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EU travel curbs needed till more known about Omicron -Germany's Spahn

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BRUSSELS, Dec 7 (Reuters) - Germany's outgoing health minister said on Tuesday that travel curbs that limit arrivals to the European Union are important until more is known about the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

Late in November, EU states agreed to impose travel restrictions on seven southern African countries after they reported several cases of the Omicron variant, which is considered highly infectious.

"Until we know more, we need to be careful and so travel restrictions are important to keep the entry in Europe and Germany as low as possible," Jens Spahn told reporters as he arrived for a meeting of EU health ministers in Brussels.

EU sources said on Monday there was no immediate plan to ease the restrictions, quashing a media report that cited a diplomat saying this could be the case.

Ahead of Tuesday's meeting, EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said: "We are facing a very challenging epidemiological situation in all members states with the COVID-19 pandemic, made especially challenging with the appearance of the Omicron variant."

She said she would urge ministers to step up vaccinations and, when necessary, to promote other non-pharmaceutical measures, such as requiring the wearing of masks and social distancing.

Malta's health minister, Christopher Fearne, told reporters before the meeting he wanted pharmaceutical companies to produce a modified version of their vaccines in less than 100 days.

Pfizer and BionTech, the main suppliers of COVID-19 vaccines to the EU, have said they would need 100 days.

"A hundred days is possibly too long for us to wait for a modified vaccine," Fearne said, noting however that at the moment there is no certainty that the Omicron variant will require an adapted vaccine, the assumption being that boosters may be enough to tackle the new mutation. (Reporting by Francesco Guarascio @fraguarascio and Philip Blenkinsop Editing by Gareth Jones)

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