The latest on the Omicron coronavirus variant

By Rhea Mogul, Adam Renton and Tara John, CNN

Updated 5:55 p.m. ET, December 3, 2021
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11:55 p.m. ET, December 2, 2021

Just about any Covid-19 vaccine works as a booster, study finds

From CNN’s Maggie Fox

Dr. Manjul Shukla transfers Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine into a syringe on Thursday, Dec. 2, 2021, at a mobile vaccination clinic in Worcester, Massachusetts.
Dr. Manjul Shukla transfers Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine into a syringe on Thursday, Dec. 2, 2021, at a mobile vaccination clinic in Worcester, Massachusetts. (Steven Senne/AP)

Any one of six different Covid-19 vaccines produce a strong immune system response and should work safely and well as boosters for people who have received initial vaccinations with either the Pfizer/BioNTech or AstraZeneca vaccines, British researchers reported Thursday.

They said their findings are especially important as studies show protection from two doses of these vaccines is waning. The new Omicron variant may evade some of the effects of vaccines, researchers reported in the Lancet medical journal..

And the longer the interval between the initial vaccine and the booster dose, the stronger the immune response, according to the research.

“It’s really encouraging that a wide range of vaccines, using different technologies, show benefits as a third dose to either AstraZeneca or Pfizer/BioNTech. That gives confidence and flexibility in developing booster programs here in the UK and globally, with other factors like supply chain and logistics also in play,” said Saul Faust of the University Hospital Southampton, who led the study team. 

Study methods: The researchers randomly gave one of seven different boosters to more than 2,800 people, including vaccines made by AstraZeneca, Pfizer/BioNTech, Johnson & Johnson, Novavax, Moderna, Germany’s Curevac and France’s Valneva.

After four weeks, almost everyone had similar immune responses. AstraZeneca’s vaccine did not provide a strong boost if given to people initially vaccinated with the same vaccine, the researchers found. Otherwise, any of the vaccines boosted either vaccine well. The team will follow volunteers for at least a year.

What about Omicron? Faust said he hoped the boosters would work well against the Omicron variant, but noted that had not been tested. The researchers did not test people against real-life infection, but rather tested their blood for antibody responses — which studies have shown are good indicators of protection against infection.

Faust said the findings come at an important time. “With a new variant, we do need to try and get boosters into people,” he told reporters. “We’re right at the beginning of a very, very busy winter period.
“This is about just making sure we’ve got people as protected as possible.”
11:05 p.m. ET, December 2, 2021

China reports 80 local symptomatic Covid-19 cases

From CNN's Beijing bureau

China recorded 80 local symptomatic Covid-19 cases on Thursday, its National Health Commission (NHC) said in a statement. It also identified 10 local asymptomatic cases, which it records separately, the NHC said.

Among the symptomatic cases, 56 were found in the city of Manzhouli in Inner Mongolia, which is currently experiencing an outbreak that began Nov. 27. The city, which borders Russia, has recorded 207 symptomatic cases since the start of the outbreak, according to a CNN tally.

Another 10 symptomatic cases were reported in Harbin city in northeastern Heilongjiang province, the NHC said. It added that 10 more symptomatic cases were detected in Longchuan city in southwestern Yunnan province.

The 10 asymptomatic cases were also reported in Yunnan province.

Mass testing and restrictions: Manzhouli has launched six citywide mass testing drives for its 300,000 residents. Meanwhile, all residents in Harbin were prohibited from leaving the city except for essential travel. Entertainment facilities shut down Thursday, and the city launched mass testing drives for its 10 million residents, the municipal government announced. 

All schools in Longchuan were closed and residents are only allowed to leave the city for essential travel, the local government said at a news conference Friday.

China's capital, Beijing, recorded one case and Shanghai found two cases on Thursday.

7:57 p.m. ET, December 2, 2021

Stricter testing requirements for travelers coming to the US will take effect Monday

From CNN's Kaitlan Collins

The Biden administration's new, stricter Covid-19 testing requirements for all travelers coming to the United States will take effect on Monday, an administration official told CNN.

The new rules will require each traveler flying into the US from another country to test negative one day before their departure, changing rules that had allowed inbound travelers to test up to three days before entering the country. The new rule from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will take effect at 12:01 a.m. ET on Monday.

