November 29 Omicron Covid-19 variant news

By Aditi Sangal, Helen Regan, Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya, Brad Lendon, Rob Picheta and Ed Upright, CNN

Updated 12:03 a.m. ET, November 30, 2021
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6:26 a.m. ET, November 29, 2021

Overall global risk related to Omicron variant is assessed as "very high," WHO says

From CNN's Lauren Kent in London

A man undergoes a COVID-19 test at the pre-departure area of Sydney International Airport on November 28, 2021.
A man undergoes a COVID-19 test at the pre-departure area of Sydney International Airport on November 28, 2021. (James D. Morgan/Getty Images)

The overall global risk related to the new Omicron variant "is assessed as very high," according to a World Health Organization (WHO) technical brief released Monday.

Depending on how transmissible the variant is and whether it could escape immunity, "the likelihood of potential further spread of Omicron at the global level is high," the WHO brief said.

Depending on these characteristics, there could be future surges of Covid-19, which could have severe consequences."

The WHO expects data from ongoing further research to be available in the coming weeks. 

"Further research is needed to better understand the escape potential against vaccine- and infection-induced immunity," the WHO said in the brief. "Despite uncertainties, it is reasonable to assume that currently available vaccines offer some protection against severe disease and death."

The WHO urged member states to accelerate Covid-19 vaccination efforts among eligible populations, as well as "use a risk-based approach to adjust international travel measures in a timely manner."

4:43 a.m. ET, November 29, 2021

Hong Kong reports third Omicron infection

From CNN's Lizzy Yee in Hong Kong

A woman wearing face a mask, walks down a street in Hong Kong, Nov. 29, 2021.
A woman wearing face a mask, walks down a street in Hong Kong, Nov. 29, 2021. (Kin Cheung/AP)

A 37-year-old male who traveled from Nigeria has been identified as the third case of the Omicron variant in Hong Kong, health officials reported at a news briefing Monday. 

According to government data, the man had transited through Ethiopia and arrived in Hong Kong on November 24. He had been quarantining at the Ramada Hong Kong Grand View hotel before testing positive with the variant. 

The man was asymptomatic and had received two doses of the Moderna vaccine, Sophia Chan, Hong Kong's Secretary for Food and Health, said in the briefing. 

“Our existing system is robust and also able to stop any transmission," Chan added, stating that the use of boarding requirements, quarantine and testing enabled them to prevent the new Covid-19 variant entering the community.

3:52 a.m. ET, November 29, 2021

Six cases of Omicron variant identified in Scotland

From CNN's Amy Cassidy in Glasgow

The new Omicron coronavirus variant was identified in Scotland on Monday, with six confirmed cases.

Prior to Sunday, the United Kingdom had reported three cases -- all in England.

The Scottish cases are in the Glasgow and Lanarkshire areas, according to a Scottish government press release.

Scottish Health Secretary Humza Yousaf said Scotland will continue to align with travel restrictions introduced by the UK government, requiring fully vaccinated arrivals to take a PCR test within two days of arrival and to quarantine until a negative result is received. 

 “However, we reserve the right to go further if necessary,” he said in the press release.


3:02 a.m. ET, November 29, 2021

Five Omicron cases now identified in Australia, health officials says

From CNN's Paul Devitt and Hannah Ritchie

Five cases of the Omicron Covid-19 variant have been reported in Australia, after genomic testing found two overseas travelers who recently arrived in the state of New South Wales were infected with the strain. 

The infected travelers both arrived in Sydney from southern Africa on a Singapore Airlines flight Sunday, Australian health officials confirmed Monday. 

Both were fully vaccinated and are isolating in the state’s Special Health Accommodation. 

There are now five confirmed cases of the Omicron Covid-19 variant in Australia -- four in the state of New South Wales and one case in the Northern Territory.

The Northern Territory case is a man who arrived in the Howard Springs quarantine facility on a government repatriation flight from Johannesburg on November 25. 

2:37 a.m. ET, November 29, 2021

China extols isolation as countries rush to impose Omicron travel bans

Analysis by Nectar Gan and Steve George

A man wearing a face mask to help curb the spread of the coronavirus walks out from a shopping mall in Beijing, Nov. 29, 2021.
A man wearing a face mask to help curb the spread of the coronavirus walks out from a shopping mall in Beijing, Nov. 29, 2021. (Andy Wong/AP)

As countries around the world scramble to impose travel bans to stem the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant, China remains outwardly calm -- at least for now. 

Despite two confirmed cases of the heavily mutated variant in Hong Kong, Chinese public health experts have expressed confidence in the country's existing border control measures.

China's response -- or the lack thereof -- is hardly surprising. The country's border restrictions are already among the strictest in the world, with most foreign visitors, from tourists to students, banned from entering mainland China.

Zhang Wenhong, an infectious disease expert in Shanghai and arguably China's most trusted voice on Covid-19, said the new variant would have "no major impact on China at this time."

And at a conference in Guangzhou over the weekend, Zhong Nanshan, a top respiratory disease expert and government adviser, said China has no plans to take any "major action" in response to the Omicron variant.

