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G-7 health ministers to hold emergency talks on new COVID variant

29 November 2021 15:15

TOKYO. KAZINFORM Health ministers from the Group of Seven industrialized nations will hold an emergency meeting Monday to discuss their responses to a new coronavirus variant spreading in Europe and elsewhere, the British government said Sunday.

The Omicron variant, first detected in southern Africa and designated as a variant of concern by the World Health Organization, is feared to be highly transmissible and has been already confirmed in four of the G-7 members -- Britain, Canada, Germany and Italy -- after South Africa reported a case to the WHO on Wednesday, Kyodo reports.

The G-7 health ministers, also including those from France, Japan and the United States, are expected to agree on coordinated efforts to counter the spread of Omicron in the urgently convened meeting, probably online, under the chairmanship of Britain.

Japan's National Institute of Infectious Diseases raised its coronavirus variant alert for Omicron to its highest level Sunday.

Canada confirmed two Omicron infections in Ottawa on Sunday, the first such cases reported in the Americas. The individuals concerned had recently traveled to Nigeria, according to authorities in Ontario.

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Saturday, the day the first Omicron case was detected in the country, that restrictive measures will be implemented to contain the spread of the new variant, such as mandatory mask-wearing in shops and on public transport in England.

In Tokyo, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Monday his government is dealing with the variant with a «strong sense of crisis» and is considering further border controls to prevent its spread. Japan over the weekend suspended new entry of foreign nationals from nine African countries including South Africa.

The WHO has said it is not yet clear whether Omicron is more transmissible compared to other variants, including Delta, or whether it causes more severe illness.

Amid concerns that currently available vaccines may be less effective against the heavily mutated variant, vaccine makers Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE said they can adapt their mRNA vaccines within six weeks and start shipping batches within 100 days, according to media reports.

At the G-7 health ministers' meeting in June, they agreed to share vaccine development data and affirmed their commitment to equitable distribution of safe and effective COVID-19 diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines.

Among other countries and regions, Omicron cases have also been confirmed in Australia, Hong Kong, Israel and the Netherlands.