November 29 Omicron Covid-19 variant news

By Aditi Sangal, Helen Regan, Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya, Brad Lendon, Rob Picheta and Ed Upright, CNN

Updated 12:03 a.m. ET, November 30, 2021
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8:13 p.m. ET, November 29, 2021

Omicron is a variant that needs to be taken "very seriously," Moderna’s chief medical officer says

From CNN's Jen Christensen

Moderna’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Paul Burton
Moderna’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Paul Burton (CNN)

Moderna’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Paul Burton said Monday that the company is testing its Covid-19 vaccine against the new Omicron variant, a variant he is watching with concern.

He said research from Seattle suggests the Omicron variant probably emerged in South Africa or Botswana, laid relatively low, and then suddenly in early November exploded to become the dominant strain, displacing the Delta variant in South Africa.

"It's now in maybe 20 countries around the world, and we're counting individual cases, which feels very reminiscent to me to perhaps February or March of last year where we were counting cases, and we obviously know how that played out," Burton said. "So, I think all of the evidence points to the fact, Wolf, that this is a very transmissible virus, and one that we need to take very seriously."

Moderna’s CEO Stephane Bancel said earlier that he thought the variant would have an impact on the vaccine’s efficacy.

The company is currently studying the variant using samples from people who have gotten the Moderna vaccine at different doses to see how it can neutralize the “very worrying” variant, Burton said. He added that Moderna is also developing an Omicron-specific Covid-19 booster that would take two to three months to get into testing and then into production.

7:26 p.m. ET, November 29, 2021

Argentina imposes mandatory quarantine for passengers arriving from Africa

From CNNE's Florencia Trucco

Argentina's government announced in a statement on Monday that passengers that have been to the African continent within the last 14 days before their arrival to the country must undergo mandatory 14-day quarantine, over concerns raised by the World Health Organization (WHO) on the new Omicron coronavirus variant.

“World Health Organization (WHO) indicated that OMICRON shows multiple mutations, some of which suggest a higher risk of reinfection than other variants that are also of concern and warned that the number of cases is increasing in the African continent, where the vaccination rate is low, and at faster rates than previous infection bursts,” the statement says.

Quarantine may only be terminated after the 14-day period, if passengers have a negative PCR test taken at least ten days after their arrival, the statement added.

Further restrictions and mandatory requirements for travelers coming into the country were published by the Argentinian government in their official Gazette, a government approved book containing new legislation, with full effect starting Monday, the statement said. 

Some of the newly listed requirements include the need for a complete vaccination certificate, a negative PCR test done within 72 hours before departure and the need for an antigen test upon arrival in the country. 

The statement also indicated that foreigners not residing in the country will be required to have "Covid-19 health insurance," which includes “coverage of hospitalization services, isolation and / or medical transfers, for those who result positive cases, suspected or close contacts."

 

6:57 p.m. ET, November 29, 2021

These are the countries that have found Omicron cases so far

From CNN's Rob Picheta

Nations around the world are racing to identify how many cases of the Omicron Covid-19 variant they have, as fears over the new strain force governments to shutter borders and revisit restrictions.

The new mutation, which is potentially more transmissible, was first discovered in South Africa and has since been detected in several countries.

Here's a list of the places reporting cases so far:

  • Australia: 2 cases
  • Austria: 1 case
  • Belgium: 1 case
  • Botswana: 19 cases
  • Canada: 3 cases
  • Czech Republic: 1 case
  • Denmark: 2 cases
  • Germany: 3 cases
  • Hong Kong: 3 cases
  • Israel: 1 case
  • Italy: 1 case
  • Netherlands: 13 cases
  • Portugal: 13 cases
  • South Africa: 77 cases
  • Spain: 1 case
  • United Kingdom: 9 cases

The list will be updated here.

6:30 p.m. ET, November 29, 2021

Scientists are working to answer these 3 critical questions about the Omicron variant

From CNN's Ralph Ellis and Susannah Cullinane

Americans face at least two weeks of uncertainty before major questions may get answered about the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

Health experts urge the public to be cautious and patient as scientists try to find out whether Omicron — deemed a "variant of concern" by the World Health Organization — is more transmissible and dangerous than other forms of the novel coronavirus and whether existing vaccines work against it.

