Published: 10:38, November 30, 2021 | Updated: 21:02, November 30, 2021
Australia on alert as 1st Omicron community case confirmed
By Agencies

Flight crews walk through the terminal at Sydney Airport, Australia, Nov 29, 2021. (MARK BAKER / AP)

ANKARA / BANGKOK / JAKARTA / SEOUL / SYDNEY / TOKYO - Australian authorities on Tuesday confirmed a person with COVID-19 had the new Omicron variant after disclosing that the person had been active in the community, but urged calm as they weighed up the severity of the strain.

The fully vaccinated person visited a busy shopping center in Sydney while likely infectious, officials said. All passengers in the person's flight were asked to self-isolate for 14 days regardless of their vaccination status.

It is the first case where the person appeared to be active in the community. All other cases have been in quarantine and are asymptomatic or display very mild symptoms

The additional case brings Australia's total number of infections with the new variant to six. But it is the first case where the person appeared to be active in the community. All other cases have been in quarantine and are asymptomatic or display very mild symptoms.

Authorities also said urgent genomic tests have begun to determine whether two other positive cases on the same flight were infected with the Omicron variant.

The federal government urged state leaders to go ahead with plans to relax domestic border restrictions, which have been in place sporadically since the start of the pandemic, by Christmas.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said the overwhelming view of medical experts was that "while it's an emerging variant, it's a manageable variant".

Australia on Monday delayed the reopening of its international borders, less than 36 hours before international students and skilled migrants were due to be allowed to re-enter the country.

Australia has joined several countries to ban flights and non-citizens from nine affected countries in southern Africa. Citizens and permanent residents can return but must undergo a two-week mandatory quarantine.

Indonesia

Indonesia on Monday confirmed 176 new COVID-19 cases, raising its tally of infections to 4,256,112, according to the country's Health Ministry.

The ministry reported that the death toll from the virus in the country rose by 11 to 143,819, while 419 more people recovered during the past 24 hours, bringing the total number of recoveries to 4,104,333.

More than 138.90 million people have received their first doses of vaccines, while over 94.75 million have taken the second doses.

Indonesia has so far administered over 234.88 million doses, including the third booster jabs.

The Indonesian government aims to vaccinate 208.2 million people in the country.

Israel

Israel is focused on rolling out vaccine booster shots and the country will need a few weeks to reconsider lifting a travel ban on incoming foreigners, the chairman of the country’s COVID-19 advisory team said.

Israel identified its first case of the new omicron coronavirus strain last weekend and now has two cases in isolation, Ran Balicer told Bloomberg TV on Tuesday. The country has banned non-citizens from entering Israel for 14 days without special permission, and authorized the Shin Bet security agency to track infected people.

Balicer said it was too early to share data on omicron but current vaccines would continue to offer protection.

For now, Israel has yet to see a significant rise in coronavirus cases and the number of patients in hospitals continues to decline. The country quickly contained a fourth wave of the virus after a widespread rollout of booster shots. More than 70 percent of people older than 50 have gotten a third dose. 

Japan

Japan on Tuesday confirmed its first case of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, in a man who had arrived in the country from Namibia.

The man in his 30s had earlier tested positive for the coronavirus at the airport, chief cabinet secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told reporters.

The patient is staying in a medical facility and the government is aware of his close contacts, Matsuno said, declining to give the man's nationality.

Japan shut its borders to foreigners on Tuesday for at least a month, among the strictest measures in the world to halt entry of Omicron, recently discovered in southern Africa and declared a "variant of concern" by the World Health Organization.

Customers at a cafe on a near-empty street in Singapore, on Sept 28, 2021. (BLOOMBERG)

Singapore

Singapore is stepping up COVID testing at its border to stave off the new omicron variant that has been discovered in many countries around the world. 

