Nigeria confirms first cases of Omicron COVID variant

Nigeria confirmed its first cases of the new Omicron COVID variant as countries tightened restrictions on international travel in an attempt to slow its spread.

The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) said two cases of the new variant were detected among two travellers who arrived from South Africa last week.

The announcement came as Ugur Sahin, the CEO of COVID vaccine-maker BioNTech, said that while the Omicron variant could lead to more vaccinated people becoming infected, they would likely remain protected against severe illness.

Meanwhile, a panel of US health advisers narrowly backed a closely watched COVID-19 pill from Merck which could lead to authorisation later this week.

Scientists have been scrambling to learn more about the effects of the Omicron variant, first detected in South Africa Last week.

It remains unclear where or when the variant first emerged. But nations have rushed to impose travel restrictions, especially on visitors coming from southern Africa, despite the World Health Organization’s call for “rational” measures in response to the new strain.

Here are the latest updates:

German state reports four fully vaccinated people infected with Omicron

Four people in southern Germany have tested positive for the Omicron variant even though they were fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, the public health office in the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg said.

Three of the infected people returned from a business trip to South Africa on November 26 and November 27 respectively, and the fourth person is a family member of one of the returnees, the state public health office said.

“All four people are fully vaccinated. A mutation analysis carried out by the State Health Office has confirmed that all of them are infected with the new variant of concern,” the office said in a statement, adding that all four were in quarantine.

All four showed moderate symptoms.

Japan finds second case of Omicron variant: media

Japan has found a second person who has tested positive with the Omicron variant, broadcaster FNN reported.

The first case of the variant was discovered on Tuesday.

The country expanded its travel ban covering all foreign inbound travelers – including temporary or permanent residents – from South Africa and nine nearby countries beginning on Thursday.

Nigeria confirms Omicron cases

Nigeria confirmed two cases of the new Omicron COVID variant were detected among travellers who arrived in the country last week from South Africa.

The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) also said retrospective sequencing of previously confirmed cases among travellers to Nigeria had identified the variant among a sample collected in October. It did not provide further details.

“Given the highly likely increased transmissibility of the Omicron variant, it is imperative to put in place measures to curb community transmission,” the NCDC said in a statement.

Malaysia to ban travellers from countries with Omicron cases

Malaysia said it will temporarily ban the entry of travellers from countries that have reported cases of the Omicron variant or are considered high-risk, its health ministry said.

It will also delay plans to set up so-called Vaccinated Travel Lanes with those countries, health minister Khairy Jamaluddin said.

UK reports new cases

The United Kingdom reported eight new cases of the Omicron variant, taking the total number to 13.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said a new COVID-19 lockdown was unlikely despite worries about the new variant.

US panel backs first-of-a-kind COVID-19 pill

A panel of US health advisers narrowly backed a closely watched COVID-19 pill from Merck, setting the stage for a likely authorisation of the first drug that Americans could take at home to treat the coronavirus.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) panel voted 13-10 that the antiviral drug molnupiravir’s benefits outweigh its risks, including potential birth defects if used during pregnancy.

“I see this as an incredibly difficult decision with many more questions than answers,” said panel chair Dr. Lindsey Baden of Harvard Medical School, who voted in favour of the drug. He said the FDA would have to carefully tailor the drug’s use for patients who stand to benefit most.

Molnupiravir has already been authorised for use in the United Kingdom.

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