Omicron variant cases have been detected in numerous countries, including Canada. No cases have been found in the United States, but many experts says it's inevitable.

The overall global risk related to the newly discovered B.1.1.529 strain of the coronavirus "is assessed as very high," WHO said in a technical brief Monday.

Warnings about the renewed threat from the Omicron variant come as Americans have become weary of nearly two years of precautions and are returning from a Thanksgiving break that saw air travel at close to pre-pandemic levels.

Experts are now racing to determine the answers to these three critical questions:

• Do Omicron's mutations make it more transmissible?

• Is it more severe or dangerous or deadly than other variants?

• Is it more resistant to vaccines?

It could be weeks before we have the answers.

CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta said Monday that people should get vaccinated or get booster shots — and keep adhering to public health safety measures.

"I think (high filtration) masks and ... physical distancing, without the need to shut down, can be very effective until we get a hold of what is really going on here," he said.

With much about Omicron still unknown, officials say vaccinations and boosters remain the best protection available.

6:23 p.m. ET, November 29, 2021

Pfizer expected to seek FDA authorization for boosters for those ages 16 and 17

From CNN's Kaitlan Collins

A healthcare worker fills a syringe with the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at Jackson Memorial Hospital on October 5, in Miami.  
A healthcare worker fills a syringe with the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at Jackson Memorial Hospital on October 5, in Miami.   (Lynne Sladky/AP/File)

Pfizer is expected to seek authorization from the Food and Drug Administration for its vaccine booster shot for those who are ages 16 and 17, a source familiar with the plan tells CNN.

Currently only those age 18 and up are eligible for booster shots six months after their second dose of the Pfizer vaccine.

The development comes as scientists in the US and around the world are racing to learn more about a new variant named Omicron.

On Monday, President Biden urged Americans to pay attention, but not to panic. He also encouraged those who have not yet gotten a booster but are eligible to do so.

Biden had hoped to have boosters made widely available months ago, but the move ultimately didn't happen until late November. Asked Monday if making vaccines available to everyone sooner could have helped with the current dynamic, White House press secretary Jen Psaki referred the question to medical experts.

Pfizer didn't immediately respond to CNN's request for comment.

5:59 p.m. ET, November 29, 2021

Omicron poses 3 major threats to the US economy, Federal Reserve chairman says

From CNN’s David Goldman

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell speaks during an event in the South Court Auditorium on the White House complex in Washington, DC, on November 22.
Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell speaks during an event in the South Court Auditorium on the White House complex in Washington, DC, on November 22. (Susan Walsh/AP/File)

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell is set to testify Tuesday that the Omicron variant threatens America's economic recovery.

Much remains unknown about Omicron. Yet if it prolongs the pandemic, it could keep prices rising, hurt job growth and make the supply chain crisis worse, Powell is expected to tell Congress.

"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 wrote in prepared testimony he's set to deliver Tuesday to the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs. 

Wall Street sold off stocks and oil Friday after learning about the potentially highly infectious and more immunity-resistant variant. But the market regained much of its lost ground Monday after investors took a breath and sensed a buying opportunity.

Stocks similarly sold off when Wall Street first heard about the Delta variant, but it soon rebounded and surged to new records as vaccine availability spread and health officials learned how to better manage the pandemic.

In his prepared testimony, Powell noted the economy took a body blow in the summer as the Delta variant spread across the globe. Many Americans were afraid to travel, shop, eat at restaurants and return to the office. That kept caregivers at home, exacerbating the labor shortage and supply chain crisis that have held back the US economy.

But infections fell throughout the fall, and the economy picked up steam. Powell predicted the US economy would grow a robust 5% this year. As infections fell, starting in September, the job market rebounded, and the unemployment rate fell to 4.6%, the lowest rate since May 2020.

The economy has ebbed and flowed with rising and falling infections, and Omicron threatens to undo much of the economic goodwill America has generated throughout the autumn months.

"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 wrote in his testimony.

Powell, who President Biden recently renominated for a second term as Fed Chair, said the imbalance of supply and demand have artificially sent prices surging well above the Fed's 2% annual inflation target. Americans have spent about 5% more on goods and services this year, Powell noted.

