New Covid-19 variant Omicron cases, travel updates from around the world

By Fernando Alfonso III, Mike Hayes and Helen Regan, CNN

Updated 12:02 AM ET, Mon November 29, 2021
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10:30 p.m. ET, November 28, 2021

Hong Kong tightens border restrictions for eight African countries due to new Omicron variant 

From Lizzy Yee in Hong Kong

Hong Kong became the latest destination to tighten border restrictions on people arriving from eight southern African countries in response to the new Omicron variant, the government announced on Saturday. 

Hong Kong residents arriving from South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe will have to spend seven days in a government quarantine facility where they will undergo daily Covid-19 testing and be monitored by health professionals. 

Upon completion of the seven days, residents will be allowed to finish the rest of their compulsory quarantine at a designated quarantine hotel. 

They are also required to undergo regular Covid-19 testing after arrival in Hong Kong.

Non-Hong Kong residents who have visited any of the eight southern African countries within 21 days are no longer allowed to enter Hong Kong as of Saturday. Non-residents traveling from South Africa were already barred entry due to its status as a high-risk country.

"The new rule aims to enhance the surveillance on the Omicron variant of Covid-19," the government said in a press release. "Hong Kong must stay vigilant and implement the most stringent anti-epidemic measures to prevent the mutant strain from entering the local community."
11:13 p.m. ET, November 28, 2021

Dutch police arrest couple who fled from Covid hotel after traveling to South Africa 

From CNN's Sharon Braithwaite in London

Travelers are seen at an appointment desk for quarantine and coronavirus testing at the Schiphol Airport on November 28, in Amsterdam, Netherlands.
Travelers are seen at an appointment desk for quarantine and coronavirus testing at the Schiphol Airport on November 28, in Amsterdam, Netherlands. (Paulo Amorim/Sipa USA/Reuters)

Dutch police said on Sunday they arrested a couple on a plane after they "fled" from a hotel where passengers from South Africa who have tested positive for Covid-19 are being quarantined.

Dutch military police at Amsterdam's Schiphol airport "arrested a couple this evening who had fled from a quarantine hotel," police spokesman Stan Verberkt told CNN.

The couple -- a Spanish citizen and a Portuguese national -- were arrested on a plane that was about to take off en route to Spain at 6 p.m. local time (12 p.m. ET), Verberkt said.

They are not in custody but are being quarantined at another facility, Verberkt said, adding the prosecutor will decide in the next few days if they will be charged.

Public health authority (GGD) spokesperson Stefanie van Waardenburg said the couple was among the passengers on a flight that landed at Schiphol from Johannesburg on Friday.

Some of the passengers on that flight tested positive for the new Covid-19 variant Omicron, Waardenburg said. The arrested couple did not test positive for the Omicron variant.

The Netherlands is among a growing number of countries that have imposed a flight ban on the southern African region.

9:15 p.m. ET, November 28, 2021

Woman charged with arson after quarantine hotel fire

From CNN's Hilary Whiteman

(Queensland Police)
(Queensland Police)

A 31-year-old woman has been charged with arson after allegedly lighting fire beneath a bed at a quarantine hotel in Cairns, in the Australian state of Queensland.

The woman had been at the Pacific Hotel for a couple of days, Queensland Police said, before she allegedly set fire to the room where was staying with two children early Sunday morning.

More than 160 guests were evacuated from the building as flames took hold of the upper floors. No one was injured, but police said the hotel suffered “significant damage.”

As of Sunday, none of the guests had tested positive for Covid-19, according to state health officials.

In Queensland, new arrivals from designated Covid-19 hotspots are required to spend 14 days in quarantine. Some are allowed to quarantine at home, if they meet strict requirements, including having a place to stay that doesn’t have shared access.

8:52 p.m. ET, November 28, 2021

Omicron symptoms were mild, doctor who treated small number of patients in South Africa says

From CNN Health's John Bonifield

A South African doctor who was among the first in the country to suspect a new Covid-19 variant was making people sick says the cases she has treated so far have been mild.

 "It started with a younger generation of 40 and less, and the most predominant clinical complaint is severe fatigue for one or two days, with then the headache and the body aches and pain," Dr. Angelique Coetzee, a private practitioner and chair of South African Medical Association, told Reuters.

"Some of them will have what they call a scratch throat, and some will have a cough, a dry cough. But it's not a constant cough. It comes and goes. And that's more or less the big symptoms that we have seen."

Coetzee said she and her colleagues have not treated anyone requiring oxygen, but some have had had high temperatures, including one who was a severely ill child who had a fast pulse.

The child was treated at home and was feeling better after about 48 hours.

Appearing on CBS on Sunday, former FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb noted health officials do not know if the variant will cause more severe outcomes. 

"Is this making people more ill? There's no indication that it is. And in fact, there's some anecdotal information offered from physicians in South Africa that this could be causing milder illness. Now that could be an artifact of the fact that initial cases seem to be clustered in younger people, perhaps in outbreaks around universities," Gottlieb told CBS News on Sunday.

CNN has reached out to Coetzee for additional comment. 

8:47 p.m. ET, November 28, 2021

Japan tightens border controls on three more African countries

From CNN's Junko Ogura in Tokyo 

Japan has added Mozambique, Malawi and Zambia to its list of tighter border controls in response to the new Covid-19 variant Omicron,

It brings the total number of countries subject to entry restrictions in Japan to nine, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced Saturday. 

