December 2 Omicron coronavirus variant news

By Rhea Mogul, Adam Renton, Sheena McKenzie & Ed Upright, CNN

Updated 12:01 a.m. ET, December 3, 2021
32 Posts
Sort byDropdown arrow
10:15 a.m. ET, December 2, 2021

Travel bans won’t keep cases out of countries, WHO spokesperson says

From CNN’s Naomi Thomas

Travel bans will not keep Omicron cases out of countries, but if they are put in place, they should be used well to buy time, Dr. Margaret Harris, a spokesperson for the World Health Organization, told CNN Thursday.

“Dr. Fauci is right that if you do do something as drastic as a travel ban, use it well to buy time,” Harris said about the top US infectious disease expert's comments about the effectiveness of temporary travel bans. “But we do know that it won’t keep cases out. Usually, by the time where countries are aware that there is a risk of importation, that’s already happened.”

The duration of a travel ban should be used to ramp up surveillance, including looking at how and where people will be tested, and what will happen when there are positive cases, what the situation is in hospitals, how vaccination can be accelerated, and how to advise people and help them protect themselves, she added.

WHO has issued guidance against travel bans.

“The reason we’re not keen on travel bans is not just because it harms the countries that you’re shutting your borders to, but also it really limits the spread of critical things like the scientific materials you need, the humanitarian supplies you need to respond to something like this outbreak,” Harris said.

She also spoke about how much of a time lag there is in countries that are thought to have Omicron and the countries that actually do.

“Probably there are many more countries, we expect, that already do have cases of SARS-CoV-2, the Omicron variant,” she said. “It is simply a matter really of testing."


10:07 a.m. ET, December 2, 2021

Omicron cases could soon be responsible for "over half" of Europe's Covid-19 infections, agency says

From CNN's Niamh Kennedy and James Frater in London

Andrea Ammon director of European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control gives a press conference on the outbreak of Covid-19 also known as Coronavirus in Italy, on February 26, 2020 in Rome. 
Andrea Ammon director of European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control gives a press conference on the outbreak of Covid-19 also known as Coronavirus in Italy, on February 26, 2020 in Rome.  (Alberto Pizzoli/AFP/Getty Images)

The Omicron variant could be responsible for "over half" of all coronavirus infections in wider Europe within the next few months, according to the European Center for Disease and Control Prevention (ECDC).

A news release from the ECDC Thursday said that preliminary data based on mathematical modeling of Omicron "suggests a substantial advantage over the Delta variant.” 

"The greater Omicron's growth advantage over Delta and the greater its circulation in the EU/EEA, the shorter the expected time until Omicron causes most of all SARS-CoV-2 infections," it said.

Andrea Ammon, director of the ECDC, remarked that a "large number of factors" remain that "can change the dynamics of the situation,” adding the caveat that the evidence the ECDC has so far is limited.

In the face of this limited data, a "multi-layered approach" is required to delay the spread of Omicron, the ECDC said.

The rollout of vaccines to the unvaccinated and booster doses to people over 40 remains "imperative," Ammon said, adding that physical distancing measures, adequate ventilation in enclosed spaces and working from home if feeling ill are also examples of helpful measures. 

The ECDC advised that any temporary travel-related measures ought to "be carefully considered in light of the latest epidemiological situation" and "regularly reviewed as new evidence emerges.”

10:10 a.m. ET, December 2, 2021

White House official: Biden's winter Covid-19 strategy will "help accelerate our path out of the pandemic"

From CNN's Betsy Klein

Jeff Zients, President-elect Joe Biden’s pick to head the White House’s coronavirus response, speaks during a news conference at the Queen Theater December 08, 2020 in Wilmington, Delaware. 
Jeff Zients, President-elect Joe Biden’s pick to head the White House’s coronavirus response, speaks during a news conference at the Queen Theater December 08, 2020 in Wilmington, Delaware.  (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Ahead of President Biden’s visit to the National Institutes of Health this afternoon, White House Covid-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients said that the measures in Biden’s winter Covid-19 strategy “will all help accelerate our path out of the pandemic and protect Americans.”

Zients touted new measures in the strategy released this morning during an appearance on MSNBC, including a national campaign for booster shots, hundreds of new family vaccination sites, at-home testing covered by insurance going forward, and tens of millions of free at-home tests.

He declined to say whether Americans should expect enhancements to existing vaccine mandates, instead reiterating that vaccine requirements “work” and lead to “significant increases” in the vaccination rate.

