Health ministers from the Group of Seven industrialized nations agreed in an emergency meeting Monday to work together in dealing with a new coronavirus variant rapidly spreading in Europe and elsewhere, Japanese health minister Shigeyuki Goto said.
The Omicron variant, first detected in southern Africa and designated a variant of concern by the World Health Organization, has already been confirmed in four G-7 nations -- Britain, Canada, Germany and Italy -- after South Africa reported a case to the WHO on Wednesday.
In a joint statement released after the online gathering, convened under Britain's current presidency of the group, the G-7 ministers "recognized the strategic relevance of ensuring access to vaccines," following through on their donation commitments and "tackling vaccine misinformation, as well as supporting research and development."
While hailing South Africa for detecting the Omicron variant and alerting other countries, the statement said, "There was strong support to set up an international pathogen surveillance network within the framework of the World Health Organization."
The statement noted that ministers from the G-7, which also includes France, Japan and the United States, said they will meet again in December.
Japan on Tuesday closed its borders to new entries by foreigners amid fears over the Omicron variant. The measure will take effect Tuesday and last for about one month.
The country's National Institute of Infectious Diseases raised its coronavirus variant alert for Omicron to its highest level Sunday.
Canada confirmed two Omicron infections in Ottawa on Sunday, the first such cases reported in the Americas. The individuals concerned had recently traveled to Nigeria, according to authorities in Ontario.
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Saturday, the day the first Omicron case was detected in the country, that restrictive measures will be implemented to contain the spread of the new variant, such as mandatory mask-wearing in shops and on public transport in England.
The WHO warned its 194 member states on Sunday that the Omicron variant is likely to spread globally, and the danger it poses is very great.
Amid concerns that currently available vaccines may be less effective against the heavily mutated variant, vaccine makers Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE said they can adapt their mRNA vaccines within six weeks and start shipping batches within 100 days, according to media reports.
At the G-7 health ministers' meeting in June, they agreed to share vaccine development data and affirmed their commitment to equitable distribution of safe and effective COVID-19 diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines.
Among other countries and regions, Omicron cases have also been confirmed in Australia, Hong Kong, Israel and the Netherlands.