US, Australia join global rush to put the brakes on Omicron variant

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The United States, Australia and Canada on Saturday joined the growing list of countries imposing travel restrictions from southern Africa after the WHO declared Omicron a new strain of Covid-19 first detected times in South Africa, a “worrying variant”.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has said the new variant may spread faster than other variants of Covid-19 and preliminary evidence suggests there is an increased risk of reinfection.

Epidemiologists have warned that travel restrictions may be too late to prevent Omicron from circulating around the world. The new mutations were first discovered in South Africa and have since been detected in Belgium, Botswana, Israel and Hong Kong.

Read the AXADLETM report on the day’s events.

4:31 Paris time

Australia begins 14-day quarantine for citizens from southern Africa

Australia on Saturday imposed new restrictions on people who visited nine countries in southern Africa. They include South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Seychelles, Malawi and Mozambique.

From now on, the government will ban entry to non-citizens who have stayed in these countries and will require 14-day supervised quarantines for Australian citizens and their dependents returning from countries, the Minister of Health said, Greg Hunt.

These restrictions also apply to people such as international students and skilled migrants arriving from countries with which Australia has travel bubbles, who have stayed in any of the nine countries in the past 14 days.

“If the medical evidence shows that further action is needed, we will not hesitate to take them. And that may involve tightening or extending the restrictions,” he said.

Anyone who has ever arrived in Australia and has been to one of these countries in the past 14 days should immediately self-isolate and be tested.

The Australian government will also suspend all flights from the nine southern African countries for two weeks.

Twenty travelers from South Africa are in quarantine at the Howard Springs facility in the Northern Territory, 19 of whom have returned negative coronavirus tests. It is not yet known whether the only positive test result is the Omicron variant, Hunt said.

4:18 Paris time

CDC says no case of Omicron has been identified in the US so far

No cases of the new Omicron variant have been identified in the United States to date, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

“We expect Omicron to be identified quickly, if it appears in the United States,” the CDC said in a statement.

12:45 am Paris time

US imposes travel ban on eight African countries

The United States is barring entry to most travelers from eight southern African countries starting Monday.

The restrictions apply to South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi. Most non-US nationals who have stayed in these countries in the previous 14 days will not be permitted to enter the United States.

“As a precautionary measure until we have more information, I am ordering additional restrictions on air travel from South Africa and seven other countries,” President Joe Biden said in a statement .

The president told reporters during a walk in Nantucket that his medical team had recommended that the ban begin on Monday instead of immediately.

(AXADLETM with AFP, AP and REUTERS)

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