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Here’s where Omicron has been detected so far around the world

The Boston Globe logo The Boston Globe 17 hrs ago Globe staff
Travelers wear protective face masks at Denver International Airport on November 30, 2021 in Denver, Colorado as concern grows worldwide over the Omicron coronavirus variant. © ROBYN BECK Travelers wear protective face masks at Denver International Airport on November 30, 2021 in Denver, Colorado as concern grows worldwide over the Omicron coronavirus variant.

Scientists are working to learn more about a new COVID-19 variant, Omicron, that was first detected in South Africa, setting out to discover how transmissible it is, whether the vaccines that are currently available are effective against it, and other answers as much is still unknown about the strain.

In order to shore up protection against the virus amid data that show immunity wanes from the vaccines over time, US health officials have expanded their recommendations for who should get COVID-19 booster shots, now suggesting all adults get the additional doses. The expansion comes as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations rise in Massachusetts, in what experts fear is another surge as winter approaches and people gather inside.

Below, we’re gathering the latest news and updates on coronavirus in New England and beyond.

  Dec. 1, 2021  

Omicron found in 74 percent of COVID-19 samples in South Africa in November — 11:55 a.m.

By Bloomberg

The omicron variant was found in 74% of the 249 Covid-19 samples that were gene sequenced in South Africa in November, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases said.

The delta variant accounted for 22% of samples compared with 79% in October, the NICD said in a statement on Wednesday. Omicron was found in samples in five out of the country’s nine provinces, data from the institute showed.

Vaccines likely to protect against severe cases of Omicron, WHO scientist says — 11:30 a.m.

By Bloomberg

Vaccines will likely protect against severe cases of the new Omicron variant of COVID-19, Soumya Swaminathan, the World Health Organization’s chief scientist told reporters.

The WHO expects more data on Omicron transmission within days, Maria van Kerkhove said at the same press conference.

This story will continue to be updated.

Map: Here’s where Omicron has been detected so far — 11:12 a.m.

By Ryan Huddle and Maria Elena Little Endara, Globe staff and Globe correspondent

As of Wednesday morning, Coronavirus variant Omicron has been detected in 23 countries. 

Saudi Arabia said Wednesday it detected its first case of Omicron in a citizen coming from what it described as a “North African country.” The report said the infected individual and his close contacts had been quarantined.

According to the New York Times, Nigeria also announced Wednesday it had detected its first cases of Omicron in three travelers who arrived from South Africa in the last week, Dr. Ifedayo Adetifa, its director general, said in a statement.

There are currently no reported cases of Omicron in the United States.

In NYC, 23 percent of Department of Correction staff face suspension over vaccine mandate — 10:38 a.m.

By The Associated Press

New York City’s troubled jail system is facing more turmoil: the suspension of potentially hundreds of corrections officers for failing to meet a Tuesday night deadline to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

The city’s Department of Correction reported 77% of its staff had gotten at least one vaccine dose as of 5 p.m. Monday, the lowest of any city agency, meaning about 1,900 employees had yet to comply with the mandate. It was delayed a month for jail workers because of existing staffing shortages.

Jail workers who’ve applied for religious or medical exemptions can continue to work while their cases are reviewed, officials said. Jail officials said they would release data Wednesday detailing how many workers sought for an exemption.

Workers who haven’t applied for an exemption and who failed to show proof of vaccination by 5 p.m. Tuesday were to be placed on unpaid leave and surrender any city-issued firearms and protective gear, officials said.

In anticipation of the looming mandate, Mayor Bill de Blasio on Monday issued an emergency executive order designed to beef up jail staffing by authorizing a switch to 12-hour shifts from the normal 8-hour tours.

The president of the union for jail guards balked at that move saying it was “reckless and misguided.” The union said it would sue to block the mandate — the same tactic a police union tried in late October as the vaccine requirement for officers neared. The police union lost and the mandate went into effect as scheduled.

The Department of Correction said it held town halls, called employees and gave them literature to encourage them to get vaccinated. It also offered a $500 bonus, parked a truck displaying a pro-vaccine message on a digital billboard at Rikers Island and recruited Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, author Piper Kerman and former New York Mets player Mookie Wilson to tape messages for the department encouraging workers to get the shot.

The campaign has moved the needle, with Monday’s 77% vaccination total among jail workers up from 72% a week earlier and 46% in late October when the mandate was announced. Still, at all other city agencies, at least at least 86% of workers have received at least one vaccine dose — and most agencies were reporting vaccination rates above 90% as of Monday.

EU to discuss mandatory vaccinations, Von Der Leyen says — 9:14 a.m.

By Bloomberg

The European Union should discuss whether mandatory vaccinations are needed to help fight the ongoing spike in Covid-19 cases, as well as the new omicron variant, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Wednesday.

“I think it is understandable and appropriate to lead this discussion now -- how we can encourage and potentially think about mandatory vaccination within the European Union,” she said during a news conference. “This needs discussion. This needs a common approach. But it is a discussion that I think has to be led.”

Germany’s incoming chancellor Olaf Scholz threw his support behind making Covid-19 vaccine compulsory and called for a parliamentary vote on the plan. Greece, meanwhile, is imposing a monthly fine of 100 euros ($114) on people over 60 who aren’t vaccinated, calling it a health fee.

The EU doesn’t have the authority to impose vaccination mandates, but can try to bring member nations together to agree on a joint approach.

The bloc decided against holding an emergency virtual leaders’ summit, according to an EU official. Instead, health ministers will meet Tuesday to discuss the Covid situation and EU leaders will address it at their next scheduled summit on Dec. 16, the official added.

Von der Leyen noted that 77% of adults in the EU are vaccinated, and that full vaccination and wide use of booster shots remain the best way to fight the pandemic.

R.I. to release a COVID-19 vaccine passport app — 9:11 a.m.

By Alexa Gagosz, Globe Staff

Rhode Island plans to release a proof-of-vaccination passport program in the form of an app, staff members in the governor’s office told the Globe on Wednesday.

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Omicron unravels travel industry’s plans for a comeback — 7:52 a.m.

Associated Press

Tourism businesses that were just finding their footing after nearly two years of devastation wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic are being rattled again as countries throw up new barriers to travel in an effort to contain the omicron variant.

From shopping districts in Japan and tour guides in the Holy Land to ski resorts in the Alps and airlines the world over, a familiar dread is rising about the renewed restrictions.

Meanwhile, travelers eager to get out there have been thrown back into the old routine of reading up on new requirements and postponing trips.

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Portugal tightens restrictions despite virus vaccine success — 6:16 a.m.

Associated Press

LISBON, Portugal (AP) — Portugal tightened passenger entry requirements and mandated masks indoors to curb an upward trend in coronavirus infections as the country with one of the strongest vaccination records in Europe entered a “state of calamity” Wednesday.

The crisis declaration, Portugal’s second this year, is one step below a state of emergency and gives the government the legal authority to impose stricter measures without parliamentary approval.

Masks now are required in enclosed public spaces, and individuals must show proof of vaccination, having recovered from COVID-19 or a negative virus tests to enter restaurants, cinemas, gyms and hotels. Nightclubs, hospitals, nursing homes and sports venues also must require negative virus tests from visitors and patrons, including vaccinated ones.

“With the test, we feel more comfortable. We don’t leave the club thinking, ‘Do I have COVID or not?’” Sara Lopes, a 21-year-old shop worker, said as she lined up at a central Lisbon nightclub as the new requirements took effect at midnight.

“It’s a bit of a hassle to have to make appointment after appointment at the pharmacy, but it’s fine,” Lopes said.

Under the new rules, most arriving passengers must show negative test results at Portugal’s airports, seaports and land borders.

WHO members to start drafting plan to deal with new pandemics — 6:06 a.m.

Bloomberg

World Health Organization member countries voted to start drafting an international agreement to help avoid future pandemics as more cases of the new omicron strain of Covid-19 popped up around the world.

The WHO’s members approved a proposal Wednesday that set a deadline of 2024 to try to implement such a measure. They didn’t resolve the biggest disagreement, however: whether the accord should be a legally-binding treaty.

The coronavirus “has shone a light on the many flaws in the global system to protect people from pandemics,” Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told member countries. He chided “‘me-first’ approaches that stymie the global solidarity needed to deal with a global threat.”

Reluctance from some countries, including the U.S. and Russia, has delayed progress on the idea. The proposal approved Wednesday calls for a start to drafting the treaty next year and a goal of voting on an agreement in 2024.

The proposal also calls for increasing the contributions of WHO member states to 50% of the base program budget, which Tedros said would be a “game changer.”

Negotiating such international deals takes time. The WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control came into force in 2005, for instance, a decade after the idea was proposed.

The world hasn’t moved swiftly enough to make a new plan for pandemics, according to former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark and former Liberia President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who headed an independent panel that criticized the response to the coronavirus.

The international system, they concluded, remains unfit to avoid another disease from spiraling into one matching Covid-19.

UN migration agency: COVID has ‘radically altered’ mobility — 5:00 a.m.