Pressed on whether there could be a domestic travel vaccine requirement, Zients noted that the administration is extending its domestic travel masking policy, but said “everything’s on the table.”

He also defended the administration’s travel ban enacted earlier this week.

“There were hundreds of cases in South Africa, in that region. The decision, out of an abundance of caution, was to stop travel from that region while we evaluate the variant and get prepared,” he said. 

9:16 a.m. ET, December 2, 2021

Germany announces new restrictions banning unvaccinated people from non-essential public spaces 

From CNN’s Frederik Pleitgen and Nadine Schmidt

German Chancellor Angela Merkel (L) and her designated successor Olaf Scholz (R) address a press conference following a meeting with the heads of government of Germany's federal states at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany December 2, 2021.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel (L) and her designated successor Olaf Scholz (R) address a press conference following a meeting with the heads of government of Germany's federal states at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany December 2, 2021. (John MacDougall/Reuters)

Germany is banning unvaccinated people from accessing all but the most essential businesses, such as supermarkets and pharmacies, to curb the spread of coronavirus, outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel and her successor, Olaf Scholz, announced Thursday.

Following crisis talks with regional leaders, Merkel and Scholz said that they want to restrict the number of people at large events such as soccer matches to curb the spread of coronavirus.

They also announced further restrictions in private settings for unvaccinated people.

Merkel, who called the coronavirus situation “serious,” said that she backed the call for mandatory vaccinations.

According to her plans, the German parliament should vote on the matter before the end of the year so that mandatory vaccinations could then come into force at the earliest in February or March if the proposal is voted through Germany's parliament.

8:42 a.m. ET, December 2, 2021

Patient with first confirmed US Omicron case is doing well, health official says

From CNN’s Naomi Thomas

The patient with the first confirmed case of the coronavirus Omicron variant in the United States is doing well, San Francisco health officer Dr. Susan Philip told CNN.

“This first individual is doing well,” Philip told CNN’s John Berman on New Day Thursday, adding that there are no signs of further transmission of the virus yet.

“We’re so happy to hear that and they absolutely contributed to our understanding in San Francisco, and nationally, because they came to our attention, they reported their symptoms and they called us at public health so that we could start the laboratory process to detect the first case in the US," she said. 

The first confirmed case of the Omicron variant in the US was announced on Wednesday.  

Asked about any signs of transmission from the patient, Philip said that they are still in the process of investigation, and that they wanted to notify colleagues at the state level and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as the public, as soon as possible. 

“No signs yet,” Philip said, when asked to clarify if there was a sign of transmission or additional cases linked to this one. “And, you know, I think it’s important, as you noted, that this is the first case detected, it almost certainly is not the first case in the US.” 

She said that it was still early days, but the steps they’re taking in San Francisco, such as boosting people, continued indoor masking and getting people tested, are key to prevent spread.

8:06 a.m. ET, December 2, 2021

Africa sees 20% increase in new Covid-19 cases driven by South Africa

From CNN's Bethlehem Feleke in Nairobi 

John Nkengasong, director of the African Union's Centers for Disease Control, speaks at a news conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, January 28th, 2020.
John Nkengasong, director of the African Union's Centers for Disease Control, speaks at a news conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, January 28th, 2020. Tiksa Negeri/Reuters

Africa has seen an average 20% increase in Covid-19 cases over the last four weeks, due to the sharp uptick of infections in South Africa. This rise can be mainly attributed to the new Omicron coronavirus variant, Africa CDC Director Dr. John Nkengasong said at a virtual news briefing Thursday. 

Southern Africa is experiencing a 153% increase, while central, west, east and northern Africa reported a continued decrease in cases in the last month, according to Nkengasong. There was also a 9% average decrease in new deaths over the last four weeks on the continent. 

“We are very concerned with the situation in southern Africa, and South Africa in particular. But we are not worried that the situation cannot be managed. This will be the fourth wave that will come to the continent, and we've become more prepared to deal with this wave,” he said. 

What is concerning, according to the director, is the upcoming holiday season when people are expected to move around more and potentially pose a greater risk for increasing infections. “We expect to see an outburst towards the end of December and January time period because of the holiday season.”

Nkengasong called for a coordinated approach among African countries and beyond in managing the variant and expressed hope that as more information about the variant comes to light, travel bans would be lifted quickly “so that South Africa will continue to get the supplies that they need.”

7:50 a.m. ET, December 2, 2021

Frustration has replaced optimism about Covid-19 vaccinations in the US, survey finds 

From CNN’s Deidre McPhillips

Most adults in the United States say they are “frustrated” about the status of Covid-19 vaccinations overall amid stagnant vaccination intentions and uptake, according to the latest Kaiser Family Foundation Covid-19 Vaccine Monitor survey published Thursday. 

