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Omicron COVID Strain
The new COVID variant was initially detected in South Africa and Botswana and sparked major concerns due to its high number of mutations (32). The WHO dubbed the strain Omicron and warned it may prove to be more transmissible and dangerous than other coronavirus variants.
Transit passengers wait in line upon their arrival at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport Tuesday Dec. 22, 2020 - Sputnik International

Live Updates: US Plan to Fight Covid Doesn't Include Shutdowns, Biden Says

The Omicron variant was first identified in South Africa last week, and the World Health Organization has classified it as a variant of concern, as its high number of mutations on the spike protein might make it more transmissible and dangerous than all previous strains.
A case of the Omicron variant has been detected in the Paris/Ile-de-France region, the health authorities of region said in a press release this Thursday morning.
This is the first confirmed case in mainland France. The infected is a man who returned from Nigeria in late November.
The wife of the infected man also tested positive for COVID-19 and tests are underway to find out if it is the Omicron variant, according to the BFMTV. The couple have been in solitary confinement at their home since their arrival on French territory.
The World Health Organization (WHO) designated the new coronavirus strain, which was originally detected in South Africa, as a variant of concern during an emergency meeting last week. The WHO dubbed the new coronavirus strain B.1.1.529 Omicron, the 15th letter of the Greek alphabet.
South African health officials have said the Omicron variant was discovered in fully vaccinated individuals, is more transmissible, but the cases have been mild.
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01:35 GMT 03.12.2021
Health Officials in Hawaii & Los Angeles County Report New Omicron Cases
The Hawaii Department of Health Laboratory announced on Thursday that a COVID-19 test sample came back positive for the omicron variant, marking the islands' first such official case.
It was further detailed that the omicron-positive individual experienced moderate symptoms, and had not been vaccinated against the SARS-CoV-2 virus prior. The positive test marked the second instance in which the individual tested positive for the virus.
“This isn’t reason for panic, but it is reason for concern,” said Health Director Dr. Elizabeth Char, FACEP. "It’s a reminder the pandemic is ongoing. We need to protect ourselves by getting vaccinated, wearing masks, distancing as best we can and avoiding large crowds."
Officials also identified the record as a case of community spread as the individual had no history of travel.
Over yonder in California, where the very first omicron case had been detected within the US, officials in Los Angeles reported their first county case. It is believed that the case is "most likely travel-related" as the individual had traveled to South Africa in late November.
Unlike the Hawaii case, the LA county resident had been fully vaccinated.
00:55 GMT 03.12.2021
Australia's New South Wales Records Ninth Omicron Case
NSW Health confirmed early Friday that officials recorded the ninth omicron case, underscoring that investigators believe the virus may have been contracted within the community.
The individual was identified as a student at Regents Park Christian School who has since been dismissed for the remainder of the year.
Although officials are presently conducting contact tracing, preliminary findings suggest that the case emerged locally as the individual has no history of travels abroad and has had no contact with those who have traveled overseas.
23:18 GMT 02.12.2021
New York Governor Reveals Five Omicron Cases Detected in State
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul confirmed to reporters late Thursday that officials have detected five omicron cases.
"New York State has confirmed five cases of the Omicron variant. Let me be clear: This is not a cause for alarm," Hochul said via Twitter. "We knew this variant was coming and we have the tools to stop the spread. Get your vaccine. Get your booster. Wear your mask."
Four of the individuals that health officials were made aware of were residents of New York City, whereas one other was from Suffolk County.
20:56 GMT 02.12.2021
Zimbabwe's Health Minister Reports Country's 1st Omicron Case
MOSCOW (Sputnik) - The first case of infection with the Omicron coronavirus strain was detected in Zimbabwe, the country’s minister of health and childcare, Dr Constantino Chiwenga, said on Thursday.

"We have done genomic sequencing and we now have the virus in the country. Let’s all follow Covid-19 preventative measures and get vaccinated," Chiwenga said as quoted by Zimbabwe’s broadcaster ZBC News.

