Europe is uncovering cases of the omicron variant across the continent, with U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson imposing new measures to stem the spread. Chinese vaccine maker Sinovac will evaluate how its inactivated Covid vaccine works against omicron.
U.S. President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, Anthony Fauci, said the omicron variant may already be in the country. Governments from the U.S. to Australia tightened restrictions on travel to and from southern Africa. The U.S. upgraded its travel advisories to warnings, and the U.K. is adding four more nations to its “red list.” Japan is adding three more African nations to its entry control, according to a Yomiuri report.
Singapore Says Omicron Could Force Return of Curbs (10:50 a.m. HK)
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.”
Germany Covid-19 Deaths Rise to 100,883 (10:42 a.m. HK)
Germany’s Covid-19 deaths increased 104 to a total of 100,883. The nation’s new infections were 44,401 versus 67,125 the prior day, while its 7-day increase climbed to 446.7 per 100,000.
Sinovac Evaluates Shot Against Omicron (10:28 a.m. HK)
Chinese vaccine maker Sinovac will evaluate how its inactivated Covid vaccine works against omicron, according to a statement from the company. It said it’s able to rapidly advance development of a new shot against the variant and massive manufacturing if needed.
China Detects New Covid Flareup at Border (9:17 a.m. HK)
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.
Japan to Add More African Nations to Entry Control, Yomiuri Reports (8:07 a.m. HK)
Japan will add three more African nations to its border control due to concerns over omicron, Yomiuri newspaper reported Sunday, citing Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.
Kishida told reporters Saturday the government will impose stricter controls on arrivals from Mozambique, Malawi and Zambia on top of South Africa and five neighboring countries, according to the report.
Israel to Ban Foreigners From Entering (7:35 a.m. HK)
Israel’s coronavirus cabinet approved measures to prevent the spread of the omicron variant late Saturday, including stopping foreign nationals from entering the country for 14 days, according to a government statement.
Ministers also expanded mandatory quarantine for vaccinated Israelis arriving from abroad and gave the country’s security agency clearance to resume tracking infected people, it added.
Germany, Italy Report Cases (7 a.m. HK)
Germany and Italy identified cases of the variant, while Belgium also had a new infection in someone who traveled from abroad.
In Italy, the variant was confirmed by Sacco hospital in Milan, Associated Press reported. The country’s Health Ministry earlier identified a possible case in a traveler returning from Mozambique.
In Germany, the Max von Pettenkofer Institute in Munich said the variant was confirmed in two travelers who arrived from South Africa, DPA reported. Earlier, the Hessian Ministry for Social Affairs said a person who arrived in Frankfurt from South Africa was suspected of having the variant.
N.Y. to Offer Boosters at Nursing Homes (6:30 a.m. HK)
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% 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.
Several parts of the state are reporting high positivity rates: 10.2% in western New York; 9.4% in the Finger Lakes; and 9.3% in Mohawk Valley. New York City’s rate, which is the state’s lowest, edged up to 1.69% from 1.65% overnight.
Czech Republic, Denmark Report Likely Omicron Cases (4:30 p.m. NY)
Czech public television on Saturday reported the country’s first omicron infection, detected with 90% likelihood in a vaccinated person who is experiencing mild symptoms after returning from Namibia via South Africa and Dubai. Earlier this week, the Czech government tightened social-distancing measures to stem a record spike in Covid-19 cases, but refrained from declaring sweeping lockdowns like those in Austria and Slovakia.
Denmark has probably registered its two first cases of the new variant. The cases were registered in passengers traveling from South Africa to Denmark, Health Minister Magnus Heunicke said in a tweet on Saturday. The two cases need to be confirmed through a second test, the health ministry said in a statement.
U.S. Praises South Africa’s ‘Transparency’ (4:10 p.m. NY)
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken praised South African scientists for quickly identifying the latest Covid-19 virus variant and the country’s government for “its transparency in sharing this information.”
Blinken made the comments in a phone call Saturday with South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor. During the conversation, both diplomats emphasized the need for cooperation to vaccinate more people in Africa, State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.
