Omicron: border and travel restrictions tighten

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Many countries, including the United States, France, and Japan are putting in place tougher border controls and rules for air travelers against the new coronavirus Omicron variant.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says all air travelers entering the country, including American citizens and foreign nationals, will have to show a negative COVID test performed within one day of departure.

The World Health Organization said at least 56 countries were reportedly implementing travel measures as of Nov. 28.

But the U.N. health agency is warning that quote "blanket travel bans will not prevent the international spread and they place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods."

So far, at least 24 countries may have reported cases of the variant but some of the early indications were most cases were mild, with none severe, according to a WHO official.

"Hope for the best, prepare for the worst."

That's what European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen told a news conference, adding that challenges posed by the new variant was a "race against time."

She also emphasized the role of vaccines and urged EU's member states to step up inoculation campaigns.

Britain and the United States have also expanded their booster programs in response to the new variant.

In South Africa, in the region where the variant was first reported a week ago, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases flagged a large number of COVID-19 admissions among infants aged under two as an area of concern.

But an expert at the institute cautioned against linking that with Omicron just yet.

Meanwhile, the WHO agreed on Wednesday (December 1) to launch negotiations on an international pact to prevent and control future pandemics.

The agreement is hoping to cover issues from data sharing and genome sequencing of emerging viruses to equitable distribution of vaccines and drugs derived from research.