Fauci Signals Support for Domestic Air Travel Vaccine Mandate


  • Dr. Anthony Fauci on Sunday signaled support for a vaccine mandate for domestic air travel. 
  • His comments come as the Omicron variant of COVID-19 spreads through the US, driving a surge of cases.
  • “Every day it goes up and up. The last weekly average was about 150,000 and it likely will go much higher,” he said during an appearance on ABC News’ “This Week.” 

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the longtime director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, signaled Sunday he would support a vaccine requirement for domestic air travel in the US since it would encourage people to get vaccinated. 

“I mean, vaccine requirements for people coming in from other countries is to prevent newly infected people from getting in to the country,” Fauci said of the existing vaccine requirement for international travelers to the US. 

He made the comments in an interview Sunday on ABC News’ “This Week.”

“A vaccine requirement for a person getting on the plane is just another level of getting people to have a mechanism that would spur them to get vaccinated,” he added of a potential vaccination mandate for domestic air travel. 

President Joe Biden said earlier in December that he did not at present think such a mandate was necessary.

“I continue to rely on the scientists and asking them whether or not we have to move beyond what we did yesterday. Right now, they’re saying no,” he said, according to the New York Post.

 

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg in November similarly said he didn’t believe a mandate for domestic air travel was necessary, saying current mitigation strategies on planes, namely masking, were effective in stopping the spread of COVID-19. 

Despite calling such a mandate “welcome,” on Sunday, Fauci similarly pointed toward existing strategies as effective in mitigating the spread of COVID-19.

“I mean, anything that could get people more vaccinated would be welcome,” Fauci said Sunday. “But with regard to the spread of virus in the country, I mean, I think if you look at wearing a mask and the filtration on planes, things are reasonably safe,” he added.

According to data from the Transportation Security Administration, more than 1.7 million people went through security screenings at US airports on December 24 compared to just about 616,000 people who traveled on Christmas Eve in 2020.

The holiday travel comes amid an ongoing rise in COVID-19 cases in the US, fueled in part by the Omicron variant of the disease, which is believed to be more transmissible than previous strains of the novel coronavirus, though it may cause more “mild” illness, experts say. 

Fauci on Sunday the Omicron variant “extraordinarily contagious.”

“Every day it goes up and up. The last weekly average was about 150,000 and it likely will go much higher,” he said Sunday of new cases in the US.





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Fauci: Omicron ‘raging through the world’ and travel increases Covid risks | Coronavirus


The Omicron variant of Covid-19 has “extraordinary spreading capabilities”, the top US infectious diseases expert said on Sunday, and promises to bring a bleak winter as it continues “raging through the world”.

Dr Anthony Fauci’s warning came ahead of the busy holiday travel period, which he said would elevate the risk of infection even in vaccinated people.

In an interview with NBC’s Meet the Press, Fauci, Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser and head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, urged Americans to get booster shots and wear masks.

He also appeared to attempt damage control over Vice-President Kamala Harris’s contention that the Biden administration “didn’t see” the Omicron or Delta variants coming.

Harris’s comments on Friday were “taken out of context”, Fauci insisted, and referred to the “extraordinary number of mutations” of Covid-19 rather than any lack of readiness.

“We were well prepared and expected that we were going to see variants,” he said. “There’s no doubt about that.”

Fauci looked ahead to a scheduled national address by Biden on Tuesday, in which he said the president would “upscale” elements of the White House Covid winter plan.

“He’s going to stress several things,” Fauci said. “… Getting people boosted who are vaccinated, getting children vaccinated, making testing more available, having surge teams out, because we know we’re going to need them because there will be an increased demand on hospitalisation.”

The White House reset comes at the end of a week in which the US surpassed 800,000 deaths from coronavirus and saw a 17% surge in cases and a 9% rise in deaths.

Medical experts have warned of an Omicron-fueled “viral blizzard” sweeping the country. Biden has spoken of a “winter of severe illness and death” among the unvaccinated.

Fauci repeated such dire predictions on CNN’s State of the Union.

“One thing that’s clear is [Omicron’s] extraordinary capability of spreading, its transmissibility capability,” he said. “It is just raging through the world.

“This virus is extraordinary. It has a doubling time of anywhere from two to three days in certain regions of the country, which means it’s going to take over. If you look at what it’s done in South Africa, what it’s doing in the UK, and what it’s starting to do right now, the president is correct.

“It is going to be tough. We can’t walk away from that because with the Omicron that we’re dealing with it is going to be a tough few weeks to months as we get deeper into the winter. We are going to see significant stress in some regions of the country, on the hospital system, particularly in those areas where you have a low level of vaccination.”

Many cases of Omicron are so-called “breakthrough” infections. Florida, one of the hardest-hit states throughout the pandemic, reported on Sunday that about 30% of new infections were in people vaccinated but yet to receive a booster.

