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
36 Posts
Sort byDropdown arrow
10:01 a.m. ET, November 29, 2021

We don't yet know if Omicron will outcompete the Delta variant in the US, Collins says 

From CNN's Naomi Thomas

The Omicron variant has to be taken seriously, but it isn’t yet known whether it will outcompete the Delta variant in the United States, National Institutes for Health Director Dr. Francis Collins told CNN’s Jim Sciutto on Newsroom Monday.

“What we do know, it has a lot of mutations, more than 50, that’s a new record,” Collins said, when asked about what is currently known about the Omicron variant. “Some of those we’ve seen before and some we haven’t. So this certainly suggests that this is a new kind of virus that we have to take very seriously. 

“We worry that if the spike protein is of a different shape, maybe the antibodies won’t stick quite as well,” he said. “That’s the reason for the concern.” 

Collins did make the point that all the previous variants — which have all had differences in the spike protein — have responded to vaccines and boosters. 

“That’s a very important message I want everybody to hear right now,” he said. “The boosters do in fact allow your immune system to have a wide range of capabilities against spike proteins it hasn’t even seen before. So, if you needed one more reason, if you’re eligible to get that booster right away, this would be it.” 

When it comes to contagiousness, “I think it is clear from what’s happening in South Africa, that this Omicron variant does spread rapidly,” Collins said, noting that Covid-19 cases are relatively low in South Africa.

“What we don’t know is whether this Omicron variant will outcompete Delta in a country like ours, or whether Delta, because it’s been so successful, will basically just push it aside. That’s another unknown,” Collins said. 

Remember: It's also too early to tell whether the Omicron variant causes more severe illness, Collins previously said.

9:53 a.m. ET, November 29, 2021

Omicron is the dominant coronavirus strain in South Africa, less than two weeks after first detected

From CNN's Deidre McPhillips

The Omicron variant is now the dominant coronavirus strain in South Africa, less than two weeks after it was first detected in the country.

The new B.1.1.529 lineage accounts for 76% of samples that have been genetically sequenced in November, according information published by the National Institute for Communicable Diseases on Friday. The new variant was discovered in South Africa from specimens collected on Nov. 12.

South Africa sequences less than 1% of cases, according to GISAID, a public database of genetic sequencing data, while the United States sequences about 4% of cases. And South Africa’s NICD notes that that the number of genetic sequences conducted November is especially low, but ongoing.

By contrast, it took the Delta variant a few months to become the dominant strain in South Africa in early 2021.

The Omicron variant has been detected in about a dozen countries, according to GISAID, a public database of genetic sequencing data.

Remember: There's still a lot we don't know about Omicron. Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, said it's not yet clear whether the Omicron variant is more contagious than the Delta variant.

It's also too early to tell whether the Omicron variant causes more severe illness, Collins said.

10:49 a.m. ET, November 29, 2021

Stocks rebound after Omicron plunge

From CNN’s Anneken Tappe

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) at the start of trading on Monday following Friday’s steep decline in global stocks over fears of the new omicron Covid variant discovered in South Africa on November 29, 2021 in New York City. Stocks surged in morning trading as investors get more data on the new variant and reports that symptoms have so far been mild for those who have contracted it. 
Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) at the start of trading on Monday following Friday’s steep decline in global stocks over fears of the new omicron Covid variant discovered in South Africa on November 29, 2021 in New York City. Stocks surged in morning trading as investors get more data on the new variant and reports that symptoms have so far been mild for those who have contracted it.  (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Stocks rebounded Monday, bouncing back from the steep selloff at the end of last week when investors feared the Omicron Covid variant could disrupt the global economic rebound.

Reports of the new Omicron variant of coronavirus brought back memories of last summer when the fast-spreading Delta variant put a dent in the recovery and consumer confidence. This spooked investors on a traditionally quiet day in the market following Thanksgiving, leading to one of the worst days for stocks this year.

