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Covid-19 live updates: Warnings omicron could reduce vaccine effectiveness spook global markets

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 11/30/2021 Bryan Pietsch, Adela Suliman, Paulina Villegas
A currency trader works at the foreign exchange dealing room of the KEB Hana Bank headquarters in Seoul, South Korea. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon) © Ahn Young-Joon/AP A currency trader works at the foreign exchange dealing room of the KEB Hana Bank headquarters in Seoul, South Korea. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

Coronavirus vaccine maker Moderna set off alarm bells in financial markets Tuesday by warning that current vaccines may be less effective at combating the omicron variant compared with previous strains. “I think it’s going to be a material drop. I just don’t know how much because we need to wait for the data. But all the scientists I’ve talked to … [say] ‘this is not going to be good,’” Stéphane Bancel, Moderna’s chief executive, told the Financial Times in an interview Tuesday.

U.S. stock benchmarks headed lower at the opening bell Tuesday morning. The Dow Jones industrial average was down 0.9 percent, shedding over 200 points, and the S&P 500 dropped 0.67 percent while the Nasdaq Composite declined 0.4 percent.

Markets in Europe also slumped. U.S. oil prices dropped more than 3 percent and shares of airlines and cruise lines, considered some of the most vulnerable to virus-related disruptions, also took a dive in early trading.

Bancel also said the variant may mean that vaccines will need to be modified next year. Germany’s BioNTech and its partner Pfizer have said they are working to understand what level of protection their vaccines offer and how to adapt them. Chinese vaccine maker Sinovac says it is working with international partners to collect and analyze samples of omicron in an effort to determine how effective its inactivated vaccine, CoronaVac, is against the variant.

Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, which makes the popular antibody cocktail used as a treatment on patients who have contracted covid-19, may be less effective against the omicron variant, its makers also said Tuesday.

Meanwhile, omicron is threatening the U.S. economy’s rebound and growth on a global scale, experts say. The chair of the Federal Reserve, Jerome H. Powell, warned in remarks prepared for congressional testimony Tuesday that “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.” He added that “greater concerns about the virus” could exacerbate existing problems, such as labor shortages and supply chain struggles.

Here’s what to know

  • Although the omicron variant’s mutations have concerned scientists, much remains unknown about its tangible impact: “It’s a complete black box,” one virologist told The Washington Post.
  • President Biden called the omicron coronavirus variant a “cause for concern” but “not a cause for panic.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention significantly expanded its recommendations for booster shots, saying that all adults 18 and older should get them.
  • South Africa, among the first countries to identify the variant, is preparing for a potential surge in infections. An epidemiologist there warned in a government briefing that the country could top 10,000 cases per day by the end of the week.

9:37 AM: European Union says it detected 42 omicron cases — and they’re mild

Cases of the omicron variant have been confirmed in Austria, Germany, Portugal, the Netherlands and other nations in Europe, according to the European Union's public health body. © Dado Ruvic/Reuters Cases of the omicron variant have been confirmed in Austria, Germany, Portugal, the Netherlands and other nations in Europe, according to the European Union's public health body.

The European Union’s public health body on Tuesday reported 42 omicron variant coronavirus cases in 10 countries across the region.

Andrea Ammon, who chairs the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, said during an online conference that the confirmed cases were mild or without symptoms, Reuters reported. Cases have been confirmed in Austria, Germany, Portugal, and the Netherlands, among other nations in Europe, the health body said.

Separately on Tuesday, Emer Cooke, executive director of the European Medicines Agency said Europe was ready to deal with the new variant, according to the Associated Press, and that it will take two weeks to assess whether the current vaccines work against it.

Scientists are racing to find out more about the little-known variant, first detected in southern Africa. Cases have been confirmed in Japan, Britain, Canada and Australia, none have yet been identified in the United States.

By: Adela Suliman

9:26 AM: FDA advisers consider Merck’s antiviral drug

© Mel Evans/AP

Advisers to the Food and Drug Administration are meeting Tuesday to consider whether the benefits outweigh the risks of an experimental antiviral drug to treat covid-19.

