US set to impose travel restrictions as first omicron case confirmed
British travellers are facing heightened restrictions once again, as new border rules come into force across France, Spain and Portugal this week amid concerns over the spread of the omicron variant.
From today, Spain has banned all non-vaccinated Britons from entering the country; previously they could visit by showing evidence of a negative PCR test. Fernando Grande-Marlasca, Minister of the Interior of Spain, cited “the presence of new forms of the […] disease” for its new increased state of caution.
Meanwhile, from Saturday onwards, all UK holidaymakers arriving in France must show proof of a negative antigen (lateral flow) or PCR test, regardless of their vaccination status.
Portugal, too, now mandates a pre-travel PCR or antigen test for all UK arrivals, with a €300-800 fine for those who fail to comply.
From next week, restrictions at the US border will also tighten as the first case of the new variant is detected. President Joe Biden is due to announce today that all travellers, regardless of nationality or vaccination status, will need to provide proof of a negative Covid-19 test within one day of boarding their flights.
Follow the latest updates below.
That's a wrap for today
Many thanks for following the live blog. Here's a reminder of today's big stories:
Spain has banned all non-vaccinated Britons from entering the country
France, Portugal, Norway and the US are reintroducing testing requirements for arrivals, regardless of vaccination status
Leading operator Inghams has suspended all December ski holidays to Switzerland
Air investigators have issued a warning over pilots' lack of flying time after a 'serious incident' with a Tui jet
We'll be back tomorrow.
Norway adds restrictions after Oslo outbreak
As reported earlier, Norway now requires all overseas visitors, both vaccinated and unvaccinated, to take a test within 24 hours of arrival.
Furthermore, in areas with high infection rates, such as the capital Oslo, the use of face masks in crowded places will become mandatory, as will working from home, at least for part of the week, for those who are able to.
The measures were taken after a fifth person tested positive for the omicron variant on Thursday in the wake of a corporate Christmas party in Oslo last week, but Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere said the exact number was likely higher.
"Since Tuesday we have had a big outbreak of the Omicron variant in Oslo. Over 50 people have been infected at an event. All of these were fully vaccinated," Stoere told a news conference.
Omicron may become dominant in Europe within months
The European Union's public health agency has said that the omicron variant could be responsible for more than half of all Covid infections in Europe within a few months, but no cases of severe disease had yet been identified in the region.
The estimate could lend weight to preliminary information about the very high transmissibility of the variant, above that of delta , which before omicron was considered the most contagious of the main strains.
Earlier on Thursday, the French government's top scientific adviser Jean-Francois Delfraissy said omicron could take delta's place by the end of January.
Europe has so far recorded 79 cases of the omicron variant. Half of those were asymptomatic and the other half showed only mild symptoms. There were no cases featuring severe disease, hospitalisation, or death.
The new luxury ship that takes cruising closer to zero-carbon
In just over 18 months we will be able to sail to chic Mediterranean ports aboard a ship that is spearheading the quest for sustainable propulsion. Silver Nova will not only come with ample bragging rights in the luxe stakes, below decks the hi-tech revolution will be the envy of the cruise industry. Gary Buchanan has the full story.
Secret European breaks for the traveller who has been everywhere
Telegraph Travel’s destination experts have chosen some of their favourite glorious mysteries – including the Galician jewel that is neither La Coruna nor Santiago de Compostela, and the genteel Dutch outpost that embraces Beethoven as one of its own.
The lure of a winter city break has lost a little of its lustre. New testing rules have added to the cost of holidays and mean returning travellers must spend a short period at home waiting for their result, while some European countries have enhanced measures to tackle rising Covid rates. But the appeal of a few nights in an unfamiliar city remains powerful.
US to extend strict mask rules on planes
President Joe Biden will lay out his winter Covid strategy later this evening, with overseas arrivals likely to be asked to provide evidence of a negative test taken within the previous 24 hours, in addition to documents proving vaccination.
Mask requirements on planes and trains will also be extended, to March 18. The US mask rules are stricter than most, with children as young as three years old expected to cover their faces on board flights and rail services. British Airways, for example, does not require those under the age of 11 to wear a mask.
