The United States and Germany joined countries around the globe planning stricter COVID-19 restrictions on Thursday as the new Omicron variant rattled markets, fearful it could choke a tentative economic recovery from the pandemic.
According to Reuters Much remains unknown about Omicron, which was first found on Nov. 8 in South Africa and has spread to at least two dozen countries, just as parts of Europe are suffering a surge in infections of the better-known Delta variant as winter sets in.
But South Africa said on Thursday it was seeing an increase in COVID-19 reinfections in patients contracting Omicron in a way that it did not experience with previous variants.
“Previous infection used to protect against Delta but now with Omicron that doesn’t seem to be the case,” said Professor Anne von Gottberg during an online briefing organised by the World Health Organization.
Omicron could become the dominant COVID-19 variant in France by the end of January, the country’s top scientific adviser said on Thursday, after both France and the United States reported their first cases.
In Germany: outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel and her successor, Olaf Scholz, will discuss with regional leaders restricting the unvaccinated from access to all but the most essential businesses, such as grocery stores and pharmacies.
Eager to avoid lockdowns that could derail a fragile recovery of Europe’s biggest economy, they are expected to keep businesses open to the almost 69% of the population that are fully vaccinated as well as those who have recovered from the coronavirus.
In the United States: steps to fight COVID-19 this winter are set to be unveiled later on Thursday, and sources briefed on the matter told Reuters one step would be extending requirements for travellers to wear masks through mid-March.
By early next week the United States will require inbound international travellers to be tested for COVID-19 within a day of departure, regardless of vaccination status.
And it will also require private health insurance companies to reimburse customers for the cost of over-the-counter at-home COVID-19 tests, which will benefit some 150 million Americans who have private health insurance, a senior administration official told reporters.