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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.
A worker gives final touches to a graffiti that tributes to Malaysian workers on the frontline against the COVID-19 pandemic outside a hospital in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Friday, Jan. 29, 2021 - Sputnik International

COVID-19 Live Updates: Omicron Strain Identified in 38 Countries But Delta Remains Dominant Variant

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The global death toll from the coronavirus infection has topped 5.234 million; over 264.1 million cases of the infection have been detected, according to Baltimore, Maryland's Johns Hopkins University, which tracks and compiles data from national and local authorities, the media and other sources.
The new Omicron variant has prompted governments around the world to roll out increased travel restrictions and take public health measures.
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 have closed their borders to foreign passengers arriving from African countries regardless of whether they hold certificates of full vaccination or recovery from COVID-19.
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00:42 GMT 04.12.2021
Omicron Variant Now Confirmed in Ten US States
WASHINGTON (Sputnik) - Cases of the coronavirus Omicron variant have been reported by health officials in five additional US states today, bringing the total number of states with confirmed infections to ten.

New Omicron variant cases were reported in the states of Maryland, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Utah on Friday, according to health officials. Cases were also reported earlier this week in California, Colorado, Hawaii, Minnesota and New York.

Omicron, which was first detected in southern Africa, has emerged as a variant of concern, prompting new travel restrictions and public health measures in the United States and primarily Western countries.

The Biden administration has said that the Omicron variant is a cause for concern but not for alarm. White House COVID-19 experts said the United States is in a better position to deal with the Omicron than with previous variants.

South Africa health officials said the infections were discovered in fully vaccinated individuals, the cases were mild and the initial reactions in the United States and other primarily Western countries - overblown.
21:57 GMT 03.12.2021
New Omicron Cases Emerge in US States of Pennsylvania & Maryland
A medical worker stores a swab in a vial at XL Schiphol test location, after Dutch health authorities said that 61 people who arrived in Amsterdam on flights from South Africa tested positive for COVID-19, in Amsterdam, Netherlands, November 27, 2021. - Sputnik International, 1920, 03.12.2021
US States of Maryland, Pennsylvania Confirm First Omicron Variant Cases - Statements
21:03 GMT 03.12.2021
Omicron Likely to Reinforce IMF Downgrade of Global Growth Forecasts - Managing Director
WASHINGTON (Sputnik) - The coronavirus Omicron variant is likely to reinforce a downgrade of the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) outlook on the global economy, IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva said on Friday.

“Let’s be very frank: A new variant that may spread very rapidly can dent confidence and in that sense we are likely to see some downgrades of our October projections for global growth,” Georgieva said at a live-streamed discussion on the global economy.

Georgieva said that even before the emergence of the Omicron variant, the IMF had already been concerned about a loss in the momentum of global growth due to the negative impacts of the Delta variant.

“The Delta variant proved to be a disruption that caused some additional delays in production” of goods in the United States and China, the leading engines for world growth, she said.

The IMF projected in October that advanced economies would regain in 2022 their pre-pandemic aggregate output, and exceed those by 0.9% by 2024.

It said output for emerging market and developing economies, excluding China, was expected to remain 5.5% below the pre-pandemic forecast in 2024.
18:16 GMT 03.12.2021
Tunisia Reports First Positive Case of Omicron Strain
Tunisia's first positive case of the Omicron strain was detected on Friday, Health Minister Ali Mrabet told Wataniya TV.
A 23-year-old national of the Democratic Republic of the Congo who arrived in Tunisia from Istanbul was diagnosed with the Omicron strain.
According to the latest data from the Tunisian Health Ministry, 717,000 positive cases of COVID-19 infections were reported in the country with 25,000 lethal cases.
17:55 GMT 03.12.2021
Berlin Authorities Announce Ban on Dancing in Nightclubs Due to COVID-19
The Berlin government announced on Friday that it will not close nightclubs, but will ban dancing therein to curb the spread of COVID-19.
On Thursday, the German federal and regional authorities adopted new restrictive measures with a view to gradually introduce a so-called "lockdown for the unvaccinated." Under the new rules, local governments were given the right to close nightclubs given high levels of infection.
"The conference decided that clubs and discos should be closed, but under certain conditions, determined either by the regional parliament or the Bundestag, by changing the law on protection of the population from infectious diseases. This process is ongoing, so the government decided that dance entertainment in general is prohibited, but businesses will not close because there are different interpretations of what is possible. This means that clubs and discos can continue to operate since they usually also provide food services, but patrons cannot dance," a Berlin government spokesperson told a briefing.
Dancing will be allowed in the open air for those vaccinated or recovered from COVID-19.
The ban will go into effect on December 8 and will be in place until January 2, 2022, though the end date is subject to change based on the COVID-19 situation in the capital.
The municipal government has also introduced other restrictions, including a ban on entrance to government buildings, public transport, railway platforms, and ferry stations without proof of COVID-19 immunity or a negative test, and limits on public gatherings.
17:52 GMT 03.12.2021
CDC: US Equipped, Prepared to Fight Omicron Variant
The United States stands equipped and prepared to fight the newly-identified Omicron coronavirus variant, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky said on Friday.