Fauci and other experts have said immunisations alone will not prevent the spread of Omicron, but are confident that the risk of serious disease or death is vastly reduced in those who are vaccinated.

Dr Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, told CBS’s Face the Nation he was concerned about the effects of Omicron on those who are not vaccinated.

“It’s a brand new version and so different that it has the properties to potentially be evasive of the vaccines and other measures that we’ve taken,” he said.

“The big message for today is if you’ve had vaccines and a booster you’re very well protected against Omicron causing you severe disease. Anybody who’s in that 60% of Americans who are eligible for a booster but haven’t yet gotten one, this is the week to do it. Do not wait.”

In New York, authorities said 22,000 people tested positive for Covid-19 on Friday, eclipsing the previous record since testing became widely available.

Meanwhile, a study in South Africa this week suggested that the Pfizer vaccine has a weaker efficacy against Omicron in patients who have received two doses than it does against the Delta variant.

The research by Discovery Health, the country’s largest medical insurance administrator, calculated a 70% protection from hospitalization compared with the unvaccinated, and 33% protection against infection.The group said that represented a drop from 93% hospitalization protection and 80% infection prevention for Delta.



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Fauci: Safe holiday travel is possible if people are ‘prudent’


The CDC reported more than 150,000 new coronavirus cases at the end of last week.

The Omicron variant has proved more contagious than the Delta variant, spreading across the United States after being first detected in the country in California.

When asked to respond to Vice President Kamala Harris’ statement that Americans didn’t see the Delta or Omicron variants coming, Fauci clarified that the presence of variants was expected but the extent of the mutations now seen with the Omicron variant was not.

“I think that the vice president’s statement was taken a bit out of context. I believe that the vice president was referring to the fact, if you look at the number of mutations in Omicron, it’s unprecedented,” he said.

In the 2 1/2 months boosters have been available, almost 70 percent of U.S. adults have yet to get one. Fauci predicted that the nation will continue to see breakthrough infections but said getting the booster shot is people’s best chance at being protected.

Fauci reiterated that the biggest difference in terms of severity of a Covid infection is whether someone has been vaccinated and boosted or not vaccinated at all.



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Fauci: U.S. reviewing its South African travel ban and hopes to lift it soon


The medical adviser added that Omicron is becoming the dominant variant in South Africa, though he noted that there’s no current evidence that the new variant causes more severe illness than previously detected Covid-19 variants.

“Thus far, though it’s too early to really make any definitive statements about it, thus far, it does not look like there’s a great degree of severity to it,” Fauci said, tempering the remarks by saying it’s too soon to make determinations about Omicron.

“We feel certain,” he added, that booster shots and vaccines provide protection against the new variant.



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Fauci Says He Hopes U.S. Travel Ban From Southern Africa Can Be Lifted in ‘Reasonable Period’ | Top News


WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease official, said on Sunday he hopes the ban on travelers from southern African countries can be lifted in a “reasonable period of time” as more information is gathered on the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

Fauci said on CNN’s “State of the Union” program that U.S. authorities are mindful of the hardship the travel ban is causing in those countries and are constantly re-evaluating the policy.

(Reporting By Matt Spetalnick)

Copyright 2021 Thomson Reuters.



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US coronavirus: You don’t have to change holiday plans due to Omicron if you’re vaccinated, Fauci says. But don’t wait to get a booster


With the Delta variant still spreading — and travel expected to increase this month — vaccinations are key to safely enjoying end-of-the-year festivities.
“Just as I said and I’ll say it again, if you have a vaccinated situation, enjoy the holidays with your family in a family setting,” National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Dr. Anthony Fauci said at a CNN Global Town Hall on Wednesday.
But it’s clear that vaccinations have been effective against other coronavirus variants, including the Delta variant that is still raging in hotspots across the US. And Fauci said their success against Delta may also be seen with Omicron.

“That’s where we’re hoping we’ll see with the Omicron variant, that if you get your levels high enough it’ll spill over and get cross-protection against that variant,” Fauci said, adding that it is still not clear whether people will need yearly or more frequent Covid-19 booster shots.

Some Americans may be asking if they should wait to get a Covid-19 booster depending on what scientists learn about the Omicron variant, but Fauci said to not wait.

“Get that extra boost now,” Fauci said. “The level of antibodies that rise and go up following a boost is much, much higher than the peak level that you get after your second dose of a two-dose vaccine.”

As officials prep for Omicron, US hospitals are still battling severe Delta variant infections
The first confirmed case in the US of the Omicron variant was identified in California on Wednesday. Fauci said the person was fully vaccinated and is experiencing “mild symptoms, which are improving at this point.”

A second case has been found in a Minnesota resident who had traveled to New York City. The person — an adult male — was vaccinated, had mild symptoms on November 22 and was tested on November 24. He has since recovered, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

New York officials are asking individuals who attended a conference at the Javits Center between November 18-22 to get tested following revelations that the Minnesota resident also attended the conference. Proof of vaccination was required to attend the convention, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said Thursday.

