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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11:38 p.m. ET, November 29, 2021

India offers medical supplies to African nations in fight against Omicron variant

From CNN's Manveena Suri in New Delhi 

India says it “stands ready” to support countries in Africa affected by the Omicron variant, including providing vaccines and medical supplies.

In a statement Monday, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said it was offering support to countries experiencing Omicron outbreaks by providing drugs, test kits, gloves, PPE kits and medical equipment such as ventilators.

The ministry also encouraged African nations to order India's Covid-19 vaccines through COVAX, the World Health Organization’s global vaccine sharing program, or bilaterally.

"We express our solidarity with the countries, particularly in Africa, who have so far been affected by the Omicron variant," the MEA said. 

"The Government of India stands ready to support the countries affected in Africa in dealing with the Omicron variant, including by supplies of Made-in-India vaccines."

The MEA said the government has approved all orders placed so far by COVAX for supplies of Covishield, a vaccine developed by AstraZeneca-Oxford and produced by the Serum Institute of India, to African nations such as Malawi, Ethiopia, Zambia, Mozambique, Guinea and Lesotho.

Supplies of the India-made Covid-19 vaccine Covaxin have also been approved for Botswana.

“Any new requirement projected either bilaterally or through COVAX will be considered expeditiously,” according to the statement.

To date, India has supplied more than 25 million doses of its domestically developed vaccines to 41 countries in Africa through donations and COVAX supplies.

8:54 p.m. ET, November 29, 2021

At least 17 countries and territories have confirmed cases of the Omicron variant

From CNN’s Tim Lister, Hira Humayun and AnneClaire Stapleton

At least 17 countries and territories have confirmed Omicron variant cases, according to analysis and data compiled by CNN.

Spain and Austria both reported their first cases of the Omicron variant in the past 24 hours, while Germany confirmed its first infection with no overseas travel history.

These countries and territories have confirmed Omicron infections:

  1. Australia  
  2. Austria  
  3. Belgium  
  4. Botswana  
  5. Canada  
  6. Czech Republic  
  7. Denmark  
  8. Germany  
  9. Hong Kong  
  10. Israel  
  11. Italy�� 
  12. Netherlands  
  13. Portugal  
  14. South Africa  
  15. Spain  
  16. Sweden  
  17. United Kingdom
7:39 p.m. ET, November 29, 2021

The 3 critical questions scientists are trying to answer 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.

10:19 p.m. ET, November 29, 2021

At least 70 countries and territories have imposed travel restrictions in response to Omicron

From CNN’s Tim Lister, Hira Humayun and AnneClaire Stapleton

At least 69 countries and territories have imposed travel restrictions in response to the spreading Omicron variant, according to analysis and data compiled by CNN. 

Here's the list:

  1. Angola    
  2. Argentina   
  3. Australia   
  4. Austria*
  5. Bahrain   
  6. Belgium*
  7. Brazil   
  8. Bulgaria*
  9. Canada   
  10. Chile  
  11. Colombia    
  12. Croatia*
  13. Cuba    
  14. Czech Republic*
  15. Denmark*
  16. Ecuador
  17. Egypt    
  18. Estonia*
  19. Fiji  
  20. Finland*
  21. France*
  22. Germany*
  23. Greece*
  24. Guatemala    
  25. Hong Kong   
  26. Hungary*
  27. India     
  28. Indonesia   
  29. Ireland*
  30. Israel 
  31. Italy*
  32. Japan     
  33. Jordan   
  34. Kuwait   
  35. Latvia*
  36. Lithuania*
  37. Luxembourg*
  38. Malaysia   
  39. Maldives   
  40. Malta*
  41. Morocco   
  42. Netherlands*
  43. New Zealand   
  44. Norway    
  45. Oman   
  46. Pakistan  
  47. Paraguay  
  48. Philippines   
  49. Poland*
  50. Portugal*
  51. Qatar   
  52. Republic of Cyprus*
  53. Romania*
  54. Russia    
  55. Rwanda  
  56. Saudi Arabia    
  57. Singapore   
  58. Slovakia*
  59. Slovenia*
  60. South Korea   
  61. Spain*
  62. Sri Lanka   
  63. Sweden*
  64. Switzerland  
  65. Taiwan   
  66. Thailand   
  67. Turkey   
  68. United Arab Emirates  
  69. United Kingdom  
  70. United States

*European Union member state

9:37 p.m. ET, November 29, 2021

What we know about the Omicron variant so far 

From CNN's Maggie Fox

The first sample of the Omicron or B.1.1.529 lineage was taken November 9, according to WHO. It got noticed because of a surge of cases in South Africa.