Inflation could be here to stay for a bit longer, Powell said. It's a bit of a Catch-22: The labor shortage had been sending wages (and prices) higher, but with job growth accelerating in recent months, employers are finding fewer applicants for their available jobs — and they have to raise pay to attract new workers.

6:06 p.m. ET, November 29, 2021

Fauci: We have "every reason to believe" current vaccines and boosters will help protect against variant

Oakland County Health Department emergency preparedness specialist Jeanette Henson fills syringes with doses of the COVID-19 vaccine on August 24, in Southfield, Michigan.
Oakland County Health Department emergency preparedness specialist Jeanette Henson fills syringes with doses of the COVID-19 vaccine on August 24, in Southfield, Michigan. (Emily Elconin/Getty Images)

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the chief medical adviser to President Biden, reiterated the importance of Americans to get vaccinated and boosters as the government continues to learn more details about the new Omicron variant.

"The unvaccinated need to get vaccinated and those eligible to get boosted should get boosted because we know from experience, Jake, that even with variants that are not specifically directed at by the vaccine, such as the Delta variant. If you get the level of antibody high enough, the protection spills over to those other variants," Fauci told CNN's Jake Tapper.

He continued: "So we have every reason to believe, even though this is an extraordinary unusual variant because of the number of mutations, there's no reason to believe that it will not happen, that if you get the level of antibody high with the regular booster to the regular vaccine, that you're going to have at least some effect and hopefully a good effect on ability to protect against this variant."

Fauci said that he couldn't predict whether the new variant would become the dominant variant in the US.

"We don't know. And that's the reason why we're looking at what the pattern is in South Africa," he said.

With regards to travel restrictions, Fauci said he didn't anticipate a need for further measures and that he was hopeful they would not be of a "very long duration."

"I think what was done about the restrictions from South Africa and neighboring countries was merely because when the information came out, about the molecular makeup of this virus with all of the mutations that were of concern, we felt we needed to do something right away," he said.

"Hopefully those restrictions are not going to be a very long duration until we get a handle as to what's going on, but we do not anticipate any further restrictions," Fauci added.

5:27 p.m. ET, November 29, 2021

Fauci: No evidence right now Omicron is more severe but more information is still needed

From CNN's Josiah Ryan

(CNN)
(CNN)

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said there is no sign right now that the new Omicron variant of coronavirus is more severe than previous versions, but that more information is needed from officials in South Africa to know for sure.

"Right now it does not look like there's a big signal of a high degree of severity, but it's too early to tell," Fauci said, speaking to CNN's Jake Tapper this afternoon.

Fauci said his counterparts in South Africa were working quickly to determine how contagious and dangerous the variant is, but said "they assured us they'd know probably in a matter of a week, a week and a half as to whether or not we're dealing with something that for the most part is more severe, equally as severe or less severe."

"It could be either of them," Fauci said.

Fauci also praised the work of scientists and officials in South Africa, saying they "had been extremely cooperative and collaborative and transparent with us about what's going on there."

Watch:

4:46 p.m. ET, November 29, 2021

CDC holding daily calls with state health officials and public health partners, White House official says

From CNN’s Kaitlan Collins

Officials at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have held daily and ongoing calls with all state health officials, as well as public health partners, a White House official tells CNN.

Calls were held throughout the weekend with various public health officials at the state and local level.

These calls included state, county and city health officials; state epidemiologists; state laboratory directors; and partners from public health organizations including the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, Association of Public Health Laboratories, Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists, National Association of County and City Health Officials, and Big Cities Health Coalition.

Officials briefed President Biden for approximately 45 minutes Sunday on the new variant and again on Monday morning, with a heavy dose of caution about what's still unknown. Health officials say there are likely far more cases worldwide than is currently known.

The President noted Monday that scientists and officials are learning more every day about the new variant. Biden said that on Thursday he would put forward a "detailed strategy outlining how we're going to fight Covid this winter. Not with shutdowns or lockdowns, but with more widespread vaccinations, boosters, testing and more."

CNN's Kate Sullivan contributed reporting to this post.