Covid-19 Live Updates: Omicron Variant News, Vaccines and the Latest


ImageThe Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine and booster shots were administered in Rosemead, Calif. on Sunday.
Credit…Frederic J. Brown/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Prompted by growing concerns about the Omicron variant, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday said that all American adults “should” get booster doses of the available coronavirus vaccines.

Adults aged 18 and older should get a booster shot when they are six months past the initial immunization with the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines, or two months after the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, the agency said.

The C.D.C. had previously said that Americans over age 50, as well as those ages 18 and older living in long-term care facilities, “should” get booster shots while all other adults “may” decide to do so based on their individual risk.The shift in language signals a growing concern about Omicron, despite the limited information available about the variant.

Scientists do not yet know whether vaccines will continue to protect people from Omicron. The variant contains many mutations that suggest the shots may be less effective against Omicron than against other variants.

Dozens of labs worldwide are now trying to assess exactly how much less effective the vaccines might be. They are not expected to have results for at least two weeks.

“Early data from South Africa suggest increased transmissibility of the Omicron variant, and scientists in the United States and around the world are urgently examining vaccine effectiveness related to this variant,” Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the C.D.C., said in a statement.

“I strongly encourage the 47 million adults who are not yet vaccinated to get vaccinated as soon as possible and to vaccinate the children and teens in their families as well.”

Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna plan to test whether booster shots of their vaccines will bolster the immune system enough to fend off the new variant. The boosters have been shown to raise antibody levels significantly. Those antibodies may not be able to neutralize Omicron entirely, but having more antibodies is generally beneficial, experts have said.

Dr. Walensky also urged Americans to get tested for the virus if they develop symptoms, and to practice prevention strategies known to limit transmission of the virus.

In just the week after it was first detected, the Omicron variant has been spotted in at least 16 countries. The variant has about 50 mutations, including more than 30 in the spike, a viral protein on its surface that the vaccines train the body to recognize and attack.

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Omicron Demonstrates Need for Global Covid Response, W.H.O. Says

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organization, said the new Omicron coronavirus variant underlined a need for better global pandemic cooperation, and that the current system “disincentives” countries from alerting new threats.

If there is one thing we have learned, it’s that no region, no country, no community and no individual is safe until we are all safe. The emergence of the highly mutated Omicron variant underlines just how perilous and precarious our situation is. South Africa and Botswana should be thanked for detecting, sequencing and reporting this variant, not penalized. Indeed, Omicron demonstrates just why the world needs a new accord on pandemics. Our current system disincentives countries from alerting others to threats that will inevitably land on their shores. We don’t yet know whether Omicron is associated with more transmission, more severe disease, more risk of reinfections or more risk of evading vaccines. Scientists at W.H.O. and around the world are working urgently to answer these questions.

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Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the World Health Organization, said the new Omicron coronavirus variant underlined a need for better global pandemic cooperation, and that the current system “disincentives” countries from alerting new threats.CreditCredit…James Gourley/EPA, via Shutterstock

The World Health Organization warned on Monday that the global risk posed by the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus was “very high.” And despite significant questions about the variant’s possible effects, countries around the world rushed to defend against its spread, with a cascade of border closures and travel restrictions that recalled the earliest days of the pandemic.

Scotland, Portugal and Spain identified new cases of the highly mutated variant with officials in eastern Germany reporting an Omicron infection in a 39-year-old infected man who had not been to South Africa or anywhere outside of Germany.

More countries responded by restricting travel, with Japan joining Israel and Morocco in banning all foreign visitors, even as scientists cautioned that the extent of the threat posed by Omicron remained unknown — and as the patchwork of travel measures were so far proving unable to stop its spread.

In a technical briefing note to member countries, the W.H.O. urged national authorities to step up surveillance, testing and vaccinations, reinforcing the key findings that led its technical advisers on Friday to label Omicron a “variant of concern.”

The agency warned that the variant’s “high number of mutations” — including up to 32 variations in the spike protein — meant that “there could be future surges of Covid-19, which could have severe consequences.”

Experts including Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, a top adviser to President Biden, have said that it could be two weeks or longer before more information about the variant’s transmissibility, and the severity of illness it causes, is available. So far, scientists believe that Omicron’s mutations could allow it to spread more easily than prior versions of the virus, but that existing vaccines are likely to offer protection from severe illness and death.

Still, the makers of the two most effective vaccines, Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, were preparing to reformulate their shots if necessary. And some countries, including Britain, were preparing to expand booster programs to protect more people.

The W.H.O. stressed the need for countries to accelerate vaccinations as rapidly as possible, particularly for vulnerable populations and for those who are unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated. It also called on health authorities to strengthen surveillance and field investigations, including community testing, to better determine Omicron’s characteristics.

The recommendation underscored that the steps taken by some countries to wind down testing and tracing capacity in recent months — as the pandemic appeared to be receding thanks to rising vaccination rates — are moving in the wrong direction.

“Testing and tracing remains fundamental to managing this pandemic and really understanding what you’re dealing with,” said Margaret Harris, a spokeswoman for the agency. “We’re asking all countries to really look for this variant, to look if people who have got it are ending up in hospital and if people who are fully vaccinated are ending up in hospital.”

The briefing note adds that P.C.R. tests are an efficient tool for detecting the new variant because they do not require as long a wait for an outcome as genetic sequencing tests that require laboratory capacity not available in all countries.

“It’s very good news,” Ms. Harris said. “You can much more quickly spot who’s got it.”

But while the agency had previously cautioned against imposing travel bans, the briefing note took a more flexible line, calling for a “risk-based approach” to travel restrictions that could include modified testing and quarantine requirements. The agency said it would issue more detailed travel advice in the coming days.

At the same time, W.H.O. member states were beginning a three-day meeting of the World Health Assembly to discuss a global agreement on how to deal with pandemics, a deal long pushed by the agency to address weaknesses in the response to Covid-19. The European Union has argued for a treaty that would require greater information sharing and vaccine equity, but the United States has sought to keep open the option of an agreement that would not be legally binding.

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Biden Urges Vaccinations Amid Omicron Variant Concerns

President Biden called the new Omicron coronavirus variant “a cause for concern, not a cause for panic,” and urged Americans to get vaccinations and booster shots. The variant has not yet been detected in the United States.

The very day the World Health Organization identified the new variant, I took immediate steps to restrict travel from countries in Southern Africa. But while we have that travel restrictions can slow the speed of Omicron, it cannot prevent it. But here’s what it does. It gives us time, gives us time to take more actions, to move quicker, to make sure people understand you have to get your vaccine. You have to get the shot. You have to get the booster. The — sooner or later, we’re going to see cases of this new variant here in the United States. We’ll have to face this new threat just as we faced those that come before it. This variant is a cause for concern, not a cause for panic. 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. In the event — hopefully unlikely — that updated vaccinations or boosters are needed to respond to this new variant, we will accelerate their development and deployment with every available tool. I want to reiterate: Dr. Fauci believes that the current vaccines provide at least some protection against the new variant and the boosters strengthen that protection, significantly. We do not yet believe that additional measures will be needed, but so that we are prepared if needed, my team is already working with officials at Pfizer and Moderna and Johnson & Johnson to develop contingency plans for vaccines or boosters if needed.