Associated Press

GENEVA (AP) — The U.N. migration agency says the coronavirus pandemic has “radically altered” mobility around the world, projecting in a new report that the growth in the number of international migrants is likely to remain weaker as long as travel and other restrictions remain.

The International Organization for Migration released Wednesday its World Migration Report 2022, a vast compendium of the latest trends in human movement of all types — from people fleeing war and conflict to workers seeking jobs abroad — and a recap of the last two years of mobility.

IOM points to a “dramatic increase” in internal displacement — movement within countries — caused by natural disasters, conflict and violence just as COVID-19 restrictions have sporadically shut borders across the globe since the pandemic emerged and spread over the last two years.

“We are witnessing a paradox not seen before in human history,” IOM Director-General Antonio Vitorino said. “While billions of people have been effectively grounded by COVID-19, tens of millions of others have been displaced within their own countries.”

The report tallied about 281 million international migrants around the world by its latest complete count in 2020, amounting to just 3.6% of the global population. That was up from 272 million in 2019. About 60% of those migrants last year were migrant workers, it said.

International remittances — people sending money back home — dropped to $702 billion in 2020, compared to $719 billion a year earlier. About 3,900 people died while on the move last year, down from 5,400 in 2019, IOM said.

Japan suspends new reservations on all incoming flights — 4:48 a.m.

Associated Press

TOKYO (AP) — Japan continued its aggressive stance against a new coronavirus variant on Wednesday, asking international airlines to stop taking new reservations for all flights arriving in the country until the end of December in a further tightening of already strict border controls.

The transportation ministry said the request is an emergency precaution amid growing worry over the spread of the new omicron variant. The move by the world’s third largest economy, coupled with its recent return to a ban on foreign visitors, is among the most stringent anywhere, and more in line with cloistered neighbor China than with some other democracies in the region. It comes as scientists work frantically to determine just how threatening omicron is.

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Austrian lockdown extended through Dec 11 as planned — 3:46 a.m.

Associated Press

BERLIN (AP) — Austria’s lockdown has officially been extended until Dec. 11 as planned amid signs that the measures are helping to bring down a sky-high coronavirus infection rate.

A parliamentary committee signed off Tuesday on the extension of the country’s fourth national lockdown of the pandemic, which started on Nov. 22, the Austria Press Agency reported. That was necessary because some lockdown measures can only be ordered for 10 days at a time.

There is one significant change: essential shops that so far were allowed to open until 9 p.m. will have to close by 7 p.m. starting Thursday. And the rules now allow explicitly for the sale of Christmas trees.

The government imposed lockdown as COVID-19 deaths rose and hospitals in hard-hit regions warned that intensive care units were reaching capacity. Austria also pledged to be the first European country to mandate vaccines beginning Feb. 1.

Under the lockdown, people can leave their homes only for specific reasons, including buying groceries, going to the doctor or exercising. Day care centers and schools remained open for those who need them, but parents were asked to keep children at home if possible.

What happens after Dec. 11 will depend on the situation then, but officials say lockdown restrictions will remain for the unvaccinated. Austria has a relatively low vaccination rate for Western Europe, with just under 67% of the population fully vaccinated.

The country’s seven-day infection rate has begun to decline. It stood at 894.2 cases per 100,000 residents on Tuesday, down from more than 1,100 on the day the lockdown started.

Saudis detect 1st case of new coronavirus variant Omicron — 3:39 a.m.

Associated Press

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Saudi Arabia said Wednesday it detected its first case of the new coronavirus variant omicron.

The kingdom’s state-run Saudi Press Agency said the case came from a citizen coming from what it described as a “North African country.”

The report said the infected individual and his close contacts had been quarantined.

The case marks the first-known instance of omicron being detected among Gulf Arab nations.

Germany faces ‘dangerous situation’ in hospitals on COVID surge — 3:35 a.m.

Bloomberg

Germany urgently needs stricter measures to check a surge in Covid-19 infections and protect hospitals from a “particularly dangerous situation,” according to the head of the country’s DIVI intensive-care medicine lobby.

ICUs have had to find beds for about 1,400 additional coronavirus patients in the past week, DIVI President Gernot Marx said. The total number -- currently at about 4,600 -- will reach 6,000 by Christmas, exceeding the peak during the second wave of the pandemic last winter, he predicted.

“We have to protect our staff and prevent our clinics from collapsing under the pressure,” Marx said Wednesday in an interview with ZDF television. He also called for mandatory Covid vaccines for all adults, saying the step is needed “not just to break the fourth wave but to prevent a fifth and sixth wave.”

Germany is moving closer to making Covid-19 shots compulsory, with Olaf Scholz, the incoming chancellor, throwing his support behind the initiative. The Social Democrat, who is due to be sworn in to replace Angela Merkel next week, called for a parliamentary vote before the end of the year.

Despite previous assurance that vaccines would be voluntary, there has been growing consensus across a number of parties for a mandate. Compulsory shots could then begin in February or March.

Scholz, Merkel and the heads of Germany’s 16 regions will hold more talks on Thursday on a number of proposals for new restrictions, including tighter curbs on unvaccinated people, limiting fans at soccer matches and closing bars and nightclubs in hard-hit areas.

Despite variants, Singapore’s COVID strategy on track — 2:37 a.m.

Associated Press

SINGAPORE (AP) — When Singapore embarked upon its strategy of living with COVID-19, backed by one of the world’s leading vaccine programs, the wealthy city-state saw a spike in its rate of infections, leading many to question whether the time was right.

But with the numbers now dropping as rapidly as they rose, there’s cautious optimism that the widely watched plan has helped Singapore turn the corner in the pandemic, even with the discovery of the new worrisome omicron variant, and provide a better understanding of what is effective, and what isn’t.

“I guess now COVID seems like it’s just a normal flu to everybody,” said Glacier Chong, taking a break from shopping on Singapore’s popular Orchard Road to people-watch by a fountain and listen to the Christmas music being piped out of large speakers lining the street.

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Fiji welcomes back tourists despite Omicron threat — 2:03 a.m.

Associated Press

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Fiji welcomed back its first tourists in more than 600 days on Wednesday after pushing ahead with reopening plans despite the threat posed by the newly detected omicron variant of the coronavirus.

The Pacific nation is famed for its idyllic white-sand beaches and relaxed, welcoming attitude. And it depends on the tourist dollars those features attract. Fiji’s economy took one of the biggest pandemic-related hits in the world last year, declining by 19% and prompting the government to offer jobless people tools and cash to become farmers.

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  Nov. 30, 2021  

US men’s ski racer positive for COVID before Colorado races — 11:23 p.m.

Associated Press

BEAVER CREEK, Colo. (AP) — A US men’s ski racer tested positive for the coronavirus and was ruled out for the four World Cup speed races this week in Colorado.

International Ski Federation (FIS) race director Markus Waldner said Tuesday night at the team captains’ meeting that one American athlete has been isolated after turning in a positive result for COVID-19. Waldner did not reveal the person’s name.

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Fauci says COVID diverted resources from fighting AIDS — 11:19 p.m.

Associated Press

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease expert, said Tuesday the COVID-19 pandemic has diverted scientific and financial resources from the fight against AIDS, seriously impeding global efforts to achieve the U.N. goal of ending AIDS by 2030.

Fauci told the U.N. General Assembly that tackling COVID-19 has also disrupted supply chains and increased the risk for people with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, of being infected with another deadly virus.

“To confront these challenges, we must intensify our collaborative research efforts and unclog supply chains through investment and regulatory action,” he said. “We also must assure that people with HIV in all countries have early access to effective COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics while their supply of anti- HIV drugs also is maintained.”

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Japan to ban foreign residents entering from 10 African nations — 11:07 p.m.

Bloomberg

Japan is set to ban foreign residents who have visited South Africa or nine other nations from re-entry starting Thursday over fears about the omicron variant, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said.

The move toughens current coronavirus regulations that had barred only new foreign entrants, allowing non-Japanese who have legal residence to return provided they undergo a period of isolation at a government-designated facility. This was in line with the rules for the country’s own citizens.

The other nations affected will be Angola, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe, Kyodo News said. No countries outside Africa were listed, despite the fact that omicron variant cases have been recorded in places including the U.K., Spain, Germany, Canada and Australia.

Injunction blocks vaccine mandate for health workers — 9:41 p.m.

New York Times

A federal judge issued a preliminary injunction Tuesday to halt the start of President Joe Biden’s national vaccine mandate for health care workers, which had been set to begin next week.

The injunction, written by Judge Terry Doughty, effectively expanded a separate order issued Monday by a federal court in Missouri. The earlier one had applied only to 10 states that joined in a lawsuit against the president’s decision to require all health workers in hospitals and nursing homes to receive at least their first shot by Dec. 6 and to be fully vaccinated by Jan. 4.

“There is no question that mandating a vaccine to 10.3 million health care workers is something that should be done by Congress, not a government agency,” wrote Doughty, a judge on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana. He added: “It is not clear that even an act of Congress mandating a vaccine would be constitutional.”

