Fears over the impact of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus rose on Thursday after the first case was reported in the United States and the Japanese central bank warned of economic pain as countries respond with tighter containment measures.
President Joe Biden is working on the U.S. strategy for fighting COVID-19 this winter and sources briefed on the matter told Reuters one step will be extending requirements for travelers to wear masks through mid-March. A formal announcement is expected on Thursday, the sources said.
The White House also plans to announce stricter testing rules for international visitors. The first known U.S. case was a fully vaccinated person in California who returned to the United States from South Africa on Nov. 22 and tested positive seven days later.
Airlines in the United States were told to hand over the names of passengers arriving from parts of southern Africa hit by Omicron, according to a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention letter seen by Reuters.
Top U.S. infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci on Wednesday said it could take two weeks or more to gain insight into how easily the variant spreads, the severity of the illness that it causes, and whether it can evade currently available vaccines.
Bank of Japan board member Hitoshi Suzuki said Japan’s economic recovery may miss expectations if the spread of the Omicron variant hurts consumption, or supply bottlenecks persist.
In the latest restrictions, South Korea on Thursday halted quarantine exemptions for fully vaccinated inbound travellers for two weeks as daily coronavirus case numbers rose to a new high. South Korea confirmed its first five cases of the Omicron variant on Wednesday.
Indonesia also tightened border curbs, extended quarantine and limited movement on strategic toll roads in a preemptive move to limit the spread of the Omicron variant should it reach Southeast Asia’s largest country.
Britain and the United States have both expanded their booster programmes in response to the new variant, although the WHO says wealthy countries should instead share more vaccines with vulnerable people in poorer countries where variants are most likely to emerge as long as inoculation rates are low.