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President Biden called the new Omicron coronavirus variant “a cause for concern, not a cause for panic,” and urged Americans to get vaccinations and booster shots. The variant has not yet been detected in the United States.CreditCredit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

President Biden sought to reassure the nation on Monday about the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus as crucial questions about it remain, telling Americans that the variant is “a cause for concern, not a cause for panic,” and that his administration was working with vaccine manufacturers to modify vaccines and booster shots should that prove necessary.

“We’re throwing everything we have at this virus, tracking it from every angle,” Mr. Biden said at the White House, adding, “I’m sparing no effort, removing all roadblocks to keep the American people safe.”

The president is expected to visit the National Institutes of Health on Thursday, and said he would outline “a strategy for how we are going to fight Covid this winter, not with shutdowns or with lockdowns, but with more widespread vaccinations, boosters, testing and more.” The variant has yet to be detected in the United States.

Mr. Biden has already restricted travel from eight nations, including South Africa, a move that experts said would buy the United States time in determining how to respond. But it will likely be a week, possibly two weeks, before experts know more about the new variant. It has mutations that scientists fear could make it more infectious and less susceptible to vaccines, though evidence to support those fears has yet to be established.

Despite significant questions about the variant itself — including whether it causes mild or severe disease — countries around the world have rushed to defend against its spread, with a cascade of border closures and travel restrictions that recalled the earliest days of the pandemic.

Mr. Biden was elected on a promise to bring the pandemic under control — a task that is proving easier said than done. Viruses are dedicated to ensuring their own survival, and that is especially true of the virus that causes Covid-19. Just as Mr. Biden was about to declare “independence from the virus” on the July 4 holiday, the Delta variant swept across the United States, causing another wave of hospitalizations and deaths.

Now there is Omicron, discovered in southern Africa and designated by the World Health Organization on Friday as a “variant of concern,” popping up just as the holiday travel season gets underway.

Mr. Biden is trying to project calm and keep the country from panicking while also ensuring that Americans get vaccinated and take other precautions, including masking and social distancing. He was joined at the White House by Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, who said that current P.C.R. tests were able to detect the new variant.

The emergence of the new variant is also increasing pressure on Mr. Biden and his administration to do more to share vaccines with the rest of the world.

South Africa, whose scientists detected the variant, has fully vaccinated only 24 percent of its population, according to the Our World in Data project at the University of Oxford. It has a better vaccination rate than most countries on the continent, but has asked vaccine makers to stop sending doses: It is having trouble getting shots into arms, in part because of distribution bottlenecks and in part because many people are hesitant to take them.

Elsewhere in Africa, the vaccination rate is much lower, and in some countries, even health care workers have had trouble getting their shots. The W.H.O. reported last week that just 27 percent of health workers in Africa had been fully vaccinated.

The Biden administration has pledged to donate more than a billion vaccine doses to other nations, and so far it has shipped 275 million doses to 110 countries. The president said, as he has in the past, that the United States has donated more doses than any other nation. He implored other foreign leaders to increase their donations.

“Now we need the rest of the world to step as well,” he said.

But activists and some global health experts said the administration needed to move faster, arguing that vaccine inequities were the reason for the emergence of the variant.

“This is precisely what experts have been predicting was going to happen — that the extraordinary inequities and gaps between low-income countries and high-income countries creates this massive vulnerability, and it’s going to continue to generate these dangerous variants,” said J. Stephen Morrison, a global health expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “That point is glaringly obvious, and it’s painful.”

Mr. Biden’s top health advisers, including Dr. Fauci, spent much of the holiday weekend consulting with their South African counterparts.

Dr. Fauci told the president that it would take approximately two weeks to learn more about the variant’s transmissibility and severity, but that “he continues to believe that existing vaccines are likely to provide a degree of protection against severe cases” of Covid, according to a statement from the White House.

Alexandra E. Petri contributed reporting.

Credit…Joao Silva/The New York Times

The Omicron variant of the coronavirus has alarmed many scientists because of the sheer number of genetic mutations it carries — about 50 in all, including at least 26 that are unique to it. But more does not necessarily mean worse: Mutations sometimes work together to make a virus more fearsome, but they may also cancel one another out.

“In principle, mutations can also work against each other,” said Jesse Bloom, an evolutionary biologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. “However, in this case evolutionary selection is more likely to lead to the spread of a new variant with favorable than unfavorable combinations of mutations.”

Still, this phenomenon, called epistasis, is why scientists are reluctant to speculate on Omicron’s attributes, even though individual mutations in the variant are associated with greater transmissibility or with an ability to dodge the body’s immune defenses.

“It is important to get a sense of the full virus,” said Penny Moore, a virologist at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases in South Africa.

Dr. Moore’s team is among dozens worldwide trying to understand whether current vaccines will work against Omicron. The researchers are creating artificial versions of the virus that contain all of Omicron’s mutations, rather than making judgments based on a subset of mutations.

It’s a lesson researchers learned last year, when the Beta variant emerged in South Africa. They estimated that variant’s ability to evade immunity based on one particular mutation, E484K. But Beta also had two other mutations that turned out to affect sensitivity to vaccines.

“The combination of those three mutations was more resistance than a virus that contained only E484K,” Dr. Moore said. Studying the single mutation “turned out to be misleading.”

Omicron carries a mutation called N501Y, which is thought to allow the virus to bind to human cells more tightly. This mutation was also present in the Alpha variant and was linked to its contagiousness.

“Nonetheless, it ended up being Delta, which doesn’t have that particular mutation, that was more even more transmissible than Alpha,” Dr. Bloom said. “That’s because Delta had other mutations that enhance transmissibility.”

A variant’s contagiousness depends on how well the virus binds to receptors on human cells, but also on the stability of the virus, where in the airways it replicates and how much of it is exhaled.

Omicron has a cluster of mutations that are all linked to tighter binding to human cells. “But acting together, they might have a somewhat different effect,” Dr. Bloom said. For that reason, he added, he cannot predict how the variant will act in the body.

That will require laboratory studies, which are underway across the globe.

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South African Scientists Advise Against Panic Over Omicron Variant

South African health officials said that while they need more data to be sure, existing precautions and treatments seem to be effective against the new coronavirus variant.

“There is just no basis for some of the leaders of countries which have imposed these restrictions on traveling for us in South Africa, and other countries in southern Africa. There is no basis for South Africans to panic. We’ve been here before. We still have to understand, led by our scientists, such as the transmissibility of this virus, those that matter which our scientists and epidemiologists are working on, whether there’s any age differentiation in terms of its transmissibility and illness, whether there is increased reinfection for those who have already been infected before, and including also breakthrough infections for those who are those of us who are already vaccinated.” “In terms of clinical presentation, there’s not enough data yet. We’ve seen some anecdotal information. We’ve seen clinicians commenting, but you have to understand that patients coming into a clinical setting are biased in terms of their severity, and what we are seeing. What we are seeing is anecdotal information suggest similar presenting illnesses, mainly in younger people for obvious reasons, and that younger people are less vaccinated. So you will see more cases there. But we simply do not have, you know, sound reliable data on the clinical presentation, but we have no red flags that have been raised, so far.”