The plaintiffs, he added, also have an “interest in protecting its citizens from being required to submit to vaccinations” and to prevent the loss of jobs and tax revenue that may result from the mandate.

Several cities and states had already imposed their own vaccine mandates for health care workers, in an effort to contain outbreaks that were often passed from communities into medical settings like nursing homes. The momentum for vaccine mandates gained steam during the summer as the delta variant swept through nursing homes, causing spikes in staff and resident infections, as well as overwhelming hospitals in many states with another COVID surge.

As attention shifts to Omicron, the Delta variant overwhelms Europe — 8:53 p.m.

New York Times

Europe is once again at the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic, with more cases being reported each day on the continent than at any previous point. In Austria, Germany and the Netherlands, infection rates have already surged to double those of last winter’s peak.

In response, governments have been forced to reimpose the types of strict restrictions that most Europeans thought were behind them. Lockdowns have been ordered in Austria and Slovakia, with bars, restaurants and nonessential shops closing in an effort to bring the countries’ outbreaks under control.

The emergence of the new omicron variant, which the World Health Organization says could pose a higher risk of reinfection, has alarmed European leaders. Cases of the variant have so far been detected in travelers to more than 10 European countries, including Denmark, the Netherlands and Britain.

Even with highly effective vaccines, European health officials are still struggling to combat the highly contagious delta variant, as colder temperatures bring more gatherings indoors.

The winter surge has highlighted the disparities in vaccination rates across the continent. Even though cases have risen throughout the continent, it’s so far only in poorly vaccinated countries that deaths have reached the levels that followed similar surges last winter.

Experts agree that the only way to break the current cycle of surges and restrictions is to improve vaccination rates.

How 2 flights to Europe may have spurred the spread of the new coronavirus variant — 7:39 p.m.

New York Times

For the hundreds of passengers traveling from South Africa to Amsterdam on Friday, flight KL592 had all the trappings of international travel in the COVID era.

They came armed with paperwork proving their eligibility to fly, and check-in agents sifted through a bewildering assortment of requirements determined by final destination. Some countries, like the United States, required vaccinated travelers to show negative test results. Others didn’t. On the long flight, only some wore masks, passengers said, as flight attendants often let the slipping masks slide.

But while the flight was en route, and the passengers slept or watched their screens, everything changed on the ground.

Panic about the new omicron variant that had been discovered in southern Africa prompted countries to close their borders. The arrivals descended into a new post-omicron reality, and it was a hellish one, with hours spent breathing stale air as their planes sat on the tarmac, then fighting exhaustion in crammed waiting rooms, awaiting swab results in close quarters with fellow travelers who would turn out to be infected with the new and possibly more dangerous variant.

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US expected to toughen testing requirement for travelers — 7:14 p.m.

Associated Press

The Biden administration is expected to take steps in the coming days to toughen testing requirements for international travelers to the U.S., including both vaccinated and unvaccinated people, amid the spread of the new omicron variant of the coronavirus.

The precise testing protocols were still being finalized ahead of a speech by President Joe Biden planned for Thursday on the nation’s plans to control the COVID-19 pandemic during the winter season, according to a senior administration official who said some details could still change. Among the policies being considered is a requirement that all air travelers to the U.S. be tested for COVID-19 within a day of boarding their flight. Currently those who are fully vaccinated may present a test taken within three days of boarding.

The expected move comes just weeks after the U.S. largely reopened its borders to fully vaccinated foreign travelers on Nov. 8.

Pfizer seeks US booster OK for kids aged 16-17’ — 6:30 p.m.

By The Associated Press

Pfizer asked U.S. regulators Tuesday to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to get booster doses of its COVID-19 vaccine.

The U.S. and many other nations already were urging adults to get boosters to pump up immunity that can wane about six months after vaccination — calls that intensified with the discovery of the worrisome new omicron variant.

While health authorities don’t yet know just how big a risk omicron poses, President Joe Biden has said it’s inevitable that the mutant will reach the U.S. and that boosters — plus first shots for the unvaccinated — are key to strengthening protection.

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla announced the new booster request via tweet Tuesday, saying, “It is our hope to provide strong protection for as many people as possible, particularly in light of the new variant.”

The FDA is expected to consider the request rapidly.

Biden tries to reassure on COVID-19, says US won’t resort to ‘shutdowns and lockdowns’ — 6:19 p.m.

By The Associated Press

President Joe Biden on Tuesday went to Minnesota to pitch his completed infrastructure deal and a giant social spending bill that he’s still trying to get passed, but also found himself reassuring the nation he would fight the evolving COVID-19 threat without resorting to “shutdowns and lockdowns.”

Biden has been eager to build momentum for his agenda, but he finds himself once again forced to divert attention to battling the virus—this time because of global concerns about the spread of the omicron strain of the virus.

“This new variant is a cause of concern, but not a cause to panic,” Biden said.

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For young Mass. children, data show wide disparities in COVID-19 vaccination rates between low-income and wealthier communities — 6:08 p.m.

By Kay Lazar, Globe Staff

With the world laser-focused on a worrisome new variant, there is an urgent push to vaccinate as many people as possible. But many Massachusetts communities that have struggled with high rates of COVID-19 are reporting among the lowest vaccination rates for young children.

More than three weeks after federal regulators authorized COVID-19 vaccines for children ages 5 to 11, the latest state and Boston data show wide disparities, even among communities that sit side by side. The large gaps often are found between low-income and wealthier communities but are equally dramatic among racial and ethnic groups. Community leaders say they continue to confront large swaths of hesitation and anxiety about the shots, fueled by rampant misinformation on social media and, among some communities of color, a lack of faith in government institutions and the medical community after years of neglect and exploitation.

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WHO tweaks travel advice for Omicron variant — 6:06 p.m.

By The Associated Press

The World Health Organization is tweaking its travel advice with regard to the omicron variant just hours after releasing it.

The U.N. health agency originally said that people who are unwell or at risk of developing severe COVID-19 disease and dying are advised to postpone travel. The recommendation applies to people who are at least 60 years old and those with co-morbidities, including cancer, heart disease and diabetes.

But the WHO revised that statement later to say that people who haven’t been fully vaccinated or don’t have proof of earlier infection and are at greater risk are advised to postpone travel to areas with “community transmission,” where it’s spreading more widely.

Canada bans more countries amid fears over Omicron variant — 5:41 p.m.

By The Associated Press

Canada announced a ban Tuesday on foreign nationals from three more countries because of concerns with the Omicron COVID-19 variant.

Canada is banning all foreigners who have traveled through Nigeria, Malawi and Egypt.

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, said all of the Omicron cases in Canada have come from Nigeria, which has a low vaccination rate.

Ottawa already announced a ban on foreign nationals from seven countries in southern Africa.

Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos also said all air travelers coming to the country apart from the United States will have to be tested for COVID-19 upon arrival at the airport and will have to isolate themselves until they get the results of the test.

Brazil and Japan report first cases of the Omicron variant — 5:32 p.m.

By Associated Press

Brazil and Japan joined the rapidly widening circle of countries to report cases of the Omicron variant Tuesday, while new findings indicate the mutant coronavirus was already in Europe close to a week before South Africa sounded the alarm.

The Netherlands’ RIVM health institute disclosed that patient samples dating from Nov. 19 and 23 were found to contain the variant. It was on Nov. 24 that South African authorities reported the existence of the highly mutated virus to the World Health Organization.

That indicates omicron had a bigger head start in the Netherlands than previously believed.

Together with the cases in Japan and Brazil, the finding illustrates the difficulty in containing the virus in an age of jet travel and economic globalization. And it left the world once again whipsawed between hopes of returning to normal and fears that the worst is yet to come.

FDA health panel endorses Merck COVID-19 pill, paving way for authorization of the first at-home drug for virus — 5:03 p.m.

By Associated Press

An FDA health panel has endorsed Merck’s COVID-19 pill, paving the way for authorization of the first at-home drug for the virus.

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Mass. reports 6,610 new breakthrough COVID-19 cases, raising total to 1.6 percent of fully vaccinated people — 4:53 p.m.

By Amanda Kaufman, Globe staff

Massachusetts on Tuesday reported 6,610 more COVID-19 cases among fully vaccinated people since last week, bringing the total since the beginning of the vaccination campaign to 77,647 cases, or 1.6 percent of all fully vaccinated people.

The Department of Public Health also reported 34 more COVID-19 deaths among fully vaccinated people, bringing the total to 586 deaths among those fully vaccinated. The number of breakthrough deaths represents a tiny fraction of all vaccinated people and underscores the protection the vaccines provide against severe illness and death.

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‘Everything is wait-and-see.’ For long-struggling businesses, Omicron means yet more uncertainty — 4:51 p.m.

By Katie Johnston, Janelle Nanos, and Pranshu Verma, Globe Staff

Return-to-office plans in limbo. Holiday gatherings in the balance. Travel potentially on hold. After 20 months of near-endless uncertainty, the new Omicron variant of COVID-19 has the Boston-area business community on edge once again.