"This new variant, B.1.1.529 seems to spread very quick!" Tulio de Oliveira, director of South Africa's Center for Epidemic Response & Innovationand a genetics researcher at Stellenbosch University, said on Twitter.

Also, genetic sequencing showed it carried a large number of troubling mutations on the spike protein — the knoblike structure on the surface of the virus that it uses to grapple onto the cells it infects.

Some of those mutations were already recognized from other variants and were known to make them more dangerous, including one called E484A — a slightly altered version of a mutation called E484K that may make the virus less recognizable to some antibodies — immune system proteins that are a frontline defense against infection and that form the basis of monoclonal antibody treatments.

It also carries a mutation called N501Y, which gave both Alpha and Gamma their increased transmissibility. Just last week, Scott Weaver of the University of Texas Medical Branch and colleagues reported in the journal Nature that this particular mutation made the virus better at replicating in the upper airway — think in the nose and throat — and likely makes it more likely to spread when people breathe, sneeze and cough.

Like Delta, Omicron also carries a mutation called D614G, which appears to help the virus better attach to the cells it infects.

"The number of mutations per se does not mean that the new variant will cause any problems; although it may make it more likely to look different to the immune system," Dr. Peter English, former chair of the British Medical Association's Public Health Medicine Committee, said in a statement.

What worries scientists is the number of mutations affecting the spike protein. That's because most of the leading vaccines target the spike protein. Vaccines made by Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca and other companies all use just small pieces or genetic sequences of the virus and not whole virus, and all of them use bits of the spike protein to elicit immunity. So a change in the spike protein that made it less recognizable to immune system proteins and cells stimulated by a vaccine would be a problem.

So far, there's no evidence this has happened but there is no way of knowing by looking at the mutations alone. Researchers will have to wait and see if more breakthrough infections are caused by Omicron than by other variants.

The other fear is that the mutations might help make the virus less susceptible to monoclonal antibody treatments. However, WHO says it's unlikely these mutations would affect other Covid-19 treatments, including antiviral drugs in development and the steroid dexamethasone.

Read more about coronavirus variants:

8:21 p.m. ET, November 29, 2021

CDC: All vaccinated US adults should get a Covid-19 booster shot because of the Omicron variant

From CNN's Maggie Fox

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention strengthened recommendations for booster doses of coronavirus vaccine Monday, saying all adults should get boosted six months after the second dose of Pfizer/BioNTech's or Moderna's vaccine or two months after the single dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

It's a slight but significant tweak to the wording of guidance issued earlier this month when the CDC endorsed an expanded emergency use authorization for boosters from the US Food and Drug Administration.

"Today, CDC is strengthening its recommendation on booster doses for individuals who are 18 years and older," CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in a statement.

"The recent emergence of the Omicron variant (B.1.1.529) further emphasizes the importance of vaccination, boosters, and prevention efforts needed to protect against COVID-19," she added.

"Early data from South Africa suggest increased transmissibility of the Omicron variant, and scientists in the United States and around the world are urgently examining vaccine effectiveness related to this variant. I strongly encourage the 47 million adults who are not yet vaccinated to get vaccinated as soon as possible and to vaccinate the children and teens in their families as well because strong immunity will likely prevent serious illness."

Previously, the CDC said people should get a booster if they are 50 and older, or 18 and older and living in long-term care. Otherwise, it advised that anyone 18 and older may get a booster. Now the word "should" applies to everyone 18 and older.

It will take a few weeks of testing to know for sure whether the Omicron variant is more transmissible than Delta, and whether it evades the protection offered by natural infection or vaccines. Scientists will also be looking to see if it causes more severe disease or evades the effects of treatments.

Read more about the CDC's recommendations: