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COVID live: New variant confirmed in Belgium – as England's R number rises above one – latest coronavirus news – Sky News

Coronavirus latest as a new variant is identified in South Africa; Britain adds six countries to the red list from today; Grant Shapps says the government is taking a “safety first” approach; Welsh rugby teams on tour in South Africa race to return.
A poster displays the coronavirus rules for visitors of a traditional Christmas market in front of a cathedral in Strasbourg, France.
The World Trade Organisation postponed its first ministerial meeting in four years on Friday, according to sources.
The decision was made following the emergence of a new mutation of the coronavirus, which has been deemed “of concern” by the World Health Organisation.
Ministers from the 164 WTO members were due to gather next week for a meeting seen as a test of the organisation’s relevance. 

In case you’re just joining us this evening, here’s a quick recap of some of the latest developments:
The chairwoman of the South African Medical Association has described the travel restrictions imposed on the country as “hasty” and the reaction from other countries as “a storm in a teacup”.

Dr Angelique Coetzee said it was too early to tell what impact the B.1.1.529, or Omicron, variant would have.
She told BBC News: “We think it is a premature decision that has been taken, I think it is a hasty decision.
“I would understand if it was two weeks later and we know much more about this viral infection that is going around, or this mutation, but for now, it is like a storm in a teacup.
“We have only become aware of this viral mutation, or the new strain we are seeing, last week.”
The US president said today that he is not considering implementing new vaccine mandates following the emergence of the Omicron variant.
It comes after Joe Biden confirmed the US would restrict travel from South Africa and seven other southern African countries.
“We don’t know a lot about the variant except that is of great concern,” President Biden said. 
“I decided that we are going to be cautious.” 

Secondary schools in England have been told to test pupils on-site in January following the Christmas break.

In an email to schools on Friday, the Department for Education (DfE) said testing secondary school pupils once they return “will help reduce transmission after a period of social mixing” over the holidays.
However, a school leaders’ union has accused the government of forgetting that headteachers are educators “rather than an ad hoc branch of the NHS”.
The DfE told secondary schools to order sufficient testing kits by Tuesday to ensure each pupil can take a rapid lateral flow test on-site when they return.

An email to school leaders said: “We would like all secondary schools to prepare to test their pupils once on-site on return in January.
“We understand that this is a significant additional ask but testing continues to play a vital role in keeping COVID-19 out of schools.”
Secondary schools have also been asked to order home testing kits so pupils can continue to test.
There was a rush to leave South Africa today after numerous countries announced flight restrictions following the emergence of a new COVID variant.
At O.R Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, flight boards showed cancelled flights to London and Zimbabwe. 
Any passengers from South Africa who test positive for coronavirus will be kept in quarantine at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport.
Earlier on Friday, hundreds of arrivals on the last two flights from South Africa before a travel ban was imposed were held at the airport for hours.
Photographs captured lines of people waiting inside the airport, after having been held on the tarmac.
The results of their coronavirus tests are not yet known. 
The drug maker added it was examining whether the variant was resistant to its vaccine.

“As with any new emerging variants, we are looking into B.1.1.529 to understand more about it and the impact on the vaccine,” AstraZeneca said in a statement, adding it was conducting research in Botswana and Eswatini to collect data. 
“We are also testing our long-acting antibody combination AZD7442 against this new variant and are hopeful AZD7442 will retain efficacy since it comprises two potent antibodies with different and complementary activities against the virus.”

Joe Biden will restrict travel to the US from eight southern African countries from Monday due to concerns over the Omicron COVID variant.
The restrictions will apply to South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, and Malawi.
A senior administration official said these restrictions were being implemented “out of an abundance of caution in light of a new COVID-19 variant circulating in Southern Africa”.
The policy does not apply to American citizens or permanent residents.
Previous travel restrictions on South Africa were only lifted by the US on 8 November.
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