Health officials expect to find more Omicron cases as genetic sequencing continues around the country.

The Delta variant is still at the forefront of health officials’ minds as it accounts for practically all new infections. Nearly 58,000 Americans are hospitalized with Covid-19, according to data from US Health and Human Services.

Dr. Richard Besser, former acting director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Wednesday that he hopes so-called “Covid-19 fatigue” will not prevent people from getting vaccinated.

“Even if the Omicron strain doesn’t turn out to be any worse, we are losing close to a thousand people every day from the Delta variant, and that in and of itself is a reason for people to get boosted,” Besser said.

A person is tested for Covid-19 inside the Tom Bradley International Terminal at Los Angeles International Airport on December 01, 2021

Travel concerns remain

With Omicron detected in at least 25 countries and territories, officials are working to find those infected and are cautioning those at higher risk of severe symptoms to avoid travel.
In the US, the Biden administration announced restrictions last week against travelers, with the exception of US citizens and legal permanent residents, from entering the US from eight southern African nations. The Omicron variant was first identified by South African scientists.
Biden to extend transportation mask mandate through March
Following an earlier CDC order that airlines must collect contact information from passengers before their arrival to notify of possible Covid-19 exposures, the agency plans to provide the names of those on flights from southern Africa to state and local public health departments, a health official confirms. Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and American Airlines told CNN they are complying with the directive.

Fauci told a White House news briefing Wednesday that the travel bans are meant to be “temporary” and were needed to slow the variant’s arrival, rather than the highly unlikely task of stopping it completely.

“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 said. “But we needed to buy some time to be able to prepare, understand what’s going on.”

The World Health Organization on Tuesday said those who are not fully vaccinated or do not have proof of prior infection, as well as those over 60 years of age or have comorbidities such as heart disease, cancer or diabetes should “postpone travel to areas with community transmission” due to the Omicron variant.

Prolonged pandemic effects discovered

With more than 785,000 Americans dead from Covid-19 and hospitals still stretched to capacity in some parts of the country, two recent studies further demonstrate how damaging the virus has been as well for those who survived.
People who lived through a severe case of Covid-19 — those requiring hospitalization — were about 2.5 times more likely to die within a year of diagnosis than those who did not have Covid-19, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal Frontiers in Medicine, and were nearly two times more likely to die than those who had a mild or moderate case.

The study from researchers at the University of Florida found no significant difference in mortality risk between patients with mild or moderate Covid-19 and those who did not have Covid-19, suggesting that preventing severe Covid-19 infections is the most effective ways to avoid deaths.

Only about 20% of “downstream deaths” among Covid-19 patients were from respiratory or cardiovascular causes, the study determined.

“Since these deaths were not for a direct Covid-19 cause of death among these patients who have recovered from the initial episode of Covid-19, this data suggests that the biological insult from Covid-19 and physiological stress from Covid-19 is significant,” the researchers wrote. The de-identified medical records of nearly 14,000 patients in 2020 were used in their study.

Another analysis, from the United Network for Organ Sharing, found that one in every 10 lung transplants in the US in 2021 has gone to a patient with lung damage related to Covid-19.

In the last five months of 2020, only about 2% — one in every 50 — lung transplants went to Covid-19 patients, data showed.

CNN’s Jen Christensen, Maggie Fox, Deidre McPhillips, Jaime Gumbrecht, Jacqueline Howard, Taylor Romine, Virginia Langmaid, Kaitlan Collins, Pete Muntean and Greg Wallace contributed to this report.



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Fauci dodges question on illegal immigrants following same travel restrictions as Americans: ‘Different issue’


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White House Coronavirus Response Team Member Dr. Anthony Fauci dodged a question from Fox News Reporter Peter Doocy regarding illegal immigrants being screened for the omicron coronavirus variant at the border.

“You advised the president about the possibility of new testing requirements for people coming into this country, does that include everybody?” Doocy asked Fauci during a press conference on Wednesday as the White House is reportedly set to issue travel restrictions for American citizens in response to the omicron variant of the coronavirus.

President Biden speaks about the COVID-19 variant named omicron, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Monday, Nov. 29, 2021, in Washington. as Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases listens. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

President Biden speaks about the COVID-19 variant named omicron, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Monday, Nov. 29, 2021, in Washington. as Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases listens. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

OMICRON: WHAT ARE THE VARIANT’S SYMPTOMS?

“The answer is yes,” Fauci said, prompting Doocy to ask if migrants crossing the southern border were included. 

“That’s a different issue,” Fauci claimed.

HUNDREDS OF NYC CORRECTION OFFICERS TO BE SUSPENDED FOR FAILING TO MEET COVID-19 VACCINATION DEADLINE

Fauci explained that there is testing at the border “under certain circumstances” and cited the fact “we still have Title 42” which put into place by former President Donald Trump to mitigate the spread of coronavirus at the border.

