NEW YORK — As the COVID-19 pandemic has swept the globe, more than 5.1 million people have died from the disease worldwide, including over 775,000 Americans, according to real-time data compiled by Johns Hopkins University's Center for Systems Science and Engineering.
Just 59.1% of the population in the United States is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Here's how the new is developing. All times Eastern:
Nov 27, 3:35 pm
South Africa says it's being 'punished'
South Africa has complained it is being punished for discovering the new variant
A statement by the South African International Relations & Cooperation Department criticized the travel bans and said the bans were "akin to punishing South Africa for its advanced genomic sequencing and the ability to detect new variants quicker."
"Excellent science should be applauded and not punished. The global community needs collaboration and partnerships in the management of the COVID-19 pandemic," the statement from the South African goverment also read.
"A combination of South Africa’s capacity to test and it’s ramped-up vaccination programme, backed up by world class scientific community, should give our global partners the comfort that we are doing as well as they are in managing the pandemic. South Africa follows and enforces globally recognised COVID-19 health protocols on travel. No infected individuals are permitted to leave the country," the statement continued.
South Africa's Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, Naledi Pandor said: "Whilst we respect the right of all countries to take the necessary precautionary measures to protect their citizens, we need to remember that this pandemic requires collaboration and sharing of expertise. Our immediate concern is the damage that these restrictions are causing to families, the travel and tourism industries and business."
South Africa has already started engaging countries that have imposed travel bans with the view to persuade them to reconsider.
Nov 27, 3:11 pm
2 confirmed omicron cases in Germany
Two cases of the new omicron COVID-19 variant have been confirmed in Germany on Saturday.
The cases were confirmed in Bavaria and involve two poeple who arrived in Munich on Nov. 24 on a flight from South Africa, the Bavarian Ministry of Health and Care said.
Both travelers had returned to Bavaria on Wednesday after an extended stay in South Africa. They had been in domestic isolation since Nov. 25 after testing positive for PCR.
After reporting on the new variant, the two individuals had proactively arranged for themselves to be tested for the variant, a ministry spokeswoman said. The PCR test was positive in both of them, she said. The samples were further tested today at the Max von Pettenkofer Institute in Munich using a variant-specific PCR test, which detected the highly contagious omicron variant.
In the coming week, an additional whole genome sequencing should be carried out, said Munich virologist Oliver Keppler. However, according to Keppler, the PCR procedure carried out today "allows a clear differentiation from other SARS-CoV-2 variants." Together with the travel history, the detection of omicron can be considered "doubtless," he said.
The Bavarian Health Ministry urged passengers who arrived from South Africa on the same flight on Nov. 24 to report immediately to their local health department. All persons who traveled from South Africa in the past 14 days should immediately reduce their contacts, take a PCR test indicating their travel history and contact the health office immediately, the ministry said, adding: "Do everything to prevent spread."
Moreover, all persons entering southern Africa from areas classified by the Robert Koch Institute as virus-variant areas must be quarantined for 14 days -- this also applies regardless of vaccination status.
"We must do everything we can to prevent the spread of the new variant in the Free State and in Germany," said a ministry spokeswoman in Munich. It is not yet clear whether the new variant is actually more contagious and leads to more hospitalizations, she said. "Until the science is clearer, however, we must exercise caution," the spokeswoman stressed.
Earlier, Hesse's Social Affairs Minister Kai Klose of the Green Party announced another suspected case. According to the report, several mutations typical for this variant were found in a traveler returning from South Africa. The fully vaccinated person had reportedly entered the country via Frankfurt Airport on Nov. 21 and developed symptoms over the course of the week. An exact result is expected in this case on Monday.
-ABC News' Rashid Haddou
Nov 27, 2:56 pm
US will "take it one step at a time" on omicron: Harris
Vice President Kamala Harris says she has been briefed on the omicron variant and when asked if there will be any additional travel restrictions, she said they will be "taking it one step at a time."
Harris said that for now, the administration believes they’ve done "what we believe is necessary," and they will "take every precaution" to protect Americans.
