The European Union’s public health agency said on Thursday that Omicron could be responsible for more than half of all COVID infections in Europe within a few months, lending weight to preliminary information about its high transmissibility.
South Africa said it was seeing an increase in Omicron infections among patients who had previously contracted an earlier variant of the coronavirus.
Global shares fell on Thursday, reversing gains from the previous session as a lack of information about Omicron left markets volatile, while crude oil futures extended losses.
In the United States, the Biden administration was expected to announce an extension of restrictions relating to masks and testing.
By early next week, the US will require inbound international travellers to be tested for COVID-19 within a day of departure, regardless of vaccination status.
It will also require private health insurance companies to reimburse customers for at-home COVID-19 tests, a senior administration official said.
The first known US case, announced late on Wednesday, was a fully vaccinated person in California who had travelled from South Africa. Two French cases, in the greater Paris region and in eastern France, were passengers arriving from Nigeria and South Africa.
France confirmed on Thursday that all inbound travellers would need a negative test regardless of nationality or vaccine status.
Amid all the new restrictions, Europe’s largest budget airline, Ryanair, said it expected a challenging time at Christmas, although it was still optimistic about summer demand.
In Russia, a two-week quarantine for travellers from some African countries was announced, while Hong Kong extended its travel ban to more countries.
In Canada, industry groups warned that a plan to require COVID-19 testing for all but US arrivals on international flights risked causing chaos and long lines if passengers were expected to get tested at airports.