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, listens during a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Nov. 4, 2021. Photographer: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, listens during a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, Nov. 4, 2021. Photographer: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

President Biden‘s enhanced winter COVID-19 strategy that will be announced Thursday will require every traveler entering the country, including returning U.S. citizens, to be tested one day before boarding their flight, according to the CDC. The rule will also apply to vaccinated travelers, who previously were only required to show a negative test no more than three days before their flight.

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But the Biden administration has refused to put similar requirements in place for those who illegally cross the border, claiming in September that such individuals do not intend “to stay here for a lengthy period of time.”

Fauci has faced criticism in recent days after claiming in an interview that he “represents” science.

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WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 29: Anthony Fauci (R), Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and Chief Medical Advisor to the President, speaks alongside U.S. President Joe Biden as he delivers remarks on the Omicron COVID-19 variant following a meeting of the COVID-19 response team at the White House on November 29, 2021 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON, DC – NOVEMBER 29: Anthony Fauci (R), Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and Chief Medical Advisor to the President, speaks alongside U.S. President Joe Biden as he delivers remarks on the Omicron COVID-19 variant following a meeting of the COVID-19 response team at the White House on November 29, 2021 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
(Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

“They’re really criticizing science because I represent science – that’s dangerous. To me, that’s more dangerous than the slings and the arrows that get thrown at me. I’m not going to be around here forever, but science is going to be here forever. And if you damage science, you are doing something very detrimental to society long after I leave. And that’s what I worry about,” Fauci told CBS’s Margaret Brennan on Sunday.

Republican Sen. Ted Cruz responded to the comment by calling Fauci “the most dangerous bureaucrat” in American history.

Fox News’ Michael Lee contributed to this report



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Live updates: Obama, Fauci encourage vaccinations at clinic | National


WASHINGTON — Former President Barack Obama and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, visited a children’s vaccination clinic in Washington Tuesday to encourage kids to get a COVID-19 shot.

Speaking to kids and parents at Kimball Elementary School waiting to get their second dose of the vaccine, Obama called the pediatric vaccinations “one more thing to be thankful for” during the holiday season.

“Nobody really loves getting a shot,” Obama said. “I don’t love getting a shot. But I do it because it’s going to help keep me healthy.”

After their surprise appearance in the school gymnasium drawing audible gasps, Obama and Fauci greeted kids and their families, posing for photos, and giving fist-bumps. The pair passed out stickers to kids after they got their shot.

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MORE ON THE PANDEMIC:

— New information shows omicron spread wider earlier than thought

The EU’s medical agency says it will take two weeks to have an indication whether the current COVID-19 vaccines will be able to deal with the new omicron variant

U.S. Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell says new COVID-19 variant could slow the economy and hiring, while also raising uncertainty about inflation.

Face masks are again mandatory in England in shops and on public transport due to the new variant

— See all of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic

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NEW YORK — Pfizer asked U.S. regulators Tuesday to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to get booster doses of its COVID-19 vaccine.

The U.S. and many other nations already were urging adults to get boosters to pump up immunity that can wane about six months after vaccination — calls that intensified with the discovery of the worrisome new omicron variant.

While health authorities don’t yet know just how big a risk omicron poses, President Joe Biden has said it’s inevitable that the mutant will reach the U.S. and that boosters — plus first shots for the unvaccinated — are key to strengthening protection.

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla announced the new booster request via tweet Tuesday, saying, “It is our hope to provide strong protection for as many people as possible, particularly in light of the new variant.”

The FDA is expected to consider the request rapidly.

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GENEVA — The World Health Organization is tweaking its travel advice with regard to the omicron variant just hours after releasing it.

The U.N. health agency originally said that people who are unwell or at risk of developing severe COVID-19 disease and dying are advised to postpone travel. The recommendation applies to people who are at least 60 years old and those with co-morbidities, including cancer, heart disease and diabetes.

But the WHO revised that statement later to say that people who haven’t been fully vaccinated or don’t have proof of earlier infection and are at greater risk are advised to postpone travel to areas with “community transmission,” where it’s spreading more widely.

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SAO PAULO — Health officials in Brazil have reported the country’s first confirmed cases of the omicron variant in two travelers arriving from South Africa, the first such cases in Latin America.

The Sao Paulo state health secretariat said Tuesday a 41-year-old man and a 37-year-old woman are in isolation. The two Brazilians had their tests taken on Nov. 25 and showed light symptoms of the disease at the time.

The secretariat statement said both travelers arrived in Brazil on Nov. 23 and took a PCR test before a trip scheduled for two days later. Their positive test results were collected at the Guarulhos international airport, outside Sao Paulo, before a return flight to South Africa.

“After the positive result, the couple was instructed to remain in isolation at home. Both are being monitored by state and municipal (authorities), as well as their respective family members,” said the Sao Paulo health secretariat. It said neither of the two are registered in the state’s vaccination platform.

