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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8:21 p.m. ET, November 30, 2021

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

From CNN's Hamdi Alkhshali

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.

8:06 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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7:43 p.m. ET, November 30, 2021

It's too soon to know if Omicron causes less severe illness, Fauci says

From CNN's Maggie Fox

It’s too soon to know if the Omicron variant of coronavirus causes less severe disease than the Delta variant — in spite of reports that many cases so far have been mild, Dr. Anthony Fauci said Tuesday.

Most cases of Covid-19 overall are mild, and especially among younger patients. But nonetheless the virus can and does cause severe disease as it spreads among populations and has killed 5.2 million people globally and more than 779,000 in the United States alone, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, noted that some South African physicians have reported the patients they treated had mild disease. But they were treating young people, Fauci said.

“We believe that it is too soon to tell of what the level of severity is,” Fauci told a White House Covid-19 briefing.

“Dr. Walensky and I specifically asked our South African colleagues that on the most recent Zoom call that we had, and they agreed with us that it's too early to tell. They're hoping that it is going to, across the board, give a lower level of severity, but they don't know that right now,” he added.

In the meantime, vaccination and boosters should protect people, Fauci said. Boosters, especially, can bring antibody levels up to where there is a cushion of extra protection that can cover even variants of the virus.

“And that's usually most manifested in protection against severe disease that leads to hospitalization,” Fauci said.

“So when we say that although these mutations suggest a diminution of protection and a degree of immune evasion, still from the experience that we have with Delta (you) can make a reasonable conclusion that you would not eliminate all protection against this particular variant," he said.

"And that's the reason why we don't know what that degree of diminution of protection is going to be. But we know that when you boost somebody, you elevate your level of protection very high. And we are hoping, and I think with good reason, to feel good that there will be some degree of protection. Therefore, as we said, if you're unvaccinated get vaccinated, and if you're vaccinated, get boosted," he added.

7:49 p.m. ET, November 30, 2021

How worried should we be about Omicron?

From CNN's Katia Hetter

Since South African authorities announced the arrival of a new coronavirus variant that contains an unusually large number of mutations, countries around the world have mobilized by putting into place travel restrictions and precautionary measures.

There is much that's still unknown about this variant, Omicron. While scientists are gathering more information, the public wants to know how worried they should be.

Is the alarm around Omicron warranted? What's already known, and what are the key pieces of information still to be researched? Are there things we can do to prepare for it?

I discussed all of this with our expert, CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Leana Wen, who is an emergency physician and professor of health policy and management at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health. She is also author of a new book, "Lifelines: A Doctor's Journey in the Fight for Public Health," and the mother of two young kids.

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