigeria confirms first Omicron cases
Nigeria, Africa's most populous country, confirmed its first cases of the new Covid-19 variant on Wednesday, among three passengers who had arrived from South Africa.
"Omicron is widespread globally... Therefore, it is a matter of when, not if, we will identify more cases," Ifedayo Adetifa, the head of Nigeria's Centre for Disease Control, said.
Nigeria is home to around 210 million people and has launched vaccination campaigns but vaccination rates remain low, with just over 6.5 million people given one shot and about 3.5 million people two shots.
08:40 Paris time: Germany says four Omicron cases detected among vaccinated people
Four people in southern Germany have tested positive for the Omicron variant even though they were fully vaccinated against the coronavirus.
Three of the infected people returned from a business trip to South Africa on November 26 and November 27 respectively, and the fourth person is a family member of one of the returnees, the public health office in the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg said, adding that all four had showed moderate symptoms and were in quarantine.
08:30 Paris time: Japan halts new incoming flight bookings
Japan's transport ministry said it has asked airlines to stop taking new incoming flight bookings for one month as of December 1 over Omicron concerns. Existing bookings will not be affected by the suspension.
Japan has so far reported two confirmed cases of Omicron. Earlier this week it tightened its border measures, banning entry of all non-citizens coming from 10 southern African nations.
(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP, REUTERS)