Another potential case of omicron has been under investigation by Brazilian authorities since Sunday.

The two Brazilians are the first confirmed cases in Latin America, which has suffered heavily from the coronavirus pandemic. Brazil alone has reported more than 600,000 deaths, a figure that analysts believe to be undercounted.

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Canada is banning foreign nationals from three more countries because of concerns with the omicron COVID-19 variant and all air travelers coming to the country apart from the United States will have to be tested for COVID-19 upon arrival and will have to isolate themselves until they get the results of their test.

Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos says Canada is banning all foreign nationals who have travelled through Nigeria, Malawi and Egypt because of concerns with the omicron COVID-19 variant.

Canada already announced a ban on foreign nationals from seven countries in southern Africa. Canadians who have visited the 10 countries will have to be tested and quarantine.

The Canadian province of Alberta also confirmed its first case of omicron in an individual who travelled from Nigeria and the Netherlands. Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, says the person is asymptomatic.

Alberta is the third province in Canada to report the presence of the Omicron variant. Ontario announced its first cases on Sunday and Quebec reported its first case on Monday.

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LISBON, Portugal — A hospital in central Portugal says it’s closing its pediatric services after finding out that a health worker who had contact with members of a soccer club affected by an omicron coronavirus variant outbreak was also infected with the same strain.

The Hospital Garcia de Orta in Almada, a town neighboring the Portuguese capital has tested 28 other workers who came into close contact with the positive case and all of them returned as negative, according to a statement released late on Tuesday.

An additional group of 28 hospital users have been identified as at possible risk and authorities were following up with them, it said.

The hospital said it will close both emergency and outpatient pediatric service for two weeks.

Portuguese authorities on Monday reported what appeared to be the first confirmed cases of local omicron transmission in Europe after recording 13 positives among members of the Belenenses SAD professional soccer club, including a player who had returned from South Africa where the strain was first identified.

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BERLIN — German vaccine-maker BioNTech said Tuesday that it should be able to begin shipping doses of its coronavirus shot for children under 12 in the European Union a week earlier than previously announced.

BioNTech, which developed the first widely approved COVID-19 vaccine together with U.S. partner Pfizer, said the lower-dosage vials will be delivered to EU countries from Dec. 13.

The 27-nation bloc had previously expected the shipments to begin Dec. 20, causing some concern that the start of the vaccine campaign for younger children might be disrupted by the festive period.

BioNTech will provide up to 13 million such doses to EU countries in December.

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GENEVA — Switzerland is putting off a planned party for its next president and considering enhanced restrictive measures amid rising coronavirus case counts and concerns about the emergence of a new COVID-19 variant.

Health Minister Alain Berset told reporters Tuesday that the omicron variant that was brought to international attention last week “appears contagious — very contagious — and potentially could evade the immunity that we have seen in the pandemic up to now.”

The country of about 8.5 million people recorded more than 7,200 new coronavirus cases per day based on the latest 7-day average of daily cases, up from fewer than 900 in mid-October. The all-time high count was just over 8,000 per day, recorded in late October 2020. Hospitalizations and deaths due to COVID-19 have been rising, but remain far below peak levels about a year ago.

The Swiss government said it was considering a new tightening of anti-COVID restrictions such as by requiring all attendees of indoor public gatherings to show a COVID certificate that shows vaccination or recovery from the virus, or a recent negative test, up from gatherings of more than 30 people now.

Other options include requiring people who have not been vaccinated or haven’t recovered from the illness to work from home, or wear a mask at all times in common workspaces.

Meanwhile, the government, citing “the evolution of the health situation,” announced the postponement of a planned Dec. 16 “party” for Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis before he takes up the Swiss presidency next year. It was to take place in his native region of Ticino along the Italian border.

The Swiss presidency rotates every year among the seven members of the executive Federal Council, and Cassis is set to take over from current president Guy Parmelin.

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GENEVA — The World Health Organization says “blanket travel bans” will not prevent the spread of a new coronavirus variant, while acknowledging that countries could order quarantines and take screening measures like testing travelers before or after arrival, or both.

The updated travel guidance during the COVID-19 pandemic comes as dozens of countries have barred flights from southern African countries where the omicron variant was brought to international attention last week. WHO says the move unfairly punishes Botswana and South Africa for doing the right thing and being transparent about the emergence of a new variant.

Some health experts have countered that travel restrictions are effective, and many countries have bucked with WHO’s traditional recommendation against travel bans. WHO said that as of Sunday, 56 countries were reportedly implementing travel measures aimed at curbing the spread of omicron.

“Blanket travel bans will not prevent the international spread, and they place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods,” WHO said, while acknowledging the use of screening measures to help stem the spread of omicron.

In its statement, WHO said that so far, current PCR tests continue to be effective in detecting the variant.

The U.N. health agency also said “essential travel” for emergencies, humanitarian missions and transport of essential supplies “should continue to be prioritized.”

