December 2 Omicron coronavirus variant news

By Rhea Mogul, Adam Renton, Sheena McKenzie & Ed Upright, CNN

Updated 12:01 a.m. ET, December 3, 2021
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3:05 a.m. ET, December 2, 2021

5 takeaways from CNN's coronavirus town hall

Anderson Cooper and Dr. Sanjay Gupta.
Anderson Cooper and Dr. Sanjay Gupta. (CNN)

Anderson Cooper and Dr. Sanjay Gupta hosted a CNN town hall on the coronavirus Wednesday night, with guests including Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Much of the discussion focused on Omicron, including what we do and don't know about the new variant. Here are five main takeaways:

  1. We don't know much about Omicron yet: The world has a lot to learn about the new variant before any decision can be made on how to address it, Fauci said. The single Omicron case detected in the United States so far “doesn’t really tell you much at all,” he added. “It's only a single person. 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,” Fauci said. “So there’s a lot more to be learned.”
  2. Fauci says people should get vaccinated: Americans should not lose sight of the dangers of the Delta variant even as Omicron dominates headlines, Fauci said. "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." Americans should also take other precautions — including wearing masks — as colder weather settles on much of the country, Fauci added.
  3. It's still safe to travel: Despite the emergence of Omicron, Americans can still travel safely, Fauci said. He added he would not suggest anything different from previous safety recommendations. "We just have a problem that's identifiable now, and just as I said, and I'll say it again, if you have a vaccinated situation, your family's vaccinated, enjoy the holidays, indoor with your family in a family setting," he said.
  4. Moderna president's vaccine hopes: Dr. Stephen Hoge, president of Moderna, expressed hope the pharmaceutical company's Covid-19 vaccine would deliver the "highest efficacy" against the Omicron variant. "Our hope, at least in Moderna, is that we're going to continue to see the highest efficacy overall and continue to see the boosters push that even higher," he said. However, he also acknowledged it is likely the current vaccines could be less effective against Omicron.
  5. It's still not clear if people will need a yearly booster: It's too early to tell whether people will need to receive a Covid-19 vaccine each year to protect against infection, Fauci said. “The honest answer is we don't know what's going to be required,” he said. “I hope we get a durability of 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.”
2:53 a.m. ET, December 2, 2021

Germany's unvaccinated could soon face even tougher Covid-19 restrictions

From CNN's Nadine Schmidt

Acting Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel and acting German Minister of Finance Olaf Scholz during a press conference after a meeting on the current coronavirus situation on November 18, 2021 in Berlin.
Acting Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel and acting German Minister of Finance Olaf Scholz during a press conference after a meeting on the current coronavirus situation on November 18, 2021 in Berlin. (Clemens Bilan/Pool/Getty Images)

German citizens could potentially face tougher coronavirus restrictions as the country struggles to contain a fierce fourth wave of the pandemic.

Outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel and her likely successor, Olaf Scholz, are holding crisis talks with regional leaders on Thursday to map out a way forward, a Tuesday statement from the Chancellor’s office said.

Tougher restrictions are likely to be agreed — many of which are set to target unvaccinated people. The goal is to bring down infection rates and ease the pressure on rapidly filling intensive care beds.

Among the range of measures being considered are the closures of bars and clubs, and limiting large events. Some hard-hit regions in Germany have already canceled Christmas markets and barred unvaccinated people from public spaces like restaurants, gyms and leisure facilities.

Germany's leaders are also set to discuss mandatory vaccinations. Earlier this week, Scholz signaled his backing for mandatory Covid-19 shots. The introduction of mandatory vaccines would have to be approved by Parliament.

Intensive care warning: On Wednesday, Germany recorded 446 Covid-19 related fatalities — its highest number of daily deaths in nine months. Many hospitals are struggling to cope with the increasing number of intensive care patients and German medics have warned that occupancy of intensive care beds could soon exceed that seen during last winter's peak.

The German Interdisciplinary Association for Intensive Care and Emergency (Divi) in a statement on Wednesday warned there could be about 6,000 Covid-19 patients in intensive care by Christmas —regardless of any measures implemented by Germany's leaders. 

Germany reported 73,209 new cases within the past 24 hours, according to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), the country's disease control center.

More than 102,000 people have died as a result of coronavirus in Germany, the RKI said. The country reported 388 new deaths related to Covid-19 from Wednesday to Thursday.

Just under 70% of Germany's population is fully vaccinated, according to the RKI.

12:23 a.m. ET, December 2, 2021

Analysis: Biden's path out of the pandemic meets a Republican blockade

Analysis from CNN's Maeve Reston

Republican opposition to public health measures like vaccine and mask mandates has become one of the most difficult challenges facing President Joe Biden as he tries to fulfill his campaign promise to shut down the Covid-19 pandemic.

GOP leaders for months have blamed Biden for failing to stamp out the virus while becoming the party hellbent on protecting the rights of the unvaccinated, even if that means putting the health and safety of all other Americans at risk.

The Gordian knot they have created for Biden was on full display once again Wednesday when several Republican senators threatened to derail a stopgap measure that will avert a government shutdown Friday night unless their colleagues acceded to their demand for a vote on defunding Biden's vaccine requirement for large employers.