And it comes at yet another inflection point in the long-running pandemic.

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N.H. Governor Sununu announces COVID-19 vaccine booster blitz — 4:07 p.m.

By Travis Andersen, Globe Staff

New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu on Tuesday announced the locations of 15 sites for its one-day COVID-19 vaccine “Booster Blitz” on Dec. 11, amid concerns about the Omicron variant of the potentially deadly virus.

Sununu, a Republican, said during an afternoon press briefing that the sites for the blitz will be located in Berlin, Claremont, Colebrook, Concord, Hanover, Keene, Laconia, Manchester, Milford, North Conway, Plymouth, Rochester, Salem, Stratham, and Woodsville, according to WMUR-TV.

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US health officials expanding search for Omicron COVID-19 variant — 3:44 p.m.

By The New York Times

Top federal health officials said Tuesday that they were expanding a surveillance program at some of the largest U.S. airports as part of a sprawling effort to identify and contain what could be the first cases of the omicron coronavirus variant in the United States.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director, said at a White House news conference that the agency was “actively looking” for the variant but had not found a case so far among the many positive virus samples sequenced around the nation each week. Cases of the delta variant, which drove a devastating summer surge, still make up 99.9% of those samples.

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Vermont reports record COVID-19 hospitalizations — 3:37 p.m.

By The Associated Press

Vermont on Tuesday reported its highest number of hospitalizations from COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.

A total of 84 people were hospitalized, with 22 in intensive care, according to the Vermont Department of Health.

Unvaccinated people made up 71% of the hospitalizations and 81% of critical care stays over the last seven days, according to state data. During his weekly virus briefing Tuesday, Governor Phil Scott urged Vermonters to get vaccinated and get their boosters.

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Moderna’s three-shot regimen may protect against Omicron, says company chairman — 3:19 p.m.


Video: Pfizer seeks approval for adult boosters (TODAY)

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By Jonathan Saltzman, Globe Staff

Moderna’s chairman said Tuesday that the Omicron variant should be a wake-up call to those who wrongly assumed that the pandemic was almost over and spur people to get booster shots, adding that his firm’s three-shot regimen may still protect recipients from the new strain.

He also pushed back against accusations that Moderna hasn’t done enough to make its vaccine more widely available to poor countries, including those where Omicron was first identified.

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A look at which countries have implemented travel bans amid the emergence of the Omicron COVID-19 variant — 2:38 p.m.

By Amanda Kaufman, Globe Staff

The identification of a new COVID-19 variant, Omicron, has prompted a number of nations to restrict travel in an effort to buy time to increase vaccination rates amid the spread of the new strain.

While experts caution that it will take time to gather and analyze data on Omicron to better understand its impact — including its transmissibility and whether vaccines will be effective against it — the emergence of the variant has sparked a fresh wave of travel bans and other restrictions nearly two years into the coronavirus pandemic.

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US may tighten travel rules to fight Omicron, CDC head says — 2:16 p.m.

By Bloomberg

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is considering tightened travel recommendations and rules as health officials try to slow the COVID-19 Omicron variant’s entry to the US.

The agency is looking measures such as narrowing the testing window for travelers into the country and adding quarantine requirements in certain cases, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said Tuesday on a call with reporters. It’s also expanding surveillance programs at four major airports to test for COVID from specific international arrivals.

“As we have done throughout the pandemic, CDC is evaluating how to make international travel as safe as possible,” she said on the call.

The country last week imposed travel restrictions that bar arrivals from foreign nationals who have been in any of eight southern African nations in the past 14 days. The administration hasn’t said how long those measures will be in place.

“Based on the data and the science, the medical team will make a recommendation on any changes to international travel policy,” said Jeff Zients, President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 response coordinator.

Walensky said there remains “no evidence of omicron in the United States,” though Biden said Monday it’s “almost inevitable” the variant will arrive.

“I do believe with all of our international travel policies that have helped to keep Americans safe as well as for our really robust surveillance system” for identifying variants genetically, Walensky said, “we do have detection mechanisms that we need in place in order to find it, should and when it occurs.”

WHO decries travel bans, backs testing to detect Omicron variant — 1:54 p.m.

By The Associated Press

The World Health Organization says “blanket travel bans” will not prevent the spread of a new coronavirus variant, while acknowledging that countries could order quarantines and take screening measures like testing travelers before or after arrival, or both.

The updated travel guidance during the COVID-19 pandemic comes as dozens of countries have barred flights from southern African countries where the omicron variant was brought to international attention last week. WHO says the move unfairly punishes Botswana and South Africa for doing the right thing and being transparent about the emergence of a new variant.

Some health experts have countered that travel restrictions are effective, and many countries have bucked with WHO’s traditional recommendation against travel bans. WHO said that as of Sunday, 56 countries were reportedly implementing travel measures aimed at curbing the spread of omicron.

“Blanket travel bans will not prevent the international spread, and they place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods,” WHO said, while acknowledging the use of screening measures to help stem the spread of omicron.

In its statement, WHO said that so far, current PCR tests continue to be effective in detecting the variant.

The U.N. health agency also said “essential travel” for emergencies, humanitarian missions and transport of essential supplies “should continue to be prioritized.”

BioNTech CEO says vaccine likely protects from worst of Omicron — 1:43 p.m.

By Bloomberg

The current generation of COVID-19 vaccines probably will still protect against severe disease in people infected by the Omicron variant, BioNTech SE Chief Executive Officer Ugur Sahin said.

The new, highly mutated variant could result in more vaccinated people becoming infected, Sahin told Dow Jones in an interview. But even if the variant is able to elude antibodies in vaccinated people, it will probably still be targeted by immune cells, he said.

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FDA panel weighs safety, effectiveness of Merck’s antiviral COVID-19 pill — 1:37 p.m.

By The Associated Press

Government health advisers on Tuesday weighed the benefits and risks of a closely watched drug from Merck that could soon become the first U.S.-authorized pill for patients to take at home to treat COVID-19.

The Food and Drug Administration asked its outside experts whether the agency should authorize the pill, weighing new information that it is less effective than first reported and may cause birth defects. A vote was expected Tuesday afternoon. The panel’s recommendations aren’t binding but often guide FDA decisions.

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Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy enters COVID protocol ahead of Tuesday’s game — 1:26 p.m.

By Matt Porter, Globe Staff

Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy was placed in COVID protocol, the team said Tuesday. No other information was immediately available. He was not present at the morning skate before Tuesday’s game against the Red Wings. Assistant Kevin Dean ran the practice.

He becomes the first Bruin to be placed in COVID protocol this season.

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State announces three mobile clinics will offer monoclonal antibody treatment to ‘high risk’ people who have COVID-19 — 12:15 p.m.

By Travis Andersen, Globe staff

The Baker administration on Tuesday announced the deployment of three mobile clinics offering monoclonal antibody treatment to “high risk” people who either have COVID-19 or who’ve been exposed to the potentially deadly virus.

In a statement, the Mass. Department of Public Health said two of the sites, located in Fall River and Holyoke, started administering monoclonal antibody treatment on Nov. 22, and the third site, located in Everett, will begin doing the same on Dec. 3.

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Virologists are racing to answer 3 key questions about Omicron — 11:58 a.m.

Hanna Krueger, Globe staff

Within 72 hours of Omicron’s christening, governments across the globe swiftly shut down air travel from a handful of countries in southern Africa. Doomsaying headlines labeled the highly mutated coronavirus variant “Frankenstein.” Stock markets shivered. COVID had roared back into public consciousness after a fall of relative normalcy.

Dread swept the globe despite the fact that scientists know relatively little about the new variant beyond its genetic composition. For now, their attitude toward Omicron is one of vigilant curiosity, not panic.

“Did the scientific discovery or the policy reaction create the panic? It’s hard to know, because they happen in such rapid succession,” said Rachael Piltch-Loeb, a fellow at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, focusing on ways to improve public health systems.

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Omicron puts office returns in ‘wait and see’ mode — 11:21 a.m.

Pranshu Verma, Globe Staff

It’s happening again. A new coronavirus variant, potentially more transmissible than prior versions, has thrust the world into a state of confusion, leading to borders closing, market turmoil, and a general feeling of never-ending exhaustion.

The World Health Organization has warned the new strain — called Omicron — poses a “very high” health risk globally. In the United States, President Biden said the variant is a “cause for concern, not for panic.” In Boston, Mayor Michelle Wu said the city is now in a “race against the clock” to get everyone vaccinated as the newly contagious variant spreads. Global financial markets dropped precipitously on Friday, but steadied after the holiday weekend, in reaction to the news.

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Auschwitz Memorial condemns Fox Nation host for comparing Dr. Fauci to Nazi doctor — 11:21 a.m.

