EU easing travel restrictions for vaccinated Europeans
Top official says EU needs to buy time to assess omicron implications
European Union (EU) Commission president Ursula Von der Leyen said the bloc needs to buy time to fully assess the implications of the new COVID-19 variant omicron, Reuters reported
Speaking during a visit in Latvia, Von der Leyen said current focus should be on precautionary action, which includes increasing vaccination and booster shot rates.
"We know that we are in a race against time.... And the scientists and manufacturers need two to three weeks to have a full picture about the quality of the mutations of this omicron variant," Von der Leyen said.
Von der Leyen noted the E.U. in May agreed to a third contract with BioNTech for up to 1.8 billion vaccine doses, Reuters reported.
"The general line is hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. The highest priority right now is social distancing, reduce the contact, but vaccinate and boost as much as possible," she added.
South African health officials announced on Thursday the discovery of the new variant, initially called B.1.1529, saying the new variant is "very different" from past mutations from the virus.
WHO's advisory group designated omicron a "variant of concern" due to its large number of mutations and an increased risk of re-infection.
European countries such as France and Great Britain have started to restrict flights from the southern Africa region due to fears over the new COVID variant spreading.
Omicron has now been detected in five E.U. countries: Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands, Reuters noted.