Live: US, Australia join global rush to slap curbs over Omicron variant

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The US, Australia and Canada on Saturday joined the growing list of countries imposing travel restrictions from southern Africa after the WHO declared Omicron, a new Covid-19 strain first detected in South Africa, a “variant of concern”.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said the new variant may spread more quickly than other variants of Covid-19 and preliminary evidence suggested there is an increased risk of reinfection.

Epidemiologists warned travel curbs may be too late to stop Omicron from circulating globally. The new mutations were first discovered in South Africa and have since been detected in Belgium, Botswana, Israel and Hong Kong.

Read FRANCE 24’s coverage of the day’s events.

4:31 Paris time

Australia starts 14-day quarantine for citizens travelling from southern Africa

Australia imposed new restrictions on Saturday on people who have been to nine southern African countries. They include South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, the Seychelles, Malawi and Mozambique.

Effective immediately, the government will ban non-citizens who have been in those countries from entering and will require supervised 14-day quarantines for Australian citizens and their dependents returning from the countries, said Health Minister Greg Hunt.

These restrictions also apply to people such as international students and skilled migrants arriving from countries with which Australia has travel bubbles, who have been in any of the nine countries within the past 14 days.

“If the medical evidence shows that further actions are required, we will not hesitate to take them. And that may involve strengthening or expanding the restrictions,” he said.

Anyone who has already arrived in Australia and who has been in any of those countries within the past 14 days must immediately isolate and be tested.

The Australian government will also suspend all flights from the nine southern African countries for two weeks.

Twenty travellers from South Africa are in quarantine in the Northern Territory’s Howard Springs facility, 19 of whom have returned negative coronavirus tests. It is not yet known if the one positive test result is the Omicron variant, Hunt said.

4:18 Paris time

CDC says no cases of Omicron identified in US so far

No cases of the new Omicron variant have been identified in the US to date, said the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We expect Omicron to be identified quickly, if it emerges in the US,” CDC said in a statement.

00:45 Paris time

US imposes travel ban from eight African countries

The US will bar entry to most travelers from eight southern African countries starting on Monday.

The restrictions apply to South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi. Most non-US citizens who have been in those countries within the prior 14 days will not be allowed into the US. 

“As a precautionary measure until we have more information, I am ordering additional air travel restrictions from South Africa and seven other countries,” said President Joe Biden said in a statement.

The president told reporters while on a walk in Nantucket that his medical team recommended the ban begin on Monday instead of immediately.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)

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