November 30 Omicron coronavirus variant news

By Adrienne Vogt, Ben Westcott, Adam Renton, Sheena McKenzie and Ed Upright, CNN

Updated 12:01 a.m. ET, December 1, 2021
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8:49 a.m. ET, November 30, 2021

Omicron variant in the Netherlands a week earlier than previously known

From CNN’s Mick Krever and Eleanor Pickston

The Omicron variant was present in The Netherlands as early as Nov. 19, a week earlier than previously known, the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment said Tuesday.

That’s a week before last Friday — when 14 passengers on two flights from South Africa tested positive for the Omicron variant after arrival in the Netherlands.

The variant was confirmed in two test samples taken on Nov. 19 and Nov. 23, RIVM said.

“It is not yet clear whether these people had also visited southern Africa,” the statement added. “The GGD [Municipal Public Health Service] will notify the people involved and start source and contact tracing.”

The two newly discovered cases takes the total number of confirmed Omicron infections in the Netherlands to 16, an RIVM spokesperson confirmed to CNN.

8:50 a.m. ET, November 30, 2021

Covid-19 vaccine mandates are divisive. But Europe is starting to show how they can work

From CNN's Eliza Mackintosh in London

Earlier this month, Austria took a step once unthinkable for a Western democracy: It announced that Covid-19 vaccinations would become compulsory for its entire population.

Up until then, governments around the world had rejected the idea of a universal coronavirus vaccine mandate, opting instead for incentives and other "nudges" to motivate people to get shots. Even in authoritarian states, like China, it is not mandatory policy.

Austria's extraordinary move came just days after it introduced a lockdown for the unvaccinated -- a restriction that went farther than other European nations in singling out the people who have been driving a worrying surge in hospitalizations.

The series of decisions leading Austria to this point reflects the desperate position governments find themselves in as they look to protect public health systems and tentative economic recoveries as cases soar across Europe. The continent is once again ground zero for the global pandemic, despite the widespread availability of vaccines.

It is that irony that has drawn the ire of Europe's leaders, who are growing increasingly frustrated by vaccine skeptics and other pockets of the population still resisting Covid-19 vaccination programs.

Austria's tough new measures were unveiled before the announcement of the discovery of the Omicron variant late last week, which triggered fears that the winter Covid-19 wave could be more brutal than previously thought. The news of the variant could push more countries to harden their approach, pivoting from voluntary to mandatory measures in a last-ditch effort to get shots in arms.

In explaining Austria's decision, Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg pointed to the successes of Italy and France, which have introduced vaccine mandates in all but name — requiring health passes as proof of vaccination, a negative test or recent recovery from infection to attend public gatherings, travel or go to work — in conjunction with public health measures, like mask wearing.

Both countries have also made vaccination mandatory for health workers — two of five countries to do so in Europe, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.

South Africa is now mulling compulsory Covid-19 shots following the discovery of the Omicron variant. And on Tuesday, Greece announced that vaccinations for citizens over the age of 60 will be mandatory from mid-January.

Read more of this report here:

7:19 a.m. ET, November 30, 2021

China locks down cities near Mongolia border amid Covid-19 outbreak

From CNN's Beijing Bureau and Hannah Ritchie

Medical staff prepare for Covid-19 tests on November 28 in Manzhouli, Inner Mongolia, an autonomous region of northeastern China.
Medical staff prepare for Covid-19 tests on November 28 in Manzhouli, Inner Mongolia, an autonomous region of northeastern China. (Zhang Hechang/VCG/Getty Images)

China has locked down several cities close to its northern border with Mongolia, following several outbreaks of Covid-19.

The largest flareup is in the Inner Mongolian city of Manzhouli, a crucial land port of entry bordering Russia.

On Tuesday the city had 34 confirmed cases, bringing its total number of cases to 73 since the start of the current outbreak which began on Saturday.

Inner Mongolia is an autonomous region of northeastern China, bordering the independent country Mongolia and Russia.

On Monday, a total of 42 locally transmitted cases were also reported across two provinces and three municipalities in northern China, mostly in the city of Hulunbuir.

The city of Manzhouli has conducted three city-wide mass testings on its 300,000 residents over three days, according to the local government. The third round of testing happened Tuesday morning.

