November 30 Omicron coronavirus variant news

By Adrienne Vogt, Ben Westcott, Adam Renton, Sheena McKenzie and Ed Upright, CNN

Updated 12:01 a.m. ET, December 1, 2021
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11:06 p.m. ET, November 30, 2021

Japan is further tightening its borders in response to Omicron

From CNN’s Junko Ogura in Tokyo

Japan will ban foreign nationals with Japanese residency from re-entering the country if they are traveling from 10 southern African nations over concerns of the spread of the Omicron variant, according to the country's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The measure will come into force on Thursday and follows a ban on the new entry of foreign nationals enacted earlier this week. It will prevent foreign residents from returning to Japan from South Africa, Angola, Eswatini, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, and Lesotho, the ministry said.

The ministry said from Thursday, Japanese citizens and residents traveling from Sweden, Spain, Nigeria, and Portugal must quarantine at a government designated facility for three days upon their arrival.

10:57 p.m. ET, November 30, 2021

Pfizer vaccine booster lowers risk of Covid-19 infection by 80% or more, study finds

From CNN Health’s Maggie Fox

A vial and prepared doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at the Grassy Park civic center in Cape Town, South Africa, on Nov. 30, 2021. 
A vial and prepared doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at the Grassy Park civic center in Cape Town, South Africa, on Nov. 30, 2021.  (Dwayne Senior/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

A third dose of Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine lowers the risk of testing positive for the virus by an extra 80% or more, over and above the protection offered by the first two doses, researchers reported Tuesday.

“We estimated an 83% to 87% reduction in the odds of testing positive for SARS-CoV-2 after at least 2 weeks following receipt of the booster compared with receiving 2 doses,” the team, led by Daniel Weinberger at the Yale School of Public Health, wrote in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

The team followed more than 300,000 people covered by Maccabi Healthcare Services in Israel who were age 40 or older and got either two or three doses of Pfizer/BioNTech’s vaccine. They found 6.6% of people who got two doses of vaccine and 1.8% of those who got three doses tested positive between August and early October. That’s an 86% reduction in risk, they said.

“The Delta variant of SARS-CoV-2 was the dominant strain in Israel during the summer of 2021 (responsible for more than 99% of cases) and caused a rapidly growing number of cases, many in vaccinated individuals. A national third-dose (booster) vaccination campaign was initiated in Israel on August 1, 2021,” the team wrote.
“By October 4, 2021, more than 3.6 million individuals had received a booster dose.”

Note: The study was conducted before the emergence of the Omicron variant.

10:25 p.m. ET, November 30, 2021

CDC is working to revise testing requirements for travelers to the US

From CNN's Kaitlan Collins

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is working to revise testing requirements for inbound international travelers because of the new Omicron coronavirus variant, the agency confirmed in a statement Tuesday.

"A revised order would shorten the timeline for required testing for all international air travelers to one day before departure to the United States," a spokesman said in a statement.
"This strengthens already robust protocols in place for international travel, including requirements for foreign travelers to be fully vaccinated." 

The CDC currently requires fully vaccinated travelers to be tested three days before their flight's departure from a foreign country.

The CDC continues to recommend, but not require, that travelers get tested three to five days upon return and those who are unvaccinated should quarantine. The CDC did not offer a timeline for when any updated protocols could go into place.  

Officials across multiple government agencies huddled Tuesday night to discuss the potential changes, CNN reported earlier.

10:12 p.m. ET, November 30, 2021

China is dealing with a Covid-19 outbreak on its border with Russia

From CNN’s Beijing bureau

China's Inner Mongolian border city of Manzhouli confirmed 72 locally transmitted Covid-19 cases on Wednesday, according to local health officials. 

The Health Commission of Inner Mongolia said 62 of the new infections were found in mandated citywide testing.

Manzhouli launched three rounds of mass testing in the past three days for its 300,000 residents, according to the municipal government. Another 19 locally transmitted cases were confirmed in Zhalainuo'er district, which is on the Russian border. 

The district now has five medium-risk areas, the Manzhouli municipal government said. The recent outbreak started on November 27 when three asymptomatic cases were identified in Manzhouli. 

The city has so far confirmed 98 locally transmitted cases while Zhalainuo'er has confirmed 32 infections, according to a CNN tally. 

10:44 p.m. ET, November 30, 2021

Hong Kong adds more countries to highest risk category over Omicron concerns

From CNN's Lizzy Yee in Hong Kong

Hong Kong is adding Japan, Portugal and Sweden to its highest-risk travel category over concerns about the spread of the Omicron variant. 

Beginning Friday, the countries will be designated into Group A, according to a government news release Wednesday.

All non-Hong Kong residents who have visited Category A countries in the past 21 days are banned from entering the city, while Hong Kong residents traveling from those countries must be fully vaccinated and undergo 21 days of quarantine. They will be tested six times during their stay — and must take an additional test 26 days after their arrival.

