(LANKAPUVATH | COLOMBO) – Fears over the impact of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus rose on Thursday after the first case was reported in the United States and the Japanese central bank warned of economic pain as countries respond with tighter containment measures.
The first known U.S. case was a fully vaccinated person in California who returned to the United States from South Africa on Nov. 22 and tested positive seven days later.
The White House also plans to announce stricter testing rules for international visitors.
Much remains unknown about the new variant, which was first found on Nov. 8 in South Africa and has spread to at least two dozen countries.
South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) said early epidemiological data suggested Omicron was able to evade some immunity, but existing vaccines should still protect against severe disease and death.
World Health Organization (WHO) epidemiologist Maria van Kerkhove told a briefing that data should be available “within days” on Omicron’s contagiousness.
BioNTech’s CEO said the vaccine it makes in a partnership with Pfizer (PFE.N) was likely to offer strong protection against severe disease from Omicron.
Early indications suggesting Omicron may be markedly more contagious than previous variants have rattled financial markets, fearful that new restrictions could choke off a tentative recovery from the economic ravages of the pandemic.