By Christina Prignano, Globe staff

The Auschwitz Memorial, an organization dedicated to preserving the site of the notorious concentration camp in Poland where more than 1 million people were systematically killed by the Nazi regime during World War II, is condemning Fox Nation host Lara Logan for comparing Dr. Anthony Fauci to a Nazi doctor who conducted experiments on live prisoners.

Logan made the comments Monday night on Fox News. She said people tell her Dr. Fauci “doesn’t represent science to them. He represents Josef Mengele, the Nazi doctor who did experiments on Jews during the second world war.”

Early Tuesday morning, Auschwitz Memorial officials posted a tweet calling the comments “shameful,” though the tweet did not mention Logan by name.

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Amazon accused of underreporting COVID-19 cases contracted at work — 10:41 a.m.

Bloomberg

Amazon.com Inc. provided “misleading or grossly incomplete” data about the number of COVID-19 infections potentially spread in its U.S. facilities, according to a labor group calling on the federal government to investigate the company.

Of the almost 20,000 employees the company said contracted the coronavirus last year, Amazon maintains only 27 potentially caught it at work, according to the Strategic Organizing Center, which reviewed Amazon’s annual workplace illness and injury disclosures to the Department of Labor. Federal authorities last year required companies to report work-related COVID-19 cases.

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Digital vaccine passports may ‘soon’ be coming to Mass., Baker says — 9:47 a.m.

By Diti Kohli, Globe staff

Digital COVID-19 vaccine passports may “soon” make their way to Massachusetts, Governor Charlie Baker said Monday afternoon on GBH News’ Boston Public Radio.

The personal QR codes would attest that an individual is fully inoculated against the coronavirus, Baker added, as he showed his code to hosts Jim Braude and Margery Eagan. But it’s unclear if or how the government would use the passport to restrict access to stores or restaurants, for example.

“This is my proof that I’ve been vaccinated. It’s easy to access, it’s a universal standard and we’ve been working with a bunch of other states,” Baker said.

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Face masks again mandatory in England to combat Omicron — 9:33 a.m.

Associated Press

England imposed new restrictions to combat the omicron variant on Tuesday, with face masks again compulsory in shops and on public transport.

Beginning Tuesday morning, all travelers returning to the U.K. must also take a PCR test and self-isolate until they receive a negative result. Previously they had been able to take a lateral flow test and there was no requirement to isolate.

The reintroduction of mandatory face masks brings England closer in line with the rest of the U.K. — Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland — which had not relaxed coronavirus restrictions as much as England had done over the summer.

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Moderna boss says current COVID-19 vaccines may be less effective against Omicron variant — 8:51 a.m.

Travis Andersen, Globe staff

In a concerning sign for pandemic watchers, Moderna’s chief executive has indicated that current COVID-19 vaccines could prove far less effective in tackling the Omicron variant of the potentially deadly pathogen.

Stéphane Bancel, the company boss, made the comments during a recent interview with the Financial Times newspaper. He told the paper the high number of Omicron mutations on the spike protein and the quick spread of the variant in South Africa suggests that the vaccines may need to be modified in 2022.

“There is no world, I think, where [the effectiveness] is the same level... we had with [the] Delta [variant],” Bancel told the Times. “I think it’s going to be a material drop. I just don’t know how much because we need to wait for the data. But all the scientists I’ve talked to... are like, ‘This is not going to be good’.”

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Germany’s incoming vice-chancellor calls for ‘lockdown of the unvaccinated’ — 8:10 a.m.

Bloomberg

Germany’s incoming vice chancellor threw his weight behind harsher curbs on unvaccinated people, as tougher restrictions sweep across Europe to check the latest surge in Covid-19 infections.

Ahead of talks between German federal and regional officials on Tuesday, Robert Habeck, a co-leader of the Greens, said only people who are inoculated or recovered should be allowed into non-essential stores and “public settings” across the country, rather than just in virus hotspots.

“We will need to face the winter with further coordinated measures,” Habeck said in an interview with ZDF television. He also raised the prospect of bringing forward or extending the Christmas school vacation.

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Omicron was in Netherlands days earlier than first thought — 8:01 a.m.

Associated Press

The omicron variant was already in the Netherlands when South Africa alerted the World Health Organization about it last week, Dutch health authorities said Tuesday, adding to fear and confusion over the new version of the coronavirus in a weary world hoping it had left the worst of the pandemic behind.

The Netherlands’ RIVM health institute found omicron in samples dating from Nov. 19 and 23. The WHO said South Africa first reported the the variant to the U.N. healthy agency on Nov. 24.

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Greece imposes $114 monthly fine on unvaccinated people over 60 — 5:36 a.m.

Bloomberg

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis announced mandatory Covid-19 vaccination for all Greeks above 60 years of age before a cabinet meeting in Athens on Tuesday, in an effort to tackle the new omicron variation threat ahead of the festive season.

Those who refuse to get vaccinated will have to pay a monthly fine of 100 euros ($114) for each month they don’t get jabbed, starting on Jan. 16, according to Mitsotakis. The funds collected by the fines will be given to Greek hospitals fighting the pandemic.

“It is not a punishment,” Mitsotakis said. “I would say it is a health fee.”

In Greece, only 60,000 among the 580,000 unvaccinated people over 60 years old received the vaccine in November.

Greece will also provide every adult with a free self-test during the Dec. 6-12 period and the Jan. 3-7 period, the Greek premier said.

Malaysia to tighten border controls on countries with Omicron — 4:55 a.m.

Bloomberg

Malaysia will impose tighter border controls over countries that have reported the spread of the omicron variant of Covid-19, Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said in a statement Tuesday.

The health ministry will make a detailed announcement on the matter soon, Hishammuddin said, noting the spread of the variant in countries including Italy, Denmark, Australia and the U.K.

The statement came a day after Malaysia and Singapore opened land and air vaccinated travel lanes, with plans to further reopen their borders. Malaysia on Friday banned travel to and from southern Africa after the discovery of omicron.

The four ministers in charge of managing the pandemic have decided to pause the nation’s efforts to move to the endemic phase until they obtain more information on the variant, Hishammuddin said.

Researchers worldwide are racing to understand the full impact of the new strain, and governments have banned travelers from South Africa and nearby countries on concerns omicron could evade the protection of vaccines and fuel new surges.

Top German court upholds disputed national COVID measures — 4:34 a.m.

Associated Press

BERLIN (AP) — Germany’s highest court on Tuesday rejected complaints against curfews and other restrictions imposed by federal legislation earlier this year in areas where the coronavirus was spreading quickly — a decision that could help the country’s leaders as they struggle to tackle a sharp rise in infections.

The ruling from the Federal Constitutional Court came hours before outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel and her designated successor, Olaf Scholz, planned to hold talks on the situation with the country’s 16 state governors.

There has been a string of calls from experts and politicians for tougher restrictions, but Germany’s federal structure and the transition from Merkel’s national government to a new one under Scholz have slowed decision-making.

The court found that the most controversial measures contained in the federal “emergency brake” legislation that was in place from April until the end of June were in line with the constitution. Those included a 10 p.m.-5 a.m. curfew and school closures in areas with high coronavirus infection rates.

The legislation to apply measures consistently in areas with high infection rates during Germany’s last major COVID-19 wave was intended to end the patchwork of measures that has often characterized the pandemic response across Germany’s 16 states.

Cambodia bars entry to travelers from 10 African countries — 4:24 a.m.

Associated Press

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Cambodia has barred entry to travelers from 10 African countries, citing the threat from the new omicron coronavirus variant.

The move, announced in a Health Ministry statement issued late Monday, came just two weeks after Cambodia reopened its borders to fully vaccinated travelers.

The Health Ministry said the entry ban included anyone who has spent time in the previous three weeks in any of the 10 listed countries, including South Africa where the variant was first reported. Other countries include Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Angola and Zambia.

No date was set for lifting the new restriction.

Municipal authorities in the capital of Phnom Penh on Tuesday announced that adult entertainment venues such as karaoke parlors, bars and nightclubs were allowed to resume operating immediately, according to the state news agency AKP. Such businesses are categorized as high-risk.

Cambodia reopened its borders to fully vaccinated travelers on Nov. 15, allowing visitors to skip quarantine measures if they are fully vaccinated, test negative 72 hours before they enter the country and test negative upon their arrival.

China vows Omicron won’t derail Beijing Winter Olympics — 4:24 a.m.

Bloomberg

China says it’s determined to hold a successful Winter Olympics in roughly 65 days even after the World Health Organization warned Covid cases may surge due to “severe consequences” fueled by omicron.

The new variant “will definitely bring some challenges to prevention and control,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Tuesday at a regular press briefing in Beijing.

“However with China’s experience in dealing with Covid-19, I completely believe that the Winter Olympics will be held smoothly and on schedule,” he said.

China has often touted its success fighting the pandemic while criticizing nations including the U.S. for their fatalities. It has stuck to its zero-tolerance approach to handling Covid as other countries started opening -- at least before omicron arrived. China has deployed some of the toughest methods in the world to contain its spread since the earliest days of the pandemic last year, including long quarantines and severe lockdowns on flareups.

