Omicron battle a race against time says EU

Staving off Omicron while scientists establish how easily it can spread and whether it can evade vaccine protection is a “race against time” the president of the European Union’s executive Commission said, emphasising the role of vaccines.

“Prepare for the worst, hope for the best,” Ursula von der Leyen (above) told a news conference, adding that according to scientists, full vaccination and a booster shot provide the strongest possible protection.

Her warning came as Germany looks set to reach a peak of its fourth wave of COVID-19 infections by mid-December that could mean 6,000 intensive care beds will be occupied by Christmas, the country’s association for intensive care medicine said.

Andreas Schuppert, a forecaster for the association, told a news conference he was “moderately optimistic” the peak in new cases would come in the next two weeks, but that would take time to feed through to hospitals.

Air travellers to the US will also face tougher COVID-19 testing rules to try to slow the spread of the Omicron variant and other countries tightened border controls as a European leader urged all concerned to “prepare for the worst”.

A World Health Organization official said 24 countries may have reported cases of the variant so far but that some of the early indications were that most cases were mild, with none severe. Travel bans had consequences, he said, but there would be more mutations without other measures to contain its spread.

France is also stepping up its COVID-19 booster vaccination campaign and tightening entry rules for arrivals from outside the European Union in response to the spread of the Omicron variant, a government spokesman said.

Gabriel Attal also said flights from countries in southern Africa, where the variant was first detected last week, would remain suspended until Friday. From Saturday they would resume, but only for travellers returning to their main residences, he said.

The government hopes eight million people in France will have received a third vaccine injection by the end of Wednesday, and 10 million by the end of this week.

There are about 1,100 vaccination centres in operation and the government plans to open 300 more in coming weeks, he added.

Meanwhile, all non-EU arrivals in mainland France, where the Omicron variant has yet to be detected, will henceforth have to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test regardless of their vaccination status, Attal added.

Nearly 51 million, or 76% of France’s population, have received two vaccine shots.

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