US Steps Up Fight Against Omicron As Variants March Across The Globe

  • Four US states discover cases of Omicron variant
  • Yellen says variant could slow growth
  • “The situation is very serious”, says German Merkel
  • Omicron could cause half of European infections within months

WASHINGTON / BERLIN, December 2 (Reuters) – President Joe Biden presented his coronavirus strategy on Thursday as the highly contagious Omicron spread across the world with the onset of winter and hours after the first known American case of community transmission of the variant. reported.

As authorities around the world scramble to contain Omicron, Biden has unequivocally warned that infections will increase this winter.

“We’re going to fight this variant with science and speed, not chaos and confusion,” he said, speaking at the National Institutes of Health medical research center in Maryland.

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New York has found five cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant, its governor said, becoming the fourth US state to detect the variant and bringing the country’s total number of infections to eight.

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

The woman had a history of vaccination, but it was not yet known how many doses she had received. More information was not yet available on the other four people, all of whom are New York City residents, Hochul said.

The other US states that have found cases of Omicron are California, Colorado, and Minnesota, one in each state. In all three cases, the patients were fully immunized and developed mild symptoms.

In California and Colorado, patients had recently returned from trips to southern Africa and had not received booster doses. The case of Minnesota is the first known community transmission in the United States.

The Minnesota patient had recently traveled to New York for an anime convention, prompting the city to launch contact tracing to try to contain the spread.

“We are aware of a case of the Omicron variant identified in Minnesota that is associated with a trip to a conference in New York City, and we should assume that there is community spread of the variant in our city,” New York mayor Bill de Blasio said. said before Hochul’s announcement.

Much remains unknown about Omicron, which was first detected in southern Africa last month and has been reported in at least two dozen countries, just as parts of Europe were already grappling with a wave of Delta variant infections.

As part of Biden’s plan, the United States will require incoming international passengers to be tested for COVID-19 within one day of departure, regardless of their vaccination status. Mask requirements on planes, trains and public transport vehicles will be extended until March 18.

The US government will require private health insurers to reimburse their 150 million customers for 100% of the cost of over-the-counter and at-home COVID-19 tests, administration officials said, and deliver 50 million tests additional available free of charge in rural clinics. and health centers for the uninsured.

Less than 60% of the U.S. population, or 196 million people, have been fully immunized, one of the lowest rates among wealthy countries.

THE ECONOMY

People carry bags through Hohe Strasse shopping street as the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues in Cologne, Germany on December 1, 2021. REUTERS / Thilo Schmuelgen

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Fears over the Omicron variant have pounded financial markets and created doubts about the speed of the global economic recovery as the pandemic rages on. Stocks fell on Thursday and crude oil futures extended the losses.

The variant could slow global economic growth by exacerbating supply chain problems and lowering demand, US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told Reuters Next on Thursday.

“There is a lot of uncertainty, but it could cause significant problems. We are still assessing this,” she said.

Keen to avoid derailing a fragile recovery in Europe’s largest economy, Germany had kept businesses open to nearly 69% of the population who are fully vaccinated as well as those with proof that they had recovered from the virus.

But on Thursday, the country said it would ban unvaccinated people from all but essential businesses, such as grocery stores and pharmacies, while legislation making vaccination mandatory will be drafted early next year.

“We understand that the situation is very serious,” Chancellor Angela Merkel said at a press conference.

A nationwide vaccination mandate could come into effect from February 2022 after being debated in the Bundestag and after advice from the German Ethics Council, she said.

HIGH TRANSMISSION

The European Union’s public health agency said the variant could be responsible for more than half of all COVID infections in Europe within months.

A group of South African health organizations said on Thursday their latest findings indicated that the variant posed a risk of re-infection three times higher than the currently dominant Delta variant and Beta strain.

The country has also said it is seeing an increase in COVID-19 re-infections among patients contracting Omicron – with people who have already been re-infected with the disease – in ways it has not seen with other variations.

Global travel restrictions accelerated Thursday in response to the Omicron threat.

In the Netherlands, health authorities have requested pre-flight COVID-19 testing for all travel from outside the European Union, after most passengers were found to test positive after their arriving on two flights from South Africa on November 26 had been vaccinated.

“The World Health Organization has classified Omicron as a ‘variant of concern’, due to the number of mutations that could help it spread or escape antibodies from a previous infection or vaccination.

Russia has imposed a two-week quarantine on travelers from some African countries, including South Africa, the Interfax news agency said, citing a senior official. Hong Kong has extended a travel ban to more countries, and Norway, among others, has reintroduced travel restrictions.

Amid all the new restrictions, Europe’s largest low-cost airline, Ryanair (RYA.I), has said it expects a tough time this Christmas, though it is still optimistic about it. on summer demand.

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Reporting by Reuters offices; Written by Ingrid Melander and Sonya Hepinstall; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Stephen Coates

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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