The Dow logged its worst day since October 2020, while the S&P 500 had its worst performance since February. The Nasdaq Composite recorded its steepest fall since September. 

But just as the market quickly bounced back from its Delta fears, history appears to be repeating itself: investors are taking a breath and sensing a buying opportunity.

The market opened in the green, with all three indexes sharply higher. 

  • The Dow opened up 375 points, or 1.1%, while the S&P rose 1.2%. The Nasdaq was 1.5% higher.

Other asset classes that were battered Friday — notably oil and cryptocurrencies — also recovered.

  • US oil prices were up 6.7%, or almost $5, at $72.69 per barrel around the time of the stock market open. That doesn't totally make up for Friday's drop, but it takes back a chunk of it.
  • The global oil benchmark Brent was up 5.7% at $76.84 per barrel.
  • Bitcoin was up more than 5%.
10:37 a.m. ET, November 29, 2021

New York allows hospitals to limit non-essential procedures ahead of possible winter spike of Covid-19

From CNN's Sahar Akbarzai  

Governor Kathy Hochul holds media briefing at the governor's office on 3rd avenue in Manhattan on November 1st, 2021
Governor Kathy Hochul holds media briefing at the governor's office on 3rd avenue in Manhattan on November 1st, 2021 (Lev Radin/Pacific Press/Getty Images)

New York hospitals will once again be allowed to limit non-essential procedures after Gov. Kathy Hochul signed an executive order Friday to try to raise hospital capacity and deal with staffing shortages ahead of possible winter spikes in Covid-19 cases. 

The order allows the state’s Department of Health to limit non-essential and non-urgent procedures for hospitals with limited capacity starting this coming Friday, according to a press release from the governor’s office

“We continue to see warning signs of spikes this upcoming winter, and while the new Omicron variant has yet to be detected in New York State, it's coming," Hochul said, adding, “I am announcing urgent steps today to expand hospital capacity and help ensure our hospital systems can tackle any challenges posed by the pandemic as we head into the winter months.” 

The order marks the first time that non-essential hospital services were limited since Dec. 23, 2020.

Friday's emergency declaration also expands the state's purchasing powers to rapidly obtain critical supplies to combat the pandemic, according to the governor's office.

The governor continued to encourage Covid-19 vaccinations, noting that more than 90% of all adults in New York have received at least one dose of the vaccine and more than 2 million booster shots have been administered.

9:56 a.m. ET, November 29, 2021

Send us your questions about the new Omicron variant

Do you have a question about the new Omicron variant, the vaccines' efficacy against it, and its impact on controlling the pandemic?

Submit your question below and it could get answered by medical experts.

9:15 a.m. ET, November 29, 2021

This American family is stranded in South Africa after a slew of sudden travel bans went into effect

From CNN's Aditi Sangal

Riley Campbell, left, and Lauren Kennedy on November 29.
Riley Campbell, left, and Lauren Kennedy on November 29. (CNN)

Lauren Kennedy was in South Africa, the last leg of a long-awaited vacation with her daughter Riley Campbell, when countries started shutting their borders to passengers from several southern African nations following the news of the discovery of the Omicron variant.

As most flights between Johannesburg and the United States are routed through Europe, the mother and daughter soon discovered they were stranded.

"We've probably ... had about 10 flights booked that were either canceled or that we were not allowed to board the flight," she told CNN. "Those bans were coming in like hour by hour, day by day, that each country was closing its borders to anybody who didn't hold a European passport."

Currently, they hope to board a direct flight to the US that they booked for Monday night.

The relief, Kennedy says, is that they are vaccinated and have tested negative for Covid-19 as of Sunday.

However, communication with consulates and embassies has been unsuccessful.

"Of course this happened on a weekend. And of all weekends, a holiday weekend. So it's been pretty tricky. We haven't been able to talk to anybody at the consulate or embassy in South Africa. But we've had a number of supportive friends in America and some people within the government who have been sort of giving us tips, and being really helpful about what to expect and how to anticipate the next few days. We're just really putting one foot in front of the other right now," she said.