The city has been placed under a strict lockdown, with public transport suspended and 24-hour guarded checkpoints set up around its borders.

All residents are prohibited from going out -- apart from medical support staff and material delivery personnel. Businesses, schools, universities, and kindergartens are closed across Manzhouli, the local government said in a press release Monday.

Genome sequencing of the first three cases in Manzhouli found that the infections may have been spread via “imported goods," the Center for Epidemic Prevention and Control in Manzhouli said Tuesday.

From December 1, Manzhouli railway port will suspend the import of non-container goods that require manual handling.

Several other cities -- some hundreds of miles from Manzhouli -- have also been locked down, with major roads connecting the districts blocked off.

8:50 a.m. ET, November 30, 2021

Greece makes vaccines mandatory for over-60s

From CNN’s Chris Liakos in Paris

A health worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in Thessaloniki on November 26.
A health worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in Thessaloniki on November 26. (Sakis Mitrolidis/AFP/Getty Images)

Covid-19 vaccinations for all Greek citizens over the age of 60 will soon be mandatory, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis announced Tuesday.

Citizens who have not booked their first dose by January 16 will face a 100 euro (US $113) fine each passing month.

Money raised from the fines will go to a special fund to finance Greek hospitals.

“It’s a decision that tormented me personally I have to tell you. However, I feel a bigger responsibility to stand by the most vulnerable, even if they may be unhappy temporarily. I have absolutely no doubt that our political decision will save lives,” said Mitsotakis.
“It is not a punishment, I would say it is a price of health."

Mitsotakis also warned that citizens should be vigilant as the new Omicron variant “will sooner or later make its appearance in Greece,” noting once again that the answer is not another lockdown.

Greece, like much of Europe, has been grappling with a fresh wave of infections and big rise in hospitalizations.

6:16 a.m. ET, November 30, 2021

London tube passengers told to wear face mask or risk fine

From CNN’s Allegra Goodwin in London

Passengers on London public transport have been told to wear a face mask or risk a £200 (US $267) fine from Tuesday, in line with tightened government restrictions.

Face coverings are now mandatory on public transport and in shops across the United Kingdom, as part of tougher restrictions to help prevent the spread of the new Omicron variant. 

All customers travelling on Transport for London’s (TfL) network -- which includes buses, underground and overground trains -- must wear a face covering or “risk being fined, unless they are exempt,” TfL said in a statement Tuesday. 

Face coverings have remained mandatory on TfL services since the UK government removed the national mask mandate on public transport over the summer.

But in reality, many passengers in the capital regularly travel without a face covering, and TfL has admitted enforcement powers had been “highly limited."

Public transport passengers must now wear a face covering for their entire journey, including “in stations and on platforms,” as well as in taxi and private hire vehicles,” TfL said. It added that people who have trouble breathing, children and anyone who finds masks difficult to manage correctly could be exempt. 

“TfL’s 500 uniformed enforcement officers and TfL’s police partners will be out across the transport network ensuring that customers comply with the government regulation. Anybody who does not comply may be refused entry, directed to leave the network or face a fine,” TfL added in its statement. 

TfL will also be handing out face masks at various locations across the UK capital for a short time. 

5:56 a.m. ET, November 30, 2021

Omicron will "pose some challenges" to Winter Olympics but China confident they'll go ahead as scheduled

From CNN's Beijing Bureau

People walk in front of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics logos at the National Aquatics Center in Beijing on April 9.
People walk in front of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics logos at the National Aquatics Center in Beijing on April 9. (Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)

China has “every confidence” it will be able to hold the Winter Olympics in February, despite the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said Tuesday.

“The Omicron variant will definitely pose some challenges on the epidemic prevention and control in terms of the Winter Olympics," Zhao said during a news briefing.
"But with China's experience, I have every confidence that the Winter Olympics will be held smoothly and successfully as scheduled,” Zhao added.

Several cases of the Omicron variant have now been confirmed across Asia Pacific -- including in Australia, Japan and the semi-autonomous city of Hong Kong. 

China is yet to issue travel restrictions in response to the new variant, but maintains strict controls over its borders as it continues to pursue a zero-covid strategy. 

