Omicron’s global spread prompts renewed lockdowns, delayed reopenings
SYDNEY (Reuters) – New Zealand delayed the planned reopening of its international border because of the sweeping spread of Omicron around the world on Tuesday, as several other countries reimposed social distancing measures.
Many nations are on high alert just days ahead of Christmas and New Year celebrations, as the latest health crisis also takes a toll on financial markets, which fear the impact on the global economic recovery.
© Reuters/STRINGER FILE PHOTO: Healthcare workers administer COVID-19 tests at St Vincent’s Hospital drive-through testing clinic at Bondi Beach in Sydney
Omicron infections are multiplying rapidly across Europe, the United States and Asia, including in Japan where a single cluster at a military base has grown to at least 180 cases.
New Zealand COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said his country was delaying the start of a planned staggered reopening of its border until the end of February. The government had previously said quarantine-free travel would reopen by mid-January for New Zealand citizens and residents in Australia and by April for foreign tourists.
“There’s no doubt this is disappointing and will upset many holiday plans, but it’s important to set these changes out clearly today so they can have time to consider those plans,” Hipkins said at a press conference.
In Singapore, the health ministry was carrying out testing to determine whether Omicron was behind a potential cluster of cases at a gym.
“Given its high transmissibility and spread to many parts of the world, we should expect to find more Omicron cases at our borders and also within our community,” Singapore’s health ministry said on Tuesday.
The Omicron variant has become dominant in the United States with lightning speed, and claimed the life on Monday of an unvaccinated man in Texas, officials said. Lines for COVID-19 tests wrapped around the block in New York, Washington and other U.S. cities as people clamoured to find out if they were infected before celebrating the holidays with family.
South Korea, the Netherlands, Germany and Ireland were among countries to reimpose partial or full lockdowns, or other social distancing measures, in recent days.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday said the situation was “extremely difficult” as hospitalisations rose steeply in London.
Asked about speculation the government would ban indoor socialising and limit tourism, Johnson said: “We’re looking at all kinds of things … we will rule nothing out.”
In Australia, where Omicron cases have surged but hospitalisations remain relatively low, Prime Minister Scott Morrison urged state and territory leaders to avoid further lockdowns, saying limiting the spread of the virus comes down to personal responsibility.
“We have got to get past the heavy hand of government and we have got to treat Australians like adults,” he said. “We’re not going back to lock downs. We’re going forward to live with this virus with common sense and responsibility.”
Several leaders and health officials have stressed the importance of booster vaccine shots to fight the variant.
The Omicron variant was first detected last month in southern Africa and Hong Kong and so far has been reported in at least 89 countries.
The severity of illness it causes remains unclear, but the World Health Organization (WHO) warned it is spreading faster than the Delta variant and is causing infections in people already vaccinated or who have recovered from the COVID-19 disease.
The rapid spread of the variant has ignited fears that more countries may impose economically disruptive restrictions, impacting markets.
U.S. stocks ended trading on Monday down by more than 1%, pressured lower by surging Omicron cases, while oil investors feared that new restrictions in Europe would weigh on fuel demand, sending crude prices lower.
Asian shares and oil prices rose in early trade on Tuesday, though the Australian and New Zealand dollars fell. [L4N2T53RM]
The World Economic Forum on Monday postponed its annual meeting in Davos due to the spread of Omicron, putting off the event scheduled for January until mid-2022.
More than 274 million people have been reported to be infected by the coronavirus globally since the pandemic began and more than 5.65 million people have died.
For many around the world, Omicron is expected to crimp traditional year-end celebrations.
Kim Min-song, 39, was among customers at a barbecue restaurant in Seoul on Monday who hurriedly put on jackets and face masks to head home as an evening curfew loomed: “It is the year end when we meet missed ones, but now we can’t fully do that.”
Interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus: open https://tmsnrt.rs/2FThSv7 in an external browser.
Eikon users can click https://apac1.apps.cp.thomsonreuters.com/cms/?navid=1063154666 for a case tracker.
