US announces travel restrictions over new Covid-19 variant

By Fernando Alfonso III and Adrienne Vogt, CNN

Updated 3:55 PM ET, Sat November 27, 2021
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1:30 p.m. ET, November 27, 2021

Germany confirms first 2 cases of Omicron Covid-19 variant in travelers from Cape Town

From CNN’s Nadine Schmidt

German authorities have identified the first two confirmed cases of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus in the country.

The two cases, identified in Munich, are two passengers who arrived from Cape Town on Nov. 24, the Bavarian Ministry of Health said in a statement on Saturday.

"The individuals have been in domestic isolation since Nov. 25 following a positive PCR test. Following reports of the new variant, the two individuals had the foresight to arrange for themselves to be tested for the variant,” authorities said.

Fifty other passengers from Friday’s flight are in quarantine, and two foreign citizens who are isolated in a hotel have since tested positive for Covid-19.

“Investigations are underway to determine if they are infected with the Omicron variant,” the ministry said.

Earlier on Saturday: German authorities had identified a “suspected” case of the Omicron variant in Frankfurt from another passenger who returned from South Africa.

The local health department said it should be able to confirm the full sequencing of the virus in this patient on Monday.

1:12 p.m. ET, November 27, 2021

Biden again briefed on the latest on Omicron variant

From CNN's Kaitlan Collins

President Biden has again been briefed Saturday on the latest developments surrounding the new Omicron variant from his health team. 

The team is monitoring the situation closely and is in regular touch with African health officials, according to an official familiar with the situation. 

1:11 p.m. ET, November 27, 2021

The risk from Omicron variant is "different from Delta," England's chief medical officer says

From CNN’s Mia Alberti

England's Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty explained that the potential risk from the new Omicron Covid-19 variant differs from the Delta variant:

“It is important to stress the risk is different from Delta. Delta was primarily driven by the ability to spread really rapidly, but less concern about the vaccination escape. This one here, really the biggest thing that is leading us to wish to move rapidly has to do with the least strong theoretical reasons to believe that vaccine escape is likely, given the number of mutations,” Whitty said during a press conference with United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

However, even if the new variant is more capable of infecting someone vaccinated, “it might be that [vaccines] are sufficient to prevent people from having severe disease and dying,” according to UK Government Chief Scientific Adviser Patrick Vallance.

During the press conference, Johnson announced tightened rules for travelers and said the government is looking into expanding the groups eligible for booster shots and reducing the time between the second shot and the booster jab.

1:12 p.m. ET, November 27, 2021

UK prime minister announces "targeted" measures to combat Omicron Covid-19 variant

Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a press conference on November 27, in London.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a press conference on November 27, in London. (Hollie Adams/Getty Images)

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that the UK must take "targeted and proportionate measures now" amid concerns over the new Omicron Covid-19 variant.

"I must stress this: As always, with a new variant, there are many things we just cannot know at this early stage. Our scientists are learning more hour by hour. It does appear that Omicron spreads very rapidly and can be spread between people who are double vaccinated. There is also a very extensive mutation, which means it diverges quite significantly from previous configurations of the virus, and as a result, it might at least in part reduce the protection of our vaccines over time," Johnson said in a press conference.

Two cases of the variant have been detected in the UK so far.

Johnson also announced additional measures:

"We're not going to stop people traveling. But we will require anyone who enters the UK to take a PCR test by the end of the second day after their arrival and to self-isolate until they have a negative result," Johnson said. "...In addition to the measures we're already taking to locate those who have been in countries of concern over the last 10 days, we will require all contacts of those who test positive with a suspected case of Omicron to self-isolate for 10 days regardless of your vaccination status."

The prime minister said his country will also "boost the booster campaign" in an effort to get as many people possible their vaccine booster shot.

“We don't yet exactly know how effective our vaccines will be against Omicron, but we have good reasons for believing they will provide at least some measure of protection. And if you're boosted, your response is likely to be stronger. So it's more vital than ever that people get their jabs and we get those boosters into arms as fast as possible,” Johnson said.

Johnson said rules on face coverings in stores and on public transportation will be "tightening up." 

The new measures will be reviewed in three weeks, he said.

Johnson expressed his "deep gratitude" to scientists in South Africa for identifying this variant.

Watch Boris Johnson's speech:

12:33 p.m. ET, November 27, 2021

Omicron Covid-19 variant prompts these countries to impose travel restrictions

Travelers queue at a check-in counter at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg on November 27.
Travelers queue at a check-in counter at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg on November 27. (Phill Magakoe/AFP/Getty Images)

The discovery of a new Covid-19 variant first detected in South Africa prompted multiple countries to impose travel restrictions on at least six African nations

The newly identified variant appears to be spreading rapidly in parts of South Africa, and scientists are concerned that its unusually high number of mutations could make it more transmissible and result in immune evasion.

Cases have so far been detected in South Africa, Botswana, Hong Kong, Israel and Belgium. The World Health Organization classified it as a "variant of concern" on Friday. 