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South African health officials said that while they need more data to be sure, existing precautions and treatments seem to be effective against the new coronavirus variant.CreditCredit…Jerome Delay/Associated Press

South African health officials urged the public on Monday not to panic over the emergence of the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus, which appears to be driving a new wave of cases in the country.

It is still too soon, they said, to make solid assessments of whether Omicron has a higher rate of transmission or will cause more hospitalizations or severe illness.

“We simply do not have sound, reliable data on the clinical presentation,” said Salim Abdool Karim, a leading epidemiologist and H.I.V./AIDS researcher who is part of the country’s public health response to the coronavirus pandemic. “But we have no red flags that have been raised so far.”

Scientists are racing to understand the effect of the cluster of mutations seen in the Omicron variant. Still, comparing its mutations with those of other “variants of concern” identified by the World Health Organization suggests that Omicron can be expected to have enhanced transmissibility and some level of immune escape, Mr. Karim said.

Source: Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University. The daily average is calculated with data that was reported in the last seven days.

The concern in South Africa was prompted in part by a sudden increase in the country’s test positivity rate, which rose to nearly 10 percent from 1 percent, according to data released by South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases.

The increase largely stems from cases in Gauteng Province, a densely populated economic hub that is home to Johannesburg, said Michelle Groome, head of public health surveillance and response at the institute. But based on the data, the number of new recorded cases is still lower in South Africa, relative to its population, than in many European countries.

The country’s administrative capital, Pretoria, where 219 people are hospitalized with Covid, is at the center of the new wave, according to data from the institute. But scientists do not yet know how many of these hospitalizations were a direct result of Omicron.

While new hospital admissions are still relatively low, there has been a “steep rise” over the past two weeks, said Waasila Jassat, a public health specialist at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases.

The rate of fatalities has not increased, Ms. Jassat said. While new cases were highest among people under 35, hospitalizations were more common among people over 65 and very young children.

Existing coronavirus treatments seemed to be effective against Omicron, Mr. Karim said, though there was not enough data yet on the efficacy of monoclonal antibodies, which are rarely used to treat Covid-19 in South Africa.

It is also still too early to know whether the potency of the variant warrants tightened precautions like travel bans, scientists said.

In a separate briefing on Sunday, Botswana’s health minister, Edwin Dikoloti, said that most of the 19 Omicron cases that have been detected in his country were “imported,” and that the first four were diplomats who had already left the country.

He criticized early references to Omicron as the “Botswana variant,” saying that “detection was treated as origination.”

Mr. Dikoloti said that new coronavirus cases had been declining in Botswana, and that “the emergence of this variant” threatened “to reverse all gains that we have made over the months.”

Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

Justice Stephen G. Breyer turned away an emergency application on Monday from workers at a hospital chain in Massachusetts who objected to its requirement that they be vaccinated against the coronavirus.

Justice Breyer did not ask for a response to the application or refer it to the full Supreme Court, and he gave no reasons for his ruling. Those were all signs that he viewed the legal question in the case as insubstantial.

The plaintiffs, employees of Mass General Brigham, objected to the hospital chain’s decision not to grant them religious or medical exemptions to the vaccine mandate, saying that the decision violated federal anti-discrimination laws. They sought an injunction that would allow them to continue to work.

A three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, in Boston, unanimously rejected the workers’ request, saying that an injunction was not the proper remedy. If the workers were right, the court said, they would receive compensation at the conclusion of their lawsuit.

“Money damages would adequately resolve all of the alleged harms,” Judge Sandra L. Lynch wrote for the panel. “Moreover, as the deadline for being vaccinated has passed, the appellants cannot point to an ‘impossible choice’ as a special factor here; they have already made their choices.”

The Supreme Court has previously rejected challenges to vaccination requirements from health care workers in Maine, students at Indiana University and personnel in New York City’s school system. Two challenges from health care workers in New York are pending.

Credit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

Jerome H. Powell, the Federal Reserve chair, will tell lawmakers on Tuesday that inflation is likely to last well into next year and that the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus creates more uncertainty around the economic outlook, according to a copy of his prepared remarks.

The remarks by Mr. Powell, who will testify before the Senate Banking Committee alongside Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, convey a sense of wariness at a time when price increases are running at their fastest pace in three decades.

“It is difficult to predict the persistence and effects of supply constraints, but it now appears that factors pushing inflation upward will linger well into next year,” Mr. Powell plans to say. “In addition, with the rapid improvement in the labor market, slack is diminishing, and wages are rising at a brisk pace.”

Mr. Powell will also address the new variant, which governments and scientists are racing to assess and contain.

“The recent rise in Covid-19 cases and the emergence of the Omicron variant pose downside risks to employment and economic activity and increased uncertainty for inflation,” Mr. Powell said. “Greater concerns about the virus could reduce people’s willingness to work in person, which would slow progress in the labor market and intensify supply-chain disruptions.”

Much is unknown about the new mutation of the coronavirus, but it represents something Fed officials worry about: The possibility that the pandemic will continue to flare up, shutting down factories, roiling supply lines and keeping the economy out of balance. If that happens, as it did with the Delta variant earlier this summer and fall, it could perpetuate high prices.

Inflation has surged in 2021 as strong consumer demand has crashed into the barrier of limited supply. Production line closures, port pileups and part shortages have kept goods from getting onto shelves and to customers, prompting companies to charge more. At the same time, a dearth of labor in certain industries caused by virus wariness and pandemic-related child-care shortages has been pushing up wages and prices for some services.

It’s too early to know if the new virus strain will contribute to those trends, making inflation last longer than it otherwise would. But the new mutation strikes at a delicate moment for monetary policy.

Central bankers are slowing their bond-purchase program, a move that should give them more flexibility to raise interest rates — their more traditional and powerful tool for stoking the economy — if doing so should prove necessary next year.

Several Fed officials have signaled that they may speed up their so-called bond-buying “taper” given how high and how stubborn inflation is proving. Many economists think officials could announce a plan to do so at their meeting in December.

But if the coronavirus again hits the economy, it could make such a decision — and the timing and pace of eventual rate increases — more challenging.

That’s because the Fed balances two goals, controlling inflation and stoking employment, when it sets its policy. A faster and fuller removal of help for the economy might slow down price gains by weighing down demand, but it would likely slow business expansions and hiring in the process.

“We will use our tools both to support the economy and a strong labor market and to prevent higher inflation from becoming entrenched,” Mr. Powell plans to say, after once again acknowledging that the Fed realizes “high inflation imposes significant burdens, especially on those less able to meet the higher costs of essentials like food, housing, and transportation.”

Mr. Powell, whom President Biden plans to reappoint for a second term as Fed chair, will tell lawmakers that the Fed is “committed to our price-stability goal.”

Credit…Andy Rain/EPA, via Shutterstock

Britain expanded its vaccine booster program to all adults on Monday, stepping up its response to the newly discovered Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

The government also announced two new cases of the variant in England, just hours after Scotland said that six cases had been detected there and that contact tracing was being conducted. Nationally, Britain has identified 11 cases.

