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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11:07 a.m. ET, November 30, 2021

Denmark confirms 4 Omicron coronavirus variant cases

From CNN’s Antonia Mortensen and Eleanor Pickston

Denmark has confirmed an additional two cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant, bringing the total for the country to four, the Danish State Serum Institute announced on Tuesday. 

All four confirmed cases are connected to travel activity in South Africa, according to the institute. 

Denmark confirmed its first two cases of the Omicron variant on Sunday. 

11:03 a.m. ET, November 30, 2021

The FDA is actively working to investigate potential impacts of Omicron variant

From CNN's Ben Tinker

Dr. Janet Woodcock, acting commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration testifies during the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing titled Next Steps: The Road Ahead for the COVID-19 Response, in Dirksen Building on Thursday, November 4, 2021. 
Dr. Janet Woodcock, acting commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration testifies during the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing titled Next Steps: The Road Ahead for the COVID-19 Response, in Dirksen Building on Thursday, November 4, 2021.  (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call/Getty Images)

The US Food and Drug Administration is working "as quickly as possible" to find out more about the Omicron coronavirus variant, according to Dr. Janet Woodcock, the agency's acting commissioner. Woodcock also encouraged Americans to get vaccine and booster shots as soon as possible.

Read the whole statement here:

"As we have with previous emerging COVID-19 variants, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is actively working with our federal partners, international regulators and medical product companies to quickly address any potential impacts of the new omicron variant on the tools to fight the pandemic. 
The agency is working as quickly as possible to evaluate the potential impact of this variant on the currently available diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines. We are closely monitoring the situation and are committed to communicating with the public as we learn more. 
Historically, the work to obtain the genetic information and patient samples for variants and then perform the testing needed to evaluate their impact takes time. However, we expect the vast majority of this work to be completed in the coming weeks.
The FDA has been actively monitoring for the possible emergence of SARS-CoV-2 variants since early in the pandemic and has worked with medical product developers when a new variant (or mutation) emerges that could impact product performance. 
With industry guidance laid out in February and contingency plans already in place, we are well-positioned and committed to working with companies to evaluate and expeditiously address the potential impact of emerging and future viral mutations on COVID-19 tests, therapeutics and vaccines.
We've taken a number of steps to adapt to emerging variants thus far in the pandemic, such as requiring companies to actively monitor for and evaluate the impact of variants on their products as a condition of authorization, and quickly taking appropriate action.
The agency has previously limited the scope of use of certain monoclonal antibodies depending on variants circulating in certain areas, updated fact sheets for health care providers with information about how known variants impact certain therapeutics, and communicated with the public about tests affected by viral mutations. 
We anticipate having more information from the ongoing evaluation regarding if and how well the current vaccines work against this variant in the next few weeks. If a modification to the current vaccines is needed, the FDA and companies will work together to develop and test such a modification quickly.
On preliminary review, we believe high-volume polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and antigen (rapid) tests widely used in the U.S. show low likelihood of being impacted and continue to work. However, the FDA will continue to closely review and adjust course as needed.
The FDA is committed to continuing to use every tool in our toolbox to fight this pandemic, including pivoting as the virus adapts, to arm ourselves with the best available diagnostics, and life-saving therapeutics and vaccines to fight this virus.
At this time, the current vaccines remain highly effective at preventing COVID-19 and serious clinical outcomes associated with a COVID-19 infection, including hospitalization and death. Additionally, currently available data from our international partners and vaccine manufacturers that has been evaluated by the FDA, suggests that an additional booster shot following the completion of a primary vaccination (six months for Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna and two months for Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) provides further protection against a COVID-19 infection.
Getting vaccinated or receiving a booster with one of the currently available vaccines is the best thing that you can do right now (in addition to standard precautions like wearing a mask) to help protect yourself, your family and friends."
11:06 a.m. ET, November 30, 2021

Sweden's number of confirmed Omicron cases rises to 3

From CNN’s Henrik Pettersson and Eleanor Pickston

Sweden has confirmed an additional two cases of the  Omicron coronavirus variant, bringing the total for the country to three, the Swedish Publish Health Agency announced on Tuesday. 

The two new cases were found in the Stockholm area in people who were tested after returning from South Africa, the agency said. 

Sweden confirmed its first case on Monday. 

10:58 a.m. ET, November 30, 2021

US Treasury secretary says more data is needed on Omicron variant

From CNN’s Anneken Tappe

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen sits at the witness table before the start of the Senate Banking Committee hearing on the CARES Act Oversight of Treasury and the Federal Reserve: Building a Resilient Economy on Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021.
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen sits at the witness table before the start of the Senate Banking Committee hearing on the CARES Act Oversight of Treasury and the Federal Reserve: Building a Resilient Economy on Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021. (Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call/Getty Images)

The Omicron variant is on everyone's mind, but US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen echoed President Biden in saying that we simply didn't know enough about it yet.