Free New Year’s Eve Tube travel cancelled by London mayor Sadiq Khan
Sadiq Khan has cancelled free Tube travel on New Year’s Eve as he scrambles to prop up Transport for London’s Covid-hit finances, Oliver Gill reports.
Revellers will be charged as the capital’s transport authority counts the cost of the “catastrophic impact of the pandemic”.
The London Underground had been free between 11.45pm and 4.30am on New Year’s Eve for more than two decades, with the cost typically covered by a sponsor. Free travel was culled last year as celebrations were curtailed by coronavirus restrictions.
Icehotel reveals princely new suite
Sweden's famous Icehotel, which opens for the winter season in just over a week, has just unveiled its newest suite – designed by none other than Prince Carl Philip, the only son of King Carl XVI Gustaf.
A Midsummer Night’s Dream features flowers frozen into the design and aims to take guests on a journey back to the warmer days of Swedish midsummer.
For details on how to book a stay at the hotel, see www.discover-the-world.com/icehotel.
Keep pubs open, say Brits
The emergence of omicron has only slightly increased concerns about Christmas socialising, according to a YouGov poll.
Omicron has had limited impact on English people's desire to bring back COVID restrictions
2m rule: 60% (+1 vs Oct)
Rule of 6 indoors: 49% (+7)
No large events: 46% (+4)
Rule of 6 outdoors: 33% (+3)
Full lockdown: 28% (+8)
No household mixing: 26% (+4)https://t.co/EuCzW7R8G4 pic.twitter.com/Qn01z7bzY0
— YouGov (@YouGov) December 2, 2021
Inside India's maritime graveyard, where cruise ships go to die
Around half of all unwanted cruise ships end up at a little-known facility in Gujarat. Once there, these once immaculate pleasure palaces are rammed at full speed onto the beach during high tide. Gary Buchanan has the inside story, and some brilliant photographs.
Norway to reintroduce testing for overseas arrivals
Norway is re-introducing some restrictions in response to the emergence of the omicron variant, its government has announced, including testing for all travellers within 24 hours of arrival, whether vaccinated or not.
The country has seen infections rise in recent weeks despite 71.2% of its population being fully vaccinated.
'Around 90%' of Dutch omicron cases were vaccinated
Dutch health authorities have confirmed that most of the 62 people who tested positive for Covid-19 after arriving on two flights from South Africa last week had been vaccinated, lending weight to a call for pre-flight testing regardless of vaccination status.
Under rules in place at the time, more than 600 passengers were able to board the KLM flights from Johannesburg and Cape Town on November 26 with either proof of vaccination or a recent negative Covid-19 test result.
A spokesman for the health authority for Kennemerland, in which Amsterdam Schiphol Airport is situated, said "around 90%" of those that tested positive were vaccinated.
The best budget city breaks to take in 2022
Perhaps wandering the Champs-Élysées dominates your city break fantasies? Or do Copenhagen’s cobbled streets and angular architecture appeal? Maybe an autumnal wander through New York’s Central Park is high on your 2022 wishlist? Before you settle on one of these classic destinations, why not scan the World Cost of Living survey for a more original – and affordable – choice?
The latest iteration of the twice-yearly report by the Economist Intelligence Unit found that all three of these cities were among the most expensive on earth (although Tel Aviv took top billing).
Yet lingering at the cheaper end of this metropolis roll call is a mix of ever-enticing destinations. Emma Featherstone reveals them here.
How will the omicron variant affect my holiday?
Amid concern over the omicron variant, 10 African countries have been added to the travel red list and a number of nations are imposing stricter restrictions on arrivals from the UK.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced that anyone travelling to the UK must now take a PCR test by the end of the second day after their arrival, and self-isolate until they have received a negative result – regardless of the country they are travelling from, or their vaccination status. The new rules came into force at 4am Tuesday November 30.
Portugal, Switzerland, France and Spain have also heightened their entry restrictions.
'I am a guilty survivor of another round of pandemic-age travel roulette'
Travel is now a high stakes game of chance, with some winning holidays and others having their hopes and dreams dashed by red list chaos.
Anna Hart is one of the lucky ones. This week she write to you from a safari lodge in Tanzania, the guilty survivor of another round of pandemic-age travel roulette. Tanzania stayed off the hotel quarantine list, but neighbouring Zambia, along with nine other African nations, are now red-listed and effectively off-limits to travellers.