Scottish officials said that some of the six people infected had not traveled recently — suggesting community transmission in the country — but that there was no evidence of “sustained or widespread” transmission. All of the infected individuals are in isolation, and none have been hospitalized, said Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon.

Over the weekend, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced new mask mandates and testing requirements for travelers to Britain. While the government has not ordered people to work from home where possible, or mandated the use of vaccine passports or masks in English restaurants, officials have not ruled out the possibility.

Jonathan Van-Tam, Britain’s deputy chief medical officer, said that while there was still a high level of uncertainty about the variant, the country would expand the vaccine program right away.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen next,” Mr. Van-Tam said, noting that it could take scientists weeks to better understand the variant. “But whilst we wait for the mist to clear on what this concerning variant actually means, there is no time to delay. It’s our opportunity to get ahead, and vaccine boosting is the thing we can do most effectively while we wait for that mist to clear.”

Source: Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University. The daily average is calculated with data that was reported in the last seven days.

The British government was widely criticized for a sluggish response to the Delta variant earlier this year, and its reaction to the Omicron variant came markedly quicker.

Britain’s vaccine advisory board, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization, advised everyone ages 18 to 39 to get a booster shot; previously, people 40 and over were eligible. It reduced the required waiting period between the initial vaccine series and the booster from five months to three.

The board also said children ages 12 to 15 could receive a booster shot and recommended that those who are severely immunocompromised receive a fourth dose.

The Education Department has advised students in England ages 11 and up to wear face masks in communal areas beginning Monday.

Ms. Sturgeon said she and the leader of Wales, Mark Drakeford, had written to Mr. Johnson to demand that all travelers to Britain be required to take a coronavirus test on the second and eighth day after their arrival, and that they be required to isolate for that whole period. Under the most recent guidance, arrivals will only have to take a test on the second day.

Ms. Sturgeon and Mr. Drakeford have also called for a joint meeting of the British government’s top emergency committee, Cobra, to better coordinate the response to the new variant.

There are no plans for further restrictions on regional travel, Ms. Sturgeon said, but that could change.

“I still hope, really fervently hope, to be having a normal Christmas with my family,” she said. “Can I say that with 100 percent certainty? No, but that’s what I hope, and that’s what I think we should all be hopeful for.”

Unlike many countries in Europe, Britain has had relatively few restrictions in place since the summer, and the government has repeatedly said there are no plans for another lockdown.

Speaking in front of Parliament on Monday, the British health secretary, Sajid Javid, reinforced that philosophy. If Omicron proved to be “no more dangerous” than the Delta variant currently dominant in Britain, he said, then “we wouldn’t keep measures in place for a day longer than necessary.”

Global markets steadied on Monday, with stocks on Wall Street and oil prices gaining, as investors contemplated more carefully the knowns and unknowns of a new Covid-19 variant.

The S&P 500 rose 1.3 percent, rebounding from a 2.3 percent drop on Friday. That was its worst day since February and came after initial news of the discovery in southern Africa of the new variant, called Omicron. The World Health Organization labeled it a “variant of concern,” its most serious category.

Shares of companies in industries that had been bouncing back in recent months, like airlines and other travel firms, took big hits as governments reintroduced limits on movement across borders. Oil prices plunged on concerns about the economic toll of potential restrictions, while government bond yields fell amid an investor flight to the relative safety of sovereign debt.

On Monday, with quick answers about the threat from Omicron hard to come by, investors seemed less focused on potential disaster, and some of Friday’s moves were undone. While the new variant might turn out to be more contagious and vaccine resistant, it could also prove to be less dangerous to the health of the vaccinated or previously infected. Scientists haven’t come to firm conclusions, and it could take up to two weeks before the tests of current vaccines on the new variant have results. And Covid-related stock market drops are getting milder and shorter.

When the virus first emerged in early 2020, the S&P 500 fell for a month and a half before recovering. In October 2020, a resurgence of cases led to a drop of 5.6 percent over a few days, but markets had rebounded within a week. In July of this year, the emergence of the Delta variant triggered a one-day slide of 1.6 percent that was recouped within a few days.

“We don’t know how dangerous it is to health, though early reports that it isn’t very dangerous, while downplayed by the cautious experts, are very seductive,” Kit Juckes, a strategist at Société Générale, wrote in a note to clients. “Against that backdrop, some of Friday’s madness has been reversed, but only part of it.”

Stocks in Europe also rose on Monday, with the Stoxx Europe 600 closing 0.7 percent higher. The FTSE 100 in Britain rose 0.9 percent, while stock indexes in France and Spain were also higher.

Futures of the two major oil benchmarks, Brent crude and West Texas Intermediate, gained 1 percent and 2.6 percent. With crude oil rebounding, shares of energy companies also climbed. Enphase Energy was up 3.8 percent, while Diamondback Energy gained about 2.3 percent.

Government bond yields also climbed. The yield on 10-year Treasury notes rose 4 basis points, or 0.04 percentage points, to 1.52 percent. On Friday, the yield had dropped 16 basis points, the steepest one-day fall since late March 2020. Concerns over newly imposed travel restrictions mostly eased on Monday, with travel and leisure stocks trading higher as President Biden said on Monday that the administration’s plan to combat Covid in the winter did not does not include “shutdowns or lockdowns,” and would instead rely on more testing, vaccinations and boosters.

Royal Caribbean Group rose 2.8 percent on Monday, while Norwegian Cruise Line was up 0.8 percent. Shares of United Airlines also rose. Moderna, the vaccine maker, rallied more than 10 percent.

Not every market rebounded, however. With Japan sealing its borders just days after reopening to short-term business travelers and international students, shares in Asia tumbled. The Nikkei 225 fell 1.6 percent, while stocks in Hong Kong fell 1 percent.

Carlos Tejada and Stephen Gandel contributed reporting.

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N.Y.C. Officials Reinforce Indoor Mask Guidance

Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York said the city was “doubling down” on its current advice that all residents wear masks in indoor public spaces, regardless of vaccination status. He also extended the city’s vaccine mandate to all child care workers.

“There are no Omicron cases here in New York City at this moment. It is very likely there will be, but there are no cases at this moment. But nonetheless we are preparing to take action, and our entire focus, once again, is going to be on vaccination.“ “I am also issuing a commissioner’s advisory strongly recommending that all New Yorkers wear a mask at all times when indoors and in a public setting, like at your grocery or in building lobbies, offices and retail stores. This includes those that are vaccinated and those who’ve had Covid-19. Higher quality masks like KN-95s or KF-94s can offer an additional layer of protection, and masks are still required for everyone in public transit, health care settings, schools and congregate settings.” “We’re doubling down on it, basically. We had given that advice a long time ago. Obviously, things had gotten a lot better, and it’s not surprising if people had started to change their habits. It’s time to re-up that advisory and make it very, very clear this is a smart thing to do at this point. Today, we’re announcing an additional vaccine mandate related to child care programs. This is for child care and early intervention programs citywide, a total impact reaching 102,000 employees of these programs. These are all over the five boroughs. There are 90,000 employees who are in child care programs; 12,000 in early intervention programs. So again, 102,000 total. We’re putting this mandate in place with a deadline of Dec. 20 for all those employees to get vaccinated.”

