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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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.

9:17 a.m. ET, November 30, 2021

What do you want to know about the 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 a question for a CNN Town Hall featuring several medical experts including Dr. Anthony Fauci, the chief medical adviser to President Biden, and tune in for answers during the event tomorrow at 8 p.m. ET.

9:03 a.m. ET, November 30, 2021

UN South Africa representative says travel ban is unfair and stresses importance of vaccine equity

From CNN's Mirna Alsharif

A passenger walks towards the plane while boarding a flight at the OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg on November 28, 2021.
A passenger walks towards the plane while boarding a flight at the OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg on November 28, 2021. (Dimitri Korczak/AFP/Getty Images)

Xolisa Mabhongo, the deputy permanent representative of South Africa to the United Nations, echoed sentiments that the travel ban placed on the country by multiple nations over the Omicron variant is not fair.

"We feel that the travel ban is very unfair," Mabhongo said to CNN's Briana Keilar on "New Day" Tuesday morning. "South African science should be commended for discovering this new variant and sharing the information with the world."

Mabhongo also stressed the importance of vaccine equity in all countries in order to "see the end of Covid."

"As long as the world operates on this trajectory on vaccine inequality, we will not see the end of Covid," he said. "We think it is not wise to continue in this route, we think vaccines should be shared by all countries."

"At this moment, less than 10% of the African population as a whole has been vaccinated, but we know that in other countries the rate is over 80%. So, this is indeed very unfair, and we have been urging countries to reverse it," he said.

When asked for his reaction to President Biden's comments that the US has provided "significant" vaccines to South Africa and the region, and that their issue is reluctance rather than doses, he said he "doesn't see this significant hesitancy that some people are talking about."

"Now again, like in all countries, it is possible, that you know, you will have some small minority of people who are hesitant against vaccines," he continued. "We do need more vaccines for sure, that is not a question. We need more vaccines in South Africa, in southern African and in the rest of the African continent."

8:43 a.m. ET, November 30, 2021

While scientists research Omicron, NIH director recommends mask-wearing due to Delta variant

From CNN’s Naomi Thomas

People wear face masks in Manhattan on November 29, 2021 in New York City. 
People wear face masks in Manhattan on November 29, 2021 in New York City.  (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins recommended that people wear masks until the severity of Omicron is known, due to the Delta variant.

“I would recommend that even without knowing about Omicron, because Delta is very much with us,” Collins said on ABC.  

Collins explained why he wears his mask indoors with other people:

“I wear my mask if I’m indoors with other people; I don’t always know whether they’re all vaccinated or not. That’s just good practice. I know we’re all tired of this, but the virus is not tired of us and it’s continuing to exploit those opportunities where we’re careless."

Collins said scientists are working quickly to research the severity of Omicron and how contagious it actually is, adding, "much credit to our colleagues in South Africa who have been totally transparent about this.”

"It does look like it’s spreading quite quickly there, but we don’t know how that would play out in a country like ours where Delta is already so dominant. Would Omicron be able to compete with Delta? We don’t know the answer to that,” he said.

It will take a few weeks to determine how effective current vaccines will be against the new variant, he said.

8:48 a.m. ET, November 30, 2021

Restricting travel due to Omicron variant was an "overreaction," South African doctor says 

From CNN’s Naomi Thomas

Restrictions on travel because of the Omicron variant were an "overreaction," according to Dr. Angelique Coetzee, chair of the South African Medical Association and one of the doctors treating patients with the Omicron variant.

“I think it was an overreaction,” she said on CNN's "New Day" when asked about her assessment of the global reaction to the variant. “I do understand that there’s a lot of mutation in this virus. I do understand that it might be much more fast spreading than the Delta variant.” 

She said it was important to get input from scientists, “but while the scientists wait and are busy doing their work in the background, unfortunately, the patients [don't] wait, the patients comes in. And you need to alert your doctors and say listen, there’s something happening, there’s something going on, look at it, see what you can do.” 

“Telling the world there’s something out there and then being slammed by getting these — we call it the knee-jerk reaction — of closing borders and everyone, and people say 'yes, but I’m trying to protect my people,' so then the question would be how do you know it’s not in your country yet? How do you know that a lot of those infections that you are currently seeing that [are] severe, how do you know it’s not maybe related to the Omicron? How do you know?” Coetzee said. 

She also said that if doctors aren’t aware of the variant, they might not think patients have the variant and might not test them. 

“I think if for South Africa to spread the message out there and then being slammed, that doesn’t make sense,” she said. “Of course it’s other people’s lives as well, you know. It’s a huge impact, it’s a huge impact on the economy of South Africa, it’s a huge impact to the people that want to come and visit family, it’s a huge impact on South Africans that want to go and visit family and friends during the festive season. I just think, you know, there’s other ways to do this.” 

7:57 a.m. ET, November 30, 2021

Omicron cases have been “extremely mild” so far, South African doctor says

From CNN's Naomi Thomas

Dr. Angelique Coetzee, chair of the South African Medical Association, on November 30.
Dr. Angelique Coetzee, chair of the South African Medical Association, on November 30. (CNN)

Dr. Angelique Coetzee, chair of the South African Medical Association and one of the doctors treating some patients with the Omicron variant, told CNN that the majority of cases of the variant that she has seen have been mild. 

Coetzee pointed out that it’s still very early days for the Omicron variant, and that, in the beginning, it’s typically not that severe, as younger people get infected and then it spreads further.

“The majority of what we are presenting to primary health care practitioners are extremely mild cases, so mild to moderate. And so, these patients, it means they don’t need to be hospitalized for now,” she said on CNN's "New Day."
“We try to get the message out there to the world to say listen, we’re not saying this is not going to be a disease going forward that’s going to cause severe disease; it will cause severe disease, but if this disease can cause to more than the majority of people mild symptoms, easily treatable at home, no need for admission, that’s a first prize.”

She said that they want to share the symptoms with people so they can understand that if they feel fatigued for a day or two, have a bit of a scratchy throat and body aches and pain — “we call it normally malaise, so I don’t feel generally well,” she said — that they should go and see their doctor. Doctors also need to test patients who come in with those symptoms. 

“If we can get that message out to the world, it means that we would most probably going forward have less severe cases, less people going too late to the doctors,” she said. “No system can afford that, not South Africa, not the United States. No one can afford that.” 

Asked if she had seen vaccinated people who contracted the Omicron variant, Coetzee said, “I have seen vaccinated people, and not really very sick. That might change going forward, as we say this is early days, and this is maybe what makes us hopeful.”