December 1 Omicron coronavirus variant news

By Adam Renton, Brad Lendon, Sheena McKenzie, Ed Upright, Meg Wagner, Melissa Macaya and Melissa Mahtani, CNN

Updated 12:02 a.m. ET, December 2, 2021
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9:46 p.m. ET, December 1, 2021

Fauci urges Americans to get vaccinated, warning the Delta variant remains a grave danger

From CNN's Josiah Ryan

Dr. Anthony Fauci said Americans should not lose sight of the dangers of the Delta variant even as the Omicron strain of coronavirus dominates headlines.

"We don't want people, because they hear of a single case of a new variant, that just has now arrived in the United States ... to take our eye off the ball of the problem that we are facing right now," said Fauci during CNN's town hall tonight.

Fauci urged the 60 million Americans who remain unvaccinated to get their shots as quickly as possible since it is proven to lower the transmission and dangers of the Delta variant.

"We still have 99.9% of the isolates are Delta, and we know what we can do with Delta," he said. "We have, within our capability, to block it by getting the people who are unvaccinated vaccinated."

Fauci added that Americans ought to take other precautions as well, such as wearing masks, as colder weather settles on much of the country.

"There are a lot of things we can do now with what we're dealing with now, and what we're dealing with now is Delta," he said.


9:40 p.m. ET, December 1, 2021

Time will tell whether people will need to be vaccinated against Covid-19 each year, Fauci says


It is too early to tell whether people will need to receive a Covid-19 vaccine each year to protect against infection, Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN's Anderson Cooper during the company's town hall Wednesday evening.

"Anderson, to be honest with you, we don't know. We really don't. You could say we might have this or we might require this, but we don't know," Fauci said. "One of the things I'm very interested in and my colleagues, is that when you get a boost, the booster shot for example with an mRNA or a Pfizer, do you not only elevate the level of antibodies to a high level but do you induce a degree of affinity maturation which is a big word to mean that you really get the immune response to get a much greater breadth and a much greater strength so that we maybe don't have to boost every eight months, nine months. It may be we get a durability of immunity. Or maybe not, and if it is not, we'll have to deal with it depending upon how the outbreak and the global pandemic evolves."

Fauci added: "So the honest answer is we don't know what's going to be required. I hope we get a durability protection from the boost that we won't have to be chasing all the time against the new variant. But that just remains to be seen."

9:45 p.m. ET, December 1, 2021

Fauci says it was "better to be safe than sorry" on South Africa travel ban

Dr. Anthony Fauci said he "felt really badly" about the US travel ban imposed on South Africa and other southern African countries following the detection of the Omicron variant.

Dozens of countries around the world have imposed temporary travel bans on several countries in southern Africa. While the Omicron variant was first detected in South Africa, it doesn't mean it necessarily originated in the country.

"It was a very difficult choice to make because we had no idea what was going on when you saw what was coming out, so we felt it was better to be safe than sorry," Fauci said during CNN's town hall, answering a question from a viewer.

"I would hope that we'd get enough information soon that we could pull back on that as quickly as possible because you don't want individual countries to feel that when they are honest and transparent that there are negative consequences for them. So I do really feel badly about that."

Earlier today: UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday described widespread travel bans imposed on southern African countries over fears of the Omicron variant as “unacceptable,” likening the restrictions to apartheid.


9:25 p.m. ET, December 1, 2021

Biden to extend transportation mask mandate through March

From CNN's Kaitlan Collins

The Biden administration will extend existing requirements for travelers to wear masks on airplanes, buses, trains and boats, as well as in airports and other transportation hubs, through March to address concerns over the Omicron coronavirus variant.

In August, the Transportation Security Administration extended its US federal transportation mask mandate through January 18 due to concerns at that time over the Delta variant.

Reuters was the first to report on the mandate extension.

Read more:

9:37 p.m. ET, December 1, 2021

Fauci says real world data is needed to see how Omicron variant impacts vaccines

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said during a CNN town hall tonight that laboratory data on the Omicron variant should be available in a few weeks but real world data is still unknown.

"We'll get the laboratory data in a couple of weeks, but we'll have to get the experience from our South African colleagues about what the real clinical effect is going to be," Fauci said.

"One of the things that's going to happen in the next couple of weeks ... is that we're going to get the virus, which we have, and you grow the virus or you make what's called a pseudo virus which is a form of virus you can work with in the test tube very easily. Then we're going to get sera from people who have recovered from Covid as well as individuals who have been vaccinated and who have developed different types of antibodies to block the virus, and we'll see if, in fact, this particular virus is still sensitive to the antibodies that were induced by the vaccines that we're using," he said.

"You never know until you test it in an in vitro, or test tube situation, and then you get into real world data of what happens when a vaccinated person or a boosted person comes into contact and gets infected."

