New cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant have been detected around the world, with two cases reported in Australia, as more countries try to seal themselves off by imposing travel restrictions.

First discovered in South Africa, Omicron has since been recorded in the Netherlands, Denmark, Belgium, Botswana, Germany, Hong Kong, Israel, Italy and the United Kingdom.

The discovery of Omicron, dubbed a “variant of concern” on Friday by the World Health Organization, sparked worries that it could resist vaccines and prolong the nearly two-year COVID pandemic.

Omicron is potentially more contagious than previous variants, but experts do not know yet if it will cause more or less severe COVID-19.

Here are the latest updates:

Morocco bans all inbound flights for two weeks

Morocco will ban all inbound international passenger flights for two weeks starting November 29 due to concerns over the Omicron variant, the Moroccan government has said in a statement.

US should be prepared to do ‘anything’: Fauci

Dr Anthony Fauci, the top US infectious disease expert, has said that Americans should be prepared to do “anything and everything” to fight the spread of the variant Omicron.

It is “too early to say” whether we need new lockdowns or mandates, Fauci told ABC News.

“You want to be prepared to do anything and everything,” he said.

COVID booster advice should come imminently: UK minister

UK’s health minister Sajid Javid has said he expects to receive advice imminently on whether the government can broaden a booster shot programme to try to weaken the impact of the Omicron variant.

The government announced new measures to try to slow the spread of the variant.

But ministers also want to ramp up the offer of booster jabs, saying even if vaccines prove to be less effective against Omicron, they should offer better protection against it and reduce the number of hospitalisations and deaths.

Rugby-Ireland’s Munster to remain in Cape Town after positive COVID test

Irish rugby team Munster are to remain in Cape Town after one of the travelling party tested positive for COVID-19, the club has said.

Munster are one of several European rugby union teams that were in South Africa when authorities raised the alarm about the new variant.

Germany confirms third case of Omicron

Health officials in the German state of Hesse have confirmed a case of the Omicron variant, bringing the total number of cases in Germany to three.

The Hesse case was confirmed by sequencing, the state’s social affairs minister Kai Klose tweeted.

Indonesia bans arrivals from eight African countries

Indonesia will ban the entry of travellers who have been in eight African countries and extend quarantine times for all arrivals to curb the spread of the Omicron variant, officials have said.

The ban extends to people who have been in South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Mozambique, Eswatini or Nigeria in the past 14 days.

Delegates attending G20 meetings, which Indonesia chairs, will not be affected.

Hello, this is Elizabeth Melimopoulos taking over the live blog from my colleague Tamila Varshalomidze. 

Denmark registers Omicron variant in two travellers

Denmark has registered two cases of the new Omicron coronavirus variant in travellers from South Africa, according to the country’s infectious disease authority.

“This was to be expected, and our strategy is therefore to continue intensive monitoring of the infection in the country,” Henrik Ullum, CEO of the Statens Serum Institute, said in a statement.

The two people, who travelled to Denmark by plane, have been put in isolation and authorities are tracing any close contacts.

‘Absolute chaos’ in South Africa as flights grounded

Disbelief and confusion washed over South Africa as the announcement of the discovery of the Omicron COVID-19 variant grounded flights and raised fears of a hard lockdown in Africa’s most developed economy.

Flights from the country to the United States, United Kingdom and nations in Europe were swiftly banned after South African scientists officially announced the discovery of the virus strain on Thursday.

Read more here.

Shoppers wearing face masks on a crowded footpath in Pretoria, South Africa [Denis Farrell/AP]

Dutch authorities find 13 cases of Omicron variant

Dutch health authorities have said that 13 cases of the new Omicron coronavirus variant have been found in the Netherlands among passengers who were on flights from South Africa earlier this week.

The National Institute for Public Health (RIVM) confirmed the cases in a statement.

Travellers arrive in Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, the Netherlands [Eva Plevier/Reuters]

UK to enforce new COVID rules from Tuesday

Britain’s government has defended the pace and scale of its response to the new Omicron strain of COVID-19 against criticism that it was again falling behind the curve.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said mandatory mask-wearing will return to shops and public transport in England on Tuesday, and told families to plan for Christmas “as normal”, despite new rules to tackle the Omicron variant.

Also from Tuesday, all passengers arriving in Britain are being instructed to take a PCR test for COVID-19 and self-isolate until they register negative.

Dozens on South Africa flights test positive for COVID in Netherlands

Dutch health authorities say they have detected 61 COVID-19 cases among people who flew in from South Africa.

In a statement on Saturday, the Dutch Health Authority (GDD) said that the cases were discovered among 624 passengers who arrived at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport on two flights on Friday.

Read more here.

Israel tightens travel restrictions over new COVID variant

Israel says it will ban the entry of all foreigners into the country, making it the first nation to shut its borders completely in response to a new and potentially more contagious coronavirus variant.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said the ban, pending government approval, would last 14 days.

Read more here.

An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man exits Ben Gurion international airport near Tel Aviv [Ammar Awad/Reuters]

Swiss voters look set to back COVID-19 response plan

Swiss voters looked likely to back the government’s pandemic response plan in a referendum, paving the way for the continuation of exceptional measures to stem the rising tide of COVID-19 cases.

Early government tallies of Sunday’s polls showed a little more than 60 percent of the votes so far supporting the law passed this year to provide financial aid to people hit by the COVID-19 crisis and to require proof of COVID-19 vaccination, recovery or a negative test to enter bars, restaurants and certain events.

Restrictions to public life to curb coronavirus infections have sparked opposition in Switzerland, triggering a binding referendum under the country’s system of direct democracy, even as cases have risen to levels the government this week deemed “critical”.

Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Sudan ban flights from African countries

Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Sudan have suspended flights with a number of African countries due to Omicron.

Saudi state news agency SPA, citing a source with the interior ministry, said direct flights with Angola, Comoros, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Seychelles and Zambia had been suspended.

On Friday, the kingdom banned flights from Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe amid Omicron fears.

Bahrain also banned passengers from Angola, Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia, according to the state news agency, BNA. Bahraini nationals and holders of valid visas to Bahrain, however, were allowed to enter.

Health authorities in Sudan also banned flights from Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe over the variant.

Omicron variant likely in France: Health minister

Omicron is probably already circulating in France, its health minister said, adding that the government was tightening restrictions to contain it.

“Once the variant is circulating in England, in Italy, in Belgium, it is probable that there are already cases in circulation here. We will identify them and (…) we will slow down its spread as much as possible,” Olivier Veran told reporters at a vaccination centre in Paris.

France is in the midst of a fifth wave of the virus. It recorded more than 37,000 positive cases on Saturday and a sharp rise in the number of patients in intensive care.

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