Singapore will undertake measures including from Dec 3, all air travelers entering or transiting through Singapore must take a Polymerase Chain Reaction, or PCR, test on arrival

The city-state, which has been establishing so-called vaccinated travel lanes to allow entry for fully-inoculated people, will also freeze all new arrangements of this kind as “it’s the prudent thing to do for now,” officials said during a briefing on Tuesday. Any further relaxation on social-distancing measures will also be halted, they said, just as rules were recently eased to allow five people to gather.

Singapore will undertake measures including from Dec 3, all air travelers entering or transiting through Singapore must take a Polymerase Chain Reaction, or PCR, test on arrival.

People entering via air vaccinated travel lanes will have to take additional supervised rapid COVID tests on day three and seven after arrival at test centers. Enhanced testing measures for inbound travelers will last initially for a month.

Airport and border frontline workers in contact with travelers from regions affected by the omicron variant will have to take weekly PCR tests. Travelers from seven African states who entered Singapore between Nov 12-27 will have to take one-time PCR tests.

Confirmed or suspected omicron infected patients will be required to quarantine for 10 days in government facilities.

Singapore recently allowed people from different households to dine together at restaurants and gather socially otherwise. It had also gradually extended its vaccinated travel lane program to more countries before delaying those with Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia as a precaution amid concern about omicron.

Singapore started contact tracing for airport staff who may have come into contact with two travelers infected with the Omicron variant of COVID-19 who transited through Changi Airport on their way to Australia from South Africa, the health ministry said.

People wearing face masks pass by a poster about precautions against the coronavirus at a subway station in Seoul, South Korea, July 13, 2021. (AHN YOUNG-JOON / AP)

South Korea

South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Monday urged a rapid administration of booster shots against the COVID-19 as the eased anti-virus rules raised the number of severe cases and deaths.

Moon presided over a COVID-19 response meeting, saying the country's pandemic situation got serious amid the higher number of new infections, severe cases and deaths, as well as fewer hospital beds for severe patients.

With the eased social-distancing guideline, the confirmed cases surged for the past month. In the latest tally, South Korea reported 3,309 more cases of COVID-19 for the past 24 hours, lifting the total number of infections to 444,200.

The number of infected people who were in a serious condition surpassed 600, while 32 more deaths were confirmed, leaving the death toll at 3,580.

Moon said it would be important to inoculate the unvaccinated, emphasizing that getting the third dose of COVID-19 vaccines would be as important as inoculating the unvaccinated.

Moon called for parents to let children aged between 12 and 17 get vaccinated, instructing officials to rapidly review the possible inoculation of minors aged between five and 11.

Moon ordered officials to secure more hospital beds for severe patients and move up the date of introducing pills for COVID-19 treatment, originally scheduled for February next year.

ALSO READ: S. Korea to cut elderly's booster shot interval to curb rise in cases

The Philippines 

The Philippines will keep loose movement restrictions in the capital amid concerns over the omicron coronavirus variant.

Metro Manila, which accounts for a third of economic output, will remain under Alert Level 2 from Dec 1 to 15, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said in a statement, citing an approved recommendation from the virus task force. Indoor restaurants, gyms, cinemas can operate at half capacity, while outdoor businesses can open at 70 percent capacity.

A health worker administers a dose of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine in Bangkok, Thailand, Nov 17, 2021. (SAKCHAI LALIT / AP)

Thailand

Thailand's COVID-19 cases rose by 4,753 and 27 more fatalities were recorded, the country's Center for COVID-19 Situation Administration reported on Monday.

This figure of below 5,000 new caseloads is considered as the lowest since late June.

In response to the new Omicron variant of the virus, the CCSA confirmed on Saturday that travelers from eight African nations including Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe would not be allowed to enter Thailand from Dec 1 onwards.

Since the pandemic started early last year, the accumulative number of COVID-19 currently stands at 2,111,566 with a total of 20,734 deaths.

Turkey 

Turkey on Monday reported 24,317 new COVID-19 cases, raising its tally of infections to 8,770,372, according to its health ministry.

The death toll from the virus in Turkey rose by 189 to 76,635. A total of 358,816 tests were conducted over the past day, it said.