(Reuters) - Here's what you need to know about the coronavirus right now:
First Omicron case in U.S. adds to global alarm over virus variant
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. 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. 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. Airlines in the United States were told to hand over the names of passengers arriving from parts of southern Africa hit by Omicron, according to a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention letter seen by Reuters.
S.Korea hits new record, halts quarantine exemptions
South Korea's daily coronavirus case numbers rose to a new high on Thursday, as authorities halted quarantine exemptions for fully vaccinated inbound travellers for two weeks in a bid to fend off the Omicron variant. The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) reported 5,266 cases for Wednesday, a day after the daily tally rose above 5,000 for the first time amid concerns over a sharp rise in patients with severe symptoms.
South Korea will require a 10-day quarantine for all inbound travellers for two weeks starting Friday, halting exemptions given earlier to fully vaccinated people, the KDCA said. The measure came after South Korea confirmed its first five cases of the Omicron variant late on Wednesday, including a fully vaccinated couple who arrived last week from Nigeria, followed by two of their family members and a friend.
S.African data suggests Omicron gets around some, not all immunity
The Omicron variant appears able to get around some immunity but vaccines should still offer protection against severe disease, according to the latest data from South Africa where it is fast overtaking Delta to become the dominant variant.
The new variant has been detected in five out of nine South African provinces and was likely to be present all over the country, the latest official report showed on Wednesday. The daily number of reported cases doubled to 8,561. It was not known how many of those were Omicron as not all test samples are subject to genomic sequencing, but an official presentation said Omicron was "rapidly becoming the dominant variant".
U.N. chief slams COVID-19 'travel apartheid'
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Wednesday that travel restrictions imposed over COVID-19 that isolate any one country or region as "not only deeply unfair and punitive - they are ineffective." Speaking to reporters in New York, Guterres said the only way to reduce the risk of transmission while allowing for travel and economic engagement was to repeatedly test travelers, "together with other appropriate and truly effective measures."
"We have the instruments to have safe travel. Let's use those instruments to avoid this kind of, allow me to say, travel apartheid, which I think is unacceptable," Guterres said. Omicron was first identified in southern Africa and many countries, including the United States and Britain, have announced travel curbs and other restrictions on the region. Africa has some of the lowest COVID-19 vaccination rates worldwide due to a lack of access to doses. Guterres has long warned about the dangers of vaccine inequality around the world and that low immunisation rates are "a breeding ground for variants."
Brain problems seen in 1% of hospitalized COVID-19 patients
Roughly one in every 100 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 will likely have central nervous system complications, researchers reported on Tuesday at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America.
The most common finding was stroke due to clogged arteries, but the researchers also saw bleeding in the brain, inflammation of the brain, and other potentially fatal complications. Study leader Dr. Scott Faro of Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia said in a statement that while the lung problems related to COVID-19 are well recognised, "Our study shows that central nervous system complications represent a significant cause of morbidity and mortality in this devastating pandemic."
(Compiled by Karishma Singh)