Israel bans travel to US over Omicron concerns: COVID live news

US will join a growing list of European countries and other destinations to which Israelis are barred from traveling.

People wearing masks for protection against the coronavirus leave Israel’s Ben-Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv [Jack Guez/AFP]

HICGI News Agency Updated at 1657 GMT on 20th Dec 2021

Israel has added the United States to its “no-fly” list, citing concerns over the spread of the new Omicron coronavirus variant.

Acting on health ministry recommendations, Israeli cabinet ministers voted on Monday to put the United States, Italy, Belgium, Germany, Hungary, Morocco, Portugal, Canada, Switzerland and Turkey on the no-fly roster.

In Europe, Germany has ruled out a Christmas lockdown but warned a fifth COVID-19 wave could no longer be stopped amid the spread of Omicron.

Meanwhile, the top infectious diseases expert in the United States warned that a new COVID-19 wave could strain hospital capacity.

“One thing that’s very clear … is (Omicron’s) extraordinary capability of spreading,” Fauci told broadcaster NBC News. “It is just… raging through the world.”

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Here are the latest updates:

UK’s Omicron deaths rise to 12, no guarantees on Christmas restrictions

Twelve people in Britain have died with the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, with another 104 people hospitalized, Britain’s Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab said.

Asked whether the government would impose further restrictions before Christmas, Raab told Times Radio: “I just can’t make hard and fast guarantees.”

“In assessing the situation we rely very heavily on the real data coming through and it will take a little bit more time to assess this critical issue of the severity of Omicron,” he said.


Coronavirus cluster linked to US base in Japan grows to at least 180

A cluster of coronavirus infections linked to a US military base in Japan has grown to at least 180, Japan’s government said, raising fears over the spread of the virus in the community.

A Japanese worker at Camp Hansen on the southern island of Okinawa was found positive with the Omicron variant last Friday, Japanese officials said.

The cluster linked to the base now had 180 cases, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told a regular news conference, though it was not clear how many were of the highly contagious Omicron variant.

“The Japanese government is urging again the US side to ensure all workers at the US military bases in Japan abide by the instructions and take strong measures if there are any violations,” Matsuno said.


Ramaphosa back at work after COVID-19: presidency

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has returned to work after finishing a week of self-isolation due to testing positive for COVID-19, his office said.

Ramaphosa, who was given Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine in February, tested positive for COVID-19 on December 12 and received treatment for mild symptoms.

“The President has returned to duty and will chair the final cabinet meeting for 2021 on Wednesday,” the presidency said in a statement.


Thai agency approves Pfizer vaccine for use in children aged 5-11

Thailand’s Food and Drug Administration said it has approved the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for children between the age of five and 11.

The Comirnaty vaccine, which is the first to be approved in Thailand for that age group, will be given in two 10 microgram doses, 21 days apart, the drug regulator said in a statement.


Israel to ban travel to US, Canada over Omicron variant

Israeli ministers agreed to ban travel to the United States, Canada and eight other countries amid the rapid, global spread of the Omicron variant.

The rare move to red-list the US comes amid rising coronavirus infections in Israel and marks a change to pandemic practices between the two nations with close diplomatic relations. The US will join a growing list of European countries and other destinations to which Israelis are barred from travelling, and from which returning travellers must remain in quarantine.

A parliamentary committee is expected to give the measure final approval. Once authorised, the travel ban will take effect at midnight on Wednesday morning.


Germany tightens restrictions on UK travellers

Travellers from the United Kingdom entering Germany must have a negative test and quarantine for two weeks, regardless of whether they have been vaccinated.

The Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases (RKI) – a federal health agency – announced the new rules as it classified the UK as a virus variant area of concern, the highest COVID-19 risk level.

German nationals and residents will still be allowed to enter from the UK.


EU drug regulator to decide on Novavax vaccine

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) said its human medicines committee would hold an extraordinary meeting to decide on whether to approve a COVID jab by Novavax, and “will communicate the outcome”.

Novavax’s jab, a protein-based vaccine of the kind used around the world to protect against many childhood illnesses, would be the fifth coronavirus shot authorised for the European Union.

Novavax says its vaccine showed 90.4 percent efficacy against COVID-19 in a North American trial.

Chief Executive Stanley Erck said the firm “looks forward to providing an additional vaccine option in Europe, built on a proven, well-understood technology platform”.


Sydney resists calls to restore tough curbs

Despite the threat from the more transmissible Omicron variant, life returned to near normal in Sydney last week, with almost all tough curbs lifted ahead of Christmas, as vaccination rates rank among the world’s highest.

“There will always be new variants of this virus,” said Dominic Perrottet, the premier of the most populous state of New South Wales.

“The pandemic is not going away and we need to learn to live alongside it,” he told reporters. “We need to also move away from fear and move to hope and confidence.”


Thailand reports first local Omicron case

Thailand is considering reinstating mandatory quarantine for foreign visitors due to concerns over the spread of Omicron, as the health ministry reported the country’s first case of local transmission of the coronavirus variant.

The Public Health Ministry will propose scrapping a quarantine waiver for vaccinated visitors and revert to hotel quarantine and a “sandbox” programme, which allows free movement in specific locations, its minister Anutin Charnvirakul said.

The proposal was driven by worries over the spread of Omicron, Anutin told the Inside Thailand television show, adding it will be made to the government’s COVID-19 taskforce “soon”.

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