The drug, molnupiravir, was developed by Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics as a pill that can be taken at home within five days of the onset of coronavirus symptoms. Recently published data from the company’s clinical trial show the pill reduced the risk of hospitalization or death by 30 percent for high-risk patients.

Treatments will change the pandemic, but they can’t end it alone

The FDA’s Antimicrobial Drugs Advisory Committee will discuss whether the potential benefit of the drug, which could reduce the strain on hospitals and prevent some deaths caused by the virus, outweighed problems for patients who have a heightened risk of serious infection because of their age or an underlying condition such as obesity or heart disease.

The antiviral drug works by interfering with an enzyme that the coronavirus needs to replicate itself and by changing the virus’s genome. The FDA asked the committee to weigh in on the risk the treatment may pose to pregnant patients as well as the theoretical possibility that the drug could cause the virus to mutate.

The at-home treatment would provide another tool in curbing the pandemic’s impact on hospitals, but new data that Merck shared Friday with the FDA showed the pill to be less effective than earlier results showed. Still, the pill could provide a treatment option for patients who cannot access other therapies, like monoclonal antibodies, that must be administered intravenously.

By: Carolyn Y. Johnson and Katie Shepherd

9:06 AM: Greece says it will issue fines and make vaccination compulsory for the elderly

In Greece, daily coronavirus cases are at the highest level of any point during the pandemic. © Thanassis Stavrakis/AP In Greece, daily coronavirus cases are at the highest level of any point during the pandemic.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said Tuesday that his country will make vaccination against the coronavirus mandatory for all people over the age of 60 and will impose monthly fines of 100 euros ($114) on those who don’t comply. That money, he said, will be used to fund hospital systems.

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

The decision shows how some European countries, amid news of the omicron variant, are quickly reassessing the best ways to persuade their unvaccinated populations in the face of a covid surge across the continent. Austria said last week that it would make vaccination compulsory for the broader population, not just the elderly.

In Greece, new daily cases are at the highest level of any point during the pandemic, and deaths are nearly hitting the rate from late 2020. According to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, about 80 percent of Greeks age 60 and older are fully vaccinated, one of the lower rates across the continent. In many Western European countries, the average is well above 90 percent.

Mitsotakis said roughly a half-million people in Greece age 60 or older are unvaccinated. He compared the situation with that in Portugal, where nearly all seniors have been vaccinated and where hospitalizations and deaths “are minimal,” he said. “These citizens must be the first to be protected,” he added.

By: Chico Harlan

8:32 AM: Judge temporarily blocks Biden administration vaccine mandate for health-care workers in 10 states

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A federal judge in Missouri has partially halted another one of the Biden administration’s key vaccine requirements, temporarily blocking the imposition of a rule for certain health-care workers in 10 states.

The Biden administration issued the vaccine mandate, for health-care workers at facilities that received funding from Medicare and Medicaid, in early November through the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). It was estimated to apply to some 1.7 million workers at 76,000 facilities across the country, including hospitals and nursing homes.

But in a 32-page ruling issued on Monday in St. Louis, the district judge, Trump appointee Matthew T. Schelp, said a preliminary injunction to halt the rule was warranted because he believed the plaintiffs’ arguments probably had merit. The plaintiffs — 10 mostly Republican-dominated states — argued that the CMS lacked authority to implement the requirement.

The order will halt the CMS vaccine mandate in the 10 states that brought the lawsuit until the court can hear their legal challenges. They are: Alaska, Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming.

Read the full story

By: Eli Rosenberg and Adela Suliman

8:03 AM: As omicron variant spreads, China senses vindication over ‘zero covid’ strategy

People wearing masks are seen inside a subway station, following new coronavirus cases in Shanghai on Nov. 30, 2021. © Aly Song/Reuters People wearing masks are seen inside a subway station, following new coronavirus cases in Shanghai on Nov. 30, 2021.

As countries begin to reinstate border restrictions over concerns about the omicron coronavirus variant, China is celebrating its decision to stick with strict limits on international travel as part of a “zero covid” strategy.