Inghams suspends all December ski holidays to Switzerland
Leading ski tour operator Inghams has cancelled all holidays to Switzerland in December following the Swiss Government’s decision to impose quarantine on British arrivals. Joe Ponte, CEO, said:
Following the news that Switzerland has imposed a 10 day quarantine on all UK arrivals, we have sadly suspended all December 2021 departures to Switzerland. Customers impacted by this news are being offered the option to move their booking free of charge or to cancel their booking with a full refund.
We are extremely disappointed for all our customers who were looking forward to a ski holiday in Switzerland in the coming month. Switzerland accounts for around 6 per cent of the holidays in our winter programme, and booking numbers for the coming ski season have been strong.
While many of our customers remain eager to return to the slopes, we understand that some customers with later departure dates may be feeling apprehensive about their holiday following this latest update. With this in mind, we continue to offer flexibility via our ‘No Fee to change up to 28 days before departure’ policy. Allowing our customers the option to move their holiday to a later date or different destination.
Germany to impose sweeping curbs for unvaccinated, confirms Angela Merkel
Following reports of plans earlier today, Germany has announced it will ban people who have not been vaccinated against Covid-19 from large parts of public life.
"Culture and leisure nationwide will be open only to those who have been vaccinated or recovered (from Covid)," Chancellor Angela Merkel said, adding that the same rule would also apply to non-essential shops.
"We have understood that the situation is very serious and that we want to take further measures in addition to those already taken," said Mrs Merkel.
"To do this, the fourth wave must be broken and this has not yet been achieved." The move has been widely expected and reported .
Japan reverses ban on inbound flight reservations
Japan has lifted its ban on inbound flight bookings today, after backlash from the airline industry and ongoing confusion over its international border policies.
On Monday, the Japanese Government told carriers not to accept new flight reservations for December, after two cases of omicron were detected in the country. However, booking services have today resumed after it ruled to introduce a lower cap on daily arrivals instead, down from 5,000 passengers to 3,500.
"I understand the transport ministry has cancelled its instruction for the blanket suspension of new reservations and asked airlines anew to give sufficient consideration to the needs of returning Japanese nationals," Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told a news conference.
The nation had started to ease its border policies in November, but the emergence of omicron prompted it to reinstate measures. Now, as of 30 November 2021, foreign nationals (including British nationals) who do not have resident status in Japan are not permitted to enter the country for any purpose, ‘other than in exceptional circumstances’, the Foreign Office states. Non-national residents of Japan are also banned from re-entering Japan if travelling from 10 southern African nations, including South Africa and Namibia.
In pictures: Laos gives Buddhist blessings to its new high-speed rail line
A Buddhist ceremony was held in Laos today to bless its new $6 billion high-speed rail line, a Chinese-led initiative that marks one of the country’s, which is one of Asia's least-developed nations, biggest leaps towards modernisation.
The rail connects the Chinese city of Kunming to the Laos capital Vientiane, stretching more than 621.37 miles.
Where's a safe bet for a winter break?
If you want to avoid rising Covid rates and restrictions, go long. Just about every major winter sun destination is keeping a lid on things, and those shown below are all especially keen to welcome British travellers.
Scotland's forgotten peninsula
In its heyday, half of Glasgow would flock ‘doon the watter’ to beautiful Cowal – can it complete a tourism turnaround? Robin McKelvie reports.
South Korea tightens travel restrictions
Despite mounting evidence that our existing vaccines will fend off the new variant, South Korea has halted quarantine exemptions for fully vaccinated inbound travellers for two weeks in response to the emergence of omicron. It comes after the country's daily infection rate rose to a new high of 5,266.
South Korea will require a 10-day quarantine for all inbound travellers from Friday. It is also blocking arrivals from eight countries, including South Africa, where the variant was first identified, and will now add Nigeria to the list, effective Friday, while suspending direct flights from Ethiopia, from Saturday.
Omicron reaches Iceland
Iceland's health authorities have confirmed the country's first known case of the new omicron coronavirus variant, newspaper Morgunbladid reported on Thursday.