Meanwhile, in Chinese state media the prevailing mood is one of apparent vindication. As much of the world started to reopen and learn to live with Covid, China dug its heels and looked increasingly isolated by comparison. That isolation is now being extolled as a uniquely Chinese advantage in the fight against the new variant. 

Read the full analysis here.

2:16 a.m. ET, November 29, 2021

Global markets brace for a nervous week ahead over Omicron concerns

From CNN's Michelle Toh

Asia Pacific markets were down on Monday as investors continued to digest news about a new Covid-19 variant.

As of 1:30 a.m. ET on Monday, Japan's Nikkei 225 was down about 1.6%, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index had dipped 1.2%. South Korea's Kospi and Australia's S&P/ASX 200 each edged down about 0.9% and 0.5%, respectively. China's Shanghai Composite was flat.

But in the United States, stock futures pointed up. Dow futures, S&P 500 futures and Nasdaq futures rose 0.5%, 0.8% and 1%, respectively.

Analysts are still bracing for signs of how the Omicron variant could endanger more lives, disrupt the global economy and continue to affect markets after a dramatic sell-off on Friday. 

Read the full story here.

3:04 a.m. ET, November 29, 2021

Japan's travel ban on all foreign nationals "to avoid the worst situation," PM says

From CNN's Junko Ogura in Tokyo 

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida speaks to reporters at his office in Tokyo on Nov. 29, 2021, about border controls to keep out the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida speaks to reporters at his office in Tokyo on Nov. 29, 2021, about border controls to keep out the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus. (Kyodo News/Getty Images)

Japan announced on Monday it will temporarily suspend new arrivals of foreign nationals starting on Tuesday.

Speaking outside the Prime Minister's office, Japanese leader Fumio Kishida said the measures were imposed "in order to avoid the worst situation."

New arrivals of foreigners from all countries in the world will be banned from midnight on November 30 "as an emergency precautionary measure," he said.

Kishida added the measures are temporary until more information is known about the Omicron variant. 

One person among 32 people who entered Japan recently from a current list of nine south African countries subject to entry restrictions has tested positive for Covid-19, the Prime Minister said. The person had traveled to Japan from Namibia.

It's not yet known whether they tested positive for the Omicron strain, but authorities are analyzing the genome, Kishida said. 

Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said they will ban the entry of new foreigners but Japan-based foreigners with residence permits will still be allowed to enter. 

12:45 a.m. ET, November 29, 2021

New Zealand's largest city to move out of lockdown restrictions 

From CNN's Caitlin McGee in Auckland

New Zealand's largest city Auckland will move out of lockdown restrictions on Friday as the country begins to roll out a new vaccine pass system.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern confirmed the "traffic light system" will start operating on Friday as part of the next phase in the country's Covid-19 response.

The move will end more than 100 days of lockdown measures for Auckland, which has been living under tight restrictions since a case of the Delta variant was recorded in August.

What is the traffic light system:

  • It has three settings: Red, Orange and Green.
  • Red is the most restrictive but still allows gatherings of up to 100 people, with businesses, restaurants and gyms open to people using vaccine certificates. 
  • Auckland, along with 12 other regions in the North Island, will move into the Red setting.
  • While the South Island and capital Wellington will move into the less restrictive Orange setting. 
  • No regions will move to the Green setting immediately. 
"Vaccinated New Zealanders using vaccine passes will be able to do many of the things that were previously treated as high risk like safely going to bars and restaurants, getting a haircut, and going to a concert or the gym. In Auckland, it means seeing friends and family indoors again," Ardern said.

New Zealand's Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield added that they are looking at whether any additional protections are needed at the border as a response to the new Omicron variant. 

“Covid-19 is still with us, and the emergence of the Omicron variant overseas is a reminder of why we need to maintain a careful approach and keep public health measures in place to protect us," Ardern said in a statement released Monday.

According to the Ministry of Health, 85% of New Zealand's eligible population (age 12+) is fully vaccinated, with 92% receiving their first dose.

12:29 a.m. ET, November 29, 2021

New Zealand bans travel from nine African countries over new Omicron variant

From CNN's Caitlin McGee in Auckland 

New Zealand has joined dozens of countries in banning travel from nine southern African countries due to concerns over the new Omicron variant.  

Only New Zealand citizens are allowed to travel from South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Seychelles, Malawi and Mozambique as of 11:59 p.m. local time on Sunday.

Travelers from these countries are required to stay in managed isolation quarantine for 14 days and undergo testing, New Zealand's Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said in a statement.

This extended quarantine period will also apply to those already in transit from these countries.

"The government is taking a precautionary approach in treating South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Seychelles, Malawi and Mozambique as very high-risk countries to reduce the chance of Omicron entering New Zealand," Hipkins said. "There is still good evidence this model is safe and provides a high level of protection against the virus entering our communities."

New Zealand has some of the strictest Covid border rules in the world, with those who wish to return quarantining in government-run facilities, which have limited spaces. People have had to join an online lottery to try to secure a space.

Last week, the country announced it will gradually ease its border restrictions from next year, with fully vaccinated citizens, residents and tourists allowed to enter in three phases.