Omicron, first identified in southern Africa, has been labeled a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization because early test results indicate it is more transmissible than the delta variant. Experts are urging caution and warning against panic as more studies are conducted to figure out the variant’s virulence.

Before omicron’s detection, Beijing’s steadfast commitment to a policy of eliminating covid-19 had made the country an outlier during a global shift toward gradually opening borders and mitigating the spread of the virus as vaccination rates rose.

Now, as nations reverse gear and reinforce border restrictions, Chinese officials are claiming, with a hint of schadenfreude, that their approach was right all along, brushing aside the idea of drastic changes to combat omicron.

Read the full story

By: Christian Shepherd and Lyric Li

7:54 AM: Omicron detected in Netherlands days before flight from South Africa landed, officials say

Dutch officials detected the omicron variant in samples collected more than a week ago, days before two flights landed in the Netherlands from South Africa with passengers who tested positive for the new variant, the country’s health institute said Tuesday.

“We have found the omicron coronavirus variant in two test samples that were taken on Nov. 19 and Nov. 23,” the National Institute for Public Health, or RIVM, said in a statement in Dutch. “It is not clear yet whether these people have visited southern Africa.”

The United States and countries in the European Union banned flights from southern African countries in the hope of preventing the virus from entering. But this latest announcement suggests the variant was already in Europe at least days before South Africa on Friday announced the discovery of the new variant.

Two planes carrying about 600 passengers from South Africa landed Friday in the Netherlands with 61 people who tested positive for the virus, 14 of whom had the omicron variant. Scientists are now rushing to learn more and say it could take two weeks to assess whether the current vaccines work in fighting it, according to Emer Cooke, executive director of the European Medicines Agency.

If omicron does require a new vaccine, Cooke said it could take up to four months to have it approved for use in the European Union. “We are prepared,” Cooke told E.U. lawmakers, according to the Associated Press. “We know that at some stage there will be a mutation that means we have to change the current approach.”

By: Perry Stein

7:32 AM: Regeneron’s antibody cocktail could be less effective against omicron, says maker

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The antibody cocktail used as a common treatment for patients who have contracted covid-19 may be less effective against the omicron variant of the coronavirus, its makers said Tuesday.

Regeneron Pharmaceuticals said that prior analyses suggested its covid-19 antibody cocktail, and similar drugs, could lose effectiveness against the omicron variant.

The company said in a statement that it was evaluating its “Regen-Cov” treatment against omicron, “as we routinely do with new World Health Organization-designated variants of concern.” It added that its treatment “retains potency against the main variants of concern now circulating within the U.S., including Delta.”

More research is ongoing, the company said, adding that there is no direct data yet that tests omicron’s resistance to immunity gained from vaccines and monoclonal antibodies.

Regeneron’s monoclonal antibody cocktail gained prominence after it was used to treat President Donald Trump when he was infected with the virus. It is now widely available to the American public.


Video: COVID: Breaking down early data on Omicron variant (Yahoo! Finance)

Replay Video

Monoclonal antibodies are viewed by medical professionals as highly effective in preventing hospitalization among people with mild to moderate covid-19, if given within seven to 10 days after symptoms appear. They are normally administered via a half-hour infusion or four injections. The antibodies mimic the body’s own immune response to the coronavirus, moving quickly into action while the natural response is gearing up.

By: Adela Suliman

7:29 AM: Pfizer set to request authorization for coronavirus booster for 16- and 17-year-olds

a close up of a device: Vials of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine are seen during a vaccination clinic on Dec. 15 in Stratford, England. © Leon Neal/Getty Images Vials of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine are seen during a vaccination clinic on Dec. 15 in Stratford, England.

As President 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.

Read the full story

By: Laurie McGinley and Tyler Pager

7:19 AM: Where the omicron variant has been detected around the world

Japan is among the latest countries to confirm a first positive case of the omicron variant of the coronavirus, according to local media reports on Tuesday. A man in his 30s who arrived in Japan from Namibia on Sunday is now isolating at a government-designated facility, local media reported.