These are the countries that have announced restrictions so far:

  • The cascade of closures began late Thursday as the United Kingdom announced it would be temporarily suspending flights from South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho and Eswatini.
  • Japan has tightened border controls for travelers from the same six countries, bringing in a 10-day quarantine beginning 12 a.m. on Nov. 27. Bahrain and Sri Lanka said it would suspend entry from those countries as well. Brazil said it will close its air borders with the six c
  • Pakistan announced on Saturday that it would be closing its borders to South Africa, Hong Kong, Mozambique, Namibia, Lesotho and Botswana.ountries too.
  • Fellow EU nations Austria, France, Italy, the Netherlands and Malta have all announced imminent entry bans to all travelers who've entered South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and Eswatini in the past two weeks. Switzerland has banned all direct flights from the same seven countries as well. Oman will suspend incoming flights from the seven countries beginning Sunday morning.
  • Egypt, Singapore, Malaysia, Dubai, Saudi Arabia and Jordan have also announced restrictions on the seven countries.
  • Meanwhile, Germany plans to declare South Africa a "virus variant area" from Friday night, which will mean that airlines may only enter from the country to repatriate German citizens.
  • President Biden announced that the United States 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 US 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.
  • Canada is taking similar steps as the US, according to its health minister.
  • 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. Travelers will have to obtain 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. Australia is also banning the entry of foreign citizens who have traveled to the nine southern African countries in the previous 14 days.
  • Starting December 1, travelers from Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe “will not be allowed to enter Thailand” and will not be permitted to apply for entry.
  • Russia said on Friday it will restrict entry into its country for citizens from nine countries — South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Madagascar, Eswatini, Tanzania — as well as Hong Kong.
  • Turkey issued a travel ban from five African countries — Botswana, South Africa, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe — through land, air, sea and rail border crossings starting Friday night, according to a tweet from Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca.
  • Colombia's President Iván Duque Márquez announced Saturday that all passengers arriving from South Africa will have to go into mandatory quarantine for 15 days.

12:11 p.m. ET, November 27, 2021

Colombian president extends Covid-19 health emergency for a few months

 From CNN's Valentina Di Donato

Colombian President Iván Duque Márquez has extended the Covid-19 health emergency due to "the current global health situation."

Duque also announced during a news conference Saturday that all passengers arriving from South Africa will have to go into mandatory quarantine for 15 days to prevent the spread of the Omicron variant of Covid-19.

The head of state said the vaccination card for those who have had two doses of the vaccine will be required for entering "crowded places" starting from Dec. 14.

The state of emergency will begin on Nov. 30 through Feb. 28 due to the current situation of the global pandemic. Measures are being taken as a precaution against the variant and safeguarding the health workers in Colombia, Duque added.

11:33 a.m. ET, November 27, 2021

Essex County confirms one of the two cases of Omicron variant in UK

From CNN’s Mia Alberti

The local government of the Essex Country Council confirmed Saturday that authorities have identified one case of the Omicron Covid-19 variant in the area. 

The case was confirmed in Brentwood, around 50 miles from London, and is “linked to a single case from Nottingham involving international travel to South Africa,” the council said via Twitter, adding “the individuals who have so far tested positive, as well as all members of their households, are being re-tested and have been told to self-isolate while contact tracing is underway.”

Earlier today: Two cases of the Omicron variant have been detected in the United Kingdom, the country’s Secretary of State for Health Sajid Javid said on Saturday.

Javid tweeted that the two cases were linked and that there was a connection with travel to southern Africa.  

10:55 a.m. ET, November 27, 2021

It could be several weeks before US officials know more about Omicron variant

From CNN's Kaitlan Collins

US federal health officials are working around the clock to learn more about the concerning new Omicron variant, officials say, but it could be several weeks before more is known about whether the fears of the highly mutated variant are justified.

Officials are working closely with health officials in other countries to learn more about the variant, but at a minimum, it will be several days — and potentially several weeks — before they're able to properly assess whether the variant causes more severe disease or affects vaccine efficacy.

"The process will take some time," one official told CNN Saturday.

Until they know more, officials will continue to push for vaccinations and booster shots. Amid global fears about the variant, they are urging for a measured response.

9:45 a.m. ET, November 27, 2021

Omicron variant is possibly already in the US, Dr. Anthony Fauci says

From CNN’s Keith Allen

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci testifies on Capitol Hill on November 4, in Washington, DC.
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci testifies on Capitol Hill on November 4, in Washington, DC. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said that it is possible that the Omicron Covid-19 variant is already in the United States but has yet to be detected.

“I would not be surprised if it is, we have not detected it yet, but when you have a virus that is showing this degree of transmissibility and you're having travel-related cases they've noted in other places already, when you have a virus like this, it almost invariably is going to go all over,” Fauci told NBC Saturday. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday said that to date no known Omicron cases have been identified in the US, and that if the variant emerges, the agency expects that cases would be quickly identified through the nation’s variant surveillance system.

"The issue of blocking travel from a given country is to just give us time to assess it better. That's the reason for doing that. Not any reason to panic, but we want to give it some time to really fill in the blanks of what we don't know right now,” Fauci added.

Although there is “not any reason to panic,” Fauci cautioned that the new variant is to be taken seriously and warrants the newly imposed travel ban against South Africa and seven neighboring countries.

“It may not turn out that way, but you want to be ahead of it. That’s why we’re doing what we’re doing,” he told NBC.