“We are equipped and prepared to fight the Omicron variant head-on. We're actively taking steps to stay ahead of Omicron,” Walensky said during a press briefing.

In addition to California, where the first case of an Omicron infection was detected earlier this week, the US states of Minnesota, Colorado, Hawaii and New York have also reported cases of the new coronavirus variant, she added. In addition, Nebraska reported six cases of Omicron on Friday.

The main tool at the CDC’s disposal to identify Omicron is genomic sequencing, which makes it possible to confirm the variant within hours after detection by states, Walensky said.

The CDC director noted that at the present time, the CDC is taking steps to enhance and streamline genomic sequencing across the US, and is expanding surveillance of international travellers.

At the same time, 99.9% of all new COVID-19 cases are of the Delta variant that became the dominant strain of the novel coronavirus in summer, according to Walensky.

Last week, the World Health Organization identified the new strain of the coronavirus, first reported in South Africa, as one of concern, since it may be more transmissible and dangerous. However, local doctors and officials have reported that the cases are mild. Cases have been confirmed in multiple countries, and some governments have rushed to suspend travel with southern African nations to slow the spread of the new variant.
16:57 GMT 03.12.2021
US State of Nebraska Detects Six Cases of Omicron Coronavirus Variant
Six new cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant have been detected in the US state of Nebraska, the Nebraska Public Health Solutions District said on Friday in a press release.
"The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), the Nebraska Public Health Solutions (PHS) District, and the Nebraska Public Health Laboratory (NPHL) have detected six cases of the omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 among district residents. The first case was likely exposed during international travel to Nigeria, returned on November 23rd, and became symptomatic on November 24th," the press release said.
The other five cases were likely contracted through contact with the first case. Only one of the six infected individuals was vaccinated, the press release said. None have required hospitalization, and case investigations and contact tracing are ongoing, the press release added.
15:31 GMT 03.12.2021
WHO Has No Data Yet on Difference of Omicron's Symptoms From Other Strains, Expert Says
The World Health Organisation does not yet have data on the difference between the clinical symptoms of Omicron and other strains of COVID-19, Maria Van Kerkhove, the technical lead of COVID-19 response at WHO's Emergency Diseases Unit said on Friday.
"For us to determine if it's Omicron right now it's through sequencing until we know more on the disease profile in terms of what people are presenting with. We don’t have any indication that is different than other strains of SARS COVID 2 that are circulating," she said, answering whether it was true that WHO cannot yet point to a difference in the clinical symptoms of Omicron from other strains of COVID-19.

"Just based on clinical features you can’t tell which virus people are infected with, whether is COVID-19 virus or influenza or another respiratory virus," she added.

The WHO also warned of a possible increase in detected infections, including the Omicron strain, in the next two weeks.
15:22 GMT 03.12.2021
White House: US to Ship 9Mln COVID-19 Vaccine Doses to Africa, 2Mln Worldwide
The United States will ship 9 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to African countries and 2 million doses worldwide later on Friday amid concerns about the novel coronavirus Omicron variant that was first detected in South Africa, White House Assistant Press Secretary Kevin Munoz said.

"Today, we are shipping 9 million vaccine doses to Africa and another 2 million worldwide. We need every country to step up with the same urgency and ambition as the United States,” Munoz said via Twitter.