Why We Should Be Wary of Writing Off Omicron Cases as ‘Mild’

The Global Times, a newspaper backed by the ruling Communist Party, said in an editorial Monday that China is in the best position in the world to stop any new outbreak due to omicron, describing the nation as a “true impregnable fortress” against the spread of coronavirus.

In April, Chinese leader Xi Jinping promised his nation would hold “a simple, safe and splendid Olympics,” which are set for Feb. 4-20 in Beijing.

1st French omicron case on Indian Ocean island of Reunion — 3:45 a.m.

Associated Press

PARIS (AP) — Japan and France confirmed their first cases of the new variant of the coronavirus on Tuesday as countries around the world scrambled to close their doors or find ways to limit its spread while scientists study how damaging it might be.

The World Health Organization has warned that the global risk from the omicron variant is “very high” based on early evidence, saying it could lead to surges with “severe consequences.”

French authorities on Tuesday confirmed the first case of the omicron variant in the French island territory of Reunion in the Indian Ocean. Patrick Mavingui, a microbiologist at the island’s research clinic for infectious diseases, said the person who has tested positive for the new variant is a 53-year-old man who had traveled to Mozambique and stopped in South Africa before returning to Reunion.

The man was placed in quarantine. He has “muscle pain and fatigue,” Mavingui said, according to public television Reunion 1ere.

Portugal to require tests for passengers from non-EU countries — 3:32 a.m.

Bloomberg

Portugal said all passengers arriving from non-European Union countries have to present negative PCR or antigen tests if they don’t have a EU digital certificate that indicates testing or recovery from Covid-19.

Arrivals from EU countries that are considered low or moderate risk can show a digital certificate indicating vaccination, testing or recovery from Covid-19, the government said in an emailed statement on Tuesday. The requirements take effect on Dec. 1.

Japan confirms first case of new coronavirus variant — 2:32 a.m.

Associated Press

TOKYO (AP) — Japan confirmed on Tuesday its first case of the new omicron coronavirus variant, a visitor who recently arrived from Namibia, an official said.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said the patient, a man in his 30s, tested positive upon arrival at Narita airport on Sunday and was isolated and is being treated at a hospital. Matsuno did not identify his nationality, citing privacy reasons.

A genome analysis at the National Institute of Infectious Diseases confirmed Tuesday that he was infected with the new variant, which was first identified in South Africa.

His travel companions and passengers in nearby seats have been identified and have been reported to Japanese health authorities for follow up. Japanese media said two of the patient’s relatives tested negative and have been quarantined in a government facility near Narita airport.

Matsuno said the government will maintain strict border controls and will step up its capacity to conduct genome analyses of the new variant.

Japan announced on Monday that it will ban all foreign visitors beginning Tuesday as an emergency precaution against the variant, tentatively through the end of the year. The government is also requiring Japanese nationals and foreigners with resident permits to quarantine 14 days following entry.

The World Health Organization warned Monday that the global risk from the omicron variant is “very high” based on the early evidence, saying it could lead to surges with “severe consequences.”

Moderna CEO says world may need new vaccines to fight Omicron — 1:11 a.m.

Bloomberg

The plethora of mutations in the omicron variant are likely to help it evade protection provided by existing vaccines, making it necessary to develop new immunizations, Moderna Inc. Chief Executive Officer Stephane Bancel told the Financial Times.

It may take months for pharmaceutical companies to develop and deploy updated immunizations that they can deliver in large numbers, Bancel said in an interview with the newspaper. There is no way the current shots will provide the same level of protection against omicron as they do against delta, he said.

The current vaccines from companies including Moderna, Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE, AstraZeneca Plc and Johnson & Johnson are all able to help reduce the risk of severe infection and death from the previous strains of the virus, though they work less well against the more transmissible delta variant. Research is still underway to determine if omicron causes the same level of illness as older versions of the virus, if it can evade protection from vaccines and previous infections, and if it will be able to outcompete the existing strains as the pathogen continues to circulate throughout the world.

Pfizer Chief Executive Officer Albert Bourla said his company will be ready with a vaccine targeting omicron in 100 days, should it be necessary.

Community colleges see double-digit declines in enrollment as students struggle to return to their pre-pandemic studies — 12:08 a.m.

By Laura Krantz, Globe staff

Even as many four-year college campuses this fall are brimming with activity once again, enrollment at the state’s 15 community colleges reflects how many students still face steep barriers to their education that in many cases have only been exacerbated by the pandemic.

Some community colleges are missing a quarter or more of their students compared to before the pandemic. The sharpest drop in enrollment among community colleges statewide came at Roxbury Community College, which is down 35 percent from the fall of 2019. Eleven other campuses also saw double-digit declines.

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  Nov. 29, 2021  

China to donate 600 million COVID vaccine doses to Africa — 9:39 p.m.

Associated Press

BEIJING (AP) — China has pledged to donate 600 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccines to Africa as the world grapples with the unequal distribution of the shots between rich and poor countries.

Chinese President Xi Jinping made the promise Monday in a video speech to the opening ceremony of a China-Africa forum on economic cooperation.

He said China will supply 1 billion doses in all. The other 400 million are to come through other routes such as production by Chinese companies in Africa.

“We need to put people and their lives first, be guided by science, support waiving intellectual property rights on COVID-19 vaccines, and truly ensure the accessibility and affordability of vaccines in Africa to bridge the immunization gap,” he said.

The Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, which is held every three years, is being hosted by Senegal. It runs through Tuesday.

Los Angeles begins enforcing strict mandate requiring proof of vaccine — 9:28 p.m.

Associated Press

Enforcement began Monday in Los Angeles for one of the strictest vaccine mandates in the country, a sweeping measure that requires proof of shots for everyone entering a wide variety of businesses from restaurants to theaters and gyms to nail and hair salons.

While the latest order aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus took effect Nov. 8, city officials spent the past three weeks providing business owners the information and resources business they need to comply.

A first offense will bring a warning but subsequent ones could produce fines running from $1,000 to $5,000. Inspectors with the Department of Building and Safety will enforce the mandate, and the city hopes to eventually get assistance from the LA County Department of Public Health, said Sharon Tso, the city’s Chief Legislative Analyst, whose office drafted the enforcement rules. She didn’t immediately know if any warnings or citations were issued on Monday.

Los Angeles is among a growing number of cities across the U.S., including San Francisco and New York City, requiring people show proof of vaccination to enter various types of businesses and venues. But rules in the nation’s second-most-populous city, called SafePassLA, apply to more types of businesses and other indoor locations including concert halls, museums and convention centers.

Pfizer is set to request FDA authorization for coronavirus booster for 16- and 17-year-olds — 8:24 p.m.

Washington Post

As President Joe Biden exhorts Americans to get coronavirus vaccines and booster shots to strengthen protections against the delta and omicron variants, another age group might soon become eligible for the boosters: 16- and 17-year-olds.

Pfizer and its partner BioNTech are expected to ask the Food and Drug Administration in the coming days to authorize its booster shot for that age group, according to two people familiar with the situation. The regulators are expected to sign off quickly, said the individuals, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the issue.

Currently, Americans who are 18 and older are eligible for boosters six months after receiving the second shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines. They can receive the Johnson & Johnson booster two months after getting the single-shot vaccine.

Fragmented reactions hinder global fight against Omicron variant — 8:13 p.m.

New York Times

In a wrenchingly familiar cycle of tracking first cases, pointing fingers and banning travel, nations worldwide reacted Monday to the omicron variant of the coronavirus in the piecemeal fashion that has defined — and hobbled — the pandemic response all along.

As here-we-go-again fear and resignation gripped much of the world, the World Health Organization warned that the risk posed by the heavily mutated variant was “very high.” But operating once again in a vacuum of evidence, governments chose approaches that differed between continents, between neighboring countries, and even between cities within those countries.

Little is known about omicron beyond its large number of mutations; it will be weeks, at least, before scientists can say with confidence whether it is more contagious — early evidence suggests it is — whether it causes more serious illness, and how it responds to vaccines.

In the United States, federal officials called Monday on vaccinated people to get booster shots. President Joe Biden sought to reassure Americans, saying that the new variant is “a cause for concern, not a cause for panic” and that his administration is already working with vaccine manufacturers to modify vaccines, should that prove necessary.

In southern Africa, where scientists first identified omicron amid a largely unvaccinated population, leaders deplored the travel bans as ruinous and counterproductive to tracking the virus, saying they could discourage transparency about outbreaks. African officials also noted that because of the inequity in distribution of vaccines, the continent faces this latest variant with little to no protection.

But with vaccine deliveries to Africa becoming more reliable, some states looked to a vaccine mandate to curb the spread of the coronavirus. On Sunday, Ghana’s government announced that government employees, health care workers and staff and students at most schools must be vaccinated by Jan. 22.

Europe which has acted in unusual concert in barring travel from southern Africa, is speeding up booster shots in the hope that they will work against omicron, and adjusting or reconsidering a hodgepodge of social-distancing measures, even in restriction-resistant countries such as Britain.

