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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11:29 p.m. ET, December 1, 2021

Japan overturns ban on inbound flight bookings

From CNN's Junko Ogura in Tokyo

Japan has canceled a ban on accepting new reservations for inbound international flights, according to the Civil Aviation Bureau of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism. 

On Wednesday, the Transport Ministry had asked airlines to refuse reservations on international flights to Japan over concerns of the Omicron coronavirus variant. It would have applied to all travelers — including Japanese citizens — from December 1 through December 31.

But Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida later said he had instructed the ministry to reconsider the decision out of consideration for Japanese citizens’ need to return.

Kishida added the initial announcement had caused confusion while talking to reporters from his office on Thursday. 

Airlines can now take new reservations as long as the number of passengers entering Japan remains below 3,500 a day — a limit on arrivals that was lowered from 5,000 last month, a transport ministry official said, according to Reuters.

10:38 p.m. ET, December 1, 2021

South Korea detects record new Covid-19 cases for second straight day

From CNN’s Gawon Bae in Seoul, South Korea

South Korea identified 5,266 new Covid-19 cases on Wednesday, a record high for a second consecutive day, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said in a news release Thursday.

That breaks the previous record of 5,123 new cases, recorded on Tuesday. 

Last month, South Korea announced it would start "living with Covid-19" and began easing restrictions. But its reopening has coincided with record new infections, critical cases and deaths. Concerns over the new Omicron variant are also threatening the country's recovery.

South Korea's total confirmed cases increased to 457,612, while the death toll rose by 47 to 3,705, according to KDCA. Some 733 patients are in critical condition, KDCA said.

That's despite high vaccination rates. As of Wednesday, 80.1% of the population has been fully vaccinated, according to KDCA.

Travel restrictions: The rise in cases has prompted authorities to mandate a 10-day quarantine for all incoming international travelers, including Korean nationals, starting Friday for two weeks.

The move came as five Omicron cases were reported by the country in travelers arriving from Nigeria. 

The mandate applies to travelers from all countries, regardless of their vaccination status, KDCA said.

10:06 p.m. ET, December 1, 2021

Moderna president says he has "hope" their vaccine will "hold up quite well" against Omicron

From CNN's Josiah Ryan

Dr. Stephen Hoge, president of Moderna, expressed hope the pharmaceutical company's Covid-19 vaccine would deliver the "highest efficacy" against the Omicron variant.

"Our hope, at least in Moderna, is that we're going to continue to see the highest efficacy overall and continue to see the boosters push that even higher," he said during CNN's town hall tonight.

"The optimist in me would say that maybe we find out over the coming few weeks as we generate more data in the real world, that the vaccines actually hold up quite well," he said.

Hoge was responding to Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel remarks on Tuesday in which he suggested current vaccines might struggle with Omicron.

"There is no world, I think, where [the effectiveness] is the same level . . . we had with [the] Delta [variant]," Bancel said in an interview with the Financial Times. "I think it's going to be a material drop. I just don't know how much because we need to wait for the data. But all the scientists I've talked to ... are like, 'This is not going to be good.'"

Hoge took issue with Bancel's word choice, but acknowledged this evening that it is likely the current vaccines could be less effective against Omicron.

"I think some of the word choice may not have been optimal," Hoge told CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta. "But I think what Stéphane Bancel was trying to say was consistent with what he said — and what we feel, which is it seems likely that the Omicron variant is gonna make a dent in our vaccine efficacy. In fact, in all vaccine efficacy."
10:20 p.m. ET, December 1, 2021

Moderna president says if current Covid vaccines protect against Omicron they "might be all we need in the long run"

Moderna president Dr. Stephen Hoge joins CNN's town hall on Wednesday night.
Moderna president Dr. Stephen Hoge joins CNN's town hall on Wednesday night. (CNN)

Dr. Stephen Hoge, president of Covid-19 vaccine maker Moderna, said during CNN's town hall tonight that if vaccines hold up against Omicron, they could provide benefit against future strains of the virus that have significant mutations.

"This particular Omicron variant is the first one that really causes us significant concern because of the number of mutations it has, but a lot of this is just we don't have data yet, so the concern is more anticipatory," Hoge said.

Looking at the history of Covid-19 vaccines, Hoge said they have had good efficacy against previous variants, including Gamma, Beta and the Delta variant that became the dominant strain earlier this year.

"There is some hope if we get through the Omicron variant, we see good efficacy in the coming weeks and months that actually the original vaccines that we've all been benefitting from may hold up well and might be all we need in the long run. We'll just need data to tell us," he said.


