The World Health Organization’s chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan has said the new coronavirus variant Omicron is very transmissible but that people should not panic about it.
Swaminathan said during an interview at the Reuters Next conference on Friday that the right response was to be prepared and cautious and not to panic in face of the new variant.
“How worried should we be? We need to be prepared and cautious, not panic, because we’re in a different situation to a year ago,” Swaminathan said.
The emergence of the new variant was unwelcome, she said, but added that the world was much better prepared given the development of vaccines since the start of the pandemic.
- The new rules to tackle COVID-19 in the United States include stricter testing of inbound travellers and stepping up booster jabs.
- Germany is planning to exclude the unvaccinated from all but essential shops and services and is considering a vaccine mandate from February.
- A United Kingdom study has found mRNA vaccines provide the biggest booster effect.
- Roche develops new research test kits for Omicron variant
Here are the latest developments:
England’s COVID R number estimated slightly lower
The estimated range of England’s COVID-19 weekly reproduction “R” number is between 0.9 and 1.1, lower than last week, the UK Health Security Agency said.
An R number between 0.9 and 1.1 means that for every 10 people infected, they will on average infect between 9 and 11 other people. Last week R was estimated between 1.0 and 1.1.
The daily growth of infections was estimated between -1 percent and +1, compared -1 percent and +2 percent the previous week.
Swiss tighten COVID-19 curbs to tackle ‘critical’ situation
Switzerland announced stronger anti-COVID-19 measures, as its government battles to contain a surge in coronavirus infections and the arrival of the Omicron variant in the country.
The country will expand the requirement to wear masks and produce a certificate to prove a person is vaccinated or has recovered from the virus, the government said.
Masks will have to be worn indoors wherever a certificate obligation applies, it said. Meanwhile events and venues will be allowed to restrict entry only to people who are vaccinated or recovered.
It also reinforced its message for people to work from home, although it did not make home working compulsory after local authorities and business groups objected.
The measures will go into effect on Monday, Dec. 6 and be effective until Jan. 24.
US FDA aiming for speedy review of Omicron vaccines and drugs: WSJ
The US Food and Drug Administration is setting up guidelines to expedite reviews of COVID-19 vaccines and drugs targeting the Omicron variant, the Wall Street Journal has reported.
Companies working on Omicron-tailored vaccines would be expected to meet standards similar to those required for the authorisation of boosters, the report said.
England’s COVID-19 prevalence rises, led by Delta, not Omicron
The prevalence of COVID-19 infections in England rose to around one in 60 people in the week ending November 27, Britain’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) has said, led higher by the dominant Delta variant rather than newly identified Omicron.
The prevalence was up from one in 65 reported the previous week, the ONS said.
Football games in Bavaria without fans from Saturday
Football matches in the German state of Bavaria will be held without spectators for the time being, the Bavarian cabinet has decided amid a fourth coronavirus wave.
The decision applies from this Saturday and affects all “professional sports for supra-regional leagues,” Bavaria’s state premier Markus Soeder said at a news conference.
Russia says collective COVID-19 immunity level at 53.7 percent
Russia has said its level of collective immunity against COVID-19, which the government’s coronavirus task force measures using data on vaccinations and infections, stood at 53.7 percent as of December 3, up from 51.8 percent the previous week.
The level in Moscow stood at 72.1 percent, the task force said.
BioNTech CEO says it can adapt vaccines quickly for Omicron
German company BioNTech should be able to adapt its coronavirus vaccine relatively quickly in response to the emergence of the Omicron variant, BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin has said.
Sahin also said that vaccines should continue to provide protection against severe disease despite mutations in the virus.
“This variant might be able to infect vaccinated people. We anticipate that infected people who have been vaccinated will still be protected against severe disease,” he said.
German health minister: enough vaccines for 30 million booster goal
German Health Minister Jens Spahn has said there are enough vaccines for the country to reach its goal of administering 30 million booster shots by Christmas.