Hong Kong's government, which is committed to a zero-Covid approach, said all places that have detected Omicron cases will be shifted to Group A.

11:15 p.m. ET, November 30, 2021

South Korea reports record number of daily Covid-19 cases

From CNN’s Gawon Bae in Seoul, South Korea

A healthcare worker prepares to administer a Covid-19 test at a temporary testing site outside Seoul Station in Seoul, South Korea, on Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021.
A healthcare worker prepares to administer a Covid-19 test at a temporary testing site outside Seoul Station in Seoul, South Korea, on Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021. (SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

South Korea recorded 5,123 new Covid-19 cases on Tuesday, a record single-day figure, according to a news release from the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).

KDCA said 5,075 of the new infections were locally transmitted, with 4,110 detected in the Seoul Metropolitan Area.

The country also reported 34 additional fatalities, bringing the total death toll to 3,658, according to KDCA. Some 723 patients are in critical condition, KDCA added.

South Korea has now reported a total of 452,350 cases.

As of Wednesday, 82.9% of the population had received at least one Covid-19 vaccine dose and 79.9% had been fully vaccinated, KDCA said.

Suspected Omicron cases: South Korea is investigating at least two suspected cases of the Omicron variant, with results due on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, South Korea's Health Ministry and KDCA will form a task force along with related ministries to respond to the Omicron variant.

9:38 p.m. ET, November 30, 2021

Research finds natural infection protects against new variants of Covid-19 — but not completely

From CNN Health’s Maggie Fox

A new study looking closely at the same group of people over time shows that natural coronavirus infection can protect people from infection with new variants — but it doesn't offer enough protection to prevent new waves of infection across a population.

The ongoing study of more than 2,000 volunteers in Nicaragua shows people infected in the first waves of Covid-19 were protected against severe disease when the Gamma and Delta variants swept through later. 

The researchers, led by epidemiologist Aubree Gordon and colleagues at the University of Michigan, also said they identified what are known as correlates of protection — the measurements needed to know whether someone is likely to have immunity against another infection.

"While second infections were somewhat less severe, they were not as mild as ideal. A strategy involving vaccination will be needed to ease the burden of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic," the team wrote in their report, posted on the pre-print server medRxiv. While the work has been submitted to a medical journal, it has not yet been peer-reviewed or published.

The team has been regularly testing the volunteers for flu for several years and added coronavirus when the pandemic started. By March of this year, more than 62% of them had been infected at least once.

"After March 2021, Gamma and Delta variants predominated," the team wrote.

People who had antibodies against coronavirus were 69% less likely to get infected a second time and the higher their levels of antibodies directed against the virus’ spike protein, the less likely they were to become infected again. This measurement is known as a correlate of protection.

“Such an immune correlate of protection would inform vaccine policy, allow more rapid development of vaccines, and could guide targeting of at-risk populations for vaccination — including when and how often to boost," Gordon’s team added.  

The team did not test the effects of vaccination for this report but will be testing that in future research, Gordon told CNN.

9:42 p.m. ET, November 30, 2021

Israeli health minister says there are "indications" Covid vaccine protects against Omicron

From CNN's Hamdi Alkhshali

A health worker administers a dose of the Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine on a man in Jerusalem on August 29, 2021
A health worker administers a dose of the Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine on a man in Jerusalem on August 29, 2021 (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP/Getty Images)

There are “indications” that people who received a coronavirus vaccine booster are “protected” against the Omicron variant, Israeli Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz said Tuesday.

“In the coming days we will have more accurate information about the efficacy of the vaccine against Omicron, but there is already room for optimism, and there are initial indications that those who are vaccinated with a vaccine still valid or with a booster will also be protected from this variant,” Horowitz said at a news conference.

Boosters have been available in Israel to anyone over age 16 since late August, five months after their second dose of the vaccine. A person is not considered fully vaccinated in the country until they have received a third dose, once they are eligible for it.

8:10 p.m. ET, November 30, 2021

US considers stricter coronavirus testing for international travelers

From CNN's Kaitlan Collins

Top US government officials are considering requiring everyone who enters the United States to be tested for Covid-19��the day before their flight and having all travelers — including US citizens and permanent residents — be tested again after returning home, regardless of vaccination status, sources familiar with the thinking have told CNN.

Officials were deliberating Tuesday night and no final decisions have been made, but an announcement could come as soon as this week. Currently, travelers are required to test three days before their departures. The move under consideration would shorten that timeline to one day.

US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky told reporters earlier Tuesday the CDC was "evaluating how to make international travel as safe as possible, including pre-departure testing closer to the time of flight and considerations around additional post-arrival testing and self-quarantines."

On Monday, the US banned all travel from South Africa and seven neighboring nations, with the exception of US citizens and legal permanent residents, who must test negative to enter the US but not once they have arrived.

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