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Pfizer to request FDA booster authorization for 16- and 17-year-olds

The Boston Globe logo The Boston Globe 2 hrs ago Globe staff
Travelers wait in queue to test for COVID at a train station in Mumbai, India, Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021. © Rafiq Maqbool Travelers wait in queue to test for COVID at a train station in Mumbai, India, Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021.

The recent authorization of a COVID-19 vaccine for children 5 to 11 and the emergence of two promising pills for treatment of the virus have been major steps in the fight against the pandemic. But as winter approaches some experts are worried that another surge is likely as people gather inside in cooler weather, and immunity wanes among those who were vaccinated months ago.

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

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.

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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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‘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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

  Nov. 28, 2021  

Will the vaccines stop Omicron? Scientists are racing to find out — 11:08 p.m.

By New York Times

As nations severed air links from southern Africa amid fears of another global surge of the coronavirus, scientists scrambled Sunday to gather data on the new omicron variant, its capabilities, and — perhaps most important — how effectively the current vaccines will protect against it.

The early findings are a mixed picture. The variant may be more transmissible and better able to evade the body’s immune responses, both to vaccination and to natural infection, than prior versions of the virus, experts said in interviews.

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Governors urge caution in the United States on the Omicron variant — 10:03 p.m.

By New York Times

Governors across the United States tried to reassure Americans on Sunday that their administrations were closely monitoring the latest developments after the discovery of a new variant of the coronavirus.

Gov. Ned Lamont of Connecticut issued a statement on Sunday reminding his constituents to remain vigilant even though the new variant, known as omicron, had yet to be detected in the United States.

“Given the number of countries where omicron has already been detected, it may already be present in the U.S.,” he said in the statement.

Other state leaders took the same tone, urging caution as well as highlighting the measures they had already put in place earlier in the pandemic.

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Delta flight from South Africa briefly lands at Logan Airport, not for COVID-related reasons — 9:10 p.m.

By Colleen Cronin, Globe Correspondent,

A Delta Airlines flight from Johannesburg, South Africa, touched down in Boston briefly to refuel and change crews on Sunday morning, one day before a ban on travelers from that country takes effect.

Delta flight 201 landed at Logan International Airport just before 9:30 a.m. then took off again for Atlanta at 10:37 a.m., a Delta spokesperson said in a statement.

The flight crew departed from the plane and was placed off duty because it had maxed out its hours on duty, according to the spokesperson. All customers remained aboard during the stop.

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UK to tighten rules Tuesday as Omicron forces Johnson’s hand — 8:10 p.m.

By Bloomberg

Tougher U.K. pandemic rules are set to take effect this week as Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government seeks to buy scientists “precious weeks” to determine the risks posed by Covid-19′s omicron strain.

All travelers arriving in the U.K. starting at 4 a.m. on Nov. 30 must take a PCR coronavirus test on or before the second day of their stay and isolate until they receive a negative result. Face coverings will again be mandatory in shops and other indoor settings and on public transport. Booster shots may also be approved for more age groups within days, according to Health Secretary Sajid Javid.

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Fauci tells Biden vaccines ‘likely’ to protect against severe cases of Omicron variant — 7:09 p.m.

By Bloomberg

Anthony Fauci sought to reassure Americans after a meeting with President Joe Biden that existing vaccines “are likely to provide a degree of protection against severe cases” caused by the omicron variant.

Fauci, the president’s top medical adviser, told Biden it will take about two weeks to have “more definitive information on the transmissibility, severity, and other characteristics of the variant,” according to a readout of a meeting with the White House’s Covid Response Team on Sunday. The statement repeated the recommendation that all eligible vaccinated adults get a booster “as soon as possible.”

Biden will address omicron and the U.S. response on Monday, the readout said.

UK calls G-7 health minister’s meeting Monday — 6:38 p.m.

By Bloomberg

The U.K. government will convene an urgent meeting of Group of Seven health ministers on Monday to “discuss the developments on omicron,” according to the Department of Health.

The talks come as countries try to gauge the severity and implications of the new Covid-19 strain identified in South Africa, and especially whether it has the ability to evade current vaccines.

The U.K., which currently holds the G-7 presidency, imposes tougher rules on travelers arriving from all countries from Tuesday, having already added 10 southern African nations to its so-called red list.

Canada reports Omicron variant in travelers from Nigeria — 6:08 p.m.

By Bloomberg

The Canadian province of Ontario reported its first two cases of the omicron variant, both detected in people who had traveled recently from Nigeria. No other details were given.

Biden’s travel curbs criticized as ineffective by ex-advisers — 5:23 p.m.

By Bloomberg

Former advisers to President Joe Biden said travel restrictions will do little to stop the spread of new Covid-19 variants, and the U.S. and other nations would be better off increasing vaccine deliveries to Africa.

Biden last week imposed a broad entry ban on people who have been in South Africa and seven nearby countries, seeking to halt the spread of the omicron variant. The European Union, the U.K., Canada and others have imposed similar measures.

Biden’s ban kicks in Monday. While political leaders gravitate to border closures as a way to take immediate action, medical experts tend to say that partial closures are typically ineffective, in part because they affect only a sliver of travel volume.

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Frustrated by vaccine inequity, a South African lab is on the cusp of replicating Moderna’s shot — 5:09 p.m.

By The Washington Post

In an industrial area of this seaside city, a little-known biotech company is entering a pivotal phase of making Africa’s first coronavirus vaccine by attempting to replicate Moderna’s highly effective mRNA-based shot.

Afrigen Biologics and Vaccines is racing to make a vaccine because, despite donation pledges, supply is short and just 6 percent of Africa’s 1.2 billion people have been inoculated.

Getting Africa, and other parts of the world, vaccinated has gained new urgency with the emergence of a new variant, dubbed Omicron, that was first detected by South African scientists. Health officials have warned since the start of the pandemic almost two years ago that the coronavirus will continue to evolve and spread as long as significant populations remained unvaccinated.

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World Health Organization urges caution as South African health experts call Omicron ‘mild’ — 4:13 p.m.

By Bloomberg

The World Health Organization is urging caution after two South African health experts, including the doctor who first sounded the alarm about the omicron variant, indicated that symptoms linked to the coronavirus strain have been mild so far.

The initial reported infections were among university students, WHO said, adding that younger patients tend to have milder symptoms.

“Understanding the level of severity of the omicron variant will take days to several weeks,” WHO said in a statement, adding that “there is currently no information to suggest that symptoms associated with omicron are different from those from other variants.”

WHO criticizes travel bans on southern African countries — 3:26 p.m.

By The Associated Press

The World Health Organization on Sunday urged countries around the world not to impose flight bans on southern African nations due to concerns over the new omicron variant.