The shift in policy — which President Joe Biden announced Thursday alongside a slate of new steps to combat Covid-19 this winter — underscores the potential threat posed by the newly discovered Omicron variant. Scientists are still working to determine how transmissible the variant is, how sick it makes people and how well the current vaccines work against it.

"Experts say that Covid-19 cases will continue to rise in the weeks ahead and this winter," the President said. "So we need to be ready."

Any foreign national who travels to the US must be fully vaccinated, though there remains no vaccination requirement for American citizens traveling via air, either globally or domestically. The White House said earlier in the day that a vaccine requirement for domestic travel remained on the table as an option for the future.

Read more:

1:10 a.m. ET, December 3, 2021

Biden outlines Covid-19 strategy for winter as Omicron variant is found in US

From CNN's Kevin Liptak and Donald Judd

President Joe Biden speaks about the COVID-19 variant named omicron during a visit to the National Institutes of Health, Thursday, Dec. 2, 2021
President Joe Biden speaks about the COVID-19 variant named omicron during a visit to the National Institutes of Health, Thursday, Dec. 2, 2021 (Evan Vucci/AP)

President Joe Biden announced a new strategy Thursday aimed at fighting a potential winter surge of Covid-19, without enacting unpopular lockdowns, as the pandemic approaches its two-year mark.

Biden's multi-pronged approach puts a heavy emphasis on expanding vaccinations to the remaining Americans who have resisted getting shots, and to provide boosters to the now-eligible population of all adults. He's also changing rules on international travel to require tests closer to arrival in the United States, and requiring insurance companies to pay for at-home tests.

But he is stopping short of imposing shutdowns on schools or businesses, ruling them out for now as he works to maintain the country's economic recovery.

"It doesn't involve shutdowns or lockdowns, but widespread vaccinations, and boosters, and testing and a lot more," Biden said, hoping to put forward a show of resolve as the pandemic continues to dampen his political standing.

He acknowledged a likely rise in cases over the coming weeks, as weather turns colder in much of the country and people begin to gather more indoors. He noted his proposed mandate for vaccinations among large employers is currently tied up in court, forestalling any new requirements in his winter strategy.

And he lamented the politicization of anti-Covid measures that are recommended by public health experts, saying it was a "sad, sad commentary" that steps like mask wearing and vaccinations had become subject to ugly divisiveness.

"My plan I'm announcing today pulls no punches in the fight against Covid-19," he said. "A plan, I think, that should unite us."

Omicron in the US: Biden's speech, delivered from the campus of the National Institutes of Health in Maryland, came as cases of the worrying new Omicron variant begin surfacing in the United States and countries around the world impose tight new restrictions on travel and activity.

Biden touted actions like restrictions on travel from southern Africa that he said gave his administration time to prepare, and declared he would combat the new variant "with science and speed, not chaos and confusion."

But he said it was inevitable that cases would arise in the United States, preparing Americans for the continued presence of Covid for the foreseeable future.

"Experts say that Covid-19 cases will continue to rise in the weeks ahead and this winter," he said. "So we need to be ready."

Read the full article here.

11:14 p.m. ET, December 2, 2021

How South African scientists discovered Omicron and set off a global chain reaction

From CNN's Tim Lister and David McKenzie

In the early days of November, laboratory technicians at Lancet Laboratories in Pretoria, South Africa, found unusual features in samples they were testing for the coronavirus.

Essentially, a gene was missing in what would be a normal genome profile of the virus. PCR tests weren't detecting one of their expected targets, a signal that something about the virus had changed.

Just a few days later, the same phenomenon was reported at Lancet's Molecular Pathology Department in Johannesburg.

Dr. Allison Glass, a pathologist with Lancet, said the discovery coincided with an increase in positive cases of Covid-19 in parts of South Africa.

In the province of Gauteng, which includes Johannesburg, fewer than 1% of people were testing positive at the start of November, but this rose to 6% within a fortnight and to 16% by Wednesday.

The discovery "raised concerns that we were in for another surge," Glass told CNN. "Our first thought was: There goes our quiet December and a Christmas break."

Three weeks later, what the South African scientists had stumbled across would be known worldwide as the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

Read the full story: