The new Omicron coronavirus variant kept spreading around the world on Sunday, even as Moderna Chief Medical Officer Paul Burton said a reformulated shot could be available early next year. Burton said he suspects the new omicron coronavirus variant may elude current vaccines, and that the company was testing the current vaccine against the new variant and studying two booster candidates.
Two cases were detected in Australia, while Netherlands reported 13 cases of the new strain in passengers from South Africa, even as more countries tried to seal themselves off by imposing travel restrictions.
In the most far-reaching effort to keep the variant at bay, Israel announced late on Saturday it would ban the entry of all foreigners and reintroduce counter-terrorism phone-tracking technology to contain the spread of the variant.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said the ban, pending government approval, would last 14 days. Officials hope that within that period there will be more information on how effective vaccines are against Omicron.
In UK, face coverings will become a compulsory requirement in shops and public transport in England from Tuesday, the government said on Sunday.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said the requirement of compulsory PCR tests to be taken by all overseas arrivals into the UK will also be enforced “as soon as possible”.
The discovery of Omicron, dubbed a “variant of concern” last week by the World Health Organization, has sparked worries around the world that it could resist vaccinations and prolong the nearly two-year Covid-19 pandemic.
Health officials in Australia's most populous state, New South Wales, said two passengers who arrived in Sydney from southern Africa on Saturday evening had tested positive for the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.
First discovered in South Africa, it has since been detected in Britain, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Botswana, Israel and Hong Kong. Austria was investigating a suspected case on Sunday and in France Health Minister Olivier Veran said the new variant was probably already circulating there.
Countries have imposed a wave of travel bans or curbs on southern Africa. Financial markets dived on Friday as investors worried that the variant could stall a global recovery. Oil prices tumbled by about $10 a barrel.
On Sunday, most Gulf stock markets fell sharply in early trade, with the Saudi index suffering its biggest single-day fall in nearly two years.
Many countries have imposed or are planning restrictions on travel from southern Africa. The South African government denounced this on Saturday as unfair and potentially harmful to its economy —saying it is being punished for its scientific ability to identify coronavirus variants early.
In Britain, where two linked cases of Omicron identified on Saturday were connected to travel to southern Africa, the government announced measures to try to contain the spread, including stricter testing rules for people arriving in the country and requiring mask wearing in some settings.
British health minister Sajid Javid said on Sunday he expected to receive advice imminently on whether the government can broaden a programme of providing booster shots to fully vaccinated people, to try to weaken the impact of the variant.
The German state of Bavaria also announced two confirmed cases of the variant on Saturday. In Italy, the National Health Institute said a case of the new variant had been detected in Milan in a person coming from Mozambique.