Watch more:

9:08 a.m. ET, November 29, 2021

If needed, Moderna could begin testing and making an Omicron-specific vaccine in 2 to 3 months, official says

From CNN's Naomi Thomas

A vial of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine is in Staten Island, New York, on April 16.
A vial of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine is in Staten Island, New York, on April 16. (Angela Weiss/AFP/Getty Images)

It would take Moderna two to three months to begin and manufacturing an Omicron-specific Covid-19 vaccine, if it's needed, Dr. Paul Burton, chief medical officer of Moderna, said on Good Morning America Monday.

“It’s going to take some weeks, you know, two to three months is probably what we’re looking at to be able to really begin to test it and manufacture it," he said.

Asked what scientists are doing right now to get answers to how the vaccines hold up against Omicron, how contagious it is and how virulent it is, Burton said those are "key questions" scientists are studying.

"How transmissible is it? We think it’s probably quite transmissible. But how severe is the disease it causes? We don’t really know the answer to that question yet. And will it be neutralizable, can we contain it with the currently available vaccines? So, we at Moderna and other vaccine manufacturers here in the US and around the world are testing samples from people who have received our vaccines against the strains.”

8:41 a.m. ET, November 29, 2021

Malawi's president says travel bans are based on "Afrophobia" and not science

From CNN’s Larry Madowo

President of Malawi Lazarus Chakwera speaks during a summit in Lilongwe, Malawi, on August 17.
President of Malawi Lazarus Chakwera speaks during a summit in Lilongwe, Malawi, on August 17. (Amos Gumulira/AFP/Getty Images)

Travel bans imposed on travelers from Southern Africa are based on "Afrophobia" and not science, Malawian President Lazarus Chakwera said.

In a post on his verified Facebook page, Chakwera said that the world should be grateful to South Africa’s scientists for identifying the Omicron variant of Covid-19 before anyone else.

The Malawian president who is also the chairman of the 16-member Southern African Development Community (SADC) said everyone is concerned about the new coronavirus variant. “But the unilateral travel bans now imposed on SADC countries by the UK, EU, US, Australia, and others are uncalled for,” he wrote. “Covid measures must be based on science, not Afrophobia.”

Some Africans on social media have blamed the travel bans on racism, pointing out that wealthy nations which have also reported the Omicron variant don’t receive the same treatment.

South Africa’s Ministry of International Relations and Cooperation said in a statement Saturday that the travel restrictions were “akin to punishing South Africa for its advanced genomic sequencing and the ability to detect new variants quicker.” 

8:23 a.m. ET, November 29, 2021

CDC is on top of looking for Omicron cases in the US, Fauci says 

From CNN's Naomi Thomas

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, testifies in Washington, DC, on November 4.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, testifies in Washington, DC, on November 4. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, appeared on ABC’s Good Morning America Monday to discuss the Covid-19 pandemic and the Omicron variant.

Here are some of the highlights from his interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos:

  • On whether there are any cases of Omicron in the US: “No, not at all George, no confirmed cases. But, obviously, we’re on high alert. The CDC, who does that kind of surveillance, is very, very on top of this, looking for this.” 
  • On Omicron's transmissibility: “It’s inevitable that sooner or later it’s going to spread widely because it has at least the molecular characteristics of being highly transmissible, even though there are a lot of things about it that we do not know but that will be able to be ascertained in the next week or two, I believe.” 
  • On reports coming out of Israel and South Africa that Omicron may have milder symptoms: “I think that’s premature to say that, George, we just do not know.” 
  • On if more restrictions should be expected: “I don’t think so at all, George. Right now, the important thing that I’ve been saying and that all of us have been saying on the medical team, is that we just need to make sure that we know we have tools against virus in general, this SARS-CoV-2.”