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Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York said the city was “doubling down” on its current advice that all residents wear masks in indoor public spaces, regardless of vaccination status. He also extended the city’s vaccine mandate to all child care workers.CreditCredit…Jason Szenes/EPA, via Shutterstock

With the Omicron variant of the coronavirus appearing likely to be detected in New York City any day now, Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Monday that he was strengthening the city health department’s standing advice that New Yorkers — both vaccinated and unvaccinated — wear masks in indoor public settings.

“We’re doubling down on it, basically,” Mr. de Blasio said. “It’s time to re-up that advisory and make it very, very clear this is a smart thing to do at this point.”

Masks are already required aboard mass transit and in hospitals and schools, but Mr. de Blasio stopped short of making them mandatory in all indoor public spaces. He said that indoor dining would continue as before, with vaccinations required for guests, and that the city’s plans for a New Year’s Eve celebration in Times Square would still move forward.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone wear masks in public indoor settings wherever there are high rates of community transmission. All of New York City and its suburbs are in that category.

Separately, Mr. de Blasio said on Monday that he would expand New York City’s vaccine mandate to encompass all workers in child care settings and in the city’s early intervention program, which serves children who are lagging developmentally. The mandate will affect 102,000 workers, who will need to have received at least one dose of a vaccine by Dec. 20. Mr. de Blasio said the mandate extension had been in the works before the discovery of the new variant.

Broadly, the mayor and his advisers struck a vigilant but non-alarmist tone as officials worldwide awaited data showing how readily the Omicron variant spreads, whether it causes more severe illness and how well vaccines protect against it. Evidence to support fears over its possible threat has yet to be established.

No Omicron cases have been identified anywhere in the United States, where the Delta variant remains dominant. Genetic sequencing is required to confirm which variant of the virus a patient has; New York City sequences samples from hundreds of cases a week for that purpose.

“I fully expect it to arrive,” Gov. Kathy Hochul of New York said Monday, adding that the state was monitoring the situation and that the Omicron variant had already been detected in Ontario, which she said could see from her home. “We have some ways to defend against this. We are not defenseless like we were one year ago.”

She noted that a recent executive order goes into effect on Friday, allowing hospitals with limited capacity to pause nonessential and non-urgent procedures. She also encouraged New Yorkers to get vaccinated, to get boosters, to get tested and to wear masks.

There is no statewide mask mandate for the general public, but masks are required in certain areas, regardless of vaccination status, such as inside child care facilities. Ms. Hochul voiced support for county officials who have reinstated mask mandates indoors, regardless of vaccination status, such as in Eerie County.

“I encourage other leaders to do the same,” Ms. Hochul said. “That is something that takes courage, it’s not always the most popular thing to do in certain areas of the state.”

State health officials requested that labs across the state immediately notify the health department if they detect the Omicron variant.

“Covid is going to be with us for the rest of our lives,” said Dr. Mitchell Katz, the chief executive of New York City Health and Hospitals. “It’s not going anywhere, and it’s all about how we learn to live with this virus. And so far, the data do not suggest that this variant is more harmful in terms of hospitalization or in terms of serious illness.”

Credit…Antonio Cotrim/EPA, via Shutterstock

Portugal on Monday said it had identified 13 cases of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, all tied to Belenenses, a soccer club that was forced to take part in a top-flight game over the weekend that was abandoned while in progress.

The country’s national health institute said that the 13 people were isolating and that they were all players or staff members of Belenenses, which fielded a depleted team of only nine players against Benfica on Saturday after reporting a coronavirus outbreak.

The institute also confirmed that one of the 13 people was a player who had recently returned to Portugal from South Africa, whose scientists helped identify Omicron. Benfica’s players will be tested for the virus, the country’s general health director, Graça Freitas, told the local TSF radio station.

Later in the day, Spain announced its first case of the Omicron variant, contracted by a person who traveled over the weekend from South Africa. The patient, a 51-year-old man, has been quarantined at the Gregorio Marañón hospital in Madrid since Sunday following a trip from South Africa with a stopover in Amsterdam, according to the regional government in the capital. Officials said in statement that the man is showing only mild symptoms of the illness.

Source: Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University. The daily average is calculated with data that was reported in the last seven days.

Before the game on Saturday, as many as 17 players and staff members of the Belenenses club tested positive for the virus, although it was unclear at the time whether those cases involved the new variant. The Belenenses players sought to have the game canceled, but officials reportedly told them that it had to go on.

Separately, Portugal’s health authorities said they were tracing more than 200 passengers who had arrived in Portugal on Saturday from Maputo, Mozambique. At least two people on the flight had tested positive for the virus, but the authorities said it was too early to confirm whether these were Omicron cases.

Portugal on Monday began suspending all flights to and from Mozambique, which is a former Portuguese colony and shares a border with South Africa, over concerns about the new variant.

Credit…Thomas Peter/Reuters

Even before concerns about the new Omicron variant arose, China had refused calls to loosen its border restrictions, which are among the strictest in the world.

Now Chinese researchers are offering data to support the government’s decision to maintain its extreme “zero Covid” strategy.

A recent study published on the country’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention website found that China could face more than 630,000 coronavirus cases a day if it dropped its zero-tolerance prevention measures and lifted curbs on travel, in the way that some Western countries have.

That would be more than five times as many as the total number of cases reported in China, which has a population of 1.4 billion, in the years since the virus first emerged in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, according to a New York Times database. Such an outbreak would put a huge strain on the country’s resources, including its hospital system, said the report, which was published before the World Health Organization labeled Omicron a “variant of concern.”

The authors of the report, who are scholars at Peking University in Beijing, wrote that the findings “raised a clear warning” that the country was not ready to open up.

“More efficient vaccinations or more specific treatment, preferably the combination of both, are needed before entry-exit quarantine measures and other Covid-19 response strategies in China can be safely lifted,” they wrote.

While China has vaccinated more than 75 percent of its population, questions have been raised about the efficacy of the country’s homegrown vaccines.

The Beijing government has staked much of its political legitimacy on controlling the virus better than other countries. The strategy, so far, has worked: China has reported fewer than 5,000 deaths since the pandemic began and has managed to quickly tame sporadic outbreaks through severe, and sometimes impractical, measures. On Monday, China reported just 21 locally transmitted cases, most of which were reported in the northern region of Inner Mongolia.

Source: Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University. The daily average is calculated with data that was reported in the last seven days.

While some critics have warned that China’s approach could be unsustainable and counterproductive, growing concerns about the new Omicron variant now make it even more unlikely that Beijing will ease its restrictions, which include at least two weeks of mandatory quarantine for visitors as well as snap lockdowns and mass testing campaigns in areas where the virus is detected.

Dr. Zhang Wenhong, one of China’s top infectious disease experts, said on Sunday that the country’s comprehensive approach to fighting the virus made it well placed to confront the evolving threat.

“If we can cope with the Delta variant, we can also cope with Omicron,” Dr. Zhang wrote on Weibo, a popular Chinese social media platform.

Credit…Joao Silva/The New York Times

As nations severed air links from southern Africa amid fears of another global surge of the coronavirus, scientists scrambled on Sunday to gather data on the new Omicron variant, its capabilities and — perhaps most important — how effectively the current vaccines will protect against it.