The man who was infected was fully vaccinated and had received a booster shot, chief physician Mar Kristjansson at The National University Hospital of Iceland told the newspaper. He had not been travelling abroad, he said.
After a rise in cases during the autumn, Iceland's infection rate has started to fall. The country is open to vaccinated UK arrivals or those who have recently recovered from Covid.
'My holiday from hell ended in police brutality and a near-death experience'
To raise a smile on a cold Thursday, Oliver Smith has recounted the worst holiday of his 38 years. Read all about it.
Ryanair reports passenger numbers up fourfold in November
Despite concerns over winter holidays, air travel is on the rise, with flights operating at the highest capacity since the summer, according to new traffic figures from Ryanair.
In November 2020, just 2 million passengers travelled on Ryanair flights, but in November 2021 that figure reached 10.2 million – an increase of some 8.2 million monthly passengers year-on-year.
Flights are also operating with more passengers on board, rising from 62 per cent capacity in November 2020, to 86 per cent capacity last month.
The airline’s monthly figures reveal the steady increase of traveller confidence – and the easing of international travel restrictions – since this summer. Since July 2021, passenger numbers have risen from 9.3 million in July 2021 to 11.3 million in October, though they dipped in November 2021 to 10.2 million.
Flight capacity, too, has increased: from 80 per cent in July 2021, to 84 and 86 per cent in October and November respectively.
How infection rates are rising in key winter holiday destinations
Cases are climbing fast across most of Europe, putting winter ski holidays at risk. Switzerland is forcing all UK arrivals to quarantine, making leisure travel all but impossible, Austria is under lockdown restrictions, and France is forcing British visitors to show proof of a negative Covid test regardless of vaccination status.
Warning over pilots' lack of flying time after 'serious incident' with Tui jet
The rapid descent of a Tui Airways plane could be linked to its pilots being grounded for long periods during the coronavirus pandemic, investigators have said.
Sixty-seven passengers and six crew were on board the flight when it was involved in a "serious incident" as it approached Aberdeen Airport on September 11.
The Air Accidents Investigation Branch said an investigation into the cause of the incident continues but the preliminary report noted the pilots had experienced "significant periods without flying in the preceding 18 months".
It was the first officer's fourth flight in nearly 11 months while the captain had flown 10 flights during the previous month.
Air travel has been decimated by the coronavirus pandemic, with flight numbers heavily reduced.
UK travel reaction: 'It’s too late'
UK travel businesses continue to share their reaction to new restrictions, which Julia Lo Bue-Said, CEO of Advantage Travel Partnership, the UK’s largest group of independent leisure and global business travel agent experts, has said will have a 'detrimental' impact on livelihoods.
It’s too late. Not just government messaging but political rhetoric from the opposition has spooked people. The impact to people, jobs, wellbeing, livelihoods, travel and hospitality is detrimental again.
Communication in a crisis. Not learning from mistakes made.
— Julia Lo Bue-Said (@jlo_said) December 2, 2021
'Damage already done' as Christmas cancellations rise for hotels
Britons are cancelling their UK festive travel plans amid concerns of the spread of omicron, and the associated risk of potential Christmas restrictions, the BWH Hotel Group GB has told Telegraph Travel.
Almost three quarters (72 per cent) of independently owned hotels are reporting an increase in Christmas cancellations this week, according to the Best Western hotel group. In addition, 70 per cent of hotels have seen a decrease in bookings since the announcement of the new variant, with booking levels now hotels’ main concern for 2022.
Tim Rumney, CEO of BWH Hotel Group GB, said:
We have had a week of mixed messages about whether people should socialise or not, cancel parties or not – and small, independent businesses like our hotels are on the front line feeling the effects of that indecision.
My fear is the damage is already done, and this festive period will need to be written off like last Christmas, which will be devastating for many small businesses who were hoping for a strong end to 2021, after the last two years of Covid interrupted trading.
We need clarity from the top – not confusion.
Finland discovers first case of omicron
The first case of the omicron variant has been detected in Finland, the Finnish Health Institute has said.
The variant was found in a person who had travelled to Finland from Sweden, the institute added and said it was still investigating samples from other people travelling in the same group, that are now also suffering with symptoms.