According to the Japanese health minister, all passengers on the flight tested negative but are in quarantine in a government facility or at home. South Korea also said Tuesday it was awaiting confirmation on suspected omicron cases from a couple who recently visited Nigeria.

Here’s where omicron cases have been reported so far after the variant was first detected in southern Africa.

North America

  • Canada

Europe

  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Denmark
  • England
  • France
  • Germany
  • Italy
  • The Netherlands
  • Portugal
  • Scotland
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland (probable case)
  • Czech Republic (probable case)

Africa

  • Botswana
  • South Africa
  • Reunion Island

Middle East

  • Israel

Asia and the Pacific

  • Australia
  • Hong Kong
  • Japan
  • South Korea (suspected)

By: Michelle Ye Hee Lee, Julia Mio Inuma, Bryan Pietsch, Adela Suliman and Min Joo Kim

6:21 AM: Omicron variant threatens U.S. economic recovery

The omicron coronavirus variant is threatening the U.S. economy’s rebound as well as growth on a global scale, experts say.

Last week, the Labor Department reported that unemployment claims had fallen to the lowest level since November 1969, and the Commerce Department said consumer spending last month had increased by 1.3 percent — signals that the economy was on a strong path to recovery.

But concerns over the newest variant have cast doubts over that recovery, with the chair of the Federal Reserve, Jerome H. Powell, warning in remarks prepared for congressional testimony Tuesday that “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.” He added that “greater concerns about the virus” could exacerbate existing problems, such as labor shortages and supply chain struggles.

Rating agencies Moody’s Investors Service and Fitch Ratings rang similar alarms on Monday about the omicron variant’s risks to global growth and inflation, after the World Health Organization said it carried a “very high” global risk and is likely to spread.

“We currently believe that another large, synchronized global downturn, such as that seen in the first half of 2020, is highly unlikely but the rise in inflation will complicate macroeconomic responses if the new variant takes hold,” Fitch said, according to Reuters.

The variant and the slew of travel restrictions issued in response to it worldwide, including by the United States, could also spook travelers who are flocking back to airports: The United States on Sunday recorded its busiest day of air travel since the start of the pandemic. The U.S. Travel Association this week urged the Biden administration to “revisit” its restrictions.

By: Bryan Pietsch

6:01 AM: U.K. to offer boosters for all adults 3 months after second shot

All adults in the United Kingdom will be eligible for a coronavirus booster shot just three months after the final dose of their original vaccine series, the country’s vaccine authority said Monday.

The booster policy was updated in response to the emergence of the omicron coronavirus variant, Britain’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization (JCVI) said. Previously, the committee had advised offering booster shots only to people 40 and older and those at high risk of severe disease from covid-19.

The boosters will be offered in order of descending age groups, with priority given to older adults and those in high-risk groups.

The minimum three-month gap between the final dose and the booster shot is among the shortest in the world, signaling a sense of urgency brought on by the omicron variant, which the JCVI said has pushed it to “urgently” review its vaccine measures.

The United States, which advises a six-month gap before getting a booster, urged all adults on Monday to get a booster shot. The government updated its guidance to say that all adults “should” get the extra shot after it had previously advised that they “may” get one if they desired.

“If you’re 18 years or over and got fully vaccinated before June the 1st, go get the booster shot today,” President Biden said Monday in remarks about the omicron variant.

By: Bryan Pietsch

5:13 AM: China’s Sinovac says it could develop and mass-produce a vaccine for omicron

Chinese vaccine maker Sinovac says it is working with international partners to collect and analyze samples of the omicron variant in an effort to determine how effective its inactivated vaccine, CoronaVac, is against the mutation.

“Should it become necessary, the company is capable of advancing the development and mass production of new vaccines to meet the demand,” it said in a statement reported by Reuters.

The report added that Sinovac has begun developing new shots in response to the gamma and delta variants.

The Beijing-based company received approval for emergency use of its vaccine from the World Health Organization in June; a month later, it signed an agreement with Covax, a World Health Organization-backed vaccine-distribution initiative, and promised to deliver 380 million doses by mid-2022.

China has relied heavily on vaccines from Sinovac and state-owned Sinopharm to immunize its 1.4 billion citizens. Those two companies have also become instrumental in Beijing’s diplomatic outreach efforts to underdeveloped regions such as Latin America and the Middle East.

On Monday, Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged to contribute an additional 1 billion doses of Chinese-made vaccines to Africa, on top of the nearly 200 million shots the country has already supplied.

Despite the widespread use of their vaccines, both Sinovac and Sinopharm have fielded doubts from other countries and international experts, some of whom have raised concerns over the longevity of the protection that the companies’ shots provide.

The WHO recommended last month that people over the age of 60 who are immunized with two doses of the Chinese-made vaccines receive a third shot. To those who track vaccine policies, this announcement came as a surprise, given the organization’s reluctance to further strain the global supply of available vaccines.

By: Amy Cheng

4:35 AM: Quarantine hotel escapees arrested in Netherlands as Europe tightens covid rules

A hotel in Badhoevedorp, in the Netherlands, on Nov. 29, where authorities isolated 61 passengers who tested positive for coronavirus after arriving on two flights from South Africa. (Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP/Getty Images) © Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP/Getty Images A hotel in Badhoevedorp, in the Netherlands, on Nov. 29, where authorities isolated 61 passengers who tested positive for coronavirus after arriving on two flights from South Africa. (Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP/Getty Images)

A couple was arrested for violating coronavirus quarantine, to which they were restricted after at least one of them tested positive for the coronavirus on arrival from South Africa, according to local news reports.

The incident comes as Europe goes on high alert over the appearance of the omicron variant of the coronavirus in at least 12 countries across the continent.

The married couple, a Portuguese woman and a Spanish man, were arrested Sunday evening at Schiphol airport in Amsterdam, moments before their flight was scheduled to depart for Spain. They have since been placed in isolation in a hospital, according to Het Parool, a Dutch newspaper.

Read the full story

By: Maite Fernández Simon

3:10 AM: Biden said South Africa turned down vaccine doses. But it’s more complicated than that.

A nurse prepares a dose of the coronavirus vaccine Nov. 29 in South Africa as the new omicron variant spreads. (Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters) © Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters A nurse prepares a dose of the coronavirus vaccine Nov. 29 in South Africa as the new omicron variant spreads. (Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters)

President Biden on Monday rebutted criticism that the United States is hoarding doses of coronavirus vaccines at the expense of South Africa and other middle- and low-income countries, pointing to the fact that South Africa has turned down additional doses in recent days.

But the story of vaccines in Africa is far more complicated than a matter of supply — a reality that became evident as vaccine availability emerged as a flash point in the days after a potentially dangerous new virus variant, dubbed omicron, was identified in southern Africa.

That story includes issues of access, fragile health-care systems and the difficulty of making sure Pfizer’s vaccine remains ultracold.

Read the full story

By: Yasmeen Abutaleb and Lesley Wroughton

2:03 AM: Markets slump after Moderna chief’s warning on omicron

U.S. stock futures slumped and Asian markets retreated Tuesday after Moderna’s CEO predicted that existing vaccines would be much less effective at combating omicron compared with previous coronavirus variants.

The moves underscored the jitters coursing through global markets as investors react to each piece of new information about the little-understood variant, which has led countries to reimpose travel restrictions and raised concerns that its spread could derail economic recovery.

Stéphane Bancel, Moderna’s chief executive, told the Financial Times the high number of mutations on the spike protein of the variant, and its rapid spread, suggested vaccines would need to be modified — something he warned could take months. He added that he expected a “material drop” in vaccine effectiveness compared with the delta variant.

S&P 500 futures fell sharply after the comments were published, and last traded down 0.8 percent. Dow futures were 1.1 percent lower. In Asia, Japan’s Nikkei benchmark shed 1.6 percent and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index slid 2.3 percent.

U.S. oil prices fell back below $70 a barrel, while gold rose and risk-sensitive currencies such as the Australian dollar weakened against the greenback. The 10-year Treasury yield also declined.

Tuesday’s pullback followed gains the previous day, when hopes that omicron might be less virulent even if it is more transmissible than other variants had buoyed equities.

