Vaccines likely no match for Omicron, says Moderna CEO

Existing COVID vaccines will struggle against the “highly transmissible” Omicron variant, the head of US vaccine manufacturer Moderna has said, adding that it will take months to develop a new shot that works.

Stephane Bancel told the Financial Times in an interview published on Tuesday that data would be available on the effectiveness of current vaccines in the next two weeks.

A growing number of countries have imposed travel restrictions after the new variant with a high number of mutations was detected in South Africa last week.

On Monday, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned that the global risk from the spread of Omicron was “very high”.

Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden has said the strain should be considered a “cause for concern, not a cause for panic”. No Omicron-linked deaths have been reported yet.

Here are all the latest updates.

India promises more COVID-19 shots to Omicron-hit Africa after Chinese move

India stands ready to “expeditiously” send more COVID-19 vaccine to Africa to help fight the Omicron variant, New Delhi announced late Monday after China pledged 1 billion doses to the continent.

India and China have close ties with many African countries but Beijing has pumped much more money into the region, and on Monday promised to invest another $10 billion.

India said it had supplied more than 25 million doses of domestically made shots to 41 African countries, mostly through the global vaccine-distribution network COVAX.

“The Government of India stands ready to support the countries affected in Africa in dealing with the Omicron variant, including by supplies of Made-in-India vaccines,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.

Moderna CEO says vaccines likely less effective against Omicron

The head of drugmaker Moderna said COVID-19 vaccines are unlikely to be as effective against the Omicron variant of the coronavirus as they have been previously, sparking fresh worry in financial markets about the trajectory of the pandemic.

“There is no world, I think, where (the effectiveness) is the same level . . . we had with Delta,” Moderna Chief Executive Stéphane Bancel told the Financial Times.

“I think it’s going to be a material drop. I just don’t know how much because we need to wait for the data. But all the scientists I’ve talked to . . . are like ‘this is not going to be good.’”

Bancel added that the high number of mutations on the protein spike the virus uses to infect human cells meant it was likely the current crop of vaccines would need to be modified.

Hong Kong bans non-resident arrivals from 13 more countries

Hong Kong has banned non-residents from entering the city from four African countries and plans to expand that to travellers who have been to Australia, Canada, Israel and six European countries in the past 21 days due to fears over Omicron.

In a statement late on Monday, the Hong Kong government said non-residents from Angola, Ethiopia, Nigeria and Zambia would not be allowed to enter the global financial hub as of November 30. Residents can return if they are vaccinated but will have to quarantine for seven days in a government facility and another two weeks in a hotel at their own cost.

“Non-Hong Kong residents from these four places will not be allowed to enter Hong Kong,” the statement said. “The most stringent quarantine requirements will also be implemented on relevant inbound travellers from these places.”

Additionally, non-residents who have been to Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Israel, and Italy in the past 21 days would not be allowed to enter the city from December 2. Vaccinated residents returning from these countries will have to do three weeks of hotel quarantine.

Fiji proceeds with border reopening despite Omicron

Fiji will press on with plans to reopen its border to international travellers on Wednesday, despite the threat from the newly identified Omicron coronavirus variant, the Pacific nation’s leader has told Parliament.

Fiji has long targeted December 1 as the day it will welcome back foreign holidaymakers to boost a tourism-reliant economy devastated since the pandemic forced borders to close in March last year.

Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama said Omicron’s recent emergence would not derail the plans and he would personally welcome the first Fiji Airways flight into Nadi from Australia on Wednesday morning.

“We are still emerging from the horrible pandemic that we suffered and are just starting to recover from its economic devastation,” he told Parliament on Monday.

“Businesses are rebuilding … and people everywhere are resuming their normal lives.

Singapore says two travellers to Sydney with Omicron transited at Changi

Singapore’s Ministry of Health says two travellers from Johannesburg, who tested positive for the Omicron coronavirus variant in Sydney, had transited through Changi airport.

The two individuals left Johannesburg on November 27 on a Singapore Airlines flight and arrived at Changi on the same day for their transit flight, the ministry said in a statement. Both had tested negative for COVID-19 prior to departure, it added.

The ministry said most of the travellers had remained in the transit area at Changi Airport. Of the seven who disembarked, six had been placed on a 10-day stay at home notice, while the seventh, a close contact of an infected individual on the flight, had been quarantined.

“Contact tracing is ongoing for airport staff who may have come into transient contact with the cases,” the ministry said.

Hong Kong stocks begin with further losses

Hong Kong shares dipped at the open of trade on Tuesday to extend losses stemming from the new Omicron strain that has fanned fears about the effect on the global economic recovery.

The Hang Seng Index dipped 0.29 percent, or 69.38 points, to 23,782.86.

The Shanghai Composite Index added 0.23 percent, or 8.05 points, to 3,570.75, while the Shenzhen Composite Index on China’s second exchange gained 0.35 percent, or 8.80 points, to 2,525.73.

Australia to delay border reopening for international travellers

Australia announced that it would delay the reopening of its borders to vaccinated skilled workers, international students and other visa holders, which was set for Wednesday, due to the emerging coronavirus Omicron variant.

“The National Security Committee has taken the necessary and temporary decision to pause the next step to safely reopen Australia to international skilled and student cohorts, as well as humanitarian, working holiday maker and provisional family visa holders from 1 December until 15 December,” a Monday evening statement by the Canberra government said.

“The reopening to travellers from Japan and the Republic of Korea will also be paused until 15 December.”

The government said the “temporary pause” would allow the country time to “gather the information we need to better understand the Omicron variant”.

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