The early findings are a mixed picture. The variant may be more transmissible and better able to evade the body’s immune responses, both to vaccination and to natural infection, than prior versions of the virus, experts said in interviews.

The vaccines may well continue to ward off severe illness and death, although booster doses may be needed to protect most people. Still, the makers of the two most effective vaccines, Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, are preparing to reformulate their shots if necessary.

“We really need to be vigilant about this new variant and preparing for it,” said Jesse Bloom, an evolutionary biologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.

Even as scientists began vigorous scrutiny of the new variant, countries around the world curtailed travel to and from nations in southern Africa, where Omicron was first identified. Despite the restrictions, the virus has been found in a half-dozen European countries, including the United Kingdom, as well as Australia, Israel and Hong Kong.

Already, Omicron accounts for most of the 2,300 new daily cases in the province of Gauteng, South Africa, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced on Sunday. Nationally, new infections have more than tripled in the past week, and test positivity has increased to 9 percent from 2 percent.

Scientists have reacted more quickly to Omicron than to any other variant. In just 36 hours from the first signs of trouble in South Africa on Tuesday, researchers analyzed samples from 100 infected patients, collated the data and alerted the world, said Tulio de Oliveira, a geneticist at the Nelson R. Mandela School of Medicine in Durban.

Within an hour of the first alarm, scientists in South Africa also rushed to test Covid vaccines against the new variant. Now, dozens of teams worldwide — including researchers at Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna — have joined the chase.

They won’t know the results for two weeks, at the earliest. But the mutations that Omicron carries suggest that the vaccines most likely will be less effective, to some unknown degree, than they were against any previous variant.

Credit…Shiho Fukada for The New York Times

In announcing on Monday that its borders would be closed to travelers from everywhere, Japan adopted a familiar tactic. The country has barred tourists since early in the coronavirus pandemic, even as most of the rest of the world started to travel again.

And it had only tentatively opened this month to business travelers and students, despite recording the highest vaccination rate among the world’s large wealthy democracies and after seeing its coronavirus caseloads plunge by 99 percent since August.

Now, as the doors slam shut again, Japan provides a sobering case study of the human and economic cost of those closed borders. Over the many months that Japan has been isolated, thousands of life plans have been suspended, leaving couples, students, academic researchers and workers in limbo.

Ayano Hirose has not been able to see her fiancé, Dery Nanda Prayoga, in person for the past 19 months, since he left Japan for his native Indonesia, just two weeks after her parents blessed their marriage plans. The couple has made do with multiple daily video calls. When they run out of things to talk about, they play billiards on Facebook Messenger or watch Japanese variety shows together online.

“We don’t want to suffer in pain at the thought of not being able to reunite in the near future,” said Ms. Hirose, 21, who has written letters to the foreign and justice ministries asking for an exemption to allow Mr. Dery to come to Japan. “So we will think positively and continue to hold out hope.”

Credit…Pool photo by Vondrous Roman

President Milos Zeman of the Czech Republic, who tested positive for the coronavirus on Thursday, appointed the country’s new prime minister on Sunday while sitting inside a transparent cube.

Mr. Zeman, 77, was discharged from a hospital in Prague on Saturday and is currently required to isolate. He rolled in a wheelchair into the clear box, pushed by a worker wearing a full protective suit, in order to appoint Petr Fiala as prime minister. He was originally scheduled to take that step on Friday but the event was delayed after he tested positive.

If it had happened two years ago, the sight of a world leader confined to a cube might have been considerable cause for alarm, but on Sunday the event proceeded as normal, with the other participants masked and moving freely around the room. Mr. Fiala and the other speakers stood at a microphone and spoke toward the cube, while Mr. Zeman spoke from inside using another microphone.

Mr. Zeman’s health has been a source of concern and speculation inside the country; he has diabetes and neuropathy in his legs, which caused him to begin using a wheelchair in April. He was hospitalized in October, but the government offered little information on his specific health issues.

He was discharged on Thursday after being treated there for six weeks, only to be readmitted to the hospital hours later after testing positive for the coronavirus.

Like much of Europe, the Czech Republic is dealing with a surge of the virus, setting a record on Friday with nearly 28,000 new cases reported. About 59 percent of the population has been fully vaccinated, according to Our World In Data.

Over the last two years, several other world leaders, including Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain, President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil and former President Donald J. Trump of the United States, have contracted the coronavirus and recovered after hospital stays.

Credit…Abir Sultan/EPA, via Shutterstock

The Israeli domestic intelligence agency has been granted temporary permission to access the phone data of people with confirmed cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant in order to trace who those people met recently. The agency was given similar powers during earlier waves of the pandemic.

Using emergency legislation, the Israeli cabinet voted on Sunday to permit the spy agency, the Shin Bet, to track Omicron patients’ phones until the end of the day on Thursday — but not to access the phone records of people infected with other forms of the coronavirus.

The Israeli Parliament is expected to vote this week on new legislation that would extend the permission by another two weeks, and allow it to be renewed every two weeks thereafter, a spokeswoman for the Israeli prime minister said.

The government and its supporters said the decision was necessary to quickly identify potential virus carriers who need to be tested and quarantined, in order to curb the spread of the new variant.

“We have indeed reached a point at which we do need a ‘Big Brother’ keeping track of where we go,” Limor Yehuda, a criminology professor, wrote on Monday in Maariv, a centrist newspaper.

Critics said the move infringed civil liberties and contravened a Supreme Court decision last March. The court ruled then that the agency could use phone data in this way only to track people who had refused to comply with contact-tracing procedures.

“No other democratic country has chosen to use its security service to track people,” Gil Gan-Mor, a rights lawyer, wrote in Maariv on Monday. The renewal of Shin Bet tracking was “a terrible, illegal decision,” he added.

Critics of the step pointed to government data showing that, during an earlier wave of the pandemic, the overwhelming majority of coronavirus patients were located by human trackers, rather than through the Shin Bet monitoring program.

Other parts of Israel’s response to the Omicron variant were shaped by the experience of a governmentwide coronavirus “war game” earlier in November. In that exercise, senior government officials, including Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, tested potential responses to a hypothetical new strain of the coronavirus.

Keren Hajioff, a spokeswoman for Mr. Bennett, said that the participants realized during the latter stages of the drill that they should have closed borders far earlier in the exercise. “So those insights were taken into account when they made the decision to close Israel’s borders to foreign tourists” on Saturday night, soon after the discovery of the Omicron variant was reported, Ms. Hajioff said.

Credit…Peter Dejong/Associated Press

The Dutch military police arrested a couple on Sunday who were about to fly out of the Netherlands when they were supposed to be in quarantine. One of the pair had tested positive for the coronavirus two days earlier after arriving from South Africa, the police said.

The married couple — the husband is Spanish, the wife Portuguese — had left a quarantine hotel and boarded a plane at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport when they were arrested, according to Dutch news media. The plane was bound for Spain.

Marianne Schuurmans, a local mayor and chair of the safety region that includes the airport, told Dutch morning television on Monday that the couple was in isolation at a hospital.

Ms. Schuurmans said that the authorities didn’t anticipate that someone might break quarantine after testing positive. “We were really taken by surprise that people don’t take this seriously,” she said.