9:28 p.m. ET, December 1, 2021

We don't know enough about the Omicron variant yet, Dr. Anthony Fauci says

Dr. Anthony Fauci speaks during CNN's town hall on Wednesday night.
Dr. Anthony Fauci speaks during CNN's town hall on Wednesday night. (CNN)

The world has much to learn about the Omicron coronavirus variant before any decision can be made on how to address it, Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN tonight during its town hall.

The single Omicron case detected in the United States, which "would be considered a breakthrough infection because the person was fully vaccinated doesn't really tell you much at all because we have breakthrough infections with Delta where people who have been vaccinated, fully vaccinated very often more often than not they have mild illness," the nation's leading infectious disease expert said.

"From what we've heard from our colleagues at UCSF in San Francisco ... this person had mild symptoms and is actually improving," Fauci added. "But it's only a single person, Anderson, so you really can't make a broad general statement or an extrapolation for what would go on with unvaccinated people or people who were boosted, so there's a lot still to be learned and hopefully over the ensuing weeks or maybe a few weeks, two to three weeks, we'll get a lot more information."

Earlier today: Fauci announced the first US case of the Omicron variant had been detected in the US, in a traveler who had arrived from South Africa on Nov. 22 and tested positive Nov. 29.

The traveler, who landed in California, had mild symptoms and was self-isolating.

Watch here:

9:28 p.m. ET, December 1, 2021

Covid-19 flight bans amount to "travel apartheid," says UN Secretary General

From CNN’s Caitlin Hu, Richard Roth and Philip Wang 

U Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday described widespread travel bans imposed on southern African countries over fears of the Omicron variant as “unacceptable,” likening the restrictions to apartheid.

“When we have now this virus everywhere, what is unacceptable is to have one part of the world that is one of the most vulnerable parts of the world economy condemned to a lockout, when they were the ones that revealed the existence of a new variant that, by the way, already existed in other parts of the world, including in Europe, as we know,” Guterres said during a news briefing in New York alongside African Union Commission chair Moussa Faki Mahamat. 

“We have the instruments to have safe travel. Let's use those instruments to avoid this kind of, allow me to say, travel apartheid, which I think is unacceptable,” Guterres added. 

South African scientists discovered the Omicron variant last week. It has since been identified in a growing number of countries including the United States, with scientists in the Netherlands confirming it was present in their country even before the South African announcement.

At the same Wednesday briefing, Faki Mahamat decried “stigmatization” of a vast swathe of the continent over the new variant. 

“For having been transparent on the question of the new variant, Omicron, the entirety of the southern Africa region has faced punishment, notably the possibility of blocking flights between the region and several countries,” he said.

US health officials have argued that travel bans help to “buy time.”

Vaccine solidarity: Guterres also called for a global plan to help African countries produce Covid-19 vaccines. 

With only 6% percent of Africa's population fully vaccinated, the people of the continent cannot be blamed for the “immorally low” level of vaccinations available to them, he said.

“As we have seen, low vaccination rates — combined with deeply unequal access to vaccines — are creating a breeding ground for variants,” Guterres said. 
8:54 p.m. ET, December 1, 2021

Soon: CNN's coronavirus town hall with guest Dr. Anthony Fauci

CNN's Anderson Cooper and Dr. Sanjay Gupta will host a coronavirus town hall with special guest Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Watch live at 9 p.m. ET and submit your questions below:

6:08 p.m. ET, December 1, 2021

Omicron mutations may hurt effectiveness of Covid-19 antibody therapies, but it’s too soon to tell

From CNN's Virginia Langmaid

Mutations found in the Omicron variant of Covid-19 may impact the effectiveness of Covid-19 antibody therapies, but there is not enough data to know yet, US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy said Wednesday.

“It's possible with the monoclonal antibodies that they may be affected,” Murthy said in a discussion hosted by the US Chamber of Commerce. “It's certainly possible because we know that they target specific parts of the virus and if there are mutations of those parts of the virus in this new variant, then these monoclonal antibodies may not be able to attach as easily to the virus and may not be able to then activate and recruit the immune system to clear the virus,” he said.

Murthy said more information is needed to know for sure.

“The only way we'll know for sure is actually the test the monoclonal antibodies against the virus or pseudovirus in the laboratory. That's the work that’s underway," Murthy said.

Pseudoviruses are engineered viruses used to test the blood of volunteers in the lab.

More context: The surgeon general did say that two oral Covid-19 antiviral therapies may not be as affected by the mutations in the virus.

Pfizer and Merck have asked the US Food and Drug Administration for emergency use authorization for pills that reduce the risk that people will develop severe disease or die from Covid-19.

“There's still good reason to believe that the efficacy, the effectiveness of those oral medications may not be as significantly affected with this new variant,” Murthy said. “That’s sort of based on the biology of how they actually act against the virus,” he added.

Murthy added: “This is to say that there are reasons to be optimistic. There's still ways we can protect ourselves.”