Zimbabwe's authorities on Wednesday introduced a mandatory 10-day quarantine for all travelers entering the country.
20:32 GMT 02.12.2021
US Officials Confirm Third Omicron Case in Colorado
Officials with the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment confirmed on Thursday the US' third omicron case.
A release from the agency revealed that the affected individual was a female resident of Colorado's Arapahoe County who had recently traveled to southern Africa for tourism. At present, the individual is "experiencing minor symptoms," and is self-quarantining at home.
It was further detailed by officials that she was fully vaccinated, and had been eligible for a COVID-19 booster but hadn't received it yet.
19:39 GMT 02.12.2021
Biden Says US Launching Hundreds of Family Vaccination Clinics to Get Shots in One Stop
WASHINGTON (Sputnik) - The United States is launching hundreds of family vaccination clinics across the country to provide locations where families can get COVID-19 vaccine and booster doses all in one place, President Joe Biden said on Thursday.

"Today I’m announcing that we’re going to launch hundreds of new family vaccination clinics across the country. These sites will offer vaccinations for the whole family in one stop. Children can get vaccinated, parents can get vaccinated and get their first or second shots, or their booster shots," Biden said during remarks at the National Institute of Health.

The clinics will be located in community health centers and other trusted locations, Biden said. Some will be mobile in order to serve hard-to-reach communities, Biden added.

Biden announced the effort as part of a broader federal government plan to combat COVID-19 and the new Omicron variant over the winter months, during which time cases are expected to rise.

The five-point plan also included measures to expand nationwide vaccine and booster outreach, expand COVID-19 testing access, bolster the government’s response teams and accelerate efforts to vaccinate the rest of the world, Biden said.
18:51 GMT 02.12.2021
Germany's Merkel, Scholz Announce New Curbs for Unvaccinated, Back Mandatory Shots
The outgoing German chancellor and her successor announced sweeping new restrictions for the unvaccinated and backed mandatory anti-coronavirus shots on Thursday.

Both Angela Merkel and Olaf Scholz, who will soon replace her at the helm of the government, said vaccination was "the way out" of the pandemic as virus cases continued to surge nationwide.

"It is imperative that compulsory vaccination be adopted. If I were in the German Bundestag, I can say, I would vote for it," Merkel told a press conference after meeting regional governors.

The federal parliament's ethics council will draw up recommendations in the coming weeks, and compulsory vaccinations could become a reality in early February.

Merkel announced new restrictions for the unvaccinated, saying immunized Germans, who make up almost 69% of the population, suffered from curbs too, while hospitalizations were overwhelming the national health care system.

"The fourth wave must be broken. We haven't done it yet. We currently have a certain period of calm but the [infection] level is too high. That's why it was important to agree these measures today," she said.

The new "minimal standard" restrictions range from limited contacts with other households to a blanket ban on access to non-essential businesses, cultural and recreational venues. They can be ramped up unilaterally by regional authorities.

Merkel added that the European Union planned to set a nine-month expiration date for the vaccination status and require re-immunization or follow-up vaccination with boosters.
18:41 GMT 02.12.2021
Biden: US Plan to Fight Covid Doesn't Include Shutdowns
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks before signing four bills from the South Court Auditorium at the White House, in Washington, U.S., November 30, 2021 - Sputnik International, 1920, 02.12.2021
Omicron COVID Strain
Joe Biden Speaks About COVID Situation in US Amid Omicron Variant Threat
18:12 GMT 02.12.2021
Omicron Poses Threefold Higher Risk of Reinfection, South African Health Bodies Say
The new Omicron variant of the coronavirus infection poses a threefold higher risk of reinfection than the currently dominant Delta variant and the Beta strain, the South African Centre for Epidemiological Modelling and Analysis and the National Institute of Communicable Diseases reportedly said.
17:30 GMT 02.12.2021
Second US Omicron Infection Follows Anime Convention in New York City
The second American with a confirmed case of the Omicron variant infection attended a convention of Anime enthusiasts in New York City before returning home in the state of Minnesota, the UC Centers for Disease Control (CDC) said on Thursday.

“The individual traveled to New York City and attended the Anime NYC 2021 convention at the Javits Center from November 19-21, 2021,” the CDC said in a press release. “The person has since recovered.”

The Minnesota Health Department reported earlier that the victim, who was fully vaccinated, developed mild symptoms on November 22 and was tested two days later.

