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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6:47 a.m. ET, November 29, 2021

US travel restrictions have come into force

US President Joe Biden speaks to the media at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland as he arrives from Nantucket, Massachusetts, on November 28.
US President Joe Biden speaks to the media at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland as he arrives from Nantucket, Massachusetts, on November 28. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

New US travel restrictions on southern Africa have come into effect, as the Biden administration seeks to respond to concerns over the Omicron variant.

The Biden administration is restricting travel from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi.

Biden signed the official proclamation Friday restricting the travel of those "physically present" in the countries during the "14-day period preceding their entry, or attempted entry into the United States," starting at one minute past midnight on Monday morning.

The proclamation includes a list of those exempted from the new restrictions, including US citizens, lawful permanent residents and non-citizens who are the spouses of citizens or permanent residents.

The director of the National Institutes of Health stressed Sunday that the newly emerged Covid-19 variant "ought to redouble" vaccination efforts and other mitigation strategies, saying that while much is unknown about the variant, action should be taken now to avoid "a situation that makes this worse."

"It's certainly not good news. We don't know yet how much of an impact this will have. It ought to redouble our efforts to use the tools that we have, which are vaccinations and boosters, and to be sure we're getting those to the rest of the world, too, which the US is doing more than any other country," NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins told CNN's Dana Bash on "State of the Union."

6:11 a.m. ET, November 29, 2021

Several European countries have now found Omicron cases

From CNN's Rob Picheta

A number of European countries have reported their first cases of the Omicron Covid-19 variant, as governments in the region race to understand the scale of its spread.

The UK has identified nine cases so far, with six of those reported in Scotland on Monday.

The Netherlands and Portugal have each discovered 13 infections -- with all of Portugal's cases being found among one Lisbon-based football team. The 13 Dutch cases were found after passengers arriving from South Africa were tested at Amsterdam's Schiphol airport on Friday.

Germany has found three cases, while Italy, the Czech Republic and Belgium each have at least one. On Monday, Austria joined the list of nations declaring its first identified case.

The true number of Omicron cases across the continent is likely to be far higher, with sequencing being undertaken to identify which new infections have been caused by the new strain.

6:07 a.m. ET, November 29, 2021

Australia pauses further easing of border restrictions in response to new variant​

From CNN's Hannah Ritchie

A view of Sydney Harbour is seen from a Virgin Australia aircraft departing the airport on November 6.
A view of Sydney Harbour is seen from a Virgin Australia aircraft departing the airport on November 6. (James D. Morgan/Getty Images)

Australia will temporarily pause the next phase of its border reopening plan to gather more information on the Omicron Covid-19 variant, its government announced Monday. 

Based on advice from the country’s National Security Committee and Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly, international skilled visa holders, student cohorts and humanitarians, holiday makers and those holding provisional family visas will not be allowed into Australia until December 15. 

Under the country’s roadmap to safely reopen borders, these groups were due to be permitted entry on December 1. 

The temporary pause is effective immediately and will “ensure Australia can gather the information to better understand the Omicron variant, including the efficacy of the vaccine, the range of illness ... and the level of transmission," a statement from Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s office said Monday. 

Under Australia's current border restrictions, only fully vaccinated citizens, permanent residents, and their immediate family -- as well as fully vaccinated travellers from New Zealand and Singapore -- are allowed in, with limited exemptions.

5:00 a.m. ET, November 29, 2021

All of Portugal's reported Omicron cases are at one soccer club

From CNN's Isa Soares and Aleks Klosok

Some 13 players for one Lisbon-based soccer team have tested positive for the Omicron variant, Portugal's National Institute for Health (NIH) said Monday.

The infections, among members of the SAD Belenenses side, account for all of Portugal's Omicron cases identified so far.

Belenenses’ Primeira Liga match against Benfica on Saturday was abandoned after the club was forced to name a team of nine players -- including two goalkeepers -- due to the outbreak.

Benfica -- with two more players than their opponents -- took a 7-0 lead by half-time. Belenenses then came back onto the field for the second period with only seven players.

The game was called off two minutes later when Joao Monteiro, a goalkeeper playing in midfield, was unable to continue. The referee was then forced to abandon the match which requires a minimum of seven players.

NIH director Dr. Ricardo Jorge said that one of the Belenenses players had recently taken a trip to South Africa.

In addition, another suspect case is being tested, which comes from a flight originating in Mozambique.

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.