LIVE – Updated at 01:28
Mandatory mask-wearing in shops and transport reimposed in England; Anthony Fauci says new variant is probably already in the US; Australia scrambles to prevent outbreak.
Czech Republic confirms Omicron case
A hospital in the northern Czech city of Liberec has confirmed a case of the Omicron strain in a female patient, a spokesman told Czech Television on Saturday.
Czech prime minister Andrej Babis said earlier Saturday that the woman had been in Namibia and flew back to the Czech Republic via South Africa and Dubai. Babis said the woman was vaccinated and had mild symptoms of the disease.
“Given where the patient came from and all the circumstances, we can confirm the strain has been confirmed,” the spokesman added.
The Czech Republic is currently grappling with a spike in Covid-19 infections making it one of the worst-hit countries in the world in terms of infections per capita.
Australia toughens up restrictions
Australia’s federal health minister said he was meeting the prime minister, Scott Morrison, and the chief health officer, and state and territory counterparts to discuss developments around the Omicron Covid-19 variant.
Greg Hunt did a swift u-turn on Saturday by shutting the country’s border with South Africa and reinstating mandatory quarantine for arrivals from nine southern African countries as concerns about Omicron mounted. States such as South Australia are already tightening up their borders again after only beginning to emerge from the Delta lockdown in place in much of the country since June and July.
New South Wales, however, is sticking with its reopening plan. State premier Dominic Perrottet said it was “inevitable” that more variants will emerge and enter Australia, and said the state was taking a “precautionary approach” with the changes to international arrivals announced yesterday.
“We need to learn to live alongside the virus and to live alongside the various strains of the virus that will come our way, and the best thing we can do is get vaccinated and get booster shots,” he said.
“Urgent” genomic sequencing is under way after two passengers on a Qatar Airways flight arrived in Sydney on Saturday night. Perrottet confirmed that 29 people arrived in Sydney yesterday, after spending time in southern Africa.
Mexico recorded 245 coronavirus deaths on Saturday and an additional 2,956 confirmed cases, according to health ministry data, bringing the overall death toll to 293,859 and the number of cases to 3,882,792.
US praises South African response
The US has praised South Africa for quickly identifying the Omicron strain and sharing the information with the world, AFP reports.
In what has been viewed as a swipe at China’s handling of the original outbreak of Covid in 2019, secretary of state Antony Blinken spoke with South Africa’s international relations and cooperation minister, Naledi Pandor, and discussed cooperation on vaccinating people in Africa.
“Secretary Blinken specifically praised South Africa’s scientists for the quick identification of the Omicron variant and South Africa’s government for its transparency in sharing this information, which should serve as a model for the world,” a statement from the State Department said.
First under Donald Trump and now under president Joe Biden, the US has repeatedly criticised China as not being forthcoming on the origins of the coronavirus.
Morning/afternoon/evening wherever you are in the world, and welcome to the Guardian’s rolling updates about the coronavirus pandemic.
The main developoments in the past 24 hours or so concern the rush to contain the Omicron variant as cases are detected in countries around the world.
Here is a quick summary of where we are:
- Britain, Germany, Italy and the Czech Republic detected cases of the new Omicron coronavirus variant on Saturday. There was also concern in the Netherlands after 61 people tested positive for Covid-19 after arriving on two flights from South Africa on Friday. Further tests were under way to determine if any of them had the Omicron variant.
- Boris Johnson said arrivals to the UK have to take a PCR test by the second day of their arrival and self-isolate until they have a negative result after the first two cases of the new variant were reported in Nottingham and Essex. Face coverings will also become compulsory in shops and on public transport in the UK from next week.
- US government expert Dr Anthony Fauci said he “would not be surprised” if the Omicron variant was already in the US. President Joe Biden has been briefed on the situation.
- Israel is to ban the entry of visitors from all countries due to the Omicron variant. The country will also reintroduce counter-terrorism phone-tracking technology for contact testing in order to contain the spread of the new strain.
- Health officials in New South Wales, Australia, have begun urgent testing after two people who arrived on a flight from southern Africa overnight tested positive to the coronavirus. But the state’s opening up plan remains in place for now. Follow all the developments in Australia at our separate live blog here.
- Two people with the new variant entered Germany at Munich airport on 24 November, before South Africa was designated a virus variant area and were now isolating, Bavaria’s health ministry said. Earlier, officials in the western state of Hesse, home to Frankfurt airport, said a suspected case of the Omicron variant had been found in a passenger arriving from South Africa.
- A case of the Omicron variant has been detected in Italy. The genome was sequenced at the Laboratory of Clinical Microbiology, Virology and Bioemergency Diagnostics of the Sacco Hospital in Milan from a positive sample of a patient coming from Mozambique.
Source: Thanks msn.com