On Wednesday, the US authorities reported the first confirmed case of Omicron in the state of California who recently traveled from South Africa, where the coronavirus variant was first detected.

The World Health Organization has named Omicron a variant of “concern” due to a large number of mutations on the virus’ surface. South African health officials, however, have said the Omicron cases are mild and likened the reaction to them in the United States and other primarily Western countries to a “storm in a tea cup.” The officials also said that all cases involved fully vaccinated individuals.

The United States and other nations have restricted international travel on travelers from southern Africa and imposed additional mitigation measures as scientists attempt to gauge the transmissibility and severity of Omicron infections.

Both the California and Minnesota victims were fully vaccinated, health officials have said.
17:30 GMT 02.12.2021
EU Council Restores COVID-19 Travel Restrictions for Jordan, Namibia
The European Council said on Thursday it has removed Jordan and Namibia from the list of countries for which COVID-19 travel restrictions should be lifted by member states.

"Following a review under the recommendation on the gradual lifting of the temporary restrictions on non-essential travel into the EU, the Council updated the list of countries … for which travel restrictions should be lifted. In particular, Jordan and Namibia were removed from the list," the press release said.

As of now, the list includes 18 countries for which EU member states are recommended to gradually ease travel restrictions, such as Australia, Canada, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, China and South Korea. China's special administrative regions, namely Hong Kong and Macao, are also listed.

The review is conducted by the Council on a regular basis to reflect epidemiological developments in the countries and respond promptly to the volatile COVID-19 situation. The review considers the principle of reciprocity, among other criteria, and China's listing is marked as "subject to confirmation of reciprocity."

The Council introduced the list of countries whose residents should be granted unrestricted entry to the EU for non-essential travel in June 2020. Since then, the list has been updated every two weeks. The recommendation is not obligatory for EU member states.
17:19 GMT 02.12.2021
US Treasury Secretary Compares Potential Impact of Omicron to That of Delta
A nurse works in a COVID-19 patient's room during a tour of SSM Health St. Anthony Hospital's intensive care unit (ICU) amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, U.S., August 24, 2021.  REUTERS/Nick Oxford   - Sputnik International, 1920, 02.12.2021
Omicron COVID Strain
Omicron Variant Could Slow US Economic Recovery From COVID-19 Pandemic, Yellen Says
17:10 GMT 02.12.2021
Seven More Omicron Cases Confirmed in UK
The UK Health Security Agency said there had been seven more cases of Omicron in England, with three more cases identified in Scotland.
17:03 GMT 02.12.2021
Greek Government May Extend Mandatory Vaccination Beyond Those Over 60
The Greek government may consider extending a vaccine mandate to more groups if the need arises amid the spread of the new Omicron variant, spokesman Giannis Oikonomou said Thursday.

On Tuesday, the country's Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis announced that COVID-19 vaccination will become mandatory in Greece for people over 60 starting January 16, and that the government will punish noncompliance with a monthly 100 euro ($113.6) fine. Mitsotakis noted that the decision is not a punishment, but "the price of health."

"We are ready, at any moment, to do whatever we need to tackle the pandemic," Oikonomou said at a press conference to specify the measures of a new law mandating vaccination for all persons over the age of 60, as quoted by local Ekathimerini news outlet.

Earlier on Thursday, Head of Greek National Public Health Organization EODY, Theoklis Zaoutis, said that the first Omicron variant case had been detected in Greece, and that the carrier is quarantined.

The World Health Organization, following the results of the emergency meeting on Friday, made the decision to classify the new variant of the coronavirus detected in South Africa as a cause for concern. The new variant B.1.1.529 was named by the WHO after the Greek letter "Omicron."
17:02 GMT 02.12.2021
WHO: Africa Advances Omicron Strain Detection as COVID-19 Cases Rise
African countries are working to preempt the spread of the Omicron coronavirus strain through more detection and control as weekly COVID-19 cases grew 54% due to a surge in the continent's south, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Thursday.

"The detection and timely reporting of the new variant by Botswana and South Africa has bought the world time. We have a window of opportunity but must act quickly and ramp up detection and prevention measures. Countries must adjust their COVID-19 response and stop a surge in cases from sweeping across Africa and possibly overwhelming already-stretched health facilities," WHO Regional Director for Africa Matshidiso Moeti said.

