Norway to ban serving of alcohol in bars and restaurants amid Omicron fears

World wrap: South Africa’s president tests positive for Covid as country battles variant

Norway will ban the serving of alcohol in bars and restaurants, impose stricter rules in schools and speed up vaccination as part of new efforts to curb the outbreak there of the new Omicron Covid-19 variant, the Norwegian government said on Monday.

“For many this will feel like a lockdown, if not of society then of their lives and of their livelihoods,” prime minister Jonas Gahr Stoere told a news conference.

The move came as the Norwegian Institute of Public Health warned that Norway’s health system will come under strain if tighter measures aren’t implemented soon to counter Omicron.

In one scenario, there could be as many as 90,000 to 300,000 cases a day in Norway, with 50 to 200 hospital admissions in three weeks, if the contagion isn’t slowed significantly, officials said. There are now 958 proven cases of the more infectious type of Covid-19 to date in the country, up from 33 cases on December 7th.

Ramaphosa treated

South African president Cyril Ramaphosa is receiving treatment for mild Covid-19 symptoms after testing positive for the disease.

Mr Ramaphosa started feeling unwell and a test confirmed Covid-19, according to a statement from the presidency.

He is self-isolating in Cape Town and is being monitored by the South African military health service, the statement said.

He has delegated all responsibilities to deputy president David Mabuza for the next week.

Mr Ramaphosa (69) is fully vaccinated, but the statement did not say whether he had been infected with the Omicron variant.

Last week, Mr Ramaphosa visited four West African countries. He and all members of his delegation were tested for Covid-19 in each of the countries during the trip.

Some in the delegation tested positive in Nigeria and returned directly to South Africa.

Throughout the rest of the trip, Mr Ramaphosa and his delegation tested negative. Mr Ramaphosa returned from Senegal on December 8th.

Mr Ramaphosa said his own infection serves as a warning to all people in South Africa to be vaccinated and remain vigilant against exposure, the statement said. Vaccination remains the best protection against severe illness and hospital admission, it said.

People in South Africa who have had contact with Mr Ramaphosa on Sunday are advised to watch for symptoms or to have themselves tested.

Rapid resurgence

South Africa is battling a rapid resurgence of Covid-19 driven by the Omicron variant.

The country recorded more than 18,000 new confirmed cases on Sunday night. More than 70 per cent of the cases are estimated to be from Omicron, according to genetic sequencing.

After a period of low transmission of about 200 new cases per day in early November, South African Covid-19 cases began rising dramatically.

On November 25th, scientists in southern Africa confirmed the Omicron variant, which has more than 50 mutations.

Omicron appears to be highly transmissible and has quickly become dominant in the country. So far, the majority of cases have been relatively mild and the percentage of severe cases needing oxygen have been low, said doctors.

Elsewhere, the city of Tianjin reported the first case of Omicron in mainland China on Monday, the Global Times reported, citing the city. The infection came from an overseas arrival and the patient is receiving treatment at a designated hospital, the Chinese news outlet reported.– AP/Bloomberg/Reuters