Since a meeting of state leaders on November 18, some 10 million of the 55 million vaccinated adults in Germany have received a booster shot, he added.
Slovakia reports record 15,278 new daily cases
Slovakia has reported 15,278 new COVID-19 cases, the highest number in a single day since the pandemic broke out, health ministry data showed.
The country of 5.5 million has 3,404 people hospitalised with the illness, including 630 in intensive care. Slovakia has one of the European Union’s lowest rates of vaccination uptake.
Omicron symptoms ‘mild’, says South African doctor
In an interview with Al Jazeera, South African doctor Angelique Coetzee, a private practitioner and chair of the South African Medical Association, who was one of the first to suspect a different coronavirus strain among patients, said what doctors “are seeing at a primary healthcare level [is that] … Omicron doesn’t seem to be more deadly”.
“It seems [it is] very fast-spreading, and the symptoms that we are seeing … are mild,” she said.
“But we still need to be worried because we never know which patient will get [a] severe disease or not. That data will only be available going forward,” Coetzee said.
South Africa hit by ‘unprecedented rise’ in cases
Top scientist Michelle Groome of South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases said at a briefing the country was facing an “unprecedented rise” in infections over a short time due to Omicron.
The infections were also moving from the younger age cohort into older people, she said.
It was important for surge preparedness to include paediatric beds and staff as there have been increased admissions among children under four, she said.
France’s COVID wave could peak in late January: Health minister
French Health Minister Olivier Veran has said the current wave of the country’s COVID-19 disease could peak in late January, with a renewed strain put on the country’s hospital system.
“The fifth wave is spreading quickly (…) It has a very noticeable impact on the hospital system,” Veran told France Info radio.
Geneva places 2,000 people in quarantine after two Omicron cases
The Swiss cantons of Geneva and Vaud have placed 2,000 people, most of them children, into quarantine after two cases of the Omicron variant were detected at an international school.
“Following two confirmed cases of the Omicron variant which attended the Chataigneraie campus of the International School of Geneva this week, the cantonal medical services of the cantons of Vaud and Geneva have jointly taken the decision to quarantine all of the students and campus staff for ten days,” Geneva health authorities said in a statement.
South Africa can manage fourth wave without stricter lockdown: Health minister
South African Health Minister Joe Phaahla has said the country could manage the fourth COVID-19 wave of infections driven by the Omicron variant without invoking stricter lockdown restrictions.
“We can manage this fourth wave, we can manage Omicron. The basic tools we all know. We can still have a reasonably successful festive season,” he told a media briefing.
Euro clubs seek FIFA talks over Omicron fears at Africa Cup of Nations
The European Club Association’s (ECA) board has said it is seeking urgent talks with FIFA over the safety of players set to compete in next month’s Africa Cup of Nations and international games early next year.
“The board agreed to engage urgently with FIFA to ensure all necessary precautions are in place to protect players … as the health situation continues to deteriorate in an alarming manner,” the ECA, which represents over 240 clubs, said in a statement.
Omicron variant creates uncertainty for Norway’s economy
The Omicron variant of the coronavirus is increasing the uncertainty for the Norwegian economy, creating downside risks to the outlook, Statistics Norway (SSB) has said.
“Omicron is also a reminder that new mutations can suddenly emerge and plunge us back into a more serious situation. It is still more likely that things will get worse instead of better than what is shown in our forecasts,” SSB said.
Roche develops new research test kits for Omicron variant
Roche’s newly acquired subsidiary TIB Molbiol has developed three new test kits to help researchers detect mutations in the Omicron variant.
“We are able to offer a test that can specifically identify the novel B.1.1.529 Omicron SARS-CoV-2 variant to help better understand its spread and behaviour,” Thomas Schinecker, head of Roche Diagnostics, said in a statement.
