December 1 Omicron coronavirus variant news

By Adam Renton, Brad Lendon, Sheena McKenzie, Ed Upright, Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya and Melissa Mahtani, CNN

Updated 12:02 a.m. ET, December 2, 2021
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7:43 a.m. ET, December 1, 2021

Omicron cases have been mild and in younger patients, South African doctor says

From CNN’s Naomi Thomas

Dr. Mvuyisi Mzukwa, vice chair of the South African Medical Association, on December 1.
Dr. Mvuyisi Mzukwa, vice chair of the South African Medical Association, on December 1. (CNN)

Doctors in South Africa have so far observed that patients with the Omicron coronavirus variant are younger and have milder cases, and those who are hospitalized are largely unvaccinated.

“We’re seeing younger patients and we’re seeing milder cases of Omicron,” Dr. Mvuyisi Mzukwa, vice chair of the South African Medical Association, told CNN’s Brianna Keilar on New Day Wednesday.
“Also, what we’ve noted is that the people that are being hospitalized are largely unvaccinated, about 90% of those are unvaccinated.” 

Mzukwa said that very few people are being admitted to the hospital and the South African health care system is not under pressure.

“Obviously, we’re still gathering information as to the spread of this Omicron in the country, but it is not what it is touted to be out there,” he said, noting that the South African government has not put the country under any further restrictions. 
“There is nothing much that we see beyond what we have seen with the Delta variant,” he said. 

Asked about hospitalizations across the country, which have been seen as trending up over the last month, Mzukwa said that even in the province where the Omicron variant is concentrated, “we have not seen that much of hospitalization, all we see is that those patients that do get admitted are patients who are not vaccinated.”

7:27 a.m. ET, December 1, 2021

A global accord on pandemic prevention and response is one step closer

From CNN's Sharon Braithwaite in London

The World Health Organization (WHO) has agreed to start negotiations that would pave the way for a global convention to "strengthen pandemic prevention, preparedness and response," it said in a statement Wednesday.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the decision by the World Health Assembly was historic in nature, vital in its mission, and represented a once-in-a-generation opportunity to strengthen the global health architecture to protect and promote the wellbeing of all people.

"I welcome your commitment to an inclusive, transparent and efficient process, led by Member States and based on consensus," Tedros said, adding that the adoption of this decision is "cause for celebration, and cause for hope."

An intergovernmental negotiating body (INB) will draft and negotiate a WHO convention, agreement, or other international instrument on pandemic prevention, preparedness and response, the statement added.

The INB will hold its first meeting by March next year. It will submit its outcome for consideration by the 77th World Health Assembly in 2024.

7:23 a.m. ET, December 1, 2021

Germany's health system could be overwhelmed, with 12 million still unvaccinated, warns minister

From CNN's Stephanie Halasz

Germany's Health Minister Jens Spahn speaks at a press conference in Berlin on November 26.
Germany's Health Minister Jens Spahn speaks at a press conference in Berlin on November 26. (Tobias Schwarz/AFP/Getty Images)

The number of unvaccinated people in Germany is still so large it risks overwhelming the country's heath system, warned Health Minister Jens Spahn on Wednesday.

Even though the number of vaccinations is on the rise, 12 million adults out of a total of 69 million in the country are still not immunized against the coronavirus, Spahn wrote on Twitter.

Spahn, who only has a few days left in the job before the incoming government is sworn in, said that so far more than 10 million booster shots have been given out. Germany aimed to double that number by Christmas, he added.

Meanwhile, people queuing for booster shots in the capital Berlin on Wednesday endured long lines with wait times of up to three hours, CNN reported. In some instances, frustrated people left the lines before receiving their shot.

Germany is battling a fourth Covid-19 wave. It also has one of the lowest vaccination rates in western Europe, with a total 68.6% of eligible adults fully vaccinated, according to the country's Health Ministry.

7:10 a.m. ET, December 1, 2021

Stranded Welsh rugby team find a route back to UK

From CNN’s Aleks Klosok in London

Welsh rugby team Cardiff Rugby plan to leave Cape Town on Thursday, after being stranded in South Africa since last week. The club has secured a charter flight and quarantine accommodation in England, it said in a statement Tuesday.

The team’s traveling contingent could not return home after South Africa was placed on the United Kingdom’s red list for travel last Friday, amid concerns over the Omicron variant.

On Sunday, the team confirmed that two players had tested positive for Covid-19, one of which is suspected to be the new coronavirus variant.

Cardiff said that both players remain in isolation from the team hotel and are in good health.

Under the team's travel plans, “upon arrival in England, Wales’ capital city club will then begin a 10-day period of isolation in a UK Government Covid-19 hotel,” it said Tuesday.
“Those remaining in South Africa will undertake 10-days quarantine in a South African Covid-19 hotel and will be repatriated to the UK as soon as possible,” the statement added.

7:00 a.m. ET, December 1, 2021

South Korea moves peacekeeping conference online due to Omicron concerns

From CNN's Gawon Bae in Seoul 

South Korea will change its United Nations Peacekeeping Ministerial Conference from an in-person event to an online one amid concerns over the new Omicron variant, the country's foreign ministry said in a statement Wednesday.

The conference was due to be held in Seoul on December 7 and 8, with more than 700 people from 155 countries participating.

The ministry said the decision was made in light of the recently discovered Omicron variant and its possible impact on South Koreans' health and safety.