European Countries Tighten Restrictions for U.K. Travelers (3:45 p.m. NY)
Europe is tightening its own travel restrictions as suspected omicron cases rapidly emerge. Starting on Saturday, Switzerland required passengers coming from the U.K. to show proof of vaccination and negative Covid-19 tests upon arrival. Beginning on Dec. 1, Spain will also only begin allowing vaccinated travelers arriving from the country.
Meanwhile, Austria registered its first suspected case of a person infected with the omicron variant of the virus. Authorities in Tyrol, in the border with Germany, said the fully-vaccinated patient had traveled back from South Africa three days ago and wasn’t showing any symptoms.
Israel Has Omicron Cases From Non-Travelers (2:30 p.m. NY)
Israel has three new suspected cases of the omicron variant from people who didn’t travel abroad recently, according to the country’s health ministry. Another four people were suspected but they returned from abroad.
Of the seven in total, three were classified as vaccinated. Israel already has a confirmed case from someone who recently traveled from Malawi.
Middle East Begins Shutting Down to Africa (1:45 p.m. NY)
Following the U.S. and Europe’s lead, Middle Eastern countries started to cancel flights from southern African countries. Major Arab airlines, including Qatar Airways and Egyptair also stopped accepting passengers flying from impacted countries.
U.K. Tightens Measures After Omicron Cases (12:15 p.m. NY)
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said all close contacts of any positive omicron case must self-isolate for 10 days regardless of their vaccine status, and ordered masks to be worn in stores, certain indoor settings and on public transport.
The measures, which exclude hospitality venues, will be reviewed in three weeks, Johnson said at a press briefing.
“We don’t know how effective our vaccines will be” against the new variant, he said. “But we have good reasons to believe they will provide at least some measure of protection.”
Fauci Not Surprised If Variant in U.S. Already (11:37 a.m. NY)
Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, said Covid-19’s omicron variant may already be in the U.S.
“I would not be surprised if it is,” Fauci said on NBC’s “Weekend Today” 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.
While it’s “conceivable” the latest variant may diminish vaccine protection against Covid-19, existing vaccinations may be able to contain it, Fauci said.
British Airways Suspends Hong Kong Flights (10:57 a.m. NY)
British Airways will temporarily suspend passenger flights to and from Hong Kong starting Sunday due to staff shortages after at least one employee tested positive for Covid, the South China Morning Post reported.
IAG SA’s flagship British airline took the decision after most of the staff on a flight that arrived Saturday were taken to a quarantine center on Lantau Island, according to two people that the SCMP didn’t identify. Flights are scheduled to resume Dec. 4, according to availability on the airline’s website.
U.S. Warns Against Travel to African Nations (10:48 a.m. NY)
The State Department is warning Americans not to travel to eight African nations as the new coronavirus variant spreads. Advisories concerning South Africa and seven other countries were upgraded Saturday to Level 4 — the highest possible.
President Joe Biden’s administration will restrict travel to and from the countries starting Monday as a “precautionary measure,” he said in a statement. The policy doesn’t apply to citizens and lawful permanent residents, though they must still test negative prior to travel to the U.S.
The red alerts also apply to Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi.
South Africa Considers Limits to Curb Variant (10:01 a.m. NY)
South Africa may announce more stringent lockdown measures in coming days to curb a resurgence of coronavirus infections and the spread of a new variant, people familiar with the matter said.
The National Coronavirus Command Council met Saturday to discuss possible measures, while weighing the impact any moves will have on the economy, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the talks aren’t public. Among the options being considered are ways to try and boost the nation’s vaccination rate, they said.
London Rugby Match Scrapped on Covid Cases (8:10 a.m. NY)
English rugby’s ruling body called off a men’s match between the Barbarians and Samoa, due to be held Saturday at Twickenham stadium outside London, because of six confirmed Covid cases among the Barbarians team.
Four players and two of the staff have contracted the virus, according to a statement from the Rugby Football Union.
German Scientists Urge Immediate Restrictions (8:03 a.m. NY)
The German National Academy of Science Leopoldina is urging the government to implement stringent contact restrictions immediately for a few weeks to combat the pandemic and address the Omicron variant.
These bans must also cover vaccinated people and those who recovered from an infection. The government also must make vaccination mandatory over the coming months, the academy said in a statement on its website.