Malaysia imposes stricter rules, booster requirements over Omicron threat

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KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 16 (Reuters) - Malaysia on Thursday announced new COVID-19 restrictions, including banning mass gatherings and requiring booster doses for high-risk groups, as it reported its second case of the Omicron coronavirus variant.

Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said authorities were also verifying 18 more suspected cases of the variant, believed by experts to be the most transmissible yet, with results expected by Friday.

The second case was an 8-year-old travelling with family from Nigeria, where the family resided, via Qatar, Khairy told reporters.

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All close contacts, including 35 passengers on the same flight, have tested negative for the coronavirus so far.

Malaysia reported its first case of the Omicron variant earlier this month in a traveller from South Africa.

To curb Omicron risks, mass New Year gatherings will be banned and those attending private New Year and Christmas celebrations must undergo COVID-19 self-tests, Khairy said.

Malaysians over 60, and all adult recipients of the Sinovac (SVA.O) COVID-19 vaccine, are required to get a booster dose by February to keep their status as "fully vaccinated", Khairy said. Singapore is considering a similar policy.

This week, researchers in Hong Kong urged people to get a third dose of COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible, after a study showed insufficient antibodies were generated by those of Sinovac and BioNTech (22UAy.DE) to fend off Omicron. read more

Malaysia has temporarily banned the entry of foreign travellers from eight countries in southern Africa and designated nine countries as "high-risk", including Britain, the United States, Australia and India.

All arrivals from these countries must undergo mandatory quarantine and be fitted with digital tracking devices, regardless of their vaccination status.

Those from Britain will also be required to conduct daily self-tests during quarantine, Khairy said.

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Reporting by Rozanna Latiff; Editing by Martin Petty

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