Of the roughly 600 passengers on two flights from South Africa that landed in the Netherlands on Friday morning, 61 people tested positive for the coronavirus. Those people were told by officials to quarantine in a designated hotel or at home.

After sequencing the positive tests, scientists found that at least 13 of those people had the Omicron variant, Dutch public health officials said, adding that they expected that number to grow.

Passengers from those flights — negative and positive — spent about 30 hours together on the plane and in poorly ventilated rooms at the airport, according to Stephanie Nolen, a reporter for The New York Times who was on one of the planes. While the infected passengers were told to isolate, those who tested negative were allowed to fly onward or go home, despite their exposure.

Credit…Philip Cheung for The New York Times

LOS ANGELES — About 49 percent of prepandemic moviegoers are no longer buying tickets. Some of them, roughly 8 percent, have likely been lost forever. To win back the rest, multiplex owners must “urgently” rethink pricing and customer perks in addition to focusing on coronavirus safety.

Those were some of the takeaways from a new study on the state of the American movie theater business, which was troubled before the pandemic — attendance declining, streaming services proliferating — and has struggled to rebound from coronavirus-forced closings in 2020. Over the weekend, ticket sales in the United States and Canada stood at roughly $96 million, compared to $181 million over the same period in 2019.

The study, published online on Monday, was self-commissioned by the Quorum, a film research company led by David Herrin, the former head of research for United Talent Agency; Cultique, a consultancy run by the longtime brand strategist Linda Ong; and Fanthropology, which describes itself as a research, strategy and creative agency. They intend to run the survey once a quarter.

“The research clearly shows that theaters are suffering because the pandemic intensified, accelerated, amplified all of the nascent trends that were already underway,” Ms. Ong said. “That is the definition of a perfect storm — not that various problems exist at the same time, but that they have an intensifying effect on each other.”

The nascent trends? Rising ticket and concession prices. Decreasing “experiential value,” including the perception that moviegoing has become a hassle. The run-down state of shopping malls, which house many theaters. A generational shift toward streaming, gaming and other smartphone-based entertainment. “Before, maybe you went every now and again — overlooking the drawbacks,” Mr. Herrin said. “Now you add safety concerns to that mix, and you suddenly become a former filmgoer.”

The research companies surveyed 2,528 people who visited a movie theater in 2019. (Some bought a ticket once a week, while others went once a month. Others went “several” times a year.) About 51 percent of respondents said they had bought tickets in recent months, with some drawn by cinema-chain rewards programs. They are largely white men ages 25 to 45 who live in cities, according to Mr. Herrin. “Once you get outside of that demographic, you’re really starting to lose people,” he said.

The 49 percent no longer buying tickets were more likely to be in favor of a vaccine mandate for attendees. This group, predominantly female, was also more likely to be concerned about price and value, Mr. Herrin said. Still, he noted that roughly a third were “hopeful” about returning to theaters at some point. Among the changes most likely to bring them back: lower prices for classic concessions, newer seats, policing the usage of phones during films.

“There needs to be a sense of urgency,” Mr. Herrin said. “I don’t know how large a window there is for exhibition to win these people back,” he added, using Hollywood jargon for the multiplex business.

The “likely losts,” as the study identifies 8 percent of respondents who said they have not bought a ticket during the pandemic and can’t see themselves returning, are lower-income consumers. The group has a large proportion of Hispanic, Black and Asian women, the researchers noted.



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Business and Stock Market News: Live Updates


ImageJerome Powell, the chair of the Federal Reserve, in September.
Credit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

Jerome H. Powell, the Federal Reserve chair, will tell lawmakers on Tuesday that inflation is likely to last well into next year and that the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus creates more uncertainty around the economic outlook, according to a copy of his prepared remarks.

The remarks by Mr. Powell, who will testify before the Senate Banking Committee alongside Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, convey a sense of wariness at a time when price increases are running at their fastest pace in three decades.

“It is difficult to predict the persistence and effects of supply constraints, but it now appears that factors pushing inflation upward will linger well into next year,” Mr. Powell plans to say. “In addition, with the rapid improvement in the labor market, slack is diminishing, and wages are rising at a brisk pace.”

Mr. Powell will also address the new variant, which governments and scientists are racing to assess and contain.

“The recent rise in Covid-19 cases and the emergence of the Omicron variant pose downside risks to employment and economic activity and increased uncertainty for inflation,” Mr. Powell said. “Greater concerns about the virus could reduce people’s willingness to work in person, which would slow progress in the labor market and intensify supply-chain disruptions.”

Much is unknown about the new mutation of the coronavirus, but it represents something Fed officials worry about: The possibility that the pandemic will continue to flare up, shutting down factories, roiling supply lines and keeping the economy out of balance. If that happens, as it did with the Delta variant earlier this summer and fall, it could perpetuate high prices.

Inflation has surged in 2021 as strong consumer demand has crashed into the barrier of limited supply. Production line closures, port pileups and part shortages have kept goods from getting onto shelves and to customers, prompting companies to charge more. At the same time, a dearth of labor in certain industries caused by virus wariness and pandemic-related child-care shortages has been pushing up wages and prices for some services.

It’s too early to know if the new virus strain will contribute to those trends, making inflation last longer than it otherwise would. But the new mutation strikes at a delicate moment for monetary policy.

Central bankers are slowing their bond-purchase program, a move that should give them more flexibility to raise interest rates — their more traditional and powerful tool for stoking the economy — if doing so should prove necessary next year.

Several Fed officials have signaled that they may speed up their so-called bond-buying “taper” given how high and how stubborn inflation is proving. Many economists think officials could announce a plan to do so at their meeting in December.

But if the coronavirus again hits the economy, it could make such a decision — and the timing and pace of eventual rate increases — more challenging.

That’s because the Fed balances two goals, controlling inflation and stoking employment, when it sets its policy. A faster and fuller removal of help for the economy might slow down price gains by weighing down demand, but it would likely slow business expansions and hiring in the process.

“We will use our tools both to support the economy and a strong labor market and to prevent higher inflation from becoming entrenched,” Mr. Powell plans to say, after once again acknowledging that the Fed realizes “high inflation imposes significant burdens, especially on those less able to meet the higher costs of essentials like food, housing, and transportation.”

Mr. Powell, whom President Biden plans to reappoint for a second term as Fed chair, will tell lawmakers that the Fed is “committed to our price-stability goal.”

Global markets steadied on Monday, with stocks on Wall Street and oil prices gaining, as investors contemplated more carefully the knowns and unknowns of a new Covid-19 variant.

The S&P 500 rose 1.3 percent, rebounding from a 2.3 percent drop on Friday. That was its worst day since February and came after initial news of the discovery in southern Africa of the new variant, called Omicron. The World Health Organization labeled it a “variant of concern,” its most serious category.

Shares of companies in industries that had been bouncing back in recent months, like airlines and other travel firms, took big hits as governments reintroduced limits on movement across borders. Oil prices plunged on concerns about the economic toll of potential restrictions, while government bond yields fell amid an investor flight to the relative safety of sovereign debt.