According to the WHO, the Omicron variant has so far been detected in only four African countries including South Africa with 172 cases and Botswana with 19, as well as Ghana and Nigeria. The first two alone account for 62% of all Omicron cases globally, the news release said. The recent surge in cases in southern Africa was mostly driven by South Africa, which by November 30 had registered a 311% increase in new cases, it added.

The WHO said it has dispatched an expert team to Gauteng, South Africa's most infected province, to help it enhance COVID-19 prevention and treatment measures.

"Working with African governments to accelerate studies and bolster the response to the new variant, the WHO is urging countries to sequence between 75 and 150 samples weekly," the WHO said, adding that additional experts and $12 million were mobilized to support the sequencing in Botswana, Mozambique and Namibia over the next three months.

Vaccination rates in the region remain low, with only 7.5% of the population fully vaccinated and more than 80% still awaiting the first dose, and the emergence of the Omicron strain should serve as a "wake-up call that the COVID-19 threat is real," the WHO said, adding that together with its partners it supports countries in vaccine delivery and uptake.
16:42 GMT 02.12.2021
UK Prime Minister Gets Booster COVID Shot
15:40 GMT 02.12.2021
US State of Minnesota Confirms First Case of Omicron Variant of COVID-19
15:00 GMT 02.12.2021
New Zealand's Vaccination Mandate Reportedly Keeps 100 Firefighters Out of Work
Nearly 100 firefighters in New Zealand cannot respond to emergency callouts as they have not been vaccinated against COVID-19 in compliance with the government's order, Radio New Zealand reported on Thursday.

The country's Fire and Emergency service (FENZ) ordered all firefighters to get the first shot by November 29 and the second by January 14, saying it was in compliance with the government's health order issued on October 22. Some of the firefighters have not met the deadline.

The New Zealand Professional Firefighters' Union (NZPFU) said that this could result in mass exodus of workforce, as cited in the report.

On Tuesday, the FENZ ordered double vaccination for trainers and trainees as well, asking them to show up with certificates.

Following the criticism by the NZPFU, which said that the vaccination mandate is not applicable to trainers and trainees and was not found necessary by the union's risk assessment, the FENZ retracted the directive on Wednesday evening, according to the report.

Earlier this week, the FENZ started recruiting and training volunteers to fill the void created by the unvaccinated staff.
14:27 GMT 02.12.2021
India Reports 2 Cases of Omicron in Arrivals From South Africa
Two men have been diagnosed with the Omicron coronavirus strain in India's Karnataka state, the country's health authorities announced on Thursday.

"Two men aged 46 and 66 found positive for Omicron. They are showing mild symptoms. All primary contacts and secondary contacts of both cases have been traced and they are being tested," the health ministry's spokesman said at a briefing.

Both patients arrived from South Africa last week, according to Karnataka state chief minister Basavaraj Bommai.
14:15 GMT 02.12.2021
Cyprus Introduces Mandatory COVID-19 Tests for Passengers on Arrival
Cyprus says all passengers aged 12 years and over are obliged to test for COVID-19 upon their arrival in the country through January 10, 2022, as part of efforts to prevent the spread of the Omicron coronavirus strain, the Press and Information Office of Cyprus announced on Thursday.

"The Council of Ministers has approved today a proposal by the Minister for Transport, Communications and Works, Mr Yannis Karousos, on the mandatory PCR tests by all persons aged 12 years or over upon arrival in the Republic of Cyprus, by air or by sea, and regardless of the original country of departure," the message read.

Arriving passengers will have to carry out PCR tests even if they hold full vaccination or recovery from COVID-19 certificates.

The measure will be in effect from December 6, 2021 until January 10, 2022. The effective period may be extended depending on the epidemiological situation. The office noted that authorities would conduct random checks on passengers on possession of PCR tests in airports until December 6 for better surveillance and early detection of imported positive cases.

The Omicron strain was first detected last week in South Africa. The strain could be more dangerous and vaccine-resistant due to the greater number of mutations. Many countries closed their borders for foreign passengers arriving from African countries regardless of whether they hold certificates of a full vaccination or recovery from COVID-19.
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