The Scandinavian countries are among some of the remaining few places skiers and snowboarders can find a hassle-free ski holiday this winter.
'I’d rather be anywhere than at home for Christmas – even if my children hate it'
It’s that special time of year, where normally I would be planning a getaway. Every family has its own special Christmas tradition, and ours is: "Mum goes mad and makes us go away to scary places." I wrongly assumed when I had children that they would inherit what I would call my "spirit of adventure", and others might call recklessness. Stupidly, I also never quite got the measure of how conservative children can be, writes Suzanne Moore.
She may have pulled off the Taj Mahal one year, but her daughters weren't impressed by the falafel Christmas lunch in Bethlehem.
Russia imposes quarantine for travellers from some African countries
Russia has imposed a 14-day quarantine on travellers from some African countries, including South Africa, the Interfax news agency quoted Anna Popova, the head of the consumer watchdog, as saying on Thursday, reports Reuters.
In regard to the new omicron variant, Russia said earlier this week that people coming from high-risk countries would have to quarantine, but the country has yet to record any cases of the new variant.
Germany plans crackdown on unjabbed to tackle surge
Leaders in Germany are expected to approve a "lockdown for the unvaccinated" on Thursday as cases continue to rise on the Continent.
Covid restrictions in Germany were tightened just two weeks ago, but authorities are talks again to impose even tougher measures. According to a draft agreement seen by AFP, the plans include a blanket ban on entering bars, restaurants, theatres, cinemas and other leisure facilities for anyone who has not been vaccinated or recovered from Covid – a system known as ‘2G’ in Germany.
In effect this would mean the unvaccinated would also be banned from Christmas markets and non-essential shops. Outgoing Health Minister Jens Spahn said: "What's really important now is a quasi lockdown for the unvaccinated."
'This feels like travel’s darkest hour – but the dawn will come'
As travellers we are used to vicissitude. Even the simplest journey can have its setbacks. The train which suddenly stops in the middle of nowhere, the motorway which grinds to a halt, the airport information board which flashes up “delay”. But we adopt a mindset which prepares us for the unexpected, and we cope by remaining patient and – if necessary – resigned.
That mindset is now being tested to breaking point. We always expected the pandemic to give us a bumpy ride, but few of us thought it would go on quite so long, or for the setbacks to be quite so sudden and severe.
The discovery of omicron has led to travel uncertainty once again, with the return of the red list and new testing requirements – Nick Trend explains the best way to cope with this continuing uncertainty, this roller coaster of positive and negative news here.
US set to impose travel restrictions as first omicron case confirmed
New travel restrictions are set to be enforced in the United States after the country’s first case of the omicron coronavirus variant is reported.
The White House is developing the US strategy to curb the spread of the virus over winter, with details of Biden’s plan, which were released early on Thursday in advance of a speech, stating that tougher pre-flight testing for international arrivals will be introduced. The plans dispel reports that travellers could face potential further testing on arrival and self isolation.
Beginning next week, all travelers to the US, regardless of nationality or vaccination status, will need to provide proof of a negative Covid-19 test within one day of boarding their flights.
President Joe Biden will confirm plans in a speech today at the National Institutes of Health. Biden previously said the US will continue its fight against the virus "not with shutdowns or lockdowns but with more widespread vaccinations, boosters, testing, and more."
New Zealand set to ease Covid restrictions
New Zealand will move to a ‘traffic light’ Covid alert system tomorrow, with regions designated red, orange or green according to their case rates and vaccine uptake.
In red areas, vaccine passes will be required in many public settings, and work-from-home guidance and strict capacity limits will remain in place. Under the orange classification, vaccinated individuals will enjoy more freedoms, though vaccine passes will remain mandatory in most venues.
The majority of the country will be designated orange, including the entire South Island and many rural regions of the North Island. However, the likes of Auckland, Taupo, Northland and Rotorua Lakes Districts will remain red. No locations have yet been designated green.
According to local press, community leaders in the popular Bay of Islands area – red – are also planning to put roadblocks in place to deter visitors over the Christmas period.
Fiji reopens to vaccinated travellers
Fiji has relaxed its entry requirements for travellers from selected countries, including the UK, allowing holidays for the first time in almost two years.