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MADRID — Health authorities in the Spanish capital have confirmed a second case of the omicron variant in a 61-year-old woman who had returned from a trip to South Africa on Monday.

The woman, who shows no COVID-19 compatible symptoms and was double-vaccinated, had arrived in a different flight to the first case of omicron recorded in Spain, a 51-year-old man with two doses of coronavirus vaccine who traveled over the weekend.

Both patients remain in isolation, the Madrid region’s health department said Tuesday.

Authorities in northeastern Catalonia said they couldn’t establish yet if two suspected cases of coronavirus were related to the new variant, saying the sequencing of samples would not likely be conclusive until Friday.

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BUCHAREST, Romania — A Romanian state-owned aircraft brought 70 passengers from South Africa to Bucharest after concerns about the omicron variant of the coronavirus led to flight cancellations that left people stranded.

Romania’s foreign ministry said 46 of the passengers on the flight that landed Tuesday afternoon were Romanians and included a professional Romanian rugby team.

“European solidarity is a tangible reality,” Romanian Foreign Minister Bogdan Aurescu wrote online after the aircraft landed, noting that 18 EU citizens not from Romania were on the flight.

Seven Romanian citizens in Cape Town failed to board the repatriation flight due to logistical reasons or lack of a PCR test, authorities said.

The national champion rugby team, from Baia Mare in northern Romania, said authorities had undertaken “sustained efforts” to repatriate 31 team members who had been participating in a tournament in Bloemfontein, South Africa.

Romanian authorities said Tuesday that 72 Romanian citizens stranded in Morocco after the North African country canceled almost all flights in response to the omicron variant are to be flown home later this week.

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LISBON, Portugal — All air passengers coming to Portugal must board their planes with a negative coronavirus test if they want to enter the country beginning on Wednesday, when Portugal enacts its second state of emergency this year as it tries to stop a surge in new infections, authorities said Tuesday.

The director of Lisbon’s airport, Rui Alves, told reporters that travelers will be given different wristbands depending on where their trip originated to ease their identification during the airport screening process. The new entry rules were drafted before the first cases of the omicron variant were reported in the country in the last few days.

Those who fail to show a negative test face fines ranging from 300 to 800 euros ($340 to $910). Airlines that transport untested passengers could also be fined 20,000 euros ($22,600) per person and, if they persist, could even lose their license.

PCR or antigen test results will be required for those arriving by land from outside of the European Union and from most EU countries considered at high or medium-high risk.

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RIGA, Latvia — U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken had nothing but praise for South Africa on how it has alerted the world to the new omicron variant of COVID-19.

“I really want to applaud and express gratitude to South Africa and its government for its extraordinary transparency and also the very important work it did in detecting this new variant and in making it known to the world,” he said. “That’s exactly I think, a model of responsibility that South Africa has exhibited that we would hope everyone in the world would show, because we are all in this together.”

Blinken spoke Tuesday at a NATO foreign ministers meeting in Riga, Latvia.

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LONDON — New measures to combat the new omicron variant of coronavirus took effect in England on Tuesday, with face coverings again compulsory in shops and on public transportation, as the government said it would offer all adults a booster dose of vaccine within two months to bolster the nation’s immunity.

From Tuesday morning, all travelers returning to the U.K. must also take a PCR test and self-isolate until they receive a negative result.

The reintroduction of mandatory face masks brings England closer in line with the rest of the U.K. — Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland — which had kept some restrictions in place after England lifted all mandatory measures in the summer.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the new measures will “buy us time in the face” of the new variant. He said that while many people felt an understandable “sense of exhaustion” at the prospect of renewed restrictions, the U.K.’s position is “immeasurably better than it was a year ago.”

The government said Tuesday that 22 cases of the omicron variant have been identified, a number that is expected to rise.

———

ATHENS — Residents in Greece over 60 years old will have to undergo mandatory vaccinations against coronavirus or face monthly 100-euro ($114) fines beginning next year, the prime minister announced Tuesday, declaring the country’s first general inoculation mandate.

The Greek government decided upon the measure in response to a surge in new daily infections and the emergence of the omicron variant. It will take effect on Jan. 16 and the fines will be added to tax bills, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said in a televised statement.

Greece’s overall COVID-19 death toll exceeded 18,000 this week with confirmed new infections at high levels. Roughly a quarter of the country’s adult population remains unvaccinated.

Vaccination mandates were introduced over the summer for health care workers and fire service rescuers in Greece, with those failing to comply being suspended from their jobs indefinitely without pay.

The government has ruled out imposing new lockdowns but says it is targeting the elderly with tougher restrictions to protect the public health service as ICU occupancy is near capacity nationwide.

———

BERLIN — Germany’s national and state leaders will decide Thursday on new measures to tackle a sharp rise in coronavirus infections, officials said after the country’s outgoing and incoming chancellors conferred with governors.