(Reporting by Reuters bureaux; Writing by Jane Wardell; Editing by Stephen Coates) AdChoices
MORE IN NORTH AMERICA
- Omicron triggers fear of lockdownsReuters
- Ghislaine Maxwell: Jury sent to deliberate as…dw.com
- Jan. 6 committee seeks to interview GOP…ABC News
MORE FOR YOU
Ghislaine Maxwell: Jury sent to deliberate as trial ends dw.comJan. 6 committee seeks to interview GOP congressman ABC NewsBiden national security adviser to travel to Israel, West Bank The HillUS: Omicron already dominant ABC News
Biden boosts fuel-economy to fight climate change Boston HeraldU.S. warns banks as it names five more Chinese officials under Hong…WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States on Monday named five already-sanctioned Chinese officials it said had contributed to undermining Hong Kong’s democracy and warned that foreign financial institutions that conduct business with them would be subject to sanctions. A six-monthly State Department report to Congress named the five as Chen Dong,… ReutersWHO issues grim Omicron warningA top World Health Organization official on Monday said that it was still too early to say if the COVID-19 omicron variant is milder than other strains. “It is probably unwise to sit back and think ‘this is a mild variant, it’s not going to cause severe disease,’ because I think with the numbers going up all health systems are going to be under str… The HillDonald Trump says he got a COVID booster – and gets booed by… USA TODAY
House Democrats call on Biden to unfreeze Afghan central bank reserves The HillHoliday season lights a bright spot amid Covid resurgence Associated PressTop U.S. Senate Democrat vows vote on Biden’s $1.75 trillion bill despite Manchin’s… ReutersAmerica’s most underserved areas saw gun crime rise early in…In the first five months of the pandemic, violence increased in the nation’s most underserved communities, according to a recent study from the Violence Prevention Research Program at UC Davis. The study, published on 9 December in the American Journal of Public Health, compared zip codes in 13 major US cities, from Los Angeles to Boston, to see how gun violence affected “disadvantaged” areas versus “privileged” ones based on racial and economic… The GuardianDonald Trump’s Own Advisors Couldn’t Agree on Vaccines, Feeding… NewsweekOmicron: Nations mull stricter curbs CNBCInside the US church fighting for abortion rights The GuardianUS cities remain locked in a grim spiral of record homicides AFPBiden’s key plan faces new perils USA TODAYFauci issues grim Omicron warningUS top pandemic advisor Anthony Fauci has urged Americans to get vaccinated and boosted. The United States is anticipating a rise in cases due to holiday travel.The omicron variant of the coronavirus is “raging” around the world, the White House’s top medical advisor Anthony Fauci said on Sunday. Fauci said in a TV interview for NBC that the “real …Deutsche WelleSenator Elizabeth Warren tests positive for Covid-19 after vaccine and booster The IndependentManchin says he’s a ‘no’ on Biden’s Build Back Better social spending… ABC NewsWhat Manchin’s ‘no’ means for Biden’s agenda The AtlanticCapitol attack panel will determine if Trump committed crime –… The GuardianGhislaine Maxwell says there is ‘no need’ for her to testify in her own… ABC NewsBiden’s big climate goal faces heat with federal workforce The HillResearcher to study ‘baby galaxies’ with space telescopeA space telescope launching next week will carry with it the hopes and dreams of a Halifax researcher Marcin Sawicki, who helped develop an instrument on board. The telescope will be able to take pictures of the first stars that appeared in the universe after the Big Bang. The James Webb Space Telescope is scheduled to launch on Dec. 24 at the… cbc.caOmicron: Wave of closures across USAs the omicron variant of the coronavirus is poised to become the new leading variant in the United States, many schools and businesses are closing their doors over what President Biden is predicting to be a winter of “severe illness and death.” Across the country, schools are beginning to shift to remote learning, restaurants are closing their doo… FOX NewsOmicron scrambles anew US firms’ in-person aspirationsMajor US companies are having to reassess their return-to-office plans and getting tough on vaccine or mask requirements as the Omicron Covid variant looks set to extend pandemic-induced work-from-home culture. In the retail sector, companies were also getting tough on Covid shots. AFP
Bangladesh foreign minister: US talks about humanity, doesn’t…Bangladesh, Dec. 19 — Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen has questioned the position of the United States as it talks about humanity pointing out that the country has been sheltering convicted killer Rashed Chowdhury instead of handing him over to Bangladesh. He said the US talks about “law and humanity” but they sheltered the killer (Rashed Chowd… United News of Bangladesh (UNB)U.S. senator gets vote on Nord Stream 2 sanctions, in deal over envoy…By Timothy Gardner WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Republican U.S. Senator Ted Cruz will get a vote in January on his bill to slap sanctions on Russia’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline in a deal struck with Democrats in which he agreed to lift holds on dozens of President Joe Biden’s nominees for ambassador posts. In the agreement reached early Saturday between Se… ReutersReport: Kanye’s WH bid was linked to Republican figures The IndependentTexas building its own ‘wall’ on Mexico border: governor AFPReport: Pentagon papers show ‘deeply flawed’ US air war AFPVaccine Data Gaps Point to Millions More in U.S. Who Lack Shots BloombergPeople pressure governments worldwide to act on inflation Associated PressGlobal concerns rise over Omicron The Independent
In US, stressed hospitals brace for another Covid winter surge USA TODAYUS Senate confirms Emanuel as envoy to Japan AFPTwo positive COVID tests on trip with Blinken were not disclosed CBS NewsThousands of military families displaced from Hawaii military base after jet fuel… USA TODAYHarris says Biden administration ‘didn’t see omicron coming’Vice President Harris said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times on Friday that the Biden administration “didn’t see omicron coming,” referring to a coronavirus variant that has rapidly made its way across the U.S.The omicron variant, first officially detected last month in South Africa, has hit multiple states, including New York, California, Florida and Texas. Although Pfizer has reported that its booster appears to shore up protection… The HillFeedback