"We're still waiting for more data but what remains true is that our best protection against the virus is the vaccine," Yellen said in her opening remarks at a Senate Banking Committee hearing in Washington, DC. "People should get vaccinated or boosted."

Even so, Yellen believes that the recovery is still in a good place, particularly when comparing it to last winter, when things weren't looking so good.

She also stressed again that Congress needed to expand the US debt limit to ensure that the recovery can continue.

10:49 a.m. ET, November 30, 2021

Canada has 5 confirmed cases of Omicron variant

From CNN’s Paula Newton

Canada has now confirmed 5 cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant and health officials in several provinces say they continue to investigate dozens of other suspected cases across the country. 

Four of the five cases have been confirmed in Ottawa and all are linked to recent travel to Nigeria.

On Monday, Dr. Vera Etches, Ottawa’s medical officer of health, confirmed two more cases were identified in addition to the prior two cases announced on Sunday and she indicated that no one is currently hospitalized.

“The individuals, all 4, are self-isolating,” she said in a statement during a local health board meeting adding that any international travel at this time could potentially expose people to the new variant given where and when cases have been detected.

Canada’s health minister said in a statement Sunday that “it is expected that other cases of this variant will be found in Canada”.

The fifth case of the variant has been identified in the province of Quebec, also linked to travel from Nigeria.

Quebec’s health minister, Christian Dubé, speaking at a news conference Monday said more than a hundred travelers from southern African countries were asked to take a new Covid-19 test and isolate.

However, Dube also suggested that Nigeria should possibly be added to the list of countries currently included in a travel ban to Canada. He said he had spoken of the issue with Jean-Yves Duclos, Canada’s health minister.

“They need to take very quick decisions on additional countries and if this is not enough, depending on how the epidemiology accelerates, should we have additional measures like PCR (testing) at airports to make sure that we are restrictive on any countries,” said Dube.

More on this: The Hong Kong government banned entry to travelers from Canada Tuesday after a Canadian man arrived from Vancouver and later tested positive for the Omicron variant.

Canada’s border restrictions with the US meantime are set to ease Tuesday with fully vaccinated, cross-border travelers allowed to reenter Canada without providing a negative Covid-19 test, provided they are gone for less than 72 hours.

But other measures related to air travel were tightened Tuesday with air and rail passengers both internationally and domestically needing to provide proof vaccination in order to travel.  

10:45 a.m. ET, November 30, 2021

Former health official agrees with Biden’s Omicron message: Be concerned, but don’t panic

From CNN’s Naomi Thomas

Brett Giroir, former Admiral in the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps., testifies during a Republican-led forum on the origins of the COVID-19 virus at the U.S. Capitol on June 29, 2021 in Washington, DC.
Brett Giroir, former Admiral in the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps., testifies during a Republican-led forum on the origins of the COVID-19 virus at the U.S. Capitol on June 29, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

Admiral Dr. Brett Giroir, former assistant secretary of US Health and Human Services and the testing czar for Covid-19 during the Trump administration, told CNN he agreed with President Biden’s message that people should be concerned about the Omicron variant, but they should not panic. 

“I do agree with that tone and that message,” Giroir said, when asked about Biden’s remarks. “We should be concerned ... but we should not panic.” 

“Our testing still works perfectly. It is very likely that our vaccines will provide some immune protection, and I agree it’s very important to top off your tank, top off your immune tank, by getting that booster. Independent of Omicron, it’s very important to get it just for Delta,” he said.  

Asked about what is being seen early on in terms of what is known about Omicron, Giroir said, “we have no evidence that Omicron is more severe.” 

Referencing comments from Dr. Angelique Coetzee, a doctor who has treated patients with Omicron, who said on CNN’s "New Day" Tuesday that the majority of cases being seen are mild to moderate, Giroir said that he would love to believe it — but it’s important to remember that patients treated were generally young.

“We really don’t know how Omicron is going to affect the elderly or those who have chronic conditions,” he said. “So we have no evidence that it’s worse, but I don’t want people to assume that it’s just mild and we can blow this off.” 

Giroir also said that the variant is “likely here already. We don’t see it taking over, it doesn’t mean that it won’t, but, you know, we just need to remain calm.” 

He reiterated that there are things that can be done, including getting vaccinated and boosted, getting home tests, making sure the elderly are protected and wear masks when appropriate.