How a Harvard-affiliated lab in Botswana became the first to identify the Omicron variant — 8:13 p.m.

By Felice J. Freyer, Globe staff

As the rows of multicolored letters lit up his computer screen at the Botswana-Harvard AIDS Institute Partnership, Sikhulile Moyo looked on in surprise. The letters represented the genetic codes from thousands of coronavirus samples. But one line stuck out: It looked like a swath of multiple mutations.

It was Friday, Nov. 19. Moyo’s lab in Gaborone, Botswana, a city just over the northern border of South Africa, had been sequencing the genomes of about 95 coronavirus samples every week to track mutations, the natural changes that occur in virus genes. But he’d never seen anything like this before.

While other Harvard affiliates, including the Broad Institute and the major Boston hospitals, have seized the limelight in coping with COVID-19, this little-known African outpost would end up playing a critical role as the first lab to identify the new variant that has transfixed the world.

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The Delta variant hit the US economy hard. Will Omicron pack a similar punch? — 8:02 p.m.

By Jim Puzzanghera, Globe staff

The US economy was roaring back to life early this summer until the Delta variant of the coronavirus tapped the brakes on hiring and overall growth. Now, as the nation was emerging from that slowdown just in time for the holiday season, the Omicron variant threatens to deliver another gut punch to the recovery.

Economists said it’s still too early to tell the potential economic damage as scientists race to determine the transmissibility and severity of the new variant. But President Biden on Monday cautioned Americans against overreacting and assured them that, at least for now, the federal government won’t be recommending a new round of COVID lockdowns that could slow the economy again.

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Patriots place running back J.J. Taylor on Reserve/COVID-19 list — 7:06 p.m.

Nicole Yang, Globe Staff

The Patriots placed running back J.J. Taylor on the Reserve/COVID-19 list Monday.

Taylor was inactive against Tennessee Sunday, the second straight week he has been a healthy scratch. He has appeared in five games this season, rushing for 37 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries.

If Taylor is vaccinated, he can be activated after testing negative twice at least 24 hours apart. If he is unvaccinated, he will have to wait at least 10 days to be activated.

South Africa braces for covid case surge, including among young children — 6:55 p.m.

Associated Press

South Africa has recorded a sharp increase in coronavirus cases, including among children under 2 years old, a top epidemiologist said Monday, as the country reckons with the consequences of being among the first to report the omicron variant of the coronavirus.

Health-care providers and officials said they are making preparations to deal with what is effectively a fourth wave of the pandemic in the country - including by ensuring there are enough pediatric hospital beds to deal with the possible increase in young children’s hospital admissions.

“I am expecting we will top over 10,000 cases by the end of the week per day,” South African epidemiologist Salim Abdool Karim said during a virtual government-led news briefing.

He noted, however, that vaccines still appeared to be effective in avoiding serious symptoms. “We can expect that we will still see high effectiveness for hospitalization and severe disease, and that protection of the vaccines is likely to remain strong.”

Jerome Powell says Omicron adds economic risks and inflation uncertainty — 5:37 p.m.

Bloomberg

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell, in his first public remarks on the omicron variant of the coronavirus, said it poses risks to both sides of the central bank’s mandate to achieve stable prices and maximum employment.

“The recent rise in COVID-19 cases and the emergence of the omicron variant pose downside risks to employment and economic activity and increased uncertainty for inflation,” Powell said in prepared testimony released Monday, a day ahead of his appearance before the Senate Banking Committee. “Greater concerns about the virus could reduce people’s willingness to work in person, which would slow progress in the labor market and intensify supply-chain disruptions.”

Powell, in the relatively brief text, didn’t discuss specific monetary policy actions or the possibility of changing the pace of the tapering of its asset purchases — a key issue that other officials have flagged in recent remarks.

People are flocking to lockdown-free Florida for the holidays — 3:32 p.m.

By Kelli Kennedy and Cody Jackson, The Associated Press

Cooped-up tourists eager for a taste of Florida’s sandy beaches, swaying palm trees and warmer climates are visiting the Sunshine State in droves, topping pre-pandemic levels in recent months.

Miami is one of the top search destinations on travel websites and statewide, Florida had 32.5 million travelers from July to September of this year, exceeding the number of visitors during that period in pre-pandemic 2019, Gov. Ron DeSantis said recently.

The state was boosted by the Republican governor’s pro-business, anti-lockdown and anti-mask restrictions all year, allowing one of Florida’s main economic engines to flourish, even as tourism dipped in other parts of the country.

Now, as snowbirds have returned and others are making holidays travel plans, hotels and tourism experts report a noticeable bump. Miami — and Florida — have grown even more popular since borders were opened earlier this month to international travels, though plans and logistics could be upset by the emergence of the new COVID-19 omicron variant.

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WHO says Omicron poses a ‘very high’ risk globally — 3:10 p.m.

By Nick Cumming-Bruce, The New York Times

The World Health Organization warned Monday that global risks posed by the new omicron variant of the coronavirus were “very high,” despite significant questions about the variant itself. Still, countries around the world rushed to defend against its spread with a cascade of border closures and travel restrictions that recalled the earliest days of the pandemic.

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Governor Baker discusses new Omicron variant, increasing number of booster appointments — 2:27 p.m.

By Amanda Kaufman, Globe Staff

Governor Charlie Baker on Monday said the best thing Massachusetts residents can do to protect against the new Omicron variant is to get vaccinated -- including with booster shots for those eligible as he urged patience while researchers learn more about the strain.

”Remember, we went through a similar exercise here on Delta, where there was a lot of concern about both transmissibility and virulence with Delta,” Baker said during an appearance on GBH’s Boston Public Radio. “And I think the conclusion most people came to is ‘Yep, more transmissible but not more virulent.’ And the vaccines that are currently in place turned out to work quite well with respect to Delta. So I understand the concern, but I think people need to recognize and understand that people are chasing this pretty hard. You’ve got folks all over the all over the globe who are chasing data and information, and it’ll probably take a few days to figure out what we don’t know.”

Baker also defended Massachusetts’ COVID-19 booster rollout amid residents reporting difficulty finding appointments and said the state will look to increase capacity as tens of thousands of people receive the additional doses each day.

”We’re doing somewhere around 55,000 boosters and first and second shots a day, okay? At our peak we were doing about 80,000 last spring,” Baker said. “We’re going to continue to see if we can increase capacity.”

Baker noted about 1 million people have received booster shots in the state so far and touted the state’s vaccination rate for children age 5 and older. State data showed 1,056,088 boosters had been administered as of last Friday.

There were “tons” of open booster appointments two weeks ago, Baker said, but demand has increased for the shots after state and federal officials opted to expand eligibility to all adults. Massachusetts preempted the federal government’s expansion, a decision Baker said was made after “waiting for them to go there and eventually just said ‘screw it’ and did it.”

”I’m happy to have increases, and we’re going to talk to our folks about whether we can come up with additional [appointments],” Baker said. “When I go look at Vax Finder at mass.gov, I can always find appointments. Now, they may not be in the place somebody wants to go to get one and it may be a week or 10 days out or two weeks out before they can get one, but given the fact that we have far more demand now than we had a couple of weeks ago, we’re going to see if we can increase our capacity to do more.”

A QR code for Massachusetts residents that displays a person’s proof of vaccination is coming “soon,” Baker added, saying that Massachusetts is working with 15 to 20 states to create the code that can be used “for all sorts of things” when it comes to vaccine requirements.

Such codes have been made available in a number of states and major cities. Baker also discussed the order that went into effect Monday that required hospitals with limited capacity to reduce certain non-urgent, scheduled procedures, saying the decision was made amid a staffing shortage that has left the state “short somewhere between 500 to 1,000 beds, depending upon what day it is,” Baker said.

The reduction applies to procedures that are scheduled in advance because they are not an emergency.”What we don’t want to end up doing is ending up in a situation where we have to literally find beds for people in New Hampshire or Rhode Island or Connecticut, which by the way, have many of the same problems we do,” Baker said.

White House discourages firing unvaccinated workers before 2022 — 1:59 p.m.

By The Washington Post

Federal workers who have defied President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate likely won’t be fired until 2022 at the earliest, with the White House encouraging education and counseling as a first step.

Biden’s vaccine requirement for the 3.5 million-strong federal workforce took effect last week. In a letter to agencies on Monday, the Office of Management and Budget “encouraged” managers to stick to education, counseling and, at most, letters of reprimand for unvaccinated employees until Jan. 1, 2022.

OMB said that agencies “may need to act on enforcement sooner for a limited number of employees” but that in general, severe consequences should be delayed until at least January, after the U.S. holiday season.

“We believe this approach is the best one to achieving our goal of getting the federal workforce vaccinated,” the letter said.

According to data released by the administration, 92% of federal workers have at least one shot, while another 4.5% have sought or have been granted exemptions. That means that roughly 120,000 workers are not in compliance -- a figure that could shrink as people change their minds, or grow if employees skip second doses of vaccines or are denied exemptions.