The share of adults who refuse to be vaccinated has held steady all year, with about one in seven adults (14%) saying they will “definitely not” get vaccinated, according to the survey.

The overall vaccination rate has remained largely unchanged in recent months, and only about 5% of adults plan to get vaccinated “as soon as possible” or “only if required.”

Since January, frustration has replaced optimism as the most common emotion. Less than half (48%) of adults say they feel “optimistic” about vaccinations in the US, down from a third (66%) in January, while the share of those feeling frustrated rose from 50% to 58%. 

The survey was conducted for two weeks among a nationally representative sample of 1,820 adults in mid-November.

9:34 a.m. ET, December 2, 2021

UK approves use of Covid antibody treatment that appears to reduce risk of hospitalization and death in some high-risk adults by almost 80%

From CNN’s Allegra Goodwin in London 

An antibody treatment which has been found to reduce the risk of hospitalization and death from Covid-19 by up to 79% in high-risk adults has been approved for use in the United Kingdom. 

Xevudy, also known as sotrovimab, was approved for use in patients aged 12 and above by the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) on Thursday, the MHRA said in a statement. 

The drug “was found to be safe and effective at reducing the risk of hospitalisation and death in people with mild to moderate COVID-19 infection who are at an increased risk of developing severe disease,” the statement added. 

Sotrovimab was developed by London-based GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and Vir Biotechnology, based in California. It “retains activity against all tested variants of concern, including key mutations of Omicron,” according to a statement released Thursday by maker GSK.

It is the second monoclonal antibody therapeutic to be approved by the UK drugs watchdog, after Ronapreve, made by Regeneron.

“The drug works by binding to the spike protein on the outside of the Covid-19 virus. This in turn prevents the virus from attaching to and entering human cells, so that it cannot replicate in the body,” the MHRA said. 

A single dose was found to reduce the risk of hospitalisation and death by 79% in high-risk adults with symptomatic Covid-19 infection, according to the statement. 

Like Merck’s antiviral pill molnupiravir, Xevudy “has been authorised for use in people who have mild to moderate Covid-19 infection and at least one risk factor for developing severe illness,” the statement said. It added that such risk factors included obesity, older age (over 60 years), diabetes mellitus, or heart disease.

Sotrovimab is administered by intravenous infusion over 30 minutes.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that the MHRA and GSK statements were released on Tuesday. They were both released on Thursday.

7:41 a.m. ET, December 2, 2021

Previous infection protected against Delta. That doesn't seem to be the case with Omicron, expert says

From CNN’s Eleanor Pickston in London

South Africa is seeing an increase in coronavirus reinfections in patients who contract the Omicron variant, Anne von Gottberg, a microbiologist from the country's National Institute for Communicable Diseases, said during a Thursday news briefing. 

"Previous infection used to protect against [the] Delta [coronavirus variant] but now with Omicron that doesn't seem to be the case," Gottberg told a WHO Africa briefing. 
“We monitored these reinfection for the Beta [variant] and the for the Delta wave, and we didn’t see an increase in reinfections over and above what we expect when the force of infection changes, when the wave stops. However we are seeing an increase for Omicron,” Gottberg explained.

The data from South Africa, however, are showing that reinfections may be less severe, Gottberg added. “We believe, I think very much so, that the reinfections in our data, and hopefully from South Africa, that disease will be less severe," Gottberg said. 

"And that's what we're trying to prove and to monitor very carefully in South Africa. And the same would hold for those that are vaccinated,” she added. 

South Africa is beginning its fourth coronavirus wave, Gottberg said with cases in the country rising at a “rapid rate,” particularly in the Gauteng province, the country's most populous. 

Over 8,000 new daily cases were detected in the country on Wednesday, Gottberg said, with scientists expecting cases to rise to 10,000 a day. “We believe that the numbers of cases will increase exponentially in all provinces throughout the country,” she said.

Only a limited number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the country are being sequenced, Gottberg explained. Of 249 cases sequenced in November, 183 were confirmed to be the Omicron variant, equating to 70-75% according to Gottberg. 

“It does look like there was a predominance of Omicron throughout the country. And Omicron has been identified through sequencing in at least five of our provinces (that are) sequencing data," she told reporters.

The World Health Organization also announced that it will deploy a surge team to the Gauteng province to help with surveillance, sequencing, and contact tracing.