India says Omicron may be less severe due to vaccination
India’s health ministry has said the severity of the COVID-19 disease from the Omicron variant in the country could be low because of vaccination and high exposure to the Delta variant.
“Given the fast pace of vaccination in India and high exposure to Delta variant as evidenced by high seropositivity, the severity of the disease is anticipated to be low,” it said in a statement. “However, scientific evidence is still evolving.”
Read more here.
South Korea widens vaccine pass requirement
South Korea has announced that people visiting restaurants, cinemas and other public spaces will have to show vaccine passes, amid a surge in COVID-19 infections and six confirmed cases of the Omicron variant.
The government also reimposed limits on private gatherings, which had been recently relaxed, as the country posted record numbers of new cases this week.
Sri Lanka reports first case of Omicron variant
Sri Lanka’s health authorities said they have identified the first Omicron patient in the country.
The health ministry said the new COVID-19 variant was identified in a Sri Lankan national who had recently returned from South Africa.
“As a result of our vigilance we have been able to identify an Omicron patient following gene sequencing lab tests. There is no need for us to panic over this. We are dealing with the situation,” Dr Hemantha Herath, the deputy director of health services, told reporters.
Nine confirmed cases of Omicron on mainland France
There are currently nine confirmed cases of the Omicron variant on mainland France, the French health ministry has said.
According to the government’s top scientific adviser, the new strain could become the dominant variant of the virus in the country by the end of January.
Beijing Olympic venue could bar spectators over COVID: State media
Spectators attending a major venue for the Beijing Olympics must be vaccinated but fans could be barred from the arena entirely if the coronavirus worsens in China, state media has said.
Unlike the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Olympics, which took place last summer in mostly empty stadiums, organisers of February’s Winter Games have vowed to allow spectators, although only people living in China.
Hello, this is Elizabeth Melimopoulos taking over the live blog from my colleague Ted Regencia.
WHO urges Asia Pacific to ready for Omicron-driven surge in infections
Officials at the WHO on Friday advised the Asia-Pacific region to ramp up their health services and increase inoculation rates ahead of an expected surge in coronavirus cases driven by the Omicron strain.
The new variant started gaining a foothold in Asia this week, with cases reported from Australia, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Malaysia and India. Many governments have responded by tightening travel rules.
“So far the information available suggests we don’t have to change our approach,” Takeshi Kasai, WHO regional director for the western Pacific, told a virtual media briefing as he told countries to prepare for Omicron’s “high transmissibility”.
Philippines reports COVID-19 case from South Africa
The Philippines has reported that one person who arrived from South Africa has tested positive for COVID-19, and the passenger’s test result is undergoing genome sequencing to determine the infection’s variant.
The positive case was detected from 254 passengers who arrived from South Africa. At least 83 of those arrivals have already been tested negative, 134 are still waiting for their results and 35 were not required to take a swab test, according to the health department.
Malaysia detects first case of Omicron variant
As people catch up with the Omicron announcement, it’s important to note that this case came in to Malaysia on 19 November BEFORE South Africa reported the first detected case to @WHO.
— Khairy Jamaluddin ??? (@Khairykj) December 3, 2021
Malaysian Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin announced on Thursday that the country has detected its first case of the Omicron coronavirus variant.
Khairy said the case was detected in a foreign visitor from South Africa who arrived in Malaysia through Singapore on November 19.
He said that the eight close contacts of the visitor would undergo PCR swab tests on Friday.
South Korea makes vaccine pass mandatory for many large venues
South Korea announced on Friday that people visiting restaurants, cinemas and other public spaces will have to show vaccine passes starting December 6, amid a surge in COVID-19 infections and five confirmed cases of the Omicron variant.
The government also reimposed limits on private gatherings, which had been recently relaxed, as the country posted record numbers of new cases this week.
Authorities also halted quarantine exemptions on Thursday for fully vaccinated inbound travellers and made a 10-day quarantine mandatory.
