The WHO issued stern warnings Wednesday on the dangers of vaccination apathy and the European Union put mandatory jabs on the table as the United States registered its first case of the fast-spreading Omicron strain of the coronavirus.

The new variant, first reported to the World Health Organization by South Africa a week ago, has quickly popped up across continents, darkening economic forecasts and deepening fears of another difficult winter in the northern hemisphere.

The WHO says it could take several weeks to understand whether or not Omicron is more transmissible, and whether it results in more severe disease as well as how effective current treatments and vaccines are against it.

Its detection and spread, however, have highlighted that the now nearly two-year global fight against Covid-19 is far from over.In Brussels, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said it was “understandable and appropriate” to discuss how to “encourage and potentially think about mandatory vaccination” in the bloc  although only individual member states can impose such mandates. 

The United States, officially the world’s hardest-hit country, announced it had detected its first Omicron case: a fully vaccinated traveller from South Africa who is recovering from mild symptoms.Top American infectious diseases specialist Anthony Fauci stressed that fully vaccinated adults should seek a booster when eligible to give themselves the best possible protection.

 Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates also recorded their first cases of Omicron, making the Gulf the latest region to be affected.The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control meanwhile recommended that children aged five to 11 who are at risk of severe Covid should be considered a “priority group” for vaccination.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development warned Omicron threatens the world’s recovery and lowered growth estimates for 2021 from 5.7 percent to 5.6 percent.Omicron has prompted governments around the globe to reimpose travel restrictions, mostly targeting southern Africa.

A day after suspending new flight bookings into the country, Japan on Thursday eased the blanket move to help citizens return.But there is growing criticism of such bans.On Wednesday, UN Secretary Guterres Antonio Guterres called them “deeply unfair and punitive” as well as “ineffective”.

Rising infection rates have already seen some European governments reintroduce mandatory mask-wearing, social-distancing measures, curfews or lockdowns in a desperate attempt to limit hospitalisations, leaving businesses fearing another grim Christmas.

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