On Thursday, President Joe Biden pledged to accelerate the United States' efforts to vaccinate people throughout the world.

In September, Biden announced that the United States was donating another 500 million vaccine doses to help other countries to protect from the novel coronavirus.

According to the World Health Organization, vaccination rates in Africa remain very low with only 7.5% of the population fully vaccinated.

South African health officials have said Omicron was detected in fully vaccinated individuals, the cases were mild and characterized the reaction in the United States and other primarily Western countries to the variant as a "storm in a teacup."
14:51 GMT 03.12.2021
WHO: Omicron Strain Identified in 38 Countries But Delta Remains Dominant Variant of COVID-19
The Omicron strain has been identified in 38 countries, but Delta remains the dominant variant of COVID-19, Maria Van Kerkhove, the technical lead of COVID-19 response at WHO's Emergency Diseases Unit, said on Friday.

"We have reports of Omicron in 38 countries in all 6 WHO regions and we do see increasing trends in Omicron in south Africa. So there is a suggestion that there is increased transmissibility," Van Kerkhove said, adding that the Delta strain still remains dominant.
13:35 GMT 03.12.2021
Over 1% of Germans Currently Ill With COVID-19, Robert Koch Institute Says
About 926,000 Germany's residents or slightly over 1% of the country's 83-million population are currently ill with COVID-19, Lothar Wieler, the president of Germany's Robert Koch Institute, said on Friday.

"It is too early now to state the change in dynamics and cancel strict measures. The other way around. Now, the number of active [COVID-19] cases in Germany is assessed as 926,000. This means that over 1% of the population are infected," Wieler told a press conference.

Around 4,800 COVID-19 patients are now in intensive care, and the load on hospitals is expected to grow in the next days due to numerous new admissions, Wieler added. The official also forecast an increase in the number of lethal cases in the near future.

When commenting on the new Omicron coronavirus variant, Wieler said that German experts can not precisely evaluate the strain yet.

"But we can definitely say that it is in Germany and that by all appearances, it is known today that Omicron can be more contagious and can more easily hit those vaccinated and recovered," Wieler said.

The German official warned people that the Omicron coronavirus strain will cause more infections than the Delta variant amid the overloaded health care system. Therefore, all the restrictive measures must be respected, Wieler concluded.

Over 57 million people in Germany have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 so far, which is nearly 69% of its population.
13:26 GMT 03.12.2021
Finland Requires All Arrivals to Provide COVID-19 Certificate or Take PCR Test From 4 December
All arrivals to Finland starting December 4 are required to present a COVID-19 vaccination certificate or take a PCR test at the border, the Finnish Ministry of Social Affairs and Health said on Friday.

"All travellers arriving in Finland will be required to show a COVID certificate, or if they do not have such a certificate, they will have to undergo a COVID-19 test. The decree will go into effect on 4 December 2021," the ministry said.

Vaccines approved by the World Health Organization or the European Medicines Agency will be accepted.
12:20 GMT 03.12.2021
Nearly 2,000 People Quarantined as Omicron Detected in International School of Geneva
Around 2,000 people, including 1,600 children, will be quarantined for 10 days after two cases of the novel Omicron variant of COVID-19 were confirmed in the International School of Geneva, the local authorities said in a press release.

"The medical services of the cantons of Vaud and Geneva have jointly made the decision to quarantine all students and campus staff for ten days. About 2,000 people are affected by this measure, including 1,600 children. Everyone involved should perform a PCR test," the statement, issued on Thursday, said.

The two cases were detected in the campus of the International School of Geneva located in Chataigneraie among contacts of a family with a recent arrival from a trip to South Africa, the statement said.

The authorities reaffirm that the PCR tests available in Switzerland are capable of detecting the new variant of COVID-19. So far, only three Omicron cases have been registered in the country.
11:54 GMT 03.12.2021
US Novavax Developing COVID-19 Vaccine Construct to Target Omicron Coronavirus Strain
The US biotechnology company Novavax said that it had started work on developing the "Omicron-specific construct" of the antigen in its COVID-19 vaccine as part of the two-pronged strategy to curb the spread of the new coronavirus variant.