All visitors must be fully vaccinated, and provide a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours of departure. On arrival, a further rapid test and three-day isolation period is mandated, to be carried out at a choice of ‘approved resorts’ – after which, individuals are free to travel as they wish.
Those who are not fully vaccinated remain prohibited from entering the country. Alongside the UK, other ‘travel partner’ nations include the US, Spain, France and Canada.
Fiji welcomed its first plane-load of holidaymakers on Monday, with the arrival of tourists from Sydney, Australia. The national airline, Fiji Airways, has also resumed flights from the US multiple times per week.
"It’s been almost two years since we welcomed international visitors," tourism minister Faiyaz Koya said in an earlier press release. “And in these two years, we’ve struggled, we’ve adapted, and we’ve prepared."
State of Calamity in effect in Portugal
Restrictions in Portugal have also tightened today. All travellers must take an antigen test taken within 48 hours of departure, or a PCR test taken within 72 hours of departure to the Mediterranean destination.
#Portugal A State of Calamity is in effect on the Portuguese mainland from 1 December 2021. There is a requirement for a negative COVID-19 test to enter Portugal. Find out more: https://t.co/8kXENoXzaY pic.twitter.com/phpj5793Nq
— FCDO Travel Advice (@FCDOtravelGovUK) December 1, 2021
'We shouldn’t have panicked over omicron – or ever'
For Professor Sunetra Gupta, there's a parallel between December 2021 and March 2020: “Uncertainty regarding this virus was overplayed, as it's being overplayed now with this new variant."
The Oxford University epidemiologist and co-author of the Great Barrington Declaration, which called for focussed protection of vulnerable groups over the Covid-19 lockdowns, joins columnists Allison Pearson and Liam Halligan on the latest episode of their weekly podcast, Planet Normal, which you can listen to using the audio player below, or Telegraph subscribers can listen to an unabridged version of the conversation here.
Explained: new entry rules for France
Britons travelling to France will be required to show proof of a negative Covid test from Saturday onwards, under new entry rules announced this week.
Regardless of their vaccination status, all individuals arriving in France from the UK must take a lateral flow (antigen) or PCR test less than 48 hours before travel, and present the negative certificate at the border or pre-flight/ferry.
The new rules were announced on Wednesday by government spokesperson Gabriel Attal. They will commence at 00.01am on December 4, and will apply to all arrivals aged 12 and over – including French citizens and those with permanent residency in France.
Currently, fully-vaccinated travellers from the UK are able to enter the country with a vaccination certificate and ‘sworn declaration’ health form, and do not need an essential reason to visit. Non-vaccinated arrivals are only permitted to enter the country for limited reasons (not holidays), and must present a negative PCR or antigen test certificate.
Moroccan tourism operators face potential ruin as country closes borders
The future of Moroccan tourism operators hangs in the balance after the country shut its borders over the omicron variant, which led to a wave of cancellations, hotel closures and warnings that operators face bankruptcy.
The latest crisis "has delivered a fatal blow to the sector," said Mohamed Semlali, chairman of the National Federation of Travel Agencies of Morocco.
On November 25, Moroccan authorities suspended "until further notice" direct flights to and from France, where cases were surging. Three days later, it banned all incoming passenger flights for two weeks amid concern over the spread of the new variant.
For tourism operators, who had already endured a second disastrous summer in a row, the news snuffed out any hope of a winter holiday uptick.
Dutch Covid-19 quarantine ends for most South Africa passengers
Dutch health authorities said that more than 20 passengers who have been in quarantine since testing positive for Covid-19 after flying from South Africa on Nov. 26 will be allowed to leave on Thursday.
A spokesman for the health authority for Kennemerland, in which Schiphol airport is situated, said authorities will not disclose whether any of the 14 passengers found to be infected with the omicron variant of the virus are being released, citing privacy reasons.
They will also not disclose or discuss the seriousness of those patients' symptoms, the spokesman added, also citing privacy reasons.
Authorities did say that a "large majority" of the 62 passengers who tested positive on the two flights had been vaccinated.
"Persons that tested positive will remain in isolation. Their situation varies ... some have symptoms, others don't or barely," Kennemerland health director Bert van Velden said in a statement.