With unvaccinated Americans now about three times as likely to lean Republican as Democratic, Biden has found few influential GOP allies to help him push his case for vaccinations in deep red areas where Americans remain most resistant to getting them.

Summing up what has become a central talking point for GOP candidates as they head into the 2022 midterm primaries, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz told reporters on Wednesday that his party should "use every tool we have to protect people's rights, and the vaccine mandates are illegal, they're abusive and they're hurting this country."

But Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, warned that forcing a shutdown over a health measure intended to save lives would prove disastrous for the Republican Party: "I certainly hope they don't shut out the lights of this government (in) some kind of bold display of stupidity," he said.

Read the full analysis:

12:03 a.m. ET, December 2, 2021

China's northern border city Manzhouli reports dozens more Covid-19 cases

From CNN’s Beijing bureau

The Chinese city of Manzhouli in Inner Mongolia recorded 53 new locally transmitted Covid-19 cases on Wednesday, according to local health officials. 

Over the past five days, Manzhouli has been mass testing its 300,000 residents as it tries to stop a local Covid outbreak.

The city, which borders Russia, has so far confirmed 151 locally transmitted infections while the neighboring district of Zhalainuo'er has identified a further 32 cases, according to a CNN tally. 

Residents in 55 of the city's neighborhoods have been banned from leaving their homes, while those in the rest of Manzhouli cannot leave their communities, the Center for Epidemic Prevention and Control said.

A fifth round of mass testing started on Thursday, according to the municipal government.

The recent outbreak began Nov. 27 when three asymptomatic cases were identified in Manzhouli.

China is the only country still following a zero-Covid model and, as such, moves quickly to eradicate any local outbreaks.

11:30 p.m. ET, December 1, 2021

Japan overturns ban on inbound flight bookings

From CNN's Junko Ogura in Tokyo

Japan has canceled a ban on accepting new reservations for inbound international flights, according to the Civil Aviation Bureau of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism. 

On Wednesday, the Transport Ministry had asked airlines to refuse reservations on international flights to Japan over concerns of the Omicron coronavirus variant. It would have applied to all travelers — including Japanese citizens — from December 1 through December 31.

But Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida later said he had instructed the ministry to reconsider the decision out of consideration for Japanese citizens’ need to return.

Kishida added the initial announcement had caused confusion while talking to reporters from his office on Thursday. 

Airlines can now take new reservations as long as the number of passengers entering Japan remains below 3,500 a day — a limit on arrivals that was lowered from 5,000 last month, a transport ministry official said, according to Reuters.

10:39 p.m. ET, December 1, 2021

South Korea detects record new Covid-19 cases for second straight day

From CNN’s Gawon Bae in Seoul, South Korea

South Korea identified 5,266 new Covid-19 cases on Wednesday, a record high for a second consecutive day, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said in a news release Thursday.

That breaks the previous record of 5,123 new cases, recorded on Tuesday. 

Last month, South Korea announced it would start "living with Covid-19" and began easing restrictions. But its reopening has coincided with record new infections, critical cases and deaths. Concerns over the new Omicron variant are also threatening the country's recovery.

South Korea's total confirmed cases increased to 457,612, while the death toll rose by 47 to 3,705, according to KDCA. Some 733 patients are in critical condition, KDCA said.

That's despite high vaccination rates. As of Wednesday, 80.1% of the population has been fully vaccinated, according to KDCA.

Travel restrictions: The rise in cases has prompted authorities to mandate a 10-day quarantine for all incoming international travelers, including Korean nationals, starting Friday for two weeks.

The move came as five Omicron cases were reported by the country in travelers arriving from Nigeria. 

The mandate applies to travelers from all countries, regardless of their vaccination status, KDCA said.

9:29 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:

2:53 a.m. ET, December 2, 2021

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

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

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres speaks at an event in Bogota, Colombia, on November 24, 2021.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres speaks at an event in Bogota, Colombia, on November 24, 2021. (Special Jurisdiction for Peace/Handout/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

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.

“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. 
7:41 p.m. ET, December 1, 2021

Fauci: US travel ban was "needed to buy some time" to prepare for Omicron

From CNN's Maggie Fox

Dr. Anthony Fauci said Wednesday that "no one feels" a travel ban will prevent the Omicron variant from arriving in the United States, but it was "needed to buy some time" for the country to prepare and understand the situation.

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.

The individual arrived before the US instituted measures aimed at slowing the entry of the new variant by limiting travel from several African nations. 

“No one feels — I certainly don't — that a travel ban is going to prevent people who are infected from coming to the United States,” Fauci told a White House news briefing.

“But we needed to buy some time to be able to prepare, understand what's going on,” added Fauci, chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

“What is the nature of this infection? What is the nature of the transmissibility? And we wanted to make sure that we didn't all of a sudden say, ‘It's like anything else, don't worry about it,’ and then all of a sudden, something unfolds in front of you that you're really not prepared for,” he added. “So we look at this is a temporary measure.”