The first set of measures to be taken within the strategy entails evaluation of effectiveness of the existing vaccine by Novavax against the Omicron strain, while the second one comprises creation of a particular antigen construct in a vaccine aimed specifically at fighting the new coronavirus variant, the company said on Thursday.

"Novavax has initiated development of an Omicron-specific construct of its SARS-CoV-2 Spike protein (rS) antigen, currently in use in NVX-CoV2373. The initial steps required to manufacture an Omicron-specific spike are underway and GMP manufacturing in a commercial facility is anticipated in January 2022. Lab-based assessment of a new strain-matched nanoparticle vaccine will begin within a few weeks," the press statement from the company said.

The researchers also plan to find out if antibodies in vaccinated people can neutralize the new strain.
11:22 GMT 03.12.2021
A logo is pictured at the World Health Organization (WHO) building in Geneva, Switzerland, February 2, 2020. Picture taken February 2, 2020.  - Sputnik International, 1920, 03.12.2021
Omicron COVID Strain
WHO Has No Data on Deaths Linked to Omicron Variant
11:01 GMT 03.12.2021
Scientists Warn Border Bans Too Late to Stop Omicron Spread, Hold Back Studies, Reports Say
Scientists have warned that new travel restrictions are ineffective against the Omicron coronavirus strain and risk slowing down studies of the variant, according to a report by the journal Nature.

Following the emergence of a new mutated virus strain, designated by the World Heath Organization as one of concern in South Africa last week, more than 50 countries have stepped up border controls to prevent its spread.

"I'm not that optimistic that the way in which these measures are being rolled out right now will have an impact," Karen Grepin, a health economist at the University of Hong Kong, was quoted as saying by Nature.

At the same time, introducing selective travel bans for countries with confirmed Omicron cases may act as a deterrent for future reporting and data sharing, the scientists noted.

"The travel ban will paradoxically affect the speed at which scientists are able to investigate," Shabir Madhi, a vaccinologist at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, was quoted as saying by the journal.

With few flights arriving in South Africa, researchers around the world will not have proper access to virus samples necessary to study the new strain. Moreover, South African research institutions reported they will soon run out of reagents necessary for genomic surveillance efforts.

Border control measures on their own are not enough to stop the spread of the virus, and act only to give countries enough time to set up domestic safety regulations, the scientists concluded.
10:12 GMT 03.12.2021
French Health Chief Expects 5th Coronavirus Wave in Country to Peak in Late January
The French government anticipates that the ongoing fifth coronavirus wave will reach its peak in late January, Health Minister Olivier Veran said on Friday.

"We expect the peak [of the fifth coronavirus wave] in late January if nothing changes," Veran said in a live broadcast on Franceinfo.

According to him, a coronavirus patient is admitted to intensive care every 10 minutes 24 hours a day.

Veran noted that the new wave of the pandemic in France started in mid-November.
10:00 GMT 03.12.2021
First Omicron Case Confirmed in Sri Lanka
Sri Lankan health authorities said on Friday that they have detected the first case of infection with the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

"As a result of our vigilance we have been able to identify an Omicron patient following gene sequencing lab tests. There is no need for us to panic over this. We are dealing with the situation," a representative for the country's health ministry was quoted as saying by the Economic Times newspaper.

The Omicron patient is a Sri Lankan citizen who recently returned from South Africa, the ministry said.

On 28 November, the government barred arrivals from six countries in southern Africa - Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini and Zimbabwe - following the detection of the Omicron strain in the region.

The new variant is feared to be more vaccine-hesitant due to the exceptionally high number of mutations it contains, including 32 mutations in spike proteins.
09:47 GMT 03.12.2021
Australia's Northern Territory Records First Death From COVID-19
The Northern Territory of Australia has documented the first death from COVID-19 in a 78-year-old woman from the Binjari community, Chief Minister Michael Gunner said on Friday.

"It is my sad duty to inform you that late last night, the Northern Territory recorded its first death from COVID-19. An elderly Aboriginal woman in her 70s from the Binjari community passed away at the Royal Darwin Hospital … last night," Gunner said in a Facebook post.

He mentioned that the woman had been struggling with the disease at the hospital since November 20 and had concurrent illnesses. According to Gunner, the women was not vaccinated.
07:39 GMT 03.12.2021
Australia Reports First Locally Transmitted Omicron Cases
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