The countries banning all travellers over the 'mild' omicron variant
Britain has added 10 African countries to its travel red list, and beefed up its testing requirements for overseas arrivals, a tactic copied by most EU countries and the likes of the US, Canada, India and Brazil.
But other nations have reacted even more anxiously to the emergence of the omicron variant, with some closing their borders entirely.
Japan, Israel and Morocco have announced border closures in response to the discovery of omicron. Find out which over countries are banning all travellers here.
'It is too late for omicron restrictions – the horse has already bolted'
Just as everyone was beginning to think it safe to go back in the water… along comes the curiously named omicron variant, writes Jeremy Warner.
Is it of the Great White variety of shark, or a relatively harmless Reef? At this stage, nobody can say for sure, though the early signs are that it falls into the latter category.
The South African virologist who discovered the variant has observed that although the mutation is unusual, its symptoms are mild. An optimistic view is that the more the virus mutates, the less potent it becomes. Armageddon or false alarm? We cannot yet know, but things are leaning towards the latter.
In pictures: Coronavirus restrictions around the world
US confirms first omicron case: everything we know
The United States has announced its first confirmed case of the Covid-19 omicron variant had been detected in California, in a fully vaccinated traveler who had recently returned from South Africa and was recovering from mild symptoms.
According to a statement by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the person returned from South Africa on November 22, and their close contacts have all tested negative.
Speaking to reporters, top health official Anthony Fauci said that the patient tested positive on November 29, and that they had not received a booster, to the best of his knowledge. "We feel good that this patient not only had mild symptoms, but actually the symptoms appear to be improving," he said.
Dr Fauci stressed a Covid booster remained a good idea because it raises the number of overall antibodies in a person's immune system, some of which will remain effective at stopping new variants. "Our experience with variants such as the Delta variant, is that even though the vaccine isn't specifically targeted to the Delta variant, when you get a high enough level of an immune response, you get spillover protection," he said.
How to get a Government-approved day two PCR test
Anyone who enters the UK must take a PCR test by the end of the second day after arrival and self-isolate until they have received a negative result.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the measure in a press conference on November 27. Previously, travellers had the option of taking a cheaper lateral flow test.
Spain bans unvaccinated British arrivals from today
New travel rules come into force in Spain today. Travellers from the UK must be fully vaccinated to enter – entry with just a negative PCR test will no longer be possible.
"The presence of new forms of the causative agent of the disease makes it necessary at this time to increase travel restrictions," the department led by Fernando Grande-Marlasca, Minister of the Interior of Spain, announced at the weekend.
The news comes as official statistics show the number of foreign tourists coming to Spain jumped five-fold in October from the same month a year ago to 5.13 million.
The number of foreign tourists was still about two thirds the number in October 2019, when 7.59 million foreigners travelled to Spain.
The ban on unvaccinated arrivals will remain until December 31 2021.
Indonesia tightens travel curbs
Restrictions at the Indonesian border have been tightened as the country braces to limit the spread of the omicron variant.
Mandatory quarantine for all arrivals has been extended from seven days to 10 and there is now limited traffic allowed on toll roads to reduce people's movement.
Indonesia has yet to announce the detection of omicron, but is stepping up measures to minimise the potential impact.
"This policy... will be evaluated every now and then as we understand and continue digging more information about this new variant," senior minister Luhut Pandjaitan said in a statement on Wednesday.
In the spotlight: Coronavirus in the US
With major news expected from the White House today, let’s take a look at the current coronavirus statistics in the United States:
Are cases increasing?
How many people are vaccianted?
Italy considers bringing back masks outdoors
The Italian government is reported to be considering making it compulsory to wear masks outdoors at all times in public.
The government is "reflecting" on whether it needs to tighten the outdoor mask-wearing rules, Health Undersecretary Andrea Costa said in an interview on TV channel Rai1 on Tuesday.
It comes a local authorities call on the Government to tighten rules as cases continue to rise in Italy and amid concerns over the omicron variant, detected for the first time in the country at the weekend.
He noted that mask use is already mandatory outdoors in Italy “in cases where gatherings occur,” adding: "I realise there may be a need to emphasise this rule more clearly at such a delicate moment."