© Reuters. People are being tested for coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in New York City, USA on December 1, 2021, at an open-air test site. REUTERS / Brendan McDermid / Photo
By Joseph Nasr and Alessandra Galloni
BERLIN / WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Germany agreed on new COVID-19 cuts on Thursday and the United States was ready to do the same, while US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said the Omicron variant showed that the pandemic could be “temporary”.
The new variant is spreading around the world, with countries including the United States, India and France reporting their first cases, and investors are disgusted with the hope that it could hurt the global economic recovery.
In an interview with Reuters, Yellen said he hoped the pandemic would completely stifle economic activity, adding that US stimulus at the beginning of the pandemic helped stimulate a very strong recovery.
The new measures agreed in Germany focus on people without vaccines and will ban access to all essential businesses, such as grocery stores and pharmacies.
Germany is also planning legislation to make the vaccine mandatory.
“We understand that the situation is very serious and we want to take more action than we have already taken,” said Chancellor Angela Merkel in a press conference.
“To do this, the fourth wave must be broken and not yet achieved,” Germany said, referring to the recent rise in cases. The nationwide vaccination order could be in effect from February 2022, after discussion in the Bundestag and under the guidance of the German Ethics Council, he said.
In order to avoid blockages that could prevent the fragile recovery of Europe’s largest economy, Germany kept its business open for almost 69% of its fully integrated population and for those with evidence of recovery from COVID-19.
Not much is known about Omicron, which was first detected in southern Africa last month and has been seen in at least two dozen countries as parts of Europe were battling a wave of Delta variant infections.
But the European Union’s public health agency said Omicron could be responsible for more than half of all European COVID infections within a few months, giving weight to preliminary information about its high transmissibility.
South Africa said it was seeing an increase in COVID-19 re-infections in patients who contracted Omicron – re-infecting people with the disease – as it did not see with other variants.
Global stocks fell on Thursday, reversing previous session’s gains as a lack of information about Omicron left markets volatile as futures extended losses.
In the United States, the Biden administration was expected to announce, among other things, that it would extend the requirements for passengers to wear masks until mid-March on Thursday.
Earlier this week, the United States will require international travelers to undergo COVID-19 testing within one day of departure, regardless of vaccination status.
Private health insurance companies will also require customers to pay for COVID-19 tests at home, a senior administration official said.
(GRAPHIC: OMICRON VARIATION MAP – https://graphics.reuters.com/USA-VARIANT/zdvxonlxxpx/Omicron.jpg)
The first known case in the United States, announced on Wednesday night, was a person who was completely vaccinated in California, who traveled to South Africa. Two cases in France involved passengers arriving from the greater Paris region and eastern France from Nigeria and South Africa, respectively.
Russia has imposed a two-week quarantine on travelers from several African countries, including South Africa, the Interfax news agency reported, citing a senior official. Hong Kong extended its travel ban to more countries.
Of all the new cuts, Europe’s largest budget carrier, Ryanair, said it was expecting a difficult time for Christmas, although it is still optimistic about summer demand.
In Canada, industry groups warned that a plan to request COVID-19 testing was likely to cause chaos and long queues except for US flights on international flights if passengers were expected to be tested at airports.
In the Netherlands, health authorities asked for pre-flight COVID-19 tests for all non-EU flights, after proving that they were about 90% of the 62 passengers who tested positive on two flights from South Africa in November. 26 – All those with the Omicron variant were vaccinated.