Sat, 22 Jan 2022

The fast-spreading Omicron variant of the coronavirus had on Tuesday been detected in a number of new countries, including in Japan. Face masks have become mandatory again on public transport and shops in England in a bid to slow the spread of this new variant.

The Omicron variant first detected in South Africa poses a "very high" global risk, the World Health Organization has warned, urging governments to accelerate vaccination of high-priority groups. Follow FRANCE 24's coverage of the day's events.

  • 13:29 pm Paris time: Putin demands 'action plan' for Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered the government to prepare an action plan within the next week to fight the Omicron variant of the coronavirus. Putin said it was important to maintain supplies of drugs, oxygen and hospital beds.

"It is necessary to constantly monitor the effectiveness of tests and vaccines, to use clear algorithms to reduce the spread of infection," he said.

Russia has not yet reported any cases of Omicron, but suffered its deadliest month for Covid-19 in October, forcing it to impose a week-long nationwide workplace shutdown at the start of November.

On Tuesday the Russian coronavirus task force reported 33,860 new cases and 1,209 deaths in the past 24 hours. Since the start of the pandemic, it has recorded more than 9.6 million Covid-19 infections, and 275,193 deaths.

Russia's Sputnik V vaccine is still awaiting approval by the World Health Organization.

  • 13:20 pm Paris time: Britain enforces face masks again

Britain on Tuesday made the wearing of face masks in shops and on public transport compulsory again in a bid to curb the spread of the new Omicron coronavirus variant.

Some retailers, however, have said that even though they support the measure, they won't enforce it on their customers, fearing abuse on their staff.

"What I won't be doing is asking my store colleagues to police those who refuse to adhere to the rules. They're already working under significant pressure, especially as we hit the busiest trading month of the year," Richard Walker, managing director of the Iceland supermarket chain told BBC radio.

Industry lobby group the British Retail Consortium has said enforcement of face coverings must remain the duty of the authorities, an not retailers.

  • 11:57 am Paris time: 42 Omicron cases confirmed in 10 EU countries

The head of the European Union's public health agency has announced that 42 Omicron variant cases have been confirmed in ten EU countries.

Andrea Ammon, who chairs the European Centre for Disease prevention and Control (ECDC), told an online conference that authorities in the EU were analysing another six "probable" cases, noting that confirmed cases were mild or without symptoms.

  • 11:39 am Paris time: Omicron found in Netherlands before South Africa flights

The new fast-spreading Omicron variant was detected in the Netherlands a week earlier than previously thought - prior to the November 26 flights from South Africa initially blamed for bringing the mutated coronavirus into the country, the National Institute for Public Health (RIVM) said Tuesday.

"We have found the Omicron coronavirus variant in two test samples that were taken on November 19 and November 23," it said. "It is not clear yet whether these people have visited southern Africa."

At least 14 people on two flights from Johannesburg and Cape Town arrived in the Netherlands on Nov. 26 carried the new variant, the RIVM said.

  • 11:30 am Paris time: EU could approve Omicron-tailored jab 'in 3-4 months'

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) said it could approve vaccines adapted to target the Omicron variant of the coronavirus within three to four months if needed, but that existing shots will continue to provide protection.

"Were there a need to change the existing vaccines, we could be in a position to have those approved within three to four months," EMA executive director Emer Cooke told the European Parliament.

"Companies adapting their formulations to include the new sequencing (...) will then have to show that the production system works, they will then have to do some clinical trials to determine that this actually works in practice."

  • 11:20 am Paris time: EU urges members to step up detection of coronavirus mutations

The European Union's health commissioner Stella Kyriakides has urged member states to boost efforts to detect coronavirus mutations in a letter sent out to health ministers.

"Certain Member States lag behind considerably in terms of this crucial dimension," she wrote.

The Omicron variant, which was first found in southern Africa, has now been identified in several European countries, but it is hard to track its spread as various countries do not carry out sufficient genome sequencing of positive samples.

  • 11:10 am Paris time: Norway urges public to wear facemasks

Norway's Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Stoereon has urged members of the public to wear face masks on public transport and in other crowded places amid a surge in new coronavirus infections.

He also urged municipalities to accelerate a drive to give booster shots to all adults, saying: "we can avoid a lockdown."

Norway in September ended all domestic coronavirus restrictions, but opposition parties in recent days called on the government to take action to prevent the spread of the virus and thus avoid a hard lockdown of society.

  • 10:30 am Paris time: Moderna says existing vaccines will struggle against Omicron

In an interview with the Financial Times, Stephane Bancel, the head of US vaccine manufacturer Moderna said that data will be available on the effectiveness of current vaccines in the next two weeks but that scientists are not optimistic.

"All the scientists I've talked to ... are like 'this is not going to be good'," he said, adding there will be be a "material drop" in the effectiveness of current jabs against Omicron.

Bancel said researchers were concerned because 32 of 50 mutations found in the Omicron variant were on the spike protein, a part of the virus that vaccines use to bolster the immune system against Covid-19.

Moderna has already said it is working on an Omicron-specific vaccine, as is US drugmaker Pfizer.

Chief executive Bancel said his company could deliver between two billion and three billion doses in 2022 but it would be dangerous to shift all production to an Omicron-specific shot with other strains of the virus still in circulation.

  • 09:30 am Paris time: China says Omicron will pose 'challenges' for Winter Olympics

China has warned that the Omicron variant will cause challenges in hosting next February's Winter Olympics in Beijing.

"I think it will definitely lead to challenges linked to prevention and control," foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said

  • 09.00 am Paris time: Japan confirms its first case of Omicron variant

Japan has confirmed its first case of the Omicron coronavirus variant, a day after authorities announced new Covid border restrictions.

The case was flagged during routine testing at an airport, where a man in his 30s, who had travelled to Japan from Namibia, tested positive to Covid-19.

The man is now in isolation at a medical facility.

On Monday, Japan tightened its border rules, barring all new foreign arrivals to the country for fears of the newly discovered variant.

Japan has recorded just over 18,300 coronavirus deaths during the pandemic

Originally published on France24

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