6:33 a.m. ET, December 1, 2021

Scotland's Omicron outbreak linked to a "single private event," says first minister

From CNN's Sheena McKenzie in London and Reuters

First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon arrives at the main chamber in the Scottish Parliament on November 30 in Edinburgh.
First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon arrives at the main chamber in the Scottish Parliament on November 30 in Edinburgh. (Jane Barlow/Pool/Getty Images)

All of Scotland's nine cases of the Omicron variant are linked to the same event, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said Tuesday, adding that none appeared to be linked to travel with South Africa.

Scotland's outbreak makes up a large chunk of the United Kingdom's 22 Omicron cases. That includes 13 cases in England, the UK Health Security Agency told CNN Tuesday.

"All nine cases are linked. They all trace back to a single private event on the 20th of November," Sturgeon told the Scottish parliament, Reuters reported.
"We fully expect that there will be more cases identified over the coming days that are also linked to this event ... however, the fact that all known cases are so far linked to this single event suggests that community transmission may still be limited."

The outbreak comes weeks after the climate conference COP26 was held in the Scottish city of Glasgow in early November.

Thousands of delegates from across the world attended the event, though Sturgeon told a press conference Monday that it's unlikely to be linked to the Omicron cases.

Sturgeon said it was “not impossible but also not probable” that the cases stemmed from the climate summit in Glasgow, Scottish newspaper The National reported.
She added that if the variant had established itself during the conference, it is likely there would be evidence of more “widespread community transmission."

6:24 a.m. ET, December 1, 2021

Before you join that work Christmas party, take a Covid-19 test, says UK health secretary

From Britain's Press Association

Christmas lights shine above Oxford Street in London on November 12.
Christmas lights shine above Oxford Street in London on November 12. (Dominic Lipinski/PA/AP)

Britons can continue with their Christmas party plans over the festive season, but might want to take a Covid-19 test before joining any gathering, the UK's Health Secretary Sajid Javid told local broadcasters Wednesday.

Javid told BBC Radio 4's Today Programme: “If you are invited to a Christmas party, there’s quite a few people there, maybe you want to take an LFT (lateral flow test) before you go.
“Go to the party, but just be cautious.”

Likewise, Javid told Sky News: “I think people should continue to behave in the way they were planning to behave over Christmas, I don’t think there is any need to change those plans.”

Asked if people should take a Covid-19 test before attending Christmas parties, Javid said: “I would.”

The comments come as the UK government ramps up its booster rollout, amid concerns over the new Omicron variant. The government is aiming to offer booster shots to all eligible adults in England by the end of January.

5:47 a.m. ET, December 1, 2021

Israeli health officials warn against hasty conclusions on vaccine efficacy against Omicron

From CNN's Andrew Carey and Amir Tal in Jerusalem

Two of Israel’s top health officials have urged caution in the rush to report the impact of coronavirus vaccines on the Omicron variant. 

Nachman Ash, the director general of the health ministry, told listeners to Galatz radio Wednesday morning, that it was simply too early to reach conclusions.  

“There is no data at the moment that can support this or that assessment [of vaccine efficacy] and we have no choice but to wait a few days and see the data," Ash said.

"Both here [in Israel] and elsewhere in the world, the evaluation of the vaccine is being examined. Patience is required,” he added. 

Elsewhere, listeners to 103FM were hearing a similar message from Salman Zarka, the head of the government’s coronavirus advisory group.  

“The data is really at an initial stage. The information we have from South Africa is that among those hospitalized with the new variant, there are relatively more young people and fewer older people, so we cannot say anything regarding the risk to older adults,” he said. 

Zarka also reminded listeners of the fact there are several vaccines on the market, with varying performances against the virus. In South Africa, many people have been given the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, whereas in Israel the overwhelming majority have had the Pfizer/BioNTech product. 

“Of those hospitalized [in South Africa] with the new variant, some have been vaccinated and some have not. Most of those who are vaccinated probably received Johnson & Johnson, which has a lower efficacy performance than Pfizer, which is what we have in Israel,” he said. 

“There is probably initial data [from South Africa] that suggests it may be the case that the vaccine is less efficient against the new variant than it is against Delta, but even less efficient could still mean 85% or 80%. This is initial data and I don’t want to mislead the public.”  

While officials are warning against jumping to conclusions about the relationship between the vaccine and the new variant, Ash said one characteristic of the Omicron variant was already becoming clear. 

“We know it is more infectious. Data from South Africa in this respect is worrying. There is a very quick rise in infections there. But that is all we can say for sure," Ash said.

The director general of Israel's health ministry added that there are conflicting reports regarding the severity of the disease, and whether or not there are more hospitalizations. "As for the vaccine, as I said, we really don’t know," he emphasized.

5:35 a.m. ET, December 1, 2021

WHO advises unvaccinated older people to postpone travel to Covid-19 hotspots

From CNN's Sheena McKenzie in London

The World Health Organization (WHO) has advised unvaccinated people over the age of 60 and those with certain health conditions not to travel to Covid-19 hotspots as new cases of the Omicron variant continue to emerge globally.

"Persons who have not been fully vaccinated or do not have proof of previous SARS-CoV-2 infection and are at increased risk of developing severe disease and dying, including people 60 years of age or older or those with comorbidities that present increased risk of severe COVID-19 (e.g. heart disease, cancer and diabetes) should be advised to postpone travel to areas with community transmission," it said in a statement Tuesday.

The WHO also commended South Africa and Botswana for their surveillance and sequencing capabilities, and for the "speed and transparency with which they notified and shared information" on the new Omicron variant with other health bodies.

It added that "blanket travel bans will not prevent the international spread, and they place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods. In addition, they can adversely impact global health efforts during a pandemic by disincentivizing countries to report and share epidemiological and sequencing data."