The measures are likely to include restrictions on shopping for unvaccinated people and limiting crowds at soccer matches, along with possible moves toward a vaccine mandate for all.

Outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel and her designated successor, Olaf Scholz, held talks with Germany’s 16 state governors on Tuesday, hours after the country’s top court strengthened politicians’ hand by rejecting complaints against curfews and other restrictions imposed earlier this year.

Many states have tightened rules of their own accord, but experts and politicians have called for more coordinated national action as infection rates hit new highs.

———

MOSCOW — Russian authorities on Tuesday tightened coronavirus restrictions because of the omicron variant, even though the country has yet to report its first confirmed case.

Anna Popova, head of Russia’s public health agency Rospotrebnadzor, announced Tuesday that travelers arriving from countries where the risk of contracting the omicron variant of coronavirus is high will have to quarantine for two weeks. She didn’t specify which countries were on the list.

Popova also said that results of PCR tests for coronavirus, used in many Russian regions to gain access to public places, will remain valid for only 48 hours instead of 72 hours.

“The new variant indeed elicits serious concerns and demands immediate, comprehensive study,” Popova said.

———

GENEVA — The Swiss government says travelers arriving from Canada, Japan, Niger and Portugal will be required starting Wednesday to present both a negative COVID-19 test and undergo a 10-day quarantine.

The new measures were announced on Tuesday after cases of the newly identified coronavirus variant omicron turned up in those countries.

On Friday, the Swiss government initiated a similar requirement for travelers from Belgium, Hong Kong and Israel, and banned all flights from seven countries in southern Africa where cases of the variant were first detected.

———

WASHINGTON — Drugmaker Regeneron says that its COVID-19 antibody cocktail may be less effective against the omicron variant, though the company says more testing is needed to gauge the effect.

Regeneron’s cocktail is one of three antibody treatments that have become the standard U.S. treatments for COVID-19 patients who do not yet require hospitalization. The federal government has purchased and distributed millions of doses of the drugs, which are infused or injected by health professionals.

Because of mutations in the omicron variant, health authorities have warned that some vaccines and antibodies may lose their potency.

Regeneron says it is doing more analysis to define the variant’s impact on its drug’s effectiveness.

The company also says it is testing alternate antibodies that may be more effective against the new variant.

———

MADRID — Spain’s government has banned flights connecting air routes from South Africa and six neighboring countries to the European country due to fears of the new omicron coronavirus variant.

The order affects any connecting flights from South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe. Spain has no direct flights to southern Africa. The order will take effect on Thursday.

Spanish health authorities have reported one confirmed case of the omicron strain in a 51-year-old man who flew from South Africa to Madrid via Amsterdam. He was fully vaccinated and is showing mild symptoms. Three more possible cases are under investigation.

Much remains unknown about the new variant, though the World Health Organization warned that the global risk from the variant is “very high” and early evidence suggests it could be more contagious.

———

RIGA, Latvia — U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the new omicron variant of the coronavirus, which was discovered in South Africa, underscores the point that “none of us will be fully safe until everyone is.”

Speaking in Riga, Latvia, during a two-day meeting of the NATO foreign ministers, Blinken also noted “a real disparity” between vaccinations in Africa and the United States and Europe.

“We have vaccination rates in the United States, in Europe of 50, 60, 70%, depending on exactly who you’re counting. And in Africa, it’s more like 14, 15% or less.”

He noted that sometimes the supply of vaccines may actually be sufficient to meet the needs, but the ability to get shots in arms is lacking.

He said the United States was working on a solution that “brings the private sector into the game to help solve these last-mile problems of getting shots and arms. We’re putting that into into motion now.”

———

BRUSSELS — The omicron variant was already in the Netherlands when South Africa alerted the World Health Organization about it last week, Dutch health authorities said Tuesday, adding to fear and confusion over the new version of the coronavirus.

The Netherlands’ RIVM health institute found omicron in samples dating from Nov. 19 and 23. The WHO said South Africa first reported the the variant to the U.N. healthy agency on Nov. 24.

It remains unclear where or when the variant first emerged — but that hasn’t stopped nations from rushing to impose travel restrictions, especially on visitors coming from southern Africa.

Much is still not known about the variant — though the WHO warned that the global risk from the variant is “very high” and early evidence suggests it could be more contagious.



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Fauci says he doesn’t expect more travel restrictions even if Omicron variant proves more contagious and deadly


President Joe Biden announced last week that the US would restrict travel from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi in response to the new and potentially more transmissible coronavirus variant first identified by South African scientists. Several other nations have followed suit in restricting travel from southern Africa nations.

Asked by CNN’s Jake Tapper on Monday whether he expects more travel restrictions should Omicron prove to be more contagious and deadly, Fauci, Biden’s chief medical adviser, replied, “I don’t think so, Jake.”