-ABC News' Justin Gomez
Nov 27, 1:11 pm
England sets new measures in response to omicron
English Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced new tightened measures Saturday in response to the discovery of omicron in the UK. The measures include:
-All international arrivals entering England must take a Day 2 PCR test and self-isolate until they receive a negative result.
-All contacts of suspected omicron cases must self-isolate for 10 days, regardless of their vaccination status.
-Face coverings will become compulsory on public transport and in shops.
The UK government had also said that omicron was found in Chelmsford, but said Saturday that that information was incorrect and that the variant had been found in Brentwood.
A spokesperson for Essex County Council said: "We can confirm that a single case involving the new Covid-19 Variant of Concern (B 1.1.529) , Omicron, has been identified in Brentwood. This is linked to a single case from Nottingham involving international travel to South Africa."
“We are working with regional and local public health officers who are assessing the situation. All close contacts of these individuals will be followed up and requested to isolate and get tested," the spokesperson said in a Twitter thread.
"The individuals who have so far tested positive, as well as all members of their households, are being re-tested and have been told to self-isolate while contact tracing is underway .... While this work takes place, it is important that everyone takes sensible precautions -- get a PCR test if you have symptoms, isolate when asked, wear a face covering in crowded and enclosed spaces, ventilate rooms, get your vaccine and boosters as soon as you can," the spokesperson added.
-ABC News' Rashid Haddou
Nov 27, 10:53 am
2 cases of new variant, omicron, found in England
Two cases of the newly discovered variant, omicron, were detected in the UK -- in Chelmsford and Nottingham -- according to the UK Health Secretary, Sajid Javid.
The cases are linked to South Africa. Javid said four more African countries were added to the UK’s Travel Red List : Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Angola. Also currently on the list are Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe.
-ABC News' Rashid Haddou
Nov 27, 8:17 am
'Wouldn't be surprised' if omicron already in US: Fauci
Chief medical adviser to the president, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said he "wouldn't be surprised" if the new COVID-19 variant omicron was already in the United States, on NBC Saturday morning.
"You know, I would not be surprised if it is. We have not detected it yet, but when you have a virus that is showing this degree of transmissibility and you're already having travel-related cases that they've noted in Israel and Belgium and other places, when you have a virus like this, it almost invariably is ultimately going to go, essentially all over," Fauci said.
"Its ability to infect people who have recovered from infection and even people who have been vaccinated makes us say this is something you have to pay really close attention to and be prepared for something that's serious. It may not turn out that way, but you really want to be ahead of it," Fauci also said.
-ABC News' Ahmad Hemingway
Nov 27, 8:08 am
61 travelers from South Africa to Netherlands test positive, getting tested for omicron
Sixty-one people who traveled from South Africa to the Netherlands have tested positive for COVID-19 and will be tested for the newly discovered COVID variant omicron, The Associated Press reported.
Two flights from Johannesburg and Cape Town arrived in the Netherlands Friday, just after the Dutch government, along with other countries, imposed a ban on southern African nations with the discovery of omicron, according to the AP.
Those who tested positive must remain in quarantine for seven days if they have symptoms and five days if they do not.
-ABC News' Ahmad Hemingway
Nov 26, 9:50 pm
CDC says it's monitoring omicron following WHO guidance
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a statement Friday that it is "following the details of this new variant," omicron, first reported to the World Health Organization by South Africa.
"We are grateful to the South African government and its scientists who have openly communicated with the global scientific community and continue to share information about this variant with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and CDC," the CDC said, adding that it is continuing to learn more about the variant and monitor its path.
No cases of omicron have been identified in the U.S. to date, but on Friday the WHO classified the new variant as a "variant of concern.”
"CDC is continuously monitoring variants and the U.S. variant surveillance system has reliably detected new variants in this country," the CDC said. "We expect Omicron to be identified quickly, if it emerges in the U.S."
The CDC recommends that people traveling to the U.S. continue to follow its guidance for traveling.
Nov 26, 11:22 am
Fauci says newly detected variant could be a ‘red flag’
U.S. and South African scientists will address the new B.1.1.529 variant that has been reported in Europe and Africa, Dr. Anthony Fauci said Friday.