Giroir added that there are new oral antiviral medications that “will be completely effective against Omicron, as they are against the others.” One antiviral, from Merck, is being considered by US Food and Drug Administration advisers on Tuesday.

The oral antiviral medicines are “very important, powerful tools that will work against Omicron, Delta and all the other variants,” he said. 

Giroir also said the US “absolutely” needs more testing. He said that testing “plummeted” in the middle of summer “and there was a lull in the production of antigen tests,” although he thinks that the administration is trying to reverse that. 

One thing that people can do, he said, aside from getting a booster shot is to get home tests. 

“I literally just went to Walmart yesterday and picked up two boxes of home tests, just to be prepared and for my family to be prepared,” he said. “Everyone should be able to do that. And I think the federal government should send home tests to all those who are underserved or an at risk community so they can test themselves.”

9:59 a.m. ET, November 30, 2021

UK prime minister: It's "overwhelmingly likely" boosters will provide additional protection against Omicron

From CNN’s Niamh Kennedy

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson visits Lordship Lane Primary Care Centre on November 30, 2021 in London, England. During the visit the PM will meet staff and see people receiving their coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine booster jab. 
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson visits Lordship Lane Primary Care Centre on November 30, 2021 in London, England. During the visit the PM will meet staff and see people receiving their coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine booster jab.  (Paul Grover/Getty Images)

It is “overwhelmingly likely” that booster shots will provide additional protection against the Omicron coronavirus variant, according to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. 

Speaking to UK media during a visit to a vaccination center in London on Tuesday, Johnson said that while there are doubts “about what exactly that variant can do,” it is “overwhelmingly likely” that boosters will provide protection against it. 

The UK will have to make “another great surge in vaccinations like it did earlier in the year,” Johnson emphasized, calling on all eligible to come forward for their booster jabs. 

The new measures in England mandating the use of masks in shops, on public transportation and in other indoor settings and the return of PCR tests for returning travelers are the “right approach” to “delay the seeding of Omicron in the country,” according to Johnson. 

Aside from these measures, the UK government doesn’t see any need right now to change the overall guidance about how people should be living their lives, Johnson said.

Johnson is set to hold a news conference at 11:00 a.m. ET from Downing Street alongside UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid and National Health Service Chief Executive Amanda Pritchard. 

9:47 a.m. ET, November 30, 2021

US stocks open in the red

From CNN’s Anneken Tappe

US stocks opened lower on Tuesday, rattled by renewed worries about the Omicron variant of the coronavirus. 

Investors fear that the variant could evade some immunity provided by vaccines and antibodies, sending the global economy back into trouble. Market participants will also be watching Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell’s testimony before the Senate Banking Committee Tuesday morning.

Here's how things looked at the opening:

  • The Dow opened 0.7%, or 238 points, lower
  • The S&P 500 fell 0.6%
  • The Nasdaq Composite opened down 0.4%

 

10:01 a.m. ET, November 30, 2021

Spain bans flights from 7 African countries due to Omicron

From CNN’s Al Goodman in Madrid

Minister for Territorial Policy and Government Spokesperson Isabel Rodríguez appears at a press conference after a meeting of the Council of Ministers in Moncloa, on August 3, 2021, in Madrid, Spain. 
Minister for Territorial Policy and Government Spokesperson Isabel Rodríguez appears at a press conference after a meeting of the Council of Ministers in Moncloa, on August 3, 2021, in Madrid, Spain.  (Ricardo Rubio/Europa Press/Getty Images)

Spain became the latest country to announce "flight restrictions" from southern African nations over the Omicron coronavirus variant, the government’s chief spokeswoman, Isabel Rodríguez, said at a news conference in Madrid Tuesday. 

On Monday, Spain had announced that passengers from seven African countries – South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, and Mozambique – would have to quarantine for 10 days. The restrictions announced today go one step further, banning flights from the seven African nations, with some exceptions for flights repatriating citizens or residents.

“These are preventative measures,” Rodríguez said. 

The flight restrictions will be in effect from Dec. 2 until Dec.15, Rodríguez added.

Spain on Monday also confirmed its first case of the Omicron variant, in “a 51-year-old man who returned from South Africa on Nov. 28, with a layover in Amsterdam,” a Madrid regional government statement said. 

Spain’s Health Minister Carolina Darias said in a SER radio interview Tuesday that authorities were awaiting test results on a couple who arrived at Barcelona’s airport on Monday, to determine if they have the Omicron variant, or not. 

CNN's Claudia Rebaza, Mia Alberti and Pau Mosquera contributed reporting to this post.