WHO’s regional director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, called on countries to follow science and international health regulations in order to avoid using travel restrictions.

“Travel restrictions may play a role in slightly reducing the spread of COVID-19 but place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods,” Moeti said in a statement. “If restrictions are implemented, they should not be unnecessarily invasive or intrusive, and should be scientifically based, according to the International Health Regulations, which is a legally binding instrument of international law recognized by over 190 nations.”

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Airlines scramble to navigate fast-degrading travel outlook — 2:50 p.m.

By Bloomberg

Airlines, passengers and businesses scrambled to respond to a deluge of travel restrictions announced over the weekend to slow the spread of the omicron coronavirus variant.

An initial spate of flight bans from southern Africa, where omicron was first detected, gave way to more wide-ranging measures that will make travel more expensive and less convenient -- if possible at all -- recalling earlier days in the pandemic.

The U.K. re-introduced mandatory PCR tests for all arriving passengers and said they must self-isolate until receiving a negative result. Israel closed to all inbound foreign nationals for 14 days, while the Philippines said travelers from European countries including Switzerland and the Netherlands won’t be welcome for several weeks.

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Italy’s first Omicron carrier probably arrived two weeks ago — 2:04 p.m.

By Bloomberg

The first Italian to test positive for the omicron variant had a negative test before his flight and moved around Italy for days before his diagnosis, showing the challenge authorities face in containing the spread of the new strain.

The man, who hasn’t been publicly identified, had a negative PCR test before boarding a flight that originated in Maputo, Mozambique, he said in a statement on Sunday.

He arrived in Rome on Nov. 12 and traveled to his home in a town north of Naples, Sky News Italia reported, without saying where it got the information.

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WHO warns of ‘no information’ on severity of Omicron — 1:38 p.m.

By Bloomberg

The World Health Organization cautioned that there is “no information” that infections caused by omicron variant are different from those of other variants.

“Initial reported infections were among university studies — younger individuals who tend to have more mild disease — but understanding the level of severity of the omicron variant will take days to several weeks,” the WHO said in a statement on Sunday. It noted that hospitalizations in South Africa, where the new strain was identified, are rising.

Several South African health experts said that cases associated with omicron so far appeared to be mild.

New York City may be at start of winter surge of COVID-19 — 1:30 p.m.

By Bloomberg

New York City may already be seeing signs of a winter spike in Covid-19 even though holiday travel, gatherings and colder weather are just getting started.

The city’s positive test rate rose to a two-month high as hospitals admitted more than 100 new virus patients on Friday, contributing to a 25% jump in hospitalizations in just two weeks.

The city has 463 people in the hospital for Covid-19, up from 370 on Nov. 12. The seven-day average of residents testing positive for the virus -- the lowest in the state of New York -- has climbed above 2% for the first time since the end of September. That metric doesn’t include rapid antigen test results.

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Explainer: What we know and don’t know on new COVID variant Omicron — 1:18 p.m.

By The Associated Press

South African scientists identified a new version of the coronavirus that they say is behind a recent spike in COVID-19 infections in Gauteng, the country’s most populous province.

It’s unclear where the new variant first emerged, but scientists in South Africa alerted the World Health Organization in recent days, and it has now been seen in travelers arriving in several countries, from Australia to Israel to the Netherlands.

On Friday, the WHO designated it as a “variant of concern,” naming it “omicron” after a letter in the Greek alphabet.

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Fauci pushes for travel bans and booster vaccines as Omicron variant spreads — 11:26 a.m.

Kenneth Singletary, Globe Staff

Dr. Anthony Fauci said Sunday that because scientists don’t have a full understanding of the new Omicron coronavirus variant, travel bans are a good idea to provide time to prepare for it.

And he said vaccines and boosters remain a first line of defense. Fauci spoke on ABC’s “This Week With George Stephanopoulos.”

Boosters, Fauci said, increase the number of disease-fighting antibodies in a person’s body. Scientists don’t know how the Omicron outbreak will play out, but Fauci said, “get boosted, get vaccinated and you’re going to bring that level [of antibodies] right up.”

Travel bans won’t fully prevent the variant from entering the country. “There’s no way that’s going to happen. But what you can do is you can delay it enough to get us better prepared,” said Fauci, who is director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

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United Arab Emirates start giving booster shots amid Omicron scare — 10:13 a.m.

By Bloomberg

Dubai and Abu Dhabi started administering booster shots of the coronavirus vaccine as countries across the world seek to check the advance of a new strain.

In Dubai, booster doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will be available for those who are 18 years and above and can be taken six months after the second dose, the emirate’s health authority tweeted Sunday. Neighboring Abu Dhabi also asked the public to take the booster shots, according to a tweet from the emirate’s media office. It didn’t specify the type of vaccine.

Dubai and Abu Dhabi, which are part of the United Arab Emirates, are rolling out the booster shots amid concern across the world that the new Omicron Covid-19 variant will usher in fresh lockdowns and crimp travel.

As Omicron variant is detected around the world, travel bans may be too late, experts say — 9:34 a.m.

By The Washington Post

As governments scrambled to close their borders to southern African countries as a shield against the Omicron coronavirus variant, experts warned the travel bans may be too late, with confirmed and suspected cases cropping up as far away as Asia and Australia.

The variant has a high number of mutations that could make it more easily transmissible. It was identified by scientists in South Africa, where early data suggest it is spreading more quickly than the now-dominant variant known as Delta. Several countries, including the United States, have curbed flights from the region while epidemiologists work to identify how far the variant may have spread.

“By the time we have enough information to institute a travel ban, the cat’s already out of the bag, so to speak,” Nicole A. Errett, a professor at the University of Washington who has done research on public health emergency preparedness, said in an email. “Omicron has already been detected in other continents. A travel ban could in theory buy some time by reducing the spread of new seed cases, but we are talking on the order of days to weeks,” she added.

Two planes carrying some 600 passengers from South Africa landed in the Netherlands with 61 people infected with the coronavirus, including some cases believed to be the new omicron variant, Dutch health authorities said Saturday.

Dutch health institute confirms 13 cases of Omicron variant — 7:51 a.m.

By The Associated Press

The Dutch health institute confirmed 13 cases of Omicron variant among travelers who arrived from South Africa.

Philippines imposes Europe travel curbs — 7:03 a.m.

By Bloomberg

The Philippines won’t welcome travelers from some European countries for the next several weeks.

Travelers who have been to Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Hungary, Italy, Netherlands and Switzerland in the past 14 days aren’t allowed entry until at least Dec. 15, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said in a statement. The Philippines earlier blocked the arrivals of travelers from some southern African countries.

Australia confirms Omicron in two travelers — 6:04 a.m.

