The United States and Australia announced their first locally transmitted cases of the Omicron variant as authorities worldwide rushed Friday to stem the spread of the heavily mutated strain of Covid-19.

The World Health Organization has said it could take weeks to determine whether Omicron is more transmissible and whether it causes more severe infections  as well as how effective current treatments and vaccines are against it.

All incoming travelers will need to test negative within a day before their flights, and rapid tests that currently cost $25 will be covered by insurance and distributed free to the uninsured.

Australia on Friday, too, reported a student with no history of foreign travel had tested positive for the variant.But ┬áthe new variant, first reported by South Africa, has already cast the world’s recovery into doubt, with the EU health agency warning it could cause more than half of Europe’s Covid cases in the next few months.

The case, detected in the country’s largest city of Sydney, comes despite a sweeping ban on non-citizens entering the country and restrictions on flights from southern Africa.And just a day after Singapore reported two cases of the strain, neighboring Malaysia on Friday reported its first infections with the variant.

The case was only confirmed on December 2, after officials conducted genome sequencing on some samples taken from recent arrivals at Kuala Lumpur airport, he said.Sri Lanka also announced its first Omicron case, a citizen who returned from South Africa.

The  United Nations said Thursday that the pandemic has pushed tens of millions more people into poverty, estimating that 274 million people would need emergency assistance next year as economies suffer with Covid-19 restrictions.

It is not yet clear when the latest measures will go into effect, but the plans include a blanket ban on entering bars, restaurants and cinemas for anyone who is unvaccinated or not recovered from Covid, according to a document signed off by the leaders of the country’s 16 states.


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