In an interview with CNN, Fauci said there is no indication the variant is in the U.S. but “anything is possible.”
“There’s a lot of travel, you never know exactly where it is,” Fauci said.
Scientists are still trying to determine if the variant can evade vaccines and is more transmissible.
“So right now you’re talking about sort of a red flag that this might be an issue, but we don’t know,” Fauci said.
The U.S. will evaluate the variant’s scientific data and decide if prevention measures such as travel bans are necessary, he noted.
“You’re prepared to do everything you need to do to protect the American public. But you want to make sure there’s a basis for doing that. And that’s what we’re doing right now,” Fauci said.
Nov 26, 10:08 am
Belgium confirms 1st European case of new variant
Belgium’s health department has confirmed its first case of the new B.1.1.529 variant.
The patient, a woman, had traveled to Belgium from Egypt via Istanbul. She developed symptoms 11 days after her return and was not vaccinated. Her family members have tested negative for COVID and the woman is not in a life-threatening condition, officials said.
Hong Kong has two confirmed cases and Israel has one other confirmed case of the B.1.1.529 variant. Several cases have been reported in South Africa and Botswana.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Friday issued a formal recommendation for countries in the 27 nation EU bloc to suspend travel with countries affected by the new variant.
Nov 26, 4:04 am
EU to propose travel ban on southern Africa over new variant
The European Union's executive branch said Friday that it wants to suspend air travel to the bloc from southern Africa due to concerns over a newly identified variant of the novel coronavirus.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen made the announcement via Twitter, saying a proposal "to activate the emergency brake to stop air travel from the Southern Africa region" will be made "in close coordination" with EU member states.
The variant, called B.1.1.529, was first detected in South Africa earlier this week and has quickly spread. At least 22 cases have been confirmed in the country so far, according to South Africa's National Institute for Communicable Diseases. South African scientist Tulio de Oliveira told reporters Thursday that the new variant carries "a very high number of mutations," but it's unclear whether it will limit the effectiveness of vaccines.
Several cases of B.1.1.529 have since been confirmed in neighboring Botswana as well as in Hong Kong and Israel. The cases detected in Hong Kong and Israel were linked to travelers who had arrived from southern Africa.
The World Health Organization will meet on Friday to assess B.1.1.529 and determine whether it should be designated a variant "of interest" or "of concern."
Nov 25, 8:01 pm
UK issues travel restrictions due to concerns over new variant
The United Kingdom announced Thursday new travel restrictions for six countries over concerns about a new variant of the novel coronavirus that emerged in South Africa.
The variant, known as B.1.1.529, has also been found in Botswana and Hong Kong in travelers from southern Africa. It has not yet been detected in the U.K., officials said.
"The early indications we have of this variant is that it may be more transmissible than the delta variant, and the vaccines that we currently have may be less effective against it," U.K. Health Secretary Sajid Javid said during a briefing Thursday.
Starting midday on Friday, all flights from six southern African countries -- South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Botswana -- will be temporarily suspended, and travelers entering the U.K. from those countries after 4 a.m. on Sunday must quarantine in a government-approved hotel for 10 days.
Currently, B.1.1.529 is not designated by the World Health Organization as a variant "of concern" or "of interest." So far, 22 cases have been confirmed in South Africa, according to the country's National Institute for Communicable Diseases.
The WHO's technical working group is scheduled to meet Friday to assess the new variant and may decide whether to give it a name from the Greek alphabet, based on its naming system for variants of concern and variants of interest.
The virus evolves as it spreads and many new variants, including those with worrying mutations, often just die out. Scientists monitor for possible changes that could be more transmissible or deadly, but sorting out whether new variants will have a public health impact can take time.
Nov 25, 10:18 am
Arizona hospital enters 'crisis care' operating mode
The Copper Queen Community Hospital in Bisbee, Arizona, is "operating in crisis care" due to the latest surge of COVID-19 cases in the state, local ABC affiliate KNXV reported.
The hospital only had 13 beds available and was "really struggling," according to the Arizona Department of Health Services.
The state reported its 84,813th COVID-19 hospitalization on Tuesday, according to health department data. Arizona reported more than 4,000 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday.
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