9:58 p.m. ET, December 1, 2021

Fauci says it's still safe to travel despite Omicron coronavirus variant

From CNN's Leinz Vales

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden, said Wednesday that with the emergence of the Omicron coronavirus variant, Americans are still safe to travel and would not suggest anything different from previous safety recommendations.

"We just have a problem that's identifiable now, and just as I said, and I'll say it again, if you have a vaccinated situation, your family's vaccinated, enjoy the holidays, indoor with your family in a family setting," Fauci told CNN at a town hall.

"Many of us will have to travel during the holidays," Fauci added. "What you do when you travel, you take care. Travel always increases somewhat the risk of getting infected, but if you wear a mask, particularly when you're in an airport in the congregate setting you have to wear a mask when you get on the plane, and if you can, just get vaccinated as soon as you can, and right now is the time to get boosted."

Watch here:

9:46 p.m. ET, December 1, 2021

Fauci urges Americans to get vaccinated, warning the Delta variant remains a grave danger

From CNN's Josiah Ryan

Dr. Anthony Fauci said Americans should not lose sight of the dangers of the Delta variant even as the Omicron strain of coronavirus dominates headlines.

"We don't want people, because they hear of a single case of a new variant, that just has now arrived in the United States ... to take our eye off the ball of the problem that we are facing right now," said Fauci during CNN's town hall tonight.

Fauci urged the 60 million Americans who remain unvaccinated to get their shots as quickly as possible since it is proven to lower the transmission and dangers of the Delta variant.

"We still have 99.9% of the isolates are Delta, and we know what we can do with Delta," he said. "We have, within our capability, to block it by getting the people who are unvaccinated vaccinated."

Fauci added that Americans ought to take other precautions as well, such as wearing masks, as colder weather settles on much of the country.

"There are a lot of things we can do now with what we're dealing with now, and what we're dealing with now is Delta," he said.


9:40 p.m. ET, December 1, 2021

Time will tell whether people will need to be vaccinated against Covid-19 each year, Fauci says


It is too early to tell whether people will need to receive a Covid-19 vaccine each year to protect against infection, Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN's Anderson Cooper during the company's town hall Wednesday evening.

"Anderson, to be honest with you, we don't know. We really don't. You could say we might have this or we might require this, but we don't know," Fauci said. "One of the things I'm very interested in and my colleagues, is that when you get a boost, the booster shot for example with an mRNA or a Pfizer, do you not only elevate the level of antibodies to a high level but do you induce a degree of affinity maturation which is a big word to mean that you really get the immune response to get a much greater breadth and a much greater strength so that we maybe don't have to boost every eight months, nine months. It may be we get a durability of immunity. Or maybe not, and if it is not, we'll have to deal with it depending upon how the outbreak and the global pandemic evolves."

Fauci added: "So the honest answer is we don't know what's going to be required. I hope we get a durability protection from the boost that we won't have to be chasing all the time against the new variant. But that just remains to be seen."

9:45 p.m. ET, December 1, 2021

Fauci says it was "better to be safe than sorry" on South Africa travel ban

Dr. Anthony Fauci said he "felt really badly" about the US travel ban imposed on South Africa and other southern African countries following the detection of the Omicron variant.

Dozens of countries around the world have imposed temporary travel bans on several countries in southern Africa. While the Omicron variant was first detected in South Africa, it doesn't mean it necessarily originated in the country.

"It was a very difficult choice to make because we had no idea what was going on when you saw what was coming out, so we felt it was better to be safe than sorry," Fauci said during CNN's town hall, answering a question from a viewer.

"I would hope that we'd get enough information soon that we could pull back on that as quickly as possible because you don't want individual countries to feel that when they are honest and transparent that there are negative consequences for them. So I do really feel badly about that."

Earlier today: UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday described widespread travel bans imposed on southern African countries over fears of the Omicron variant as “unacceptable,” likening the restrictions to apartheid.


9:25 p.m. ET, December 1, 2021

Biden to extend transportation mask mandate through March

From CNN's Kaitlan Collins

The Biden administration will extend existing requirements for travelers to wear masks on airplanes, buses, trains and boats, as well as in airports and other transportation hubs, through March to address concerns over the Omicron coronavirus variant.

In August, the Transportation Security Administration extended its US federal transportation mask mandate through January 18 due to concerns at that time over the Delta variant.

Reuters was the first to report on the mandate extension.

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