By Bloomberg

Two people in Australia’s New South Wales state have tested positive for the omicron variant, the state government confirmed. Both had arrived in Sydney from southern Africa on Saturday evening, and are fully vaccinated and asymptomatic.

Earlier on Sunday, NSW reported 185 new Covid cases in the previous 24 hours. Victoria state reported 1,061 cases.

Europe starts restricting UK travelers — 5:25 a.m.

By Bloomberg

Countries across Europe are tightening travel requirements for the UK as suspected omicron cases rapidly emerge.

Beginning Dec. 1, Spain will only accept travelers from the UK who can show proof of vaccination. Also, passengers coming from countries deemed to be at high risk of the new variant are required to produce a negative test, even if they have a vaccine certificate, according to an order published in the government gazette.

Israel tightens travel restrictions over new COVID variant — 3:59 a.m.

By The Associated Press

Israel on Sunday approved barring entry to foreign nationals and the use of controversial technology for contact tracing as part of its efforts to clamp down on a new coronavirus variant.

The Health Ministry said in a statement that the country’s coronavirus cabinet had authorized a raft of measures, including red-listing travel to 50 African countries, banning entry by foreigners and mandating quarantine for all Israelis arriving from abroad.

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Swiss vote on COVID law amid sharp rise in infections — 3:54 a.m.

By The Associated Press

Swiss voters were having their say in a referendum Sunday on legislation which imposed the use of a special COVID-19 certificate that lets only people who have been vaccinated, recovered or tested negative attend public events and gatherings.

The vote offers a relatively rare bellwether of public opinion specifically on the issue of government policy to fight the coronavirus in Europe, currently the global epicenter of the pandemic.

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Travel curbs aimed at COVID variant tighten across the world — 3:29 a.m.

By The Associated Press

Australian officials were racing Sunday to conduct further tests on passengers arriving from southern Africa who tested positive for COVID-19 to determine if they were carrying the omicron variant as nations around the world tightened controls against the worrying new strain.

Neighboring New Zealand announced it was restricting travel from nine southern African countries because of the threat posed by the variant, and Japan widened its border controls to include more countries from the region.

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China detects new Covid flareup at border — 2:00 a.m.

By Bloomberg

Manzhouli, a city in northern China’s Inner Mongolia that borders Russia, detected three asymptomatic infections on Saturday.

The broader Hulun Buir region, which governs Manzhouli, is now looking for people that have been to the border town in the past two weeks and will place them under quarantine for 14 days and test them five times for Covid throughout the period, according to a statement published on the local government’s website.

Shanghai reported one more asymptomatic infections on Sunday, following the three symptomatic Covid patients reported Thursday. Two symptomatic infections were reported in Yunnan province, which borders Myanmar and another one found in northwestern China’s port city of Dalian.

Singapore says Omicron could force return of curbs — 12:41 a.m.

By Bloomberg

Singapore is watching the impact of the omicron variant “very closely” and may be forced to roll back some easing measures it had taken to open up the economy, according to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. The island has been easing border restrictions as part of a wider plan to take an endemic approach to the virus, similar to that of many other countries.

“We are not sure yet, but we may be well be forced to take a few steps back before we can take more steps forward,” Lee said in a speech on Sunday. “But despite all this, I’m confident we will find a way to living with the virus and safely resume all the things we love to do.”

  Nov. 27, 2021  

Islanders games postponed because of COVID-19 — 11:38p.m.

By The Associated Press

The NHL postponed two more games for coronavirus-related reasons, making it five so far this season. Upcoming New York Islanders games Sunday at the Rangers and Tuesday at the Philadelphia Flyers were postponed after additional members of the team went into the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol on Saturday.

General manager Lou Lamoriello said forward Casey Cizikas became the latest player to test positive. The Islanders would have had as many as eight players unavailable.

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What to know about travel after the discovery of the omicron variant — 10:30 p.m.

By The Washington Post

The discovery of a new coronavirus variant in southern Africa this week led governments around the world Friday to impose travel restrictions and quarantine regulations while health officials were still evaluating the severity of the threat. The emergence of the variant, classified as “Omicron” by the World Health Organization, is causing confusion for some travelers - and stranding others - as countries scramble to respond to the news.

Starting Monday, the United States will restrict travel from South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, and Zimbabwe. The policy will not affect US citizens and permanent residents.

High inflation? Low polling? White House blames the pandemic — 9:18 p.m.

By The Associated Press

Inflation is soaring, businesses are struggling to hire and President Joe Biden’s poll numbers have been in free fall. The White House sees a common culprit for it all: COVID-19.

Biden’s team views the pandemic as the root cause of both the nation’s malaise and his own political woes. Finally controlling COVID-19, the White House believes, is the skeleton key to rejuvenating the country and reviving Biden’s own standing.

But the coronavirus challenge has proved to be vexing for the White House, with last summer’s premature claims of victory swamped by the more transmissible delta variant, millions of Americans going unvaccinated and lingering economic effects from the pandemic’s darkest days.

As Omicron variant circles the globe, African nations face blame and bans — 8:17 p.m.

By The New York Times

Nations in southern Africa protested bitterly Saturday as more of the world’s wealthiest countries cut them off from travel, renewing a debate over border closures from the earliest days of the coronavirus pandemic and compounding the problems facing poorly vaccinated countries.

A new coronavirus variant called Omicron first detected in Botswana, put governments on edge after South Africa announced a surge of cases this week, plunging countries into the most uncertain moment of the pandemic since the highly contagious delta variant took hold this past spring.

As in the early days of delta, political alarm spread quickly across the world, with officials trading blame over how the failures of the global vaccination effort were allowing the virus to mutate, even as researchers warned that the true threat of the new variant was not yet clear.

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Families cheer, some doctors worry as nursing homes open doors wide to visitors — 6:59 p.m.

By The New York Times

For nearly 20 months, the roughly 1.3 million Americans living in nursing homes and their families grappled with strict visitation policies that, while designed to keep vulnerable residents safe from the coronavirus, caused distress for separated loved ones and had serious health consequences for many suddenly isolated seniors.

Initially, visitors were barred entirely. Later, facilities enforced a variety of rules: Some prohibited visitors from residents’ rooms, allowed visitors only outdoors and during brief scheduled windows, or permitted only one at a time.

Many of these restrictions were based on rules, known as “guidance,” mandated by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the federal agency that closed facilities to visitors in March 2020. It has issued several revisions since.

Now, all that has changed. On Nov. 12, the federal agency removed virtually all such restrictions and advised the country’s nursing homes to allow visitation “for all residents at all times.” The agency noted that 86% of U.S. nursing home residents and 74% of employees were fully vaccinated, and that COVID-19 cases had fallen drastically.

Germany confirms 2 cases of the Omicron variant — 5:45 p.m.