The White House has long said the vaccination deadline wouldn’t lead to immediate dismissal.

“To be clear, the goal of vaccination requirements is to protect workers, not to punish them. So tonight’s deadline is not an endpoint or a cliff,” Biden’s covid-19 response coordinator, Jeff Zients, said in a press briefing on Nov. 22, the deadline for the rule. “We continue to see more and more federal employees getting their shots. And for the small percentage of employees who have not yet complied, agencies are beginning the education and counseling process.”

Does Omicron remind you of 2020? Here’s why it shouldn’t — 1:29 p.m.

By Anissa Gardizy and Diti Kohli, Globe Staff

A new SARS-CoV-2 virus variant is rattling the globe, prompting travel bans and some economic unrest as scientists race to figure out how dangerous the new strain, called Omicron, could be.

Read more

Spain confirms first Omicron variant case — 12:29 p.m.

By Bloomberg

The Madrid region has confirmed its first case of a patient with the omicron coronavirus variant.

A 51-year-old man who arrived in the capital on Nov. 28 after traveling from South Africa with a stopover in Amsterdam, has tested positive, the health department for the Madrid region said in an emailed statement.

The patient has mild symptoms and is isolated in quarantine.

Here’s where Omicron has been detected so far — 11:29 a.m.

By Ryan Huddle and Maria Elena Little Endara, Globe staff and Globe correspondent

Coronavirus variant Omicron, which was first reported by South African health officials last week, has been detected in 10 countries as of Monday morning.

In South Africa and neighboring Botswana, scientists and health officials are seeing local transmission of the new variant technically known as B.1.1.529.

Countries including Australia, Israel, Italy, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Portugal, and the UK have reported cases of Omicron that were detected in travelers. There are currently no reported cases of Omicron in the United States.

The map below shows where the variant has been detected as of Monday morning.

J&J joins Pfizer and Moderna in vowing to target Omicron variant — 11:16 a.m.

By Jonathan Saltzman, Globe Staff

Johnson & Johnson joined Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna on Monday in saying it will test how well its vaccine works against the worrisome variant that emerged in southern African and will develop a booster tailored to the strain, called Omicron, if necessary.

Read more

NYC advises indoor mask wearing as Omicron variant spreads around world — 11:11 a.m.

By Bloomberg

New York City issued a new mask advisory on Monday, “strongly recommending” residents wear masks in all indoor locations regardless of vaccination.

The health advisory stops short of a mandate but signifies officials’ trepidation of a new Covid-19 wave as the omicron variant spreads around the world and New York sees an increase in post-Thanksgiving Covid cases.

The city said there were no confirmed cases of the variant, which was identified in Botswana and South Africa and poses a “very high” risk, according to the World Health Organization, which added it to its list of variants of concerns. Still, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city was “carefully watching the situation” and was coordinating with New York Governor Kathy Hochul on the virus response.

“We’re going to be in a very vigilant state in the meantime and taking any and all actions as we get facts to support them,” de Blasio said at a briefing Monday.

R.I. does not have any positive cases of Omicron COVID-19 variant yet — 10:58 a.m.

By Alexa Gagosz, Globe Staff

Rhode Island has not identified any positive coronavirus cases that have been linked to the new variant Omicron as of Monday morning, according to Joseph Wendelken, a spokesman for the Rhode Island Department of Health.

Read more

‘We should not be freaking out’ over Omicron, Fauci says — 9:36 a.m.

By John R. Ellement, Globe Staff

The emergence of the omicron COVID-19 variant should not cause panic, but should push people towards vaccination and booster shots to keep themselves and others healthy, Dr. Anthony Fauci said Monday.

Read more

Miss Universe contestant in Israel has COVID-19 — 8:44 a.m.

By The Associated Press

Organizers of next month’s Miss Universe pageant say one of the contestants has tested positive for COVID-19.

It was not immediately clear if she had tested positive for the newly detected omicron variant. Israeli authorities have said they will go ahead with holding the pageant in the southern city of Eilat in December despite the rapidly spreading new variant.

The Miss Universe Organization, which is organizing the pageant, did not identify the contestant who tested positive or her nationality. It said Monday that she tested positive upon arrival in Israel and was taken to a government-run isolation hotel.

It said she was fully vaccinated and tested prior to departure. The organizers said most of the 80 contestants have arrived in Israel.

Doctor who saw Omicron early says symptoms different to Delta, mild — 8:20 a.m.

By Bloomberg

People infected by omicron in South Africa are showing very different symptoms to those suffering from the delta strain, said the doctor who alerted government scientists to the possibility of a new variant.

Patients who contracted it complain of fatigue, head and body aches and occasional sore throats and coughs, said Angelique Coetzee, who is also chairwoman of the South African Medical Association. Delta infections, by comparison, caused elevated pulse rates, resulted in low oxygen levels and a loss of smell and taste, she said.

After weeks of almost no Covid patients at her practice in Pretoria, the capital and epicenter of South Africa’s current surge, Coetzee said she suddenly started seeing patients complain of the symptoms on Nov. 18. She immediately informed the government’s Ministerial Advisory Council on Covid-19, and laboratories the next week identified a new variant, she said.

“I said these different symptoms can’t be delta, they are very similar to beta or it must be a new strain,” she said in an interview on Monday. “I don’t think it will blow over but I think it will be a mild disease hopefully. For now we are confident we can handle it.”

The World Health Organization is analyzing the new mutation, and has said it’s too early to say how transmissible and severe it is. It’s called on countries to start testing widely for omicron, saying the divergent design could fuel future surges of Covid-19.

South Africa announced the identification of a new variant on Nov. 25, saying a few cases had first been identified in neighboring Botswana and then others had followed in Tshwane, the municipal area in which Pretoria is located. The announcement caused a global panic, roiling markets and resulting in travel bans on southern African nations.

Scientists advising South Africa’s government told a media briefing on Monday that while omicron appeared to be more transmissible, cases appeared to very mild.

Coetzee’s patients have been relatively young. A vaccinated 66-year-old patient did return a positive test on Monday but was only mildly ill, she said.

India to test arrivals from ‘at risk’ countries — 6:58 a.m.

By Bloomberg

Travelers arriving in India from countries identified as “at-risk” will have to undergo mandatory testing at airports in addition to being tested 72 hours before taking off, according to the federal Health Ministry.

Couple detained on plane after leaving Dutch quarantine — 5:40 a.m.

By The Associated Press

Dutch military police arrested a husband and wife Sunday who had left a hotel where they were being quarantined after testing positive for COVID-19 and boarded a plane.

Local media reported that the couple were trying to fly home to Spain.

A spokeswoman for the local security authority that covers Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport said Monday that an investigation was underway into whether the couple had committed a crime and should be prosecuted.

Read more

Omicron more transmissible, researchers say — 5:26 a.m.

By Bloomberg

Omicron appears to be more transmissible than its predecessors, but there is no need to panic, Salim Karim, a South African clinical infectious disease epidemiologist, said Monday.

While an increased number of cases will put pressure on hospitals, the government and experts are working fast to learn more. Existing vaccines probably offer good protection against severe illness and death, Karim said.

Moderna jumps on omicron vaccine timeline — 4:40 a.m.

By Bloomberg

Moderna Inc. shares climbed in U.S. premarket trading after the company said a new vaccine to fight the omicron strain of the coronavirus could be ready by early 2022, if required.

The stock rallied 21% during Friday’s global selloff amid concerns about the new variant, solidifying its position as the top performer on the S&P 500 year-to-date. The company mobilized hundreds of workers on Thanksgiving Day last Thursday in order to start work on omicron, Chief Medical Officer Paul Burton said at the weekend

Economists reassess views in light of Omicron — 2:54 a.m.

By Bloomberg

The omicron variant is prompting economists to rethink initially rosy forecasts about 2022. If the mutation necessitates a return to growth-crippling lockdowns, it would add to the strain on supply chains and damange recovering demand. On the other hand, if the health effects turn out to be mild, the economic reaction could be muted and short-lived.

Goldman Sachs Group Inc. economists spelled out four possibilities. In its second-worst scenario, a large infection wave in the first quarter of 2022 sees global growth slow to a 2% quarter-on-quarter annual rate -- 2.5 percentage points below their current forecast. In the best-case scenario, omicron proves to be a “false alarm,” with no significant impact on global growth and inflation.

New variant not stopping New Zealand’s reopening plans — 1:01 a.m.

By The Associated Press

The emergence of the omicron variant hasn’t changed New Zealand’s plans to ease restrictions in Auckland and move the nation into a new, more open phase of its pandemic response, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Monday.

Bars, restaurants and gyms in Auckland can reopen from late Thursday, ending a coronavirus lockdown that began in August.

Read more

Singapore delays travel lanes with Middle East — 12:38 a.m.

By Bloomberg

Singapore has postponed the Dec. 6 launch of vaccinated travel lanes with Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia and is reviewing other border control measures, the health ministry said Sunday, citing the emergence of the omicron variant.

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