EU urges daily travel reviews, booster shots over Omicron

FILE PHOTO: A nurse administers the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine to a member of the medical staff at a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccination center in La Baule, France, February 17, 2021. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe/File Photo

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union needs daily reviews of its travel restrictions and rapid deployment of vaccine booster doses to limit entry and protect its citizens from the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, the European Commission said on Wednesday.

Europe is experiencing a surge of COVID-19 cases and a growing number of infections by the Omicron variant that the World Health Organization has labelled a variant of concern and that has concerned scientists due to its multiple mutations.

"We are facing at the moment a severe double challenge," European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told a news conference. "On one hand, we are amid the fourth wave... On the other hand, we are facing a new threat that is the new variant Omicron."

The EU executive said that its 27 EU members needed to step up vaccination campaigns, with some 66% of the total EU population now inoculated. Vaccines for children between five and 11 will be eligible to receive vaccines from Dec. 13.

Von der Leyen also said that, with BionTech/Pfizer and Moderna set to deliver 360 million more doses by the end of March, there were boosters available to all those that had received their initial shots.

"That is good news. So go get it," she said.

She added she had understood from drugmakers that they would require around 100 days to adjust their vaccines if their existing vaccines did not protect from the Omicron variant.

Most EU countries have imposed travel bans for residents of South Africa, where the Omicron was first detected, along with surrounding southern African countries.

The Commission also urged EU members to commit to a day-by-day review of travel restrictions and a readiness to impose all necessary controls, including decisive action if clusters of the Omicron variant were found.

(Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop and Marine Strauss; Editing by John Chalmers)

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