By The New York Times

The highly mutated new coronavirus variant known as omicron is present in Germany, according to the health ministry for the state of Bavaria, which confirmed that two people infected with the new variant returned from a trip to South Africa this past week.

The two travelers, a married couple who arrived on a flight Tuesday, tested positive for the coronavirus, Bavarian Health Minister Klaus Holetschek said in a public television interview Friday. Hours later, his ministry confirmed that rapid sequencing had determined the couple were infected with the new variant.

In addition to those two, at least one person returning from South Africa was suspected of being infected with the omicron variant in the state of Hesse, in central Germany.

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South Africa health official: Variants ‘haunt’ world with vaccine imbalance between rich and poor nations — 5:30 p.m.

By The Washington Post

Across a world of vaccine haves and have-nots, the omicron variant sends a warning on how the virus can evolve and spread without more aggressive measures to expand vaccinations, a top South African scientist said Saturday.

“Until we vaccinate enough people we’re going to have this happen over and over again,” said Glenda Gray, head the South African Medical Research Council, as global health agencies rushed to understand more about the new variant just days after it was first identified in South Africa.

Her comments underscored one of the major challenges facing global efforts to curb the pandemic: the contrasts between wealthy nations with plentiful vaccines - and even booster shots - and many poorer regions struggling to get vaccines and unable to fully distribute them.

New York to offer boosters at nursing homes after state of emergency — 4:30 p.m.

By Bloomberg

A day after declaring a state of emergency for New York, Governor Kathy Hochul is ordering nursing homes and adult-care facilities to make boosters available to all residents after hospitalizations across the state jumped 20 percent in the past week.

The governor on Saturday reported 2,696 people in hospitals because of the virus, up from 2,249 a week earlier.

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Chaos for passengers in Amsterdam is one sign of a scattershot response to the variant — 3:47 p.m.

By The New York Times

As more countries placed travel bans on southern Africa early Saturday for fear of a new and possibly more dangerous variant of the coronavirus, the passengers on two flights from South Africa found themselves caught in a pandemic nightmare.

After about 30 hours squeezed together in the planes, crammed buses and then in waiting rooms, 61 of the more than 500 passengers on those flights had tested positive and been quarantined. They were being checked for omicron, named by the World Health Organization on Friday as a “variant of concern,” its most serious category.

Everyone else, according to Stephanie Nolen, The New York Times’s global health reporter, who was on one of the planes, “has scattered to the world.”

The chaos in Amsterdam seemed emblematic of the varied, and often scattershot, responses to the virus across the world, with masking rules, national testing requirements and vaccine mandates differing from country to country and continent to continent. (KLM, the airline operating the flights, said only some passengers had to show proof of a recent negative test, depending on vaccination status and the requirements of their final destination.)

Such gaps could open avenues for contagion, especially for a potentially threatening new variant.

How Omicron, the new COVID-19 variant, got its name — 2:29 p.m.

By The New York Times

Omicron, the COVID-19 variant that emerged in South Africa, was named after the 15th letter of the Greek alphabet.

The naming system, announced by the World Health Organization in May, makes public communication about variants easier and less confusing, the agency and experts said.

For example, the variant that emerged in India is not popularly known as B.1.617.2. Rather, it is known as delta, the fourth letter of the Greek alphabet.

There are now seven “variants of interest” or “variants of concern,” and they each have a Greek letter, according to a WHO tracking page.

Some other variants with Greek letters do not reach those classification levels, and the WHO also skipped two letters just before omicron — “nu” and “xi” — leading to speculation about whether “xi” was avoided in deference to the Chinese president, Xi Jinping.

“‘Nu’ is too easily confounded with ‘new,’” Tarik Jasarevic, a spokesperson, said Saturday. “And ‘xi’ was not used because it is a common last name.”

African nations are target of border closures in response to Omicron — 2:06 p.m.

By The New York Times

Nations in southern Africa protested bitterly Saturday as more of the world’s wealthiest countries cut them off from travel, renewing a debate over border closures from the earliest days of the coronavirus pandemic and compounding the problems facing poorly vaccinated countries.

A new coronavirus variant called omicron, first detected in Botswana, put governments on edge after South Africa announced a surge of cases this week, plunging countries into the most uncertain moment of the pandemic since the highly contagious delta variant took hold this past spring.

As in the early days of delta, political alarm spread quickly across the world, with officials trading blame over how the failures of the global vaccination effort were allowing the virus to mutate, even as researchers warned that the true threat of the new variant was not yet clear.

Governments around the world tighten travel restrictions in reaction to Omicron variant — 1:22 p.m.

By The Associated Press

Britain became the latest country Saturday to report cases of the new potentially more contagious omicron variant of the coronavirus as governments around the world sought to shore up their defenses by slapping restrictions on travel from nations in southern Africa.

Amid fears that the recently identified new variant has the potential to be more resistant to the protection offered by vaccines, there are growing concerns that the pandemic and associated lockdown restrictions will persist for far longer than hoped.

U.K. Health Secretary Sajid Javid confirmed that two people have tested positive with the omicron variant and that the cases are linked and related to travel from southern Africa. One is in the southeastern English town of Brentwood, while the other is in the central city of Nottingham. The government had earlier said one of the locations was Chelmsford, and it didn’t give any reason for the change.

Javid said the two confirmed cases are self-isolating alongside their households while contact tracing and targeted testing takes place. He also added four more countries — Angola, Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia — onto the country’s travel red list from Sunday. Six others — Botswana, Eswatini (formerly known as Swaziland), Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe — were added Friday. That means anyone permitted to arrive from those destinations will have to quarantine.

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Fauci says Omicron variant may already be in US — 12:09 p.m.

Bloomberg

Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, said Covid-19′s omicron variant may well already have arrived in the U.S.

“I would not be surprised if it is,” Fauci said on NBC’s “Weekend Today” on Saturday. “We have not detected yet,” but when a virus shows “this degree of transmissibility” it “almost invariably ultimately is going to go essentially all over,” he said.

Travel restrictions imposed by Biden on South Africa and seven other countries in the region are a way to buy time for the U.S. to prepare defenses against the variant and shouldn’t lead to panic, Fauci said.

Questions about the omicron variant include whether it causes disease that’s more serious than infections with the earlier delta variant, he said. While It’s “conceivable” that the latest variant may diminish vaccine protection against Covid-19, existing vaccination may be able to contain it, Fauci said.

New York declares state of emergency as governor warns Omicron variant ‘is coming’ — 9:59 a.m.

Washington Post

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul declared a state of emergency in response to a winter coronavirus spike and the threat of the newly detected omicron variant on Friday, making her state one of the first in the country to impose measures against the mutation that was recently sequenced in southern Africa.

