November 26 Omicron variant news

By Melissa Mahtani, Aditi Sangal Adrienne Vogt and Fernando Alfonso, CNN

Updated 12:42 AM ET, Sat November 27, 2021
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2:36 p.m. ET, November 26, 2021

Biden to restrict travel from South Africa and 7 other countries starting Monday

From CNN’s Kaitlan Collins

President Biden will restrict travel from South Africa and seven other countries starting Monday as a new coronavirus variant has emerged, administration officials tell CNN.

Acting on advice from Dr. Anthony Fauci and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Biden administration will restrict travel from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi.

Officials, who are still learning more about the variant, said the policy was implemented out of an abundance of caution given the World Health Organization has now identified this as a variant of concern. 

"Our scientists and public health officials are working quickly to learn more about this variant," one official said.  

This does not apply to American citizens and lawful permanent residents. As with all international travelers, they must still test negative prior to travel.

2:37 p.m. ET, November 26, 2021

AstraZeneca says it is already conducting research on Omicron variant and its impact

From CNN’s Naomi Thomas

Vaccine maker AstraZeneca said it is looking to understand the impact the Omicron variant has on its coronavirus vaccine and it is testing its antibody combination therapy against the new variant, a spokesperson for the company said Friday.

The spokesperson said that the platform used in the vaccine enables the company to respond quickly to new variants. 

“AstraZeneca is also already conducting research in locations where the variant has been identified, namely in Botswana and Eswatini, that will enable us to collect real world data of Vaxzevria against this new virus variant,” the spokesperson said. 

AstraZeneca’s vaccine is not currently authorized for use in the US. 

The company's antibody treatment, AZD7442, is also being tested against the variant, and AstraZeneca says it is “hopeful AZD7442 will retain efficacy since it comprises two potent antibodies with different and complementary activities against the virus.”

In October, the company asked the US Food and Drug Administration to authorize emergency use of AZD7442.

2:29 p.m. ET, November 26, 2021

Greece bans travel from southern Africa out of concern over new Covid-19 variant

From CNN's Chris Liakos

Greece joined a growing list of countries imposing travel restrictions on at least six African nations over a newly identified Covid-19 variant, just announced as a "variant of concern" by the World Health Organization.

Greece will allow only essential travel from South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Mozambique, Eswatini, Zambia and Malawi, the country's health ministry said Friday in a statement.

Travelers will have to have a special permit from the local Greek embassies and diplomatic missions to travel, the ministry said, adding that on arrival they will be tested and put in quarantine hotels for 10 days after which they'll be tested again.

The new measures take effect Saturday at 6 a.m. local time (12 a.m. ET).

2:22 p.m. ET, November 26, 2021

Novavax working on new formulation of its Covid-19 vaccine targeted toward Omicron variant

From CNN’s Naomi Thomas

Biotechnology company Novavax said it has started development of a new formulation of its coronavirus vaccine targeted toward the Omicron variant. It said the company will begin testing and manufacturing it in the next few weeks. 

“Novavax has already initiated development of a new recombinant spike protein based on the known genetic sequence of B.1.1.529 and will have it ready to begin testing and manufacturing within the next few weeks,” according to a statement issued Friday. “We will continue to work with urgency to address this latest strain and the continued evolution of COVID-19.”

The World Health Organization on Friday classified the variant as a "variant of concern" and designated it with the Greek name Omicron. 

The statement from Novavax said that the technology used in its vaccine allows for quick adaption to strain changes. It also highlighted that experience with the vaccine has demonstrated that it can protect and neutralize against variants found in the real world, including responses observed in clinical trials against variants like Delta. 

“These data lead us to believe that our vaccine is likely to provide protection against new and emerging variants,” according to the statement. 

Novavax CEO Stanley Erck told CNN earlier this month that the company hopes to submit complete data to the US Food and Drug Administration for possible emergency use authorization of the vaccine as soon as possible, perhaps by the end of the year.

2:03 p.m. ET, November 26, 2021

Biden has been briefed on new Covid-19 variant

From CNN’s Allie Malloy and Betsy Klein

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci testifies before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee about the ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill on November 4th, 2021 in Washington, DC.
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci testifies before the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee about the ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill on November 4th, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

US President Joe Biden was briefed today on the new coronavirus variant circulating in southern Africa, according to a White House official. 

Currently, "there's no indication" that the B.1.1.529 variant is in the United States right now, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to the President and director of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. US scientists are working closely with colleagues in South Africa to learn more about the emerging variant.

"Right now, you're talking about sort of like a red flag that this might be an issue — but we don't know," Fauci said.

The variant, which was classified as a "variant of concern" by the World Health Organization, was first identified in South Africa and has been found in that country as well as Botswana, Hong Kong, Belgium and Israel so far. It has led to various countries issuing travel restrictions from several African countries.

1:36 p.m. ET, November 26, 2021

Dow logs worst day in over a year as fears over new Covid-19 variant grip global markets

From CNN’s Anneken Tappe, Robert North and Chris Liakos

The Hong Kong Exchange shows indices in the red after a day of losses triggered by a new COVID variant, the Hang Seng Index dropping by over 600 points on 26th November 2021
The Hong Kong Exchange shows indices in the red after a day of losses triggered by a new COVID variant, the Hang Seng Index dropping by over 600 points on 26th November 2021 (Marc Fernandes/NurPhoto/Getty Images)

Stocks around the world tumbled in the face of a new Covid-19 variant, which was labeled as a "variant of concern" by the World Health Organization.

