🔴Vaccine makers like Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, Sputnik V and Novavax have indicated that they are working on booster versions of their vaccines that can effectively combat the new variant.

Days after the World Health Organisation (WHO) announced the Omicron variant of Covid-19 as a variant of concern, countries across the world have reacted with travel curbs, booster shots and discussions on lockdowns. The new variant of the novel coronavirus has come up as many nations were cautiously opening up their borders to travellers.

In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that everyone aged 18 years and older should get a booster shot. President Joe Biden asked citizens not to panic, reassuring that the US will not be implementing any more lockdowns as was seen in 2020. Biden said he would lay out his strategy on Thursday for combating the coronavirus pandemic in the upcoming months, and reminded people to get vaccinated, get booster shots if eligible and wear masks.

In Scotland, meanwhile, the government announced that they have recorded six new cases of Omicron variant. Worryingly, some of the cases were not linked to travel in southern Africa where the variant was reported last week. This has raised concerns that the new coronavirus variant is already spreading in the community. The four nations of the United Kingdom have all restricted travel to the region.

Australian authorities said on Tuesday that an international traveller who was most likely infected with the Omicron variant has spent time in the community as officials rushed to track the person’s close contacts and locations visited. New South Wales (NSW) health officials said initial testing “strongly indicates” the traveller who arrived in Sydney last week before the latest border restrictions has been infected with the Omicron variant of the coronavirus. Following this, the government has delayed its plan to open the international border on December 1.

Singapore too has said that it will hold off on further reopening measures while it evaluates the Omicron Covid-19 variant. “This is a prudent thing to do for now, when we are faced with a major uncertainty,” Health Minister Ong Ye Kung told a media briefing on Tuesday, adding the variant had not yet been detected locally. Singapore’s health ministry had earlier said that two travellers from Johannesburg who tested positive for the Omicron coronavirus variant in Sydney, had transited through Changi airport.

In Asia, Hong Kong has also implemented travel curbs. It has banned non-residents from entering the city from four African countries and plans to expand that to travellers who have been to Australia, Canada, Israel and six European countries in the past 21 days due to fears over Omicron. In a statement late on Monday, the Hong Kong government said non-residents from Angola, Ethiopia, Nigeria and Zambia would not be allowed to enter the global financial hub as of Nov. 30. Residents can return if they are vaccinated but will have to quarantine for seven days in a government facility and another two weeks in a hotel at their own cost.

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In Europe, Spain is the latest country to detect a case of omicron variant. Earlier, Portugal, Denmark, the Netherlands, Germany, the Czech Republic, Italy, and Belgium had announced that they have detected case of the Covid-19 variant. France said that it has detected eight possible cases of the new variant. The confirmation may take a few days as the samples have been sent for testing.

Vaccine status

Vaccine makers like Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, Sputnik V and Novavax have indicated that they are working on booster versions of their vaccines that can effectively combat the new variant.

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Pfizer CEO told CNBC that the drug company is working on a version of its vaccine specifically aimed at the omicron variant of Covid-19. Company CEO Albert Bourla said that the testing of the current vaccine against omicron is underway, and that it could show that the existing shots “protect less.” He also expressed confidence that the company’s Covid-19 treatment pill will be effective against the variant.

Moderna chief Stéphane Bancel said that the current Covid-19 vaccines are unlikely to be as effective against the Omicron variant of the coronavirus. He had earlier said on CNBC that it could take months to begin shipping a vaccine that does work against Omicron. “There is no world, I think, where (the effectiveness) is the same level . . . we had with Delta,” Moderna Chief Executive Stéphane Bancel told the Financial Times in an interview. “I think it’s going to be a material drop. I just don’t know how much because we need to wait for the data. But all the scientists I’ve talked to . . . are like ‘this is not going to be good.’”

Johnson & Johnson, in a statement, said that it is evaluating the effectiveness of its vaccine against the current variant, and that it is pursuing a vaccine specifically against the omicron variant. “We will not be complacent. Building on our long-term collaboration with scientists on the ground in South Africa and the ongoing real world effectiveness studies being conducted with the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, we will work together to generate new data on Omicron. In parallel, we have begun work to design and develop a new vaccine against Omicron and will rapidly progress it into clinical studies if needed,” it said in a statement.

Travel sector sees recovery slip

A few weeks ago, it looked as though the pandemic-struck travel sector was seeing signs of recovery. The latest variant has struck a blow to that. Airlines are scrambling to limit the impact of the omicron variant on their networks. Southern Africa accounts for only a tiny portion of the world’s international travel, but sudden border restrictions and route suspensions have left some carriers with an uncertain future.

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