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Japan has announced the closure of borders for all foreigners travelling to the country, including business travellers and foreign students.
The announcement comes even as the WHO has said that there is no evidence on whether the new “variant of concern” is more transmissible than other Covid variants, including Delta. Its discovery has, however, coincided with an uptick in cases in South Africa.
The global health agency said it is working with researchers across the world to establish whether the new “variant of concern” causes “more severe disease compared to infections with other variants”.
Meanwhile, secondary school students across England have been told they must once again wear face coverings in communal areas.
Under the new guidance – which comes into force on Monday – all staff, visitors and pupils in Year 7 or above are “strongly advised” to wear a face covering, unless they are exempt. The rule covers all education establishments including universities, as well as childcare settings such as early years care.
It comes after a third Omicron case was confirmed in the UK, involving a traveller who visited Westminster but has since left the country.
It came after Sajid Javid admitted on Sunday that air passengers from South Africa were not tested on arrival into the UK on Friday – despite fears they could be carrying the new variant.
UK to unveil booster jab plan
The UK is set to unveil new guidance on speeding up and extending the rollout of booster jabs, a health minister has said, adding he was braced for more cases of the variant of concern Omicron.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has been asked to look at boosters for under-40s as well as reducing the gap between second doses and boosters.
“We’re awaiting that advice. I hope it will come, hopefully later today,” Edward Argar told Sky News, adding he did not know their decision.
“I don’t think it’s been formally delivered but we’d expect that within the coming hours.”
Omicron variant won’t impact easing of restrictions in Auckland
The emergence of the omicron variant will not impact New Zealand’s plans to ease restrictions in Auckland, said prime minister Jacinda Ardern.
While the country on Sunday restricted travel from southern African countries following the concerns surrounding the spread of the virus, Ms Ardern said she did not anticipate further restrictions.
Bars, restaurants and gyms in Auckland are scheduled to reopen from Thursday, ending the lockdown observed in the city since August.
Ms Ardern said that the country will continue its contact tracing, isolating infectious people and requiring mask use in some settings, as the impact of the new variant is being studied more.
The country is also switching to a new “traffic light” system, indicating the areas where the outbreaks are putting a pressure on the health system. Under this system, a green designation imposes few restrictions, orange requires more mask wearing and distancing, while red limits gathering sizes.
Auckland and some other parts of the North Island would be placed under the red light, due to outbreaks and lower vaccination rates, said Ms Ardern, while other parts of the country will be placed under orange light.
Why the WHO skipped two Greek letters to name omicron
The WHO skipped two letters of the Greek alphabet — “Nu” and “Xi” — as it decided to call the new variant emerging from southern Africa omicron.
Explaining the decision, the global health agency said that Nu was too easily confused with “new”, while Xi is a common surname, also shared by China’s president Xi Jinping.
“Two letters were skipped —Nu and Xi — because Nu is too easily confounded with ‘new’ and XI was not used because it is a common surname and WHO best practices for naming new diseases (developed in conjunction with FAO and OIE back in 2015) suggest avoiding ‘causing offence to any cultural, social, national, regional, professional or ethnic groups’,” the WHO said in a statement.
The Philippines to inoculate 9 million in next three days
The Philippines on Monday launched an ambitious drive that it hopes will vaccinate nine million people against Covid-19 in the next three days.
Though the vaccine drive was not specifically organised because of the spread of the Omicron variant, the government said it would help the country respond to it. “It is better to be prepared for the effects of Omicron,” Carlito Galvez, the country’s vaccination chief, told CNN Philippines on Monday.
Due to a combination of vaccine hesitancy and logistical limitations, only a third of the Philippines’ 110 million population is fully vaccinated. The country administered an average of 829,000 daily shots in November, against the ambitious target of 3 million per day that the government has set for itself.
G7 health ministers to meet over Omicron
The G7 health ministers will hold an emergency meeting on Monday amid concerns surrounding the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant, which was first discovered in southern Africa and has now spread to 13 countries and territories.
The meeting was called by Britain, which currently chairs the G7 and is among the list of countries affected.
Japan suspends entry of foreign visitors
Japan will bar the entry of foreign visitors from 30 November, announced prime minister Fumio Kishida on Monday. The country’s citizens returning from a list of specified nations will be allowed to return, but must quarantine themselves in designated facilities.
Stuti Mishra reports:
Japan becomes second country after Israel to close borders over spread of new ‘variant of concern’
Swiss approve Covid restrictions as cases rise
A vote in Switzerland on Sunday gave the green light to new legislation, which bars unvaccinated people from attending public events and gatherings. People who have recovered from Covid or test negative will can attend such events, alongside those who are vaccinated.
The final count showed 62 per cent of voters supported the measure, which is already in force. The vote on the country’s “Covid-19 law,” which also has unlocked billions of Swiss francs in aid for workers and businesses hit by the pandemic, came as Switzerland — like many other nations in Europe — faces a steep rise in Covid cases.
Switzerland’s government, unlike others, hasn’t responded with new restrictions. Analysts said it didn’t want to stir up more opposition to its anti-Covid-19 policies before they faced Sunday’s test at the ballot box.
Health minister Alain Berset said, with the result now in, authorities “still have the necessary instruments to manage the crisis, and we can, if necessary, adjust the instruments to developments”.
“A decision has been made and we must come together now to get through this winter as well as possible,” Mr Berset said. “This is an appeal for unity but also for respect for decisions that have been taken.”
On Tuesday, Swiss health authorities warned of a rising “fifth wave” on infections in the rich Alpine country, where vaccination rates are roughly in line with those in hard-hit neighbours Austria and Germany at about two-thirds of the population.
Secondary school children told to wear masks in communal areas
The Department for Education (DfE) has told children in Year 7 and above that they should wear face coverings in school communal areas – essentially all secondary school pupils.
It comes as part of measures to slow the spread of the omicron Covid variant.
An email update from the department to education and childcare providers said: “Face coverings should be worn in communal areas in all settings by staff, visitors and pupils or students in Year 7 and above, unless they are exempt.
“Pupils or students (in Year 7 or above) should continue to wear face coverings on public and dedicated school transport, unless they are exempt.”
In a statement, education secretary Nadhim Zahawi said: “We are working with education and childcare settings to enhance safety measures where needed, including introducing isolation for 10 days for close contacts of suspected omicron cases.”
Christmas 2022 at risk from Covid due to ‘jab hoarding,’ Brown warns
Next year’s Christmas is at risk from Covid restrictions unless the UK and other rich nations stop hoarding vaccines desperately needed in Africa, Gordon Brown is warning.
The former PM has hit out at Boris Johnson for a false claim that low take-up of jabs – rather than a shortage – is to blame for a lack of protection in countries with the new Omicron variant, writes our deputy political editor Rob Merrick.
In an article for The Independent, Mr Brown calls on Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance, the chief medical and scientific officers, to “sit Johnson down” and make him understand “basic medical facts”.
Ex-PM hits out at Boris Johnson for false claim that low take-up of jabs – rather than a shortage – is the problem in countries with Omicron variant
Watch: Everything we know so far about new Covid strain