Zhao said China appreciated South Africa's timely sharing of information on the discovery of the Omicron variant. He added that the Chinese government would work with southern African countries to defeat the new strain through solidarity, cooperation and joint efforts.

8:50 a.m. ET, November 30, 2021

UK's Omicron cases rise to 14, mostly in Scotland

From CNN’s Eleanor Pickston in London

The total number of Omicron cases in the United Kingdom rose to 14 on Tuesday, with the biggest leap coming from Scotland.

The number includes nine cases in Scotland and five in England, according to government figures. 

Scotland on Tuesday identified three additional cases of the coronavirus variant, Scottish Health Secretary, Humza Yousaf, told Good Morning Scotland.

Across Scotland, there are now five cases in the Lanarkshire area, and four in Greater Glasgow and Clyde. 

Yousaf said that the Scottish government is working to “accelerate [the vaccination program] as quickly as we possibly can.”

Booster shots will now be offered to all people aged over 18 in Scotland, three months after the second dose, in line with UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation’s (JCVI) recommendation. 

Yousaf urged the public to take the Omicron variant “seriously,” adding that “we don’t really yet know whether it causes worse disease."
5:24 a.m. ET, November 30, 2021

A mother’s Covid-19 infection does not seem to hurt her baby's developing brain, small study shows

From CNN's Jen Christensen

Covid-19 did not seem to hurt the developing brains of babies born to mothers who had mild or moderate infections, according to a new unpublished study presented at the Radiological Society of North America’s annual meeting Tuesday. 

Researchers performed magnetic resonance imaging or MRI scans to examine the brain development of the fetuses developing in the bodies of 33 patients at about 28 weeks of pregnancy. There was no indication that the infection, which the mothers got around 18 weeks into their pregnancies, had affected fetal brain development.  

Mothers with more severe infections were not included in the study. 

“Since the impact of severe infection on brain development in the fetus has not been conclusively determined, active protection against SARS-CoV-2 infection during pregnancy remains important,” said study co-author Sophia Stöcklein, a professor in the Department of Radiology at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich in Germany. 

Stöcklein added that she hopes people who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant get vaccinated.

“Therefore, despite the encouraging results of our study, pregnant women should strongly consider vaccination,” Stöcklein said.

Pregnant women are immune compromised and at high risk of severe complications of Covid-19, and these include miscarriage.

Covid-19 can also pose serious problems for mother and child. Another study published Tuesday in PLoS Medicine showed that people who were pregnant and tested positive for Covid-19 had a higher number of deaths, premature or induced birth, fetal distress, pre-eclampsia, gestational hypertension, hemorrhage before or after birth, and cesarean sections. They were also admitted to the ICU much more frequently.

8:50 a.m. ET, November 30, 2021

Germany's next chancellor mulls tougher Covid-19 restrictions after court ruling

From CNN's Stephanie Halasz

Olaf Scholz, Germany's designated next chancellor, speaks at a news conference in Berlin on November 24.
Olaf Scholz, Germany's designated next chancellor, speaks at a news conference in Berlin on November 24. (Liesa Johannssen-Koppitz/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel will meet with her designated successor Olaf Scholz Tuesday to discuss tougher Covid-19 restrictions amid a fourth wave gripping the country.

The meeting comes after Germany's Federal Constitutional Court earlier on Tuesday ruled that emergency measures introduced in April were legal -- rejecting claims they were unconstitutional.

The springtime measures included curfews, restricted contacts and school closures -- which could be applied nationwide once seven-day case incidences surpassed certain limits.

Experts say the ruling could now pave the way for a future lockdown in Germany.

The country's seven-day incidence rate on Tuesday stood at 452.2 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, according to the national agency for disease control and prevention -- a slight decrease on the previous day.

On Monday alone there were 45,753 new cases in a country with a population of roughly 83 million people. The same day, there were 388 Covid-19 related deaths -- bringing the total number of fatalities since the start of the pandemic to 101,344.

Meanwhile Germany's vaccination rate is one of the lowest in western Europe, at 68.4% fully vaccinated, according to the country's health ministry. Those number dip in the country's eastern states of Saxony and Thuringia, where the vaccination rates are 60.5% and 64.4% respectively.