Measures against these three countries came into place on Sunday, a day after tighter border controls were put in place for people arriving from South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Lesotho.

Travelers arriving from the nine countries, including Japanese nationals, are required to undergo a 10-day quarantine at government-designated facilities. 

In addition, Covid-19 tests will be conducted on the third, sixth and 10th days from entry. 

“The government is facing a strong sense of crisis regarding the discovery of mutant (coronavirus) strains,” Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters on Saturday. “We will take measures toward border control.”

8:47 p.m. ET, November 28, 2021

Canada confirms first two cases of Omicron Covid-19 variant

From CNN’s Artemis Moshtaghian and Melissa Alonso

Passengers arriving on international flights go through Covid-19 testing at Toronto Pearson International Airport, on September 28.
Passengers arriving on international flights go through Covid-19 testing at Toronto Pearson International Airport, on September 28. (Steve Russell/Toronto Star/Getty Images)

Canadian health officials confirmed the country’s first two cases of the Omicron Covid-19 variant in Ottawa on Sunday. 

Both individuals carrying the coronavirus variant had recently traveled from Nigeria, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health Christine Elliott and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore said in a joint statement

Both individuals are in isolation, and Canadian health officials are conducting contact tracing management, the statement reads. 

“The best defense against the Omicron variant is stopping it at our border,” the joint statement reads. “We continue to urge the federal government to take the necessary steps to mandate point-of-arrival testing for all travellers irrespective of where they’re coming from to further protect against the spread of this new variant.”

Canadian Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos issued travel restrictions for anyone who has traveled through southern Africa in the last 14 days on Friday.

3:14 p.m. ET, November 28, 2021

Here's how health officials are testing to see if Omicron is resistant to current Covid-19 vaccines

From CNN's John Bonifield

The United States will know in about two weeks whether the Omicron variant is resistant to current Covid-19 vaccines, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Biden's chief medical officer.

He outlined the steps that are being taken to make a determination.

"The way you find that out is you get the virus, and you put it either as the whole virus or as what we call a pseudovirus, and you take antibodies or serum from people who've been vaccinated and you determine if those antibodies can neutralize the virus," Fauci told ABC News on Sunday. "That whole process is already underway right now, and hopefully we'll be able to determine."

Speaking on NBC News on Sunday, Fauci said if the tests show antibodies from a person who has been vaccinated can neutralize the virus, then "we're in pretty good shape."

"If it looks like even at a high titer of antibody it doesn't, then what you've got to do is you've got to change and modify what the vaccine is going to be, which you can do pretty easily," Fauci said.

3:56 p.m. ET, November 28, 2021

UK government tightens restrictions on travel and masks over Omicron variant concerns

From CNN's Sharon Braithwaite

Passengers wear face masks as they travel on the London underground on Sunday, November 28.
Passengers wear face masks as they travel on the London underground on Sunday, November 28. (Tolga Akmen/AFP/Getty Images)

Face coverings will be mandatory in United Kingdom shops and on public transportation, and all travelers returning to the UK will require PCR testing starting at 11 p.m. ET Monday, the UK Department of Health and Social Care said Sunday in a statement.

These "temporary and precautionary measures" are to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 Omicron variant in the UK, the government said. It comes as the UK has detected three cases of this new variant, it announced Sunday.

An urgent meeting with the G7 health ministers will also be convened on Nov. 29 to discuss the developments on Omicron, the statement adds.

Separately, the Department of Education has told schools in England that pupils and visitors in secondary schools and above should wear masks in communal areas, though this is not considered a law, a department's press officer told CNN. These measures start Monday.

2:25 p.m. ET, November 28, 2021

Moderna chief medical officer says Omicron-specific vaccine booster is being developed if needed

From CNN's Adrienne Vogt

Moderna's Chief Medical Officer Dr. Paul Burton has predicted a "couple of weeks of uncertainty" with the emergence of the Omicron Covid-19 variant, and he said the company would be able to move "very fast" in producing a variant-specific vaccine.

"There are three questions we really need answers to: How transmissible is this variant, how severe is it and will the antibodies that are produced in response to the current vaccines effective?" he told CNN.

Moderna said Friday that the new Omicron variant represents a "significant potential risk" to the efficacy of its Covid-19 vaccine as well as immunity reached naturally, due to its mutations.

Burton said everyone who hasn't been vaccinated in the US should get their shots now, and those who have been vaccinated should get booster shots.

Moderna has been testing variant-specific boosters over the summer, Burton said, and the company is already working on one for the Omicron variant.

"We can move very fast, we think weeks to within two to three months, we would be able to have an Omicron-specific vaccine booster available for testing and then for administration. So this is going to go at the fastest possible speed. But we have to do careful science now. We don't want to misstep," he said.

Burton said he expects Covid-19 to be an "endemic disease that will need regular boosting."

Omicron is "a new wrench thrown" into the fight against Covid-19, he said

"We have to see what data comes out in the next couple weeks," Burton added.

When asked about vaccine inequity, Burton said Moderna is producing 110 million doses for African nations through the World Health Organization's vaccine-sharing program COVAX, adding "we're trying to do everything we can to balance where the burden of disease is."