Mexican president’s rally criticised amid threat of Omicron variant
This is how Mexico prepares for Omicron. At the invitation of the President himself, he claims 250k attendees, closer to 50k, prob. doesn’t matter. Into a 4th wave, hardly any testing, no CT, 51% double-vaxxed and no mandatory masking; pretty bad, wouldn’t you say, @DrEricDing? pic.twitter.com/I5gXdHe3Kl
— Laurie Ann Ximénez-Fyvie (@lximenezfyvie) December 2, 2021
Panama blocks travellers from eight African countries due to Omicron variant
Panama has announced that it would temporarily ban the entry of travellers from eight African countries due to concerns over the spread of the Omicron coronavirus strain.
The restriction applies to travellers who have been to South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe or Malawi within a two-week period, Panama’s government said in a statement.
Panamanians and residents of the country who are vaccinated must present a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of arriving in the country, while those who are not inoculated must place themselves in “preventative quarantine,” the government said.
California reports second Omicron case in two days
The US state of California is reporting its second confirmed case of the Omicron coronavirus variant in as many days.
The Los Angeles County public health department says a county resident is self-isolating after apparently contracting the infection during a trip to South Africa last month.
Additional cases were reported Thursday in the New York City area, Minnesota, Hawaii and Colorado bringing the total number of confirmed cases in the US to at least 10.
Epidemiologist warns of reinfection risks due to Omicron variant
REINFECTION RISK—New #Omicron study finds huge surge in #COVID19 **reinfections**. Worse, relative to old waves—➡️ huge numbers of infections in new Omicron wave are reinfections. How much? ?2.4x higher reinfection risk with Omicron. ? HT @SACEMAdirectorhttps://t.co/lBo4Z1Dth5 pic.twitter.com/Z11rPxlfEY
— Eric Feigl-Ding (@DrEricDing) December 2, 2021
Australia reports possible community transmission of Omicron mutation
Australia’s state of New South Wales (NSW) has reported its ninth Omicron case, which authorities say could be the first one acquired through community transmission.
NSW Health said the “virus may have been acquired in the community as the case has no overseas travel history or links to people with overseas travel history”.
Authorities said the case involves a student in western Sydney.
Hawaii reports first Omicron variant
The US state of Hawaii has confirmed its first case of the Omicron strain, saying it was a case of community spread and the person had no history of travel.
The person, an Oahu resident, had moderate symptoms. The person had previously been infected with COVID-19 but had not been vaccinated, the Department of Health said in a statement on Thursday.
Hawaii becomes the fifth US state to detect the variant, bringing the total number of cases in the country to nine.
New York finds five Omicron cases
New York has found five cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant, according to its governor.
That makes it the fourth US state to detect the variant.
New York Governor Kathy Hochul told the media one of the cases involved a 67-year-old Long Island woman with mild symptoms of a headache and cough who had recently returned from South Africa.
The other four people were New York City residents, but the governor said further information was not yet available.
“No cause for alarm,” Hochul said. “We don’t have more information at this time but we suspect there will be more cases emerging, and the best thing everyone can do is to realise we are not defenceless against this variant at all, that vaccines, we know, are going to ensure there is less severe symptoms.”
mRNA vaccines provide biggest booster effect
A UK study has found the COVID-19 mRNA vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna provide the biggest boost to antibody levels when given 10-12 weeks after the second dose.
The “COV-Boost” study found that six out of the seven boosters examined enhanced immunity after initial vaccination with Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine, while all seven increased immunity when given after two doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccine.
“A third dose will be effective for many of the vaccines we’ve tested and in many different combinations,” Professor Saul Faust, an immunologist at the University of Southampton and the trial’s lead scientist, told reporters.
The study found that a full dose or half dose of Pfizer or a full dose of Moderna gave a very effective boost to antibody and T-cell levels, regardless of whether the person initially received Pfizer or AstraZeneca.
Click here for all the updates from Thursday, December 2.