As part of the emergency, the state’s Health Department will be allowed to protect hospital capacity by limiting nonessential and non-urgent care until at least Jan. 15. Hospitals with less than 10% staffed bed capacity, or those designated by the state, will be authorized to screen patients and restrict admissions to keep beds open for the most urgent cases.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday that omicron had not yet been detected in the United States, though Hochul said of the variant: “it’s coming.”

She also urged New Yorkers to mask up in indoor public venues, get tested when appropriate and to stay home when ill. She also reminded residents to get vaccinated or boosted against the coronavirus.

UK finds two cases of Omicron COVID variant — 9:51 a.m.

Bloomberg

The U.K has confirmed two cases of the new Covid-19 strain omicron, Health Minister Sajid Javid said.

“The two cases are linked and there is a connection with travel to southern Africa,” Javid said on Twitter.

The U.K. will add four more southern African countries -- Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Angola -- to its travel “red list” effective 4 a.m. local time on Sunday, he said. People returning from red-list countries face a mandatory 10-day quarantine at a managed hotel at their own expense.

The two individuals and their households -- one in Chelmsford and one in Nottingham -- are self-isolating, and contact tracing is ongoing, according to the U.K. Health Security Agency. All involved will be re-tested.

Ten African countries are now on the U.K.’s red list. The HSA is following up on recent arrivals from the countries, it said in a release.

New Zealand halts travelers from Southern Africa to curb virus — 7:38 a.m.

By Bloomberg

New Zealand will ban entry to travelers from nine Southern African countries from the start of next week, other than returning citizens, in an attempt to stop the spread of the new COVID-19 variant.

“The government is taking a precautionary approach in treating South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Seychelles, Malawi and Mozambique as very high risk countries to reduce the chance of omicron entering New Zealand,” Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said in a statement on Saturday.

“This means that from 11:59 p.m. Sunday 28 November only New Zealand citizens from these countries will be able to come here,” the minister said.

New Zealanders returning from those nine African counties will be required to undergo testing and a 14-day managed isolation period, he said.

Majority of Austrians back mandatory vaccinations in new survey — 6:04 a.m.

By Bloomberg

A majority of Austrians support government plans to make vaccinations against the coronavirus mandatory.

A combined 60 percent of respondents saw the government’s recent step as “absolutely right” or “rather right” in a survey conducted by the Unique Research institute for the Profil magazine. That compares with 36 percent who saw the policy as absolutely or rather wrong.

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61 people who arrived in the Netherlands from South Africa test positive for COVID-19— 4:45 a.m.

By The Associated Press

A total of 61 people who arrived in the Netherlands on two flights from South Africa on Friday tested positive for the coronavirus and were in isolation on Saturday as the world anxiously sought to contain a highly transmissible new coronavirus variant.

Further tests are now underway on the travelers who arrived at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport to establish if any of them have the new omicron variant of COVID-19 that was first discovered in southern Africa.

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Hong Kong wants 80 percent vaccination rate before borders open — 3:38 a.m.

By Bloomberg

Hong Kong will have to achieve a vaccination rate of at least 80 percent before it will consider reopening its borders to mainland China and the international community thereafter, The Standard reported, citing a top government official.

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Hong Kong mulls vaccine requirements for some venues — 2:15 a.m.

By Bloomberg

Hong Kong authorities are mulling if they should require visitors to restaurants, gyms and cinemas to have taken at least one vaccine shot, the Ming Pao newspaper reported on Saturday, citing anonymous sources. Those who can’t be vaccinated due to health reasons may be exempted from the rule, it said.

Australia announces border security measures — 1:40 a.m.

By Bloomberg

Australia introduced new border security measures to protect against the new omicron variant. Direct flights from South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, the Seychelles, Malawi, and Mozambique will be suspended, Health Minister Greg Hunt said.

Returning Australian citizens and their dependents who have been in any of those countries in the past 14 days must enter supervised quarantine on arrival. Other travelers from those locations will not be allowed to enter Australia.

On Saturday, New South Wales and Victoria states respectively reported 235 and 1,252 new virus cases.

New cases in Germany dip; deaths rise by 303 — 12:50 a.m.

By Bloomberg

Germany recorded a total of 67,125 new cases, down from 76,414 the day before, according to the country’s public health authority RKI. Reported new deaths rose by 303, bringing the total to 100,779.

  Nov. 27, 2021  

EU council president postpones Asian visit — 11:41 p.m.

By Bloomberg

European Council President Charles Michel postponed his planned visit to Japan and South Korea as the number of cases jumped, his spokesman Barend Leyts said. He had been due to meet Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

New York governor declares state of emergency in anticipation of new coronavirus surge — 10:20 p.m.

By The New York Times

As global concern rose Friday about a new coronavirus variant, Governor Kathy Hochul declared a state of emergency in New York, giving her the power to order hospitals to limit nonessential procedures to boost capacity in facilities.

The new variant, called omicron, has officially been named a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization. The designation means that the variant has mutations that might make it more contagious or more virulent, or make vaccines and other preventive measures less effective — although none of those effects has been established.

Read more

Markets tumble as new coronavirus variant brings travel restrictions — 9:40 p.m.

By The New York Times

Stocks around the world fell Friday and oil prices plunged, after evidence of a new coronavirus variant in South Africa prompted another round of travel restrictions and reignited concerns about the economic toll imposed by the pandemic.

The S&P 500 logged its worst day since February as a growing list of nations, including the United States, moved to prohibit travel from a half-dozen or so African countries. The uncertainty shook a stock market that had been performing robustly, and market watchers said the heightened volatility might continue as countries assessed the risks of the variant.

The number of mutations in this new variant has raised fears that it could be especially contagious and render current vaccines less effective. But scientists have not come to firm conclusions yet.

Philippines stops South Africa flights over variant worries — 8:18 p.m.

By Bloomberg

The Philippines has immediately suspended flights from South Africa and six other countries until December 15 over concerns about a new coronavirus variant recently identified in the region.

Travel restrictions are in effect immediately and also cover Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Eswatini, and Mozambique, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said in a statement Friday night. Passengers who have visited any of these countries in the 14 days before their arrival will also be temporarily barred from entry, he said.

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Southern states fall behind in vaccinating kids as pediatric infections climb — 7:25 p.m.

By The Washington Post

Many Southern states, especially Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi have fallen behind the rest of the nation in vaccinating children as the threat of a winter surge casts a pall over the holiday season.

Those states also rank near the bottom for vaccinating adolescents and adults, and have among the nation’s highest overall covid-19 death rates, according to a review of state vaccination and death data by The Washington Post. Their slow uptake of children’s - as well as adults’ - vaccines have heightened fears that another pandemic wave could hit hard as families gather for the holidays and spend more time indoors.

Read more

Data shows rise in COVID deaths in Connecticut nursing homes — 6:01 p.m.

By The Associated Press

A dozen nursing home residents died from COVID-19 in Connecticut over a recent two week period, which is the largest number since mid-August, new data released Friday showed.

There were 125 positive cases of COVID-19 among residents between Nov. 10 and Nov. 23, with 12 deaths, according to state Department of Health data. Sixty-seven staff also tested positive during the same period. Five of those deaths occurred at Candlewood Valley Health and Rehabilitation Center in New Milford, which reported 36 positive cases among its 105 residents and eight positive cases among its staff.

New data shows Merck’s experimental COVID-19 pill is less effective than early results predicted — 5:42 p.m.

By The Washington Post

Drugmaker Merck and its partner Ridgeback Biotherapeutics released data Friday showing their experimental pill to treat covid-19 is less effective than early clinical trials predicted, a finding that emerged as the Food and Drug Administration raised questions about the drug.

Molnupiravir, a pill that could be taken at home, had shown promise in cutting the risk of hospitalization and death by half among high-risk patients in data released by the company in October. But according to the latest findings Merck presented to the FDA, the pill reduced the risk of hospitalization and death only by 30%.

The study by the drugmakers found that, among participants receiving the pill, just one participant died during the trial, compared with nine deaths in the placebo group, the companies said in a news release Friday.

Former FDA commissioner says travel restrictions are counterproductive — 3:59 p.m.

By Bloomberg

Dr. Scott Gottlieb, a former FDA commissioner, took to Twitter to express his disapproval of the travel restrictions being imposed due to the latest Covid-19 variant, saying they hurt current containment efforts and discourage future sharing.

Virginia child dies from inflammatory syndrome associated with COVID-19 — 3:35 p.m.

By The Washington Post

A northern Virginia child was the first in the state to die of an inflammatory syndrome associated with covid-19, state health officials said Friday.

The child, who was between the ages of 10 to 19, lived in the Prince William health district, which includes Prince William County as well as the cities of Manassas and Manassas Park.

More than 5,526 cases of the rare but serious illness - which is known as multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C) - had been reported nationwide as of Nov. 1. Just 48 of those patients have died.

Virginia health data shows 111 cases of the illness have been reported within the state. Maryland has reported between 100 and 149 cases, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, while the District of Columbia has reported between 25 and 49.

The syndrome appears to have some similarities with Kawasaki disease and can cause problems with a child’s heart, lungs, kidneys and other organs. Symptoms include ongoing fever and stomach pain, vomiting and lightheadedness.

“We are devastated by this sad news, and our hearts go out to the family and friends of this child,” Virginia Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver said in a statement.

He urged families to get vaccinated if they have not done so already and to wear masks during the holiday season.

The new coronavirus variant known as Omicron has the world on edge: Here’s what we know — 2:43 p.m.

By Martin Finucane, Globe staff

It’s not the news that anybody weary of the long slog of the coronavirus pandemic wanted to hear while trying to relax the day after Thanksgiving. But a new and potentially dangerous variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus has been detected, and it’s causing jitters around a pandemic-weary world. Here, compiled from Globe wire service and major media reports, is what you need to know about the variant.

Read more

US to ban travel from South Africa, 7 other African nations beginning Monday due to Omicron — 2:14 p.m.

By The Associated Press

US to ban travel from South Africa, 7 other African nations by non-US citizens beginning Monday due to COVID-19 variant.

Canada bans entry of foreign nationals traveling from southern Africa — 1:48 p.m.

By The Associated Press

Canada bans entry of foreign nationals who have traveled through southern Africa after discovery of new COVID variant.

WHO classifies new COVID-19 variant as highly transmissible virus of concern, names it “Omicron” — 1:16 p.m.

By The Associated Press

World Health Organization classifies new COVID-19 variant as highly transmissible virus of concern, names it “Omicron.”

Read more

German patient airlifts start as COVID wave strains hospitals — 12:23 p.m.

By The Washington Post

The German military is starting the transfer of intensive-care patients within the country from areas whose hospital capacity is the most strained, a Defense Ministry spokesman said.

An initial airlift will transport 10 patients from Memmingen in Bavaria to Muenster/Osnabrueck with an A310 Airbus/MedEvac on Friday. In total, three German Air Force planes are at the ready.

“We need to stop this wave now,” Health Minister Jens Spahn said at a press conference on Friday. “Otherwise we will experience the thing we always wanted to prevent: the health system becoming overwhelmed.”

Daily cases in Germany have repeatedly hit records this month. Deaths have risen too, although they remain below the levels seen last winter.

Without specifically calling for a lockdown, authorities are urging a return to the basics of social distancing in trying to throttle the current wave of cases.

“We need a massive reduction in contacts, immediately,” said Lothar Wieler, president of the Robert Koch Institute. “We’re standing at a crossroads. We have a choice. We can take the path that ends in chaos and disaster,” he said.

New Hampshire, Vermont asked to test deer for COVID-19 — 11:41 a.m.

By The Associated Press

With hunting season underway, wildlife agencies in New Hampshire and Vermont have started testing for COVID-19 in white-tailed deer, as antibodies for the virus have been found in deer in other states, according to a government study.

“We collected blood samples this year during the five busiest days of the hunting season,” said Dan Bergeron, the deer biologist with the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department. “We have biologists at biological check stations and collect ages and weights annually. This year, we also had them collect blood samples.”

New Hampshire and Vermont were approached by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service about testing the white-tailed deer population as part of its national research on the spread of COVID-19 among the species.

It wasn’t immediately known if Maine was asked. In unrelated testing, the state said it detected high levels of PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, in harvested deer in the Fairfield area.

In its study, released in July, the inspection service tested 481 deer in Illinois, Michigan, New York and Pennsylvania and found COVID-19 antibodies in 33% of the samples.

“We do not know how the deer were exposed” to the virus, the study said. “It’s possible they were exposed through people, the environment, other deer, or another animal species.”

The study said that based on available information, the risk of deer and other animals spreading COVID-19 to people is low. It also said there were no reports of clinical illness in the deer populations surveyed, and that captive deer “experimentally infected” with the virus as part of a USDA Agricultural Research Service study didn’t show clinical signs of illness.

COVID variants: What you need to know about Omicron, Delta, Lambda, and more — 10:18 a.m.

By Maria Elena Little Endara, Globe Correspondent

As the winter months usher in colder weather and holiday travel, COVID cases in the US have begun to tick up again. In Europe, countries like Germany and the UK have seen a massive spike in cases and restrictions have once again been implemented.

Read more

EU calls new COVID-19 strain a ‘variant of concern’ — 10:20 a.m.

By Bloomberg

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control labeled the new Covid-19 variant first identified in South Africa as a ‘variant of concern’ in a statement on its website on Friday.

The B.1.1.529 variant, a highly contagious variant with cases already detected in Israel and Belgium, has roiled global travel plans and markets, driving steep selloffs in airline stocks and buoying lockdown staples including Zoom Video Communications Inc.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Friday that air travel from southern Africa should be suspended “until we have a clearer understanding of the dangers posed by this variant” and that scientists support such a precaution. She noted that EU contracts with vaccine manufacturers require companies to adapt the medication to new variants when necessary as they emerge.

Travel restrictions multiply for African countries over fears of new variant — 10:02 a.m.

By The New York Times

European countries Friday joined Singapore, Israel and others in restricting travel from southern Africa in a frantic effort to keep a newly identified, and apparently significantly evolved, variant of the coronavirus from crossing into their borders.

Read more

US needs data on new variant before limiting any flights, Fauci says — 9:25 a.m.

By Bloomberg

More scientific data is needed about the new coronavirus variant that’s roiling global markets before the U.S. can determine whether to halt flights from southern African countries, Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser said Friday.

“Obviously as soon as we find out more information, we’ll make a decision as quickly as we possibly can,” Fauci said in an interview with CNN. “You always put these things on the table, but you don’t want to say you’re going to do it until you have some scientific reason to do it.”

There’s no evidence the new variant is present in the U.S., he said.

Fears stemming from the new variant, first identified in South Africa, fueled a post-Thanksgiving selloff that spread across global markets as both the U.K. and the European Union moved to halt air travel from southern Africa.

The new variant “has some mutations that are raising some concern, particularly with regard to possibly transmissibility increase and possibly evasion of immune response,” Fauci said.

U.S. scientists are set to meet later Friday with their South African counterparts to discuss the matter and “really get the facts,” about what’s going on, Fauci said. Testing the new variant to determine if the spike protein mutations make it more able to evade the immune response from vaccines or infection will be key, Fauci said.

“Once you test it, you’ll know for sure whether or not it does or does not evade the antibodies that we make, for example, against the virus through a vaccine or following convalescence.”

Any move by the U.S. to impose stricter travel restrictions would mark a shift from the pattern in recent weeks of easing limits on travel to the U.S., which re-opened its doors to vaccinated international travelers earlier this month.

The emergence of the mutation has prompted a rapid response by governments, who don’t want to either jeopardize progress made in the fight against the pandemic or make an already bad situation worse. Some countries in Europe are already back in lockdown due to a spike in cases.

WHO applauds South Africa’s speed in reporting new COVID variant — 9:16 a.m.

By Bloomberg

The World Health Organization commended South African health officials for quickly reporting the discovery of a concerning new coronavirus variant, a decision that was swiftly met by travel bans from the U.K., Germany and others.

Scientists on Thursday said they are studying a recently identified strain with a worrying number of mutations. Virologists in the country have detected almost 100 cases to date, with research underway as to how transmissible it may be and whether it will prove resistant to vaccines.

“This variant has been reported at a remarkable speed,” Christian Lindmeier, a spokesman for the WHO, told reporters in Geneva on Friday. “The WHO is grateful to the South African researchers, and it’s been outstanding how open and transparent they have been.”

The praise will come as scant consolation to those forced to cancel trips to see families over the holiday season or South African business owners desperate for tourism to return to the country. The travel bans have drawn ire from local officials due to the early stage of the research into the variant, which may yet prove less lethal than feared.

Cases of the new variant have been identified in Hong Kong, Israel and Belgium, though the U.K. has yet to implement restrictions against those nations.

Top UK adviser warns new variant may pose “substantial risk” — 8:38 a.m.

By Bloomberg

A new coronavirus variant identified in South Africa is the “most worrying” yet, a senior U.K. health official said, after the government temporarily banned flights from the region to try to limit its spread.

Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser to the U.K. Health Security Agency, told BBC radio the variant, currently known as B.1.1.529, has about 30 mutations “that seem relevant” -- double the number seen in the highly-transmissible delta variant. Fears it could fuel new outbreaks and potentially evade vaccines sparked a wave of selling across global markets on Friday.

Though no cases of the new variant have been detected in the U.K., Health Secretary Sajid Javid told Parliament on Friday it may pose “substantial risk” to public health. The warning comes at a time when daily coronavirus infections are again surging, with 47,240 reported nationwide on Thursday.

Even so, Javid said the government has no plans yet to tighten pandemic rules including on mask-wearing and other social-distancing measures. Describing it as a “fast-moving” situation, the minister said key characteristics of the variant, including the severity of the illness it causes, are still unknown.

Adam Finn, a member of the U.K. vaccine committee, told ITV on Friday that more information is needed on the new variant but that the potential need for tougher rules can not be ruled out.

“On the one hand, I don’t want to induce unnecessary anxiety in people, but on the other hand, I think we all need to be ready for the possibility of a change in the restrictions,” he said.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman said at a regular briefing on Friday there is nothing in the current data that warrants a shift in approach, though the situation remains under review.

Belgium confirms case of new virus strain — 8:31 a.m.

By Bloomberg

Belgium said it has confirmed one case of a concerning new Covid-19 variant in someone who traveled from abroad.

Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke told reporters the variant was detected in an unvaccinated person who first tested positive for Covid-19 on Nov. 22. The new strain prompted the European Union on Friday to recommend suspending air travel from the region.

Belgium also Friday ordered a new set of steps to combat the spiraling growth of Covid-19 cases, including a closure of nightclubs for three weeks and restricting privately organized parties.

Belgian prime minister Alexander De Croo said that restaurants and bars must limit tables to six people and close by 11 p.m. He also said the public will be banned from indoor sporting events.

Merck says COVID pill cuts hospitalization, death risk by 30 percent — 8:10 a.m.

By Bloomberg

Merck said updated results showed its COVID-19 pill reduced the risk of hospitalization or death among adults with mild to moderate disease by 30%, less than a previous estimate of 48%.

The latest trial analysis includes data from all participants, Merck said in a statement. Nine deaths were reported in the placebo group, and one in the group receiving the treatment called molnupiravir.

The data will be at the center of a Tuesday panel discussion by US Food and Drug Administration advisers regarding its use to treat COVID in high-risk patients.

Merck sought US authorization for molnupiravir, also called Lagevrio, in October after a late-stage study showed it cut the risk of hospitalization or death by around 50% in high-risk patients. Another drug, Pfizer Inc.’s Paxlovid, has been submitted for review for use in the same population after yielding even more impressive results than Merck’s.

If authorized by regulators, the pills from Merck and Pfizer are likely to overtake infused drugs monoclonal antibodies from Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. and Eli Lilly & Co. that are more expensive and harder to use.

BioNTech expects data on vaccine effectiveness against new variant in two weeks — 8:08 a.m.

By Bloomberg

BioNTech SE has begun studying the new COVID-19 variant that has emerged in southern Africa and expects the first data from laboratory tests about how it interacts with its vaccine within two weeks.

The lab data will shed light on whether the new variant, called B.1.1.529, can elude the vaccine it makes together with Pfizer Inc., the German biotech said on Friday. Pfizer and BioNTech put plans in place months ago to be able to ship a new version of their shot within 100 days if necessary, a BioNTech spokeswoman said.

“We understand the concern of experts and have immediately initiated investigations,” BioNTech said in a statement.

The new mutation is spreading rapidly in southern Africa and has raised concerns around the world, with the U.K. and European Union moving to temporarily ban flights and quarantine travelers from the region. The new mutation comes as many Northern Hemisphere countries -- including BioNTech’s home market of Germany -- are already grappling with a fourth wave of infections that threatens to overload some hospitals.

It will take weeks to understand the full impact of the variant, World Health Organization spokesman Christian Lindmeier said Friday. An expert panel is meeting today at the WHO to decide whether the strain is a variant of concern.

What is this new COVID-19 variant in South Africa? — 7:41 a.m.

By Maria Cheng, Associated Press

South African scientists have identified a new version of the coronavirus this week that they say is behind a recent spike in COVID-19 infections in Gauteng, the country’s most populous province. It’s unclear where the new variant actually arose, but it was first detected by scientists in South Africa and has also been seen in travelers to Hong Kong and Botswana.

Health minister Joe Phaahla said the variant was linked to an “exponential rise” of cases in the last few days, although experts are still trying to determine if the new variant, named B.1.1.529 is actually responsible.

From just over 200 new confirmed cases per day in recent weeks, South Africa saw the number of new daily cases rocket to 2,465 on Thursday. Struggling to explain the sudden rise in cases, scientists studied virus samples from the outbreak and discovered the new variant.

Read more

Denmark to impose more curbs — 6:32 a.m.

By The Associated Press

Denmark’s parliament agreed on more restrictions to fight a rise in infections. Face masks will again become mandatory on public transport, in retail stores, hospitals and other locations in the health sector.

The Nordic country is expanding the use of virus passports to include smaller public events. The government also decided to shorten the duration that a negative virus test is valid to 72 hours from 96 hours. The changes take effect on Nov. 29.

Israel detects its first case of a new coronavirus variant — 5:41 a.m.

By The Associated Press

The Israeli Health Ministry says it has detected the country’s first case of a new coronavirus variant in a traveler who returned from Malawi.

The Health Ministry said in a statement Friday that the traveler and two other suspected cases have been placed in isolation. It said all three are vaccinated but that it is currently looking into their exact vaccination status.

A new coronavirus variant has been detected in South Africa that scientists say is a concern because of its high number of mutations and rapid spread among young people in Gauteng, the country’s most populous province.

Late Thursday, the government declared South Africa and six other African nations to be “red countries” from which foreign nationals are barred from traveling to Israel. Israelis returning from those countries must undergo a period of isolation.

Israel launched one of the world’s first and most successful vaccination campaigns late last year, and nearly half the population has received a booster shot. Israel recently expanded the campaign to include children as young as five.

But the country still endured a wave of new cases in recent months driven by the delta variant, which was only recently brought under control.

EU wants to stop flights from southern Africa over variant — 4:56 a.m.

By The Associated Press

The European Union said Friday it is planning to stop air travel from southern Africa to counter the spread of a new COVID-19 variant as the 27-nation bloc is battling a massive spike in cases.

“The last thing we need is to bring in a new variant that will cause even more problems,” said German Health Minister Jens Spahn.

EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a statement that she “proposes, in close coordination with the member states, to activate the emergency brake to stop air travel from the southern African region.”

A new coronavirus variant has been detected in South Africa that scientists say is a concern because of its high number of mutations and rapid spread among young people in Gauteng, the country’s most populous province.

Read more

India intensifies screening of travelers — 4:06 a.m.

By Bloomberg

India is stepping up screening of all overseas visitors traveling from or through South Africa, Botswana and Hong Kong following the discovery of the new variant in those places.

The Health Ministry has written to all state governments asking for rigorous screening at airports, as well as continued contact tracing. India has close ties to South Africa, with a large diaspora and family connections.

Concerns rise over Indonesia’s sputtering COVID-19 vaccinations — 2:36 a.m.

By The Associated Press

Indonesia has significantly recovered from a mid-year spike in coronavirus cases and deaths that was one of the worst in the region, but with its vaccination drive stalling due to logistical challenges and other issues, and with holidays approaching, experts and officials warn the island nation could soon face another surge.

Indonesia started its vaccination rollout earlier than any other country in Southeast Asia on Jan. 13, and as infection and death rates soared in July and August, ramped up its program to more than 1 million shots per day.

Read more

Shanghai cancels flights — 1:49 a.m.

By Bloomberg

More than 30 percent of flights from Shanghai Pudong International Airport have been canceled, state broadcaster CCTV reported, after the city confirmed three local Covid cases Thursday.

The new infections in China’s financial hub and a handful more in Zhejiang and Liaoning provinces are emerging just as hotspots elsewhere have receded, likely extending the country’s containment effort into a protracted battle over the winter months.

Hong Kong tracking app — 1:03 a.m.

By Bloomberg

Hong Kong will roll out a China-style tracking app to reopen its mainland border, officials announced, closing a gap in surveillance that had been a sticking point in protracted travel talks.

“Our current idea is that the Hong Kong Health Code will be used with LeaveHomeSafe,” Chief Secretary John Lee said, referring to the city’s current contact tracing app, which won’t be retired.

The new health code will record a user’s real name and collect data on places they’ve visited. More details will be announced next week.

Australia monitoring latest variant — 12:03 a.m.

By Bloomberg

Australian health authorities are monitoring the new variant in conjunction with the World Health Organization and other international partners, but the country isn’t banning flights from South Africa and other African nations yet, Health Minister Greg Hunt said.

“We’re flexible and if the medical advice is we need to change, we won’t hesitate,” Hunt said at a briefing, Sky News Australia reported. “That’s what we’ve done as a country, whether it’s been closing borders, whether it’s been ensuring there’s quarantine, our approach is to look at the medical evidence and to act fast and we’ll continue to do that.”

German cases hit new record — 12:01 a.m.

By Bloomberg

Germany reported a record 76,414 new Covid-19 cases compared with 75,961 the previous day, according to the country’s public health authority RKI.

Reported new deaths associated with the virus rose by 357, bringing the total to 100,476. The daily incidence rate also reached a new high of 438.2 per 100,000 people.

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