South Korea and Australia are putting their plans to ease COVID-19 pandemic restrictions on hold amid increased coronavirus cases and rising concern over the new omicron variant, which is already spreading across the globe.
South Korea was slated to lift limitations on nightlife and allow groups of up to 100 people to gather starting Dec. 13, but those plans are now on hold, according to Reuters.
More than 600 individuals are currently hospitalized with COVID-19 in South Korea, and at least 1,200 are standing by for beds to open up at facilities in Seoul and other cities, Reuters reported, citing Health Minister Kwon Deok-cheol.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in called on the country to work together to stop the omicron strain from entering its borders, according to the news wire, which includes mobilizing personnel and strengthening contact tracing. The country has not yet detected any cases of the new variant.
"Numbers for new confirmed cases, severe cases and deaths are all on the rise and hospital bed capacity is tighter," Moon said during a special COVID-19 response meeting, according to Reuters.
In Australia, officials are delaying plans to reopen its borders to international travelers for two weeks after cases of the omicron variant were detected in New South Wales in passengers arriving from South Africa.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the country's Chief Health Officer Paul Kelly advised him to delay the reopening of borders for some groups because of the omicron cases.
"The temporary pause will ensure Australia can gather the information we need to better understand the Omicron variant, including the efficacy of the vaccine, the range of illness, including if it may generate more mild symptoms, and the level of transmission," Morrison said in a statement.
The country was set to open its borders to international skilled workers and students, among others, on Dec. 1, but that date has now been pushed back to Dec. 15.
Currently, only fully vaccinated Australian citizens, permanent residents and their immediate family and fully vaccinated green lane travelers from New Zealand and Singapore are permitted to enter Australia, in addition to other limited exemptions.
The delays in lifting COVID-19 restrictions come days after the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that the highly mutated omicron strain is a variant of interest.
While there is still much to learn about the variant, the WHO said the strain poses a "very high" global risk.
Top health officials in the U.S. have said it will take weeks to determine key information regarding the omicron variant, including transmissibility, severity and the effectiveness of existing vaccines in protecting against infection from the new strain.