Covid news live: Omicron variant spreads to Europe; countries rush to impose travel bans on southern Africa

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imageHealth officials in New South Wales, Australia , have begun urgent testing after two people who arrived on a flight from southern Africa overnight tested positive to the coronavirus, Reuters reports.

Australia imposed new restrictions on Saturday on people who have been to nine southern African countries, as the new Omicron variant raises concerns about another wave of the pandemic, Reuters reports.“Urgent genomic sequencing is underway to determine if they have been infected by the new omicron…variant of concern,” the health department of New South Wales said in a release.The passengers arrived in Sydney on Saturday evening and were transported to a hotel for 14 days of quarantine.Other passengers on the flight may be considered close contacts and will need to get tested immediately and isolate for 14 days, and compliance checks will be undertaken, NSW Health said.

Facebook Twitter 10.36pm GMT 22:36

Brazil reported 229 new Covid-19 deaths and 9,233 additional cases, according to data released by the health ministry on Saturday.

In total, Brazil has registered 614,186 deaths due to Covid-19, the world’s second highest death toll behind the US, Reuters reports.

Updated at 10.39pm GMT

Facebook Twitter 10.32pm GMT 22:32

Brazil reported 229 new Covid-19 deaths and 9,233 additional cases, according to data released by the health ministry on Saturday.

In total, Brazil has registered 614,186 deaths due to Covid-19, the world’s second highest death toll behind the US, Reuters reports.

Updated at 10.40pm GMT

Facebook Twitter 10.19pm GMT 22:19

Switzerland has widened quarantine requirements to stem the spread of the new Omicron coronavirus variant to travellers arriving from Britain, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Egypt and Malawi, where cases have been detected, its health ministry said.

On Friday, Switzerland banned direct flights from South Africa and the surrounding region due to the detection of the new variant while also imposing restrictions on travel from other countries including Hong Kong, Israel and Belgium .

Entry from those countries would only be possible for Swiss citizens or those with a residence permit in Switzerland or the broader Schengen area, Reuters reports.

It did not state whether travel from those countries would be limited to Swiss citizens and residents or not.

Updated at 10.41pm GMT

Facebook Twitter 10.09pm GMT 22:09

Israel to ban all foreign visitors due to Omicron variant Israel is to ban the entry of visitors from all countries due to the Omicron variant, Reuters reports.

The country’s government will also reintroduce counter-terrorism phone-tracking technology for contact testing in order to contain the spread of the new strain.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said in a statement that the ban, pending government approval, would last 14 days.

Israel, the first country to shut its borders completely over the Omicron variant, has so far confirmed one case of the variant and seven other suspected cases.

Facebook Twitter 10.04pm GMT 22:04

Bahrain has banned entry to travellers from four more African states over the spread of Covid-19, the state news agency BNA reported.

The four additional countries are Malawi, Mozambique, Angola and Zambia, Reuters reports.

The ban excludes Bahraini citizens and those with Bahraini residency visa holders, it said.

Bahrain on Friday banned entry to travellers from South Africa and five other southern African nations.

Updated at 10.19pm GMT

Facebook Twitter 9.54pm GMT 21:54

The Barbarians have claimed a decision by Public Health England led to their rugby fixture against Samoa at Twickenham being called off 90 minutes before kick-off despite their having enough players who had returned negative tests.

A statement released by the Rugby Football Union revealed that four players and two members of staff from the invitational side had tested positive for Covid-19.

The scrapping of the game followed last year’s fixture against England being called off after 13 players broke the Covid protocols, leading to widespread condemnation of the players’ behaviour.

Barbarians deny ‘shambles’ of Covid call-off was their fault or RFU’s Read more Facebook Twitter 8.53pm GMT 20:53

Michael Savage

Boris Johnson has been accused of ignoring a senior official’s plan to prepare Britain for the emergence of vaccine-resistant Covid variants, the Observer can reveal.

With the government announcing on Saturday that the first UK cases of the Omicron variant had been detected, the former head of the government’s vaccine taskforce said he could see no evidence that his blueprint for tackling the most worrying variants – submitted in the spring – had been acted upon.

In an interview with the Observer , Clive Dix, a leading figure in drug development who chaired the taskforce until April, said that he believed the UK was no longer “on the front foot” in tackling the pandemic.“I wrote a very specific proposal on what we should put in place right now for the emergence of any new virus that escaped the vaccine,” he said.“That was written and handed into the [vaccine taskforce] at the end of April when I left.I haven’t seen a sign of any of those activities yet.”

In response, a government spokesperson said: “This past year we’ve witnessed unprecedented scientific innovations and breakthroughs, made possible by collaboration between medical experts, governments and industry.

“Earlier this year, we joined the 100 Days Mission , which will ensure industry is part of a robust collaboration alongside governments, international organisations and academia over the coming months and years to take action towards a common goal: protecting people from future pandemics through developing and deploying safe, targeted and effective diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines at scale.”

Facebook Twitter 8.38pm GMT 20:38

Saudi Arabia will allow entry to travellers “from all countries” as long as they have received one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine inside the kingdom, it has said, after suspending flights from seven African countries due to the Omicron variant on Friday.

The ministry said the travellers would be allowed in from next Saturday and would need to quarantine for three days.It did not mention the flight suspensions, Reuters reports.Saudi Arabia has suspended flights to and from South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Lesotho and Eswatini.

Updated at 8.41pm GMT

Facebook Twitter 8.23pm GMT 20:23

Dr Nathalie MacDermott, National Institute for Health Research academic clinical lecturer, King’s College London, said the detection of two individuals in England infected with the Omicron variant is unsurprising given the news of the rapid spread of the variant in southern Africa and the emergence of cases in Europe .

“The action to ban flights from the most affected countries is never a decision that should be taken lightly, but for a brief period it can buy the time needed to better understand the threat posed by this new variant and ensure the implementation of more robust identification and targeted contact tracing for individuals arriving from those countries now placed on the red list.

“The decision by the government to reimplement the need for a PCR test from all individuals arriving in the UK from abroad on day two, with self-isolation until a negative test is reported, while frustrating for those travelling, is essential in order to rapidly identify cases of infection with the Omicron variant and implement prompt isolation and targeted contact tracing to limit the spread of the variant in the UK.

“The decision to implement a requirement to wear face masks on public transport and in shops is welcomed, and while it is not yet a requirement to wear them in other environments, the British public would be wise to consider wearing them in all circumstances when they are indoors with gatherings of anyone other than close family and friends.”

Facebook Twitter 8.13pm GMT 20:13

Less than a week ago, UK cabinet minister Nadhim Zahawi took to the airwaves to predict that such was the progress of the vaccine programme, Britain would be the first big country to use vaccines to end the pandemic.Hours after he made those comments, scientists 9,000 miles away detected a worrying Covid variant that, just days later, prompted Boris Johnson to announce emergency measures that he had hoped would never be reintroduced.

The speed at which Omicron’s initial discovery has led to the detection of cases around the world and the imposition of new restrictions has been startling.It is also a sign of desperation in Downing Street to avoid a lapse back into more severe restrictions, such as those the prime minister was forced to introduce – with great reluctance – last Christmas.

Boris Johnson strains to remain upbeat as new Omicron variant forces rapid crackdown Read more Updated at 8.27pm GMT

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