On Monday, President Biden said the United States could handle the new variant, which was first detected in southern Africa, describing it as a cause for concern but not panic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention strengthened recommendations on booster shots.

By: David Crawshaw

2:01 AM: Maine doctor’s license suspended after allegations of covid-19 misinformation

A healthcare worker prepares a dose of Pfizer coronavirus vaccines in Oslo, Norway, on Aug. 2, 2021. © Fredrik Solstad/Bloomberg A healthcare worker prepares a dose of Pfizer coronavirus vaccines in Oslo, Norway, on Aug. 2, 2021.

A Maine medical board said it suspended a doctor’s license after reviewing his covid-19 “exemption letters” and reports that he spread misinformation about the coronavirus.

The state’s Board of Osteopathic Licensure froze Paul Gosselin’s license for 30 days starting Nov. 19, pending further action at a hearing. Osteopathic doctors tend to talk about a “whole-body” approach to health and embrace alternative treatments.

The announcement marks a rare crackdown on medical providers who allegedly mislead people about the pandemic. The Federation of State Medical Boards warned this summer that doctors who spread falsehoods about coronavirus vaccines could have their medical licenses revoked or suspended — but few doctors have been publicly disciplined.

The board in Maine gave few details of its concerns about Gosselin but said he “engaged in conduct that constitutes fraud or deceit.” It also accused the doctor of “incompetence” and “unprofessional conduct.”

It did not provide more information about the exemption letters. Some people have sought medical exemptions from vaccination mandates as the societal costs of refusing the shots rise.

The website for Gosselin’s Waterville-based practice, Patriots Health, links to another website suggesting that hydroxychloroquine can treat covid-19. It doesn’t. Gosselin’s site also promotes advice from the Front Line COVID-19 Critical Care Alliance, a group of doctors that has touted the deworming drug ivermectin as a covid-19 treatment and preventive despite no proof it works.

The “role of vaccination” is a small footnote in the organization’s posted protocol, which says ivermectin, vitamins and other substances can provide a “safety net for those who cannot or have not been vaccinated.”

Doctors dismayed by patients who fear coronavirus vaccines but clamor for unproven ivermectin

A contact page for Gosselin’s practice prominently mentions exemption letters and lists his email as “QPatriotHealth@Gmail.com.”

Gosselin did not immediately respond to requests for comment Monday evening.

Doctors who disparage masks and vaccines have faced growing scrutiny. Earlier this fall, the Oregon Medical Board said it revoked a doctor’s license and fined him $10,000 for “dishonorable or unprofessional conduct” that included falsely telling patients that masks are ineffective and even dangerous to one’s health.

By: Hannah Knowles

11:39 PM: Epidemiologists: If omicron is less severe than delta, it could be a path out of the pandemic

As a new coronavirus variant of concern spreads globally, some experts read a possible positive future in the limited tea leaves gathered so far on omicron.

Tony Blakely, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Melbourne, said omicron could represent a path out of the pandemic, if it turns out to be more infectious while causing less-severe symptoms than previous variants.

“That may actually be a good thing because it means that as it washes through populations, you’ll have less morbidity and mortality,” he said.

“We don’t have a lot of evidence, but what we hear out of South Africa so far is that people are getting less sick. What we really want is a decent cohort study.”

In Blakely’s Australia, authorities have taken cautious steps against the omicron variant, with six cases detected in the country as of midday Tuesday. Entry from nine southern African countries has been banned, a planned border reopening to temporary visa holders and international students has been delayed, and the two most populous states have reinstated mandatory home quarantine for overseas arrivals.

But Australia’s chief medical officer, Paul Kelly, said Tuesday that the nation was “committed to continue to reopen.”

In Melbourne, Deakin University’s chair of epidemiology, Catherine Bennett, said a significant new variant did not necessarily mean a worse variant, despite the world’s experience with the delta strain. “If we had something more infectious, something capable of outrunning delta, that had a better profile when it came to virulence or disease causation, then that would be one of those small mercies,” she said.

By: Frances Vinall

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