US equities took a dive at the open and continued a downward path, resulting in a terrible day for the stock market and the worst day for the Dow in over a year. Oil prices were also badly hit.

The new variant has been detected in South Africa, Botswana, Hong Kong, Belgium and Israel, prompting some countries to put flight bans in place. 

Over the summer, the Delta variant spooked consumers and weighed on sectors like leisure and hospitality. Now, investors and economists worry this new variant could do the same.

The Dow logged its worst performance since October 2020, falling 905 points, or 2.5%. 
The S&P 500 had its worst day since February, closing down 2.3%. 
For the Nasdaq Composite, it was the worst day since September. The index finished down 2.2%.

It was a shortened trading session that ended at 1 p.m. ET after the markets were closed Thursday for Thanksgiving. Traditionally, this half-day session is lower in trading volume, which can exacerbate the swings in the market.

Outside the US, European stocks closed down sharply lower after fears over the variant sparked a global sell-off. In the UK, the FTSE 100 ended the session 3.6% lower, Germany’s Dax was down 4% and the CAC 40 4.8% lower in France. 

Asian stocks started the sell-off, with Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index dropping 2.7%, while Japan's Nikkei 225 was down 2.5%. European and US markets quickly followed. Oil has fallen heavily too, with Brent crude, the global oil benchmark, down 10%. 

Travel and airline stocks were among the big fallers in Europe.

1:23 p.m. ET, November 26, 2021

WHO designates new coronavirus variant "of concern," naming it Omicron

From CNN's Emmet Lyon, Ben Kirby and Jacqueline Howard

The World Health Organization will label the new Covid-19 variant as a "variant of concern."

"There was a meeting today, WHO and the technical working group on virus evolution, and it has been agreed to classify this variant as a 'variant of concern,'" Dr. Mary Stephen, technical officer at the WHO regional Office for Africa, told CNN's Zain Asher.

WHO's Technical Advisory Group on SARS-CoV-2 Virus Evolution (TAG-VE), an independent group of experts, convened Friday to discuss the new variant.

The advisers recommended that WHO designate the variant as "of concern," referencing the variant's large number of mutations, possibly an increased risk of reinfection and other evidence.

A statement released by the WHO added that the new strain will be given the name Omicron.

"Based on the evidence presented indicative of a detrimental change in COVID-19 epidemiology, the TAG-VE has advised WHO that this variant should be designated as a VOC, and the WHO has designated B.1.1.529 as a VOC, named Omicron," the statement said.

The variant was first discovered by South African health authorities and has sparked a forceful reaction across the world with a number of countries banning travelers from several southern African countries.

12:56 p.m. ET, November 26, 2021

Expert: We need "a rapid scale-up of vaccinations," not travel bans 

From CNN's Leinz Vales

The discovery of a new, potentially more transmissible, strain of the coronavirus is prompting governments around the world to ban travelers from several southern African nations.

However, one expert suggested Friday that instead of travel bans, the way to combat the variant first detected in South Africa is to “implement a rapid scale-up of vaccinations.”

“By the time you implement travel bans, the cat is out of the box,” Dr. Carlos del Rio, executive associate dean at Emory University School of Medicine, told CNN.

“This has been identified in Hong Kong, in Israel, in many other places. Once you get it there, it really doesn't matter. I mean, you already have it spread globally so what we need to do, again, is implement not travel restrictions but implement the kind of things that we know that control the spread.”

Del Rio highlighted that travel bans can have the unintended consequence of hampering transparency.

“We need to be thankful that countries like South Africa have invested in genomic sequencing and have been able to pick up strains like this,” Del Rio said. “The worst thing we can do is punish countries for doing the right thing, for reporting those variants because then what's going to happen is countries will stop reporting what they find, or will stop sequencing, and that will be worse. So if we want transparency we need not to have this kind of travel ban because at the end of the day what we need to do is increase vaccination,” he added
12:47 p.m. ET, November 26, 2021

Jordan issues fresh travel restrictions over new Covid-19 variant

From CNN's Jomana Karadsheh and Mohammed Tawfeeq

Jordan has announced any Jordanians arriving from several countries — including South Africa — will have to quarantine for 14 days, according to a report from Jordanian public broadcaster Al-Mamlaka on Friday. 

The move follows the discovery of a new and potentially more transmissible coronavirus variant by South African health authorities, which has sparked a forceful reaction across the world. 

Currently known as B.1.1.529, the newly identified variant appears to be spreading rapidly in parts of South Africa. Scientists are concerned that its unusually high number of mutations could make it more transmissible and result in immune evasion.

No cases of the new variant have been discovered in Jordan at this point.

Non-Jordanians traveling from South Africa, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia, Eswatini and Botswana will only be allowed entry if they spend 14 days outside those countries in a third country, Al-Mamlaka said, citing the country's interior ministry.

The new measure will go into effect on Sunday. Jordan doesn't have direct flights with South Africa or the other six countries. 

A few days ago, Jordan announced that it had entered a third wave of the pandemic.