The latest on the Omicron variant

By Ivana Kottasová and Kathryn Snowdon, CNN

Updated 6:31 a.m. ET, December 7, 2021
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5:40 a.m. ET, December 6, 2021

Fauci: Omicron severity signals are 'a bit encouraging'

From CNN Health’s Jamie Gumbrecht

Dr. Anthony Fauci speaks to CNN on Sunday.
Dr. Anthony Fauci speaks to CNN on Sunday. (CNN)

Early signals on the severity of Covid-19 caused by the Omicron variant are “a bit encouraging,” but it’s too soon to make a clear statement about whether it can cause severe disease, Dr. Anthony Fauci, America's top infectious diseases expert, told CNN on Sunday.

The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said data so far suggests the variant is not causing more severe illness. He said:

But we really got to be careful before we make any determinations that it is less severe or really doesn't cause any severe illness comparable to Delta. But thus far, the signals are a bit encouraging regarding the severity. But again, you got to hold judgment until we get more experience.

Fauci said the United States remains in constant communication with experts in South Africa. He said the Omicron variant is clearly becoming dominant in South Africa, especially as cases there were at a low level when the variant was identified. 

He said it was not clear what would happen in the US and in other countries, where the highly transmissible Delta variant still dominates.

The question for us here in the United States, now that it is clearly here in at least 15 or more states and in about 40 countries, is: What is it going to be as it competes with a very dominant variant, Delta?

Fauci said booster doses of the coronavirus vaccines “are going to be really critical in addressing whether or not we're going to be able to handle this.” 

Last week, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said all adults should get a coronavirus vaccine booster.

5:31 a.m. ET, December 6, 2021

Africa’s largest telecom makes vaccines mandatory for staff

From CNN's Wayne Chang in Hong Kong

Ralph Mupita, chief executive officer of MTN Group Ltd., poses for a photograph following an interview in London, U.K., on Wednesday, May 29th, 2019. 
Ralph Mupita, chief executive officer of MTN Group Ltd., poses for a photograph following an interview in London, U.K., on Wednesday, May 29th, 2019.  (Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

Africa’s largest telecom conglomerate MTN Group will require all employees to be fully vaccinated starting January 2022, the company announced on Monday.

MTN Group warned that workers who refuse vaccination may face consequences.

It said it was “not obliged to continue the employment contract” for those who are “not exempt from vaccinations either through risk assessment or agreed exclusions but still refuse vaccination.” 

MTN group president and chief executive officer Ralph Mupita said the decision to make vaccines mandatory was guided by the group's responsibility to follow the “highest standards of health and safety.”

Mupita also urged more vaccinations to be made available for African nations, and said the travel bans imposed on African countries arising from the Omicron variant were “not based on science” and “unjust.”

“African countries are being punished for the very transparency that’s actually needed to successfully combat the impact on lives and livelihoods of the COVID-19 virus,” he added.

6:05 a.m. ET, December 6, 2021

South Africa's President urges people to get vaccinated as Omicron cases rise

From CNN's Wayne Chang in Hong Kong

Cyril Ramaphosa, President of the South African Republic spreaks at a press conference after the G20 Compact with Africa conference at the Chancellery in Berlin on August 27, 2021 in Berlin, Germany.
Cyril Ramaphosa, President of the South African Republic spreaks at a press conference after the G20 Compact with Africa conference at the Chancellery in Berlin on August 27, 2021 in Berlin, Germany. (Maja Hitij/Getty Images)

South African hospitals have been ramping up preparations to admit more patients as the the country enters its fourth wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said in a weekly newsletter Monday.  

Ramaphosa said the newly identified Omicron variant is dominating new infections across the country.

“Over the last week, the number of daily infections has increased five-fold. Nearly a quarter of all COVID-19 tests now come back positive. Compare this to two weeks ago, when the proportion of positive tests was sitting at around 2%,” Ramaphosa said.

Ramaphosa urged more people to get vaccinated, exercise social distancing and wear masks:

South Africa now has sufficient supplies of vaccines and we have vaccine stations set up in every part of the country. As every day passes, and as infections rise, the reasons to get vaccinated become more compelling and the need becomes ever more urgent. We must reinvigorate our masking programme, where we insist on no entry into any public or business facility without a mask.”

South Africa’s National Coronavirus Command Council will convene a meeting “soon” to review the state of the pandemic, which would enable the country to take “whatever further measures are needed to keep people safe and healthy.”

4:48 a.m. ET, December 6, 2021

China aims for 'zero-Covid', but cases have been above zero for seven weeks

From CNN's Nectar Gan and Steve George in Hong Kong

As the newly identified Omicron variant pops up in more and more countries, China is determined as ever to eliminate Covid-19 within its borders — but it hasn't been able to achieve that ambitious goal for the past seven weeks.

Since October 17, China has reported at least one locally transmitted case every day, as local outbreaks continue to flare up one after another with increasingly short intermissions. 

While its caseload pales in comparison with those of many countries — including the United States, which is averaging more than 100,000 new cases a day — the unceasing flareups underscore the growing challenge China faces to keep infections at zero.