“I think what was done about the restrictions from South Africa and neighboring countries was merely because when the information came out about the molecular makeup of this virus with all of the mutations that were of concern, we felt that we needed to do something right away,” Fauci, the long-time director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told Tapper on “The Lead.”

“Hopefully those restrictions are not going to be a very long duration until we get a handle as to what’s going on. But we do not anticipate any further restrictions,” he added.

Fauci also said that the travel restrictions are not going to have much of an impact “in the big picture of whether (the Omicron variant) gets here or not.”

“But … it will provide us maybe a couple of weeks of getting better prepared,” he added.

Fauci said US health officials should know the severity of Covid-19 cases caused by the Omicron variant in about a week or two and that they are getting their information from counterparts in South Africa, whom the officials have been in near constant contact with.

“They have a number of patients that they’re following in the medical facilities, and they assured us that they would know probably in a matter of a week, a week and a half, as to whether or not we’re dealing with something that, for the most part is more severe, equally as severe or less severe. It could be either of them,” Fauci said. “Right now, it does not look like there’s a big signal of a high degree of severity, but it’s too early to tell.”

It’s unclear if Omicron will become the dominant strain in the US, but that’s another reason officials are watching cases in South Africa closely.
Pfizer expected to seek FDA authorization for boosters for those ages 16 and 17

“You know, it’s unfortunate that South Africa has been sort of the epicenter, or at least a recognition of it, but the good news is they are as good as it gets when it comes to scientists and public health people, so they’ll be able to give us some very important information, hopefully within the next week or two,” Fauci said.

In the meantime, he told Tapper, “the unvaccinated need to get vaccinated and those who are eligible to get boosted should get boosted because we know from experience … that even with variants that are not specifically directed at by the vaccine, such as the Delta variant, if you get the level of antibody high enough, the protection spills over to those other variants.”

Earlier Monday, Biden urged American not to panic over the new variant and encouraged those who have not yet gotten a booster but are eligible to do so.

“We have the best vaccine in the world, the best medicines, the best scientists, and we’re learning more every single day. And we’ll fight this variant with scientific and knowledgeable actions and speed — not chaos and confusion,” the President said.



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Fauci says he doesn’t expect more travel restrictions even if Omicron variant proves more contagious and deadly – KION546


By Maegan Vazquez, CNN

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious diseases expert, said Monday that he doesn’t anticipate the United States will implement additional travel restrictions even if the Omicron variant proves worse than previous strains of Covid-19.

President Joe Biden announced last week that the US would restrict travel from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi in response to the new and potentially more transmissible coronavirus variant first identified by South African scientists. Several other nations have followed suit in restricting travel from southern Africa nations.

Asked by CNN’s Jake Tapper on Monday whether he expects more travel restrictions should Omicron prove to be more contagious and deadly, Fauci, Biden’s chief medical adviser, replied, “I don’t think so, Jake.”

“I think what was done about the restrictions from South Africa and neighboring countries was merely because when the information came out about the molecular makeup of this virus with all of the mutations that were of concern, we felt that we needed to do something right away,” Fauci, the long-time director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told Tapper on “The Lead.”

“Hopefully those restrictions are not going to be a very long duration until we get a handle as to what’s going on. But we do not anticipate any further restrictions,” he added.

Fauci also said that the travel restrictions are not going to have much of an impact “in the big picture of whether (the Omicron variant) gets here or not.”

“But … it will provide us maybe a couple of weeks of getting better prepared,” he added.

Fauci said US health officials should know the severity of Covid-19 cases caused by the Omicron variant in about a week or two and that they are getting their information from counterparts in South Africa, whom the officials have been in near constant contact with.

“They have a number of patients that they’re following in the medical facilities, and they assured us that they would know probably in a matter of a week, a week and a half, as to whether or not we’re dealing with something that, for the most part is more severe, equally as severe or less severe. It could be either of them,” Fauci said. “Right now, it does not look like there’s a big signal of a high degree of severity, but it’s too early to tell.”

It’s unclear if Omicron will become the dominant strain in the US, but that’s another reason officials are watching cases in South Africa closely.

“You know, it’s unfortunate that South Africa has been sort of the epicenter, or at least a recognition of it, but the good news is they are as good as it gets when it comes to scientists and public health people, so they’ll be able to give us some very important information, hopefully within the next week or two,” Fauci said.

In the meantime, he told Tapper, “the unvaccinated need to get vaccinated and those who are eligible to get boosted should get boosted because we know from experience … that even with variants that are not specifically directed at by the vaccine, such as the Delta variant, if you get the level of antibody high enough, the protection spills over to those other variants.”

Earlier Monday, Biden urged American not to panic over the new variant and encouraged those who have not yet gotten a booster but are eligible to do so.

“We have the best vaccine in the world, the best medicines, the best scientists, and we’re learning more every single day. And we’ll fight this variant with scientific and knowledgeable actions and speed — not chaos and confusion,” the President said.

The-CNN-Wire
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