On Monday, with quick answers about the threat from Omicron hard to come by, investors seemed less focused on potential disaster, and some of Friday’s moves were undone. While the new variant might turn out to be more contagious and vaccine resistant, it could also prove to be less dangerous to the health of the vaccinated or previously infected. Scientists haven’t come to firm conclusions, and it could take up to two weeks before the tests of current vaccines on the new variant have results. And Covid-related stock market drops are getting milder and shorter.

When the virus first emerged in early 2020, the S&P 500 fell for a month and a half before recovering. In October 2020, a resurgence of cases led to a drop of 5.6 percent over a few days, but markets had rebounded within a week. In July of this year, the emergence of the Delta variant triggered a one-day slide of 1.6 percent that was recouped within a few days.

“We don’t know how dangerous it is to health, though early reports that it isn’t very dangerous, while downplayed by the cautious experts, are very seductive,” Kit Juckes, a strategist at Société Générale, wrote in a note to clients. “Against that backdrop, some of Friday’s madness has been reversed, but only part of it.”

Stocks in Europe also rose on Monday, with the Stoxx Europe 600 closing 0.7 percent higher. The FTSE 100 in Britain rose 0.9 percent, while stock indexes in France and Spain were also higher.

Futures of the two major oil benchmarks, Brent crude and West Texas Intermediate, gained 1 percent and 2.6 percent. With crude oil rebounding, shares of energy companies also climbed. Enphase Energy was up 3.8 percent, while Diamondback Energy gained about 2.3 percent.

Government bond yields also climbed. The yield on 10-year Treasury notes rose 4 basis points, or 0.04 percentage points, to 1.52 percent. On Friday, the yield had dropped 16 basis points, the steepest one-day fall since late March 2020. Concerns over newly imposed travel restrictions mostly eased on Monday, with travel and leisure stocks trading higher as President Biden said on Monday that the administration’s plan to combat Covid in the winter did not does not include “shutdowns or lockdowns,” and would instead rely on more testing, vaccinations and boosters.

Royal Caribbean Group rose 2.8 percent on Monday, while Norwegian Cruise Line was up 0.8 percent. Shares of United Airlines also rose. Moderna, the vaccine maker, rallied more than 10 percent.

Not every market rebounded, however. With Japan sealing its borders just days after reopening to short-term business travelers and international students, shares in Asia tumbled. The Nikkei 225 fell 1.6 percent, while stocks in Hong Kong fell 1 percent.

Carlos Tejada and Stephen Gandel contributed reporting.

Credit…Karsten Moran for The New York Times

The Black Friday weekend was a success for retailers, but reflected challenges in the supply chain and the prevalence of early deals in October, which prompted customers to spread out their spending.

Shoppers were clearly more comfortable going into stores than they were last year, but in-store visits were still well off prepandemic levels. Foot traffic soared about 48 percent from last year, though remained down about 28 percent from 2019, according to data from Sensormatic Solutions. The peak time for in-store shopping was 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. on Friday, the firm said. Many retailers remained closed on Thanksgiving Day after closing for the day in 2020, reversing a yearslong trend of being open on the holiday.

Customers spent about $8.9 billion online on Black Friday, slightly less than in 2020, and $5.1 billion on Thanksgiving, which was on par with last year, according to Adobe Analytics data, which covers more than one trillion visits to U.S. retail sites. It was the first time Adobe saw a decrease on big shopping days since it first began reporting e-commerce data in 2012. But consumers spent far more between Nov. 1 and Nov. 28.

Hot products included denim, where loosefitting jeans have fueled sales, going-out apparel including dresses, beauty and fragrances, cozy sweaters, and comfortable athleisure and tailored clothes, according to analysts at Cowen & Co.

Cyber Monday discounts were expected to be weaker in part because of the supply chain issues from factory shutdowns to port backups, which have plagued retailers in recent months and were highlighted on earnings calls last week from Gap and Nordstrom.

Credit…Philip Cheung for The New York Times

LOS ANGELES — About 49 percent of prepandemic moviegoers are no longer buying tickets. Some of them, roughly 8 percent, have likely been lost forever. To win back the rest, multiplex owners must “urgently” rethink pricing and customer perks in addition to focusing on coronavirus safety.

Those were some of the takeaways from a new study on the state of the American movie theater business, which was troubled before the pandemic — attendance declining, streaming services proliferating — and has struggled to rebound from coronavirus-forced closings in 2020. Over the weekend, ticket sales in the United States and Canada stood at roughly $96 million, compared to $181 million over the same period in 2019.

The study, published online on Monday, was self-commissioned by the Quorum, a film research company led by David Herrin, the former head of research for United Talent Agency; Cultique, a consultancy run by the longtime brand strategist Linda Ong; and Fanthropology, which describes itself as a research, strategy and creative agency. They intend to run the survey once a quarter.

“The research clearly shows that theaters are suffering because the pandemic intensified, accelerated, amplified all of the nascent trends that were already underway,” Ms. Ong said. “That is the definition of a perfect storm — not that various problems exist at the same time, but that they have an intensifying effect on each other.”

The nascent trends? Rising ticket and concession prices. Decreasing “experiential value,” including the perception that moviegoing has become a hassle. The run-down state of shopping malls, which house many theaters. A generational shift toward streaming, gaming and other smartphone-based entertainment. “Before, maybe you went every now and again — overlooking the drawbacks,” Mr. Herrin said. “Now you add safety concerns to that mix, and you suddenly become a former filmgoer.”

The research companies surveyed 2,528 people who visited a movie theater in 2019. (Some bought a ticket once a week, while others went once a month. Others went “several” times a year.) About 51 percent of respondents said they had bought tickets in recent months, with some drawn by cinema-chain rewards programs. They are largely white men ages 25 to 45 who live in cities, according to Mr. Herrin. “Once you get outside of that demographic, you’re really starting to lose people,” he said.

The 49 percent no longer buying tickets were more likely to be in favor of a vaccine mandate for attendees. This group, predominantly female, was also more likely to be concerned about price and value, Mr. Herrin said. Still, he noted that roughly a third were “hopeful” about returning to theaters at some point. Among the changes most likely to bring them back: lower prices for classic concessions, newer seats, policing the usage of phones during films.

“There needs to be a sense of urgency,” Mr. Herrin said. “I don’t know how large a window there is for exhibition to win these people back,” he added, using Hollywood jargon for the multiplex business.

The “likely losts,” as the study identifies 8 percent of respondents who said they have not bought a ticket during the pandemic and can’t see themselves returning, are lower-income consumers. The group has a large proportion of Hispanic, Black and Asian women, the researchers noted.

Credit…Amr Alfiky for The New York Times

Britain’s independent data privacy authority on Monday fined the facial recognition company Clearview AI £17 million, or $22.6 million, for failing to comply with the nation’s data protection laws.

The Information Commissioner’s Office said it fined Clearview AI for failing to inform British residents that it was collecting billions of photos from sites including Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn to build its facial recognition software. The I.C.O. ordered the company to stop processing the personal data of people in Britain and to delete their existing information.

Clearview AI can contest the fine and the data breach allegations, according to the I.C.O., which said it will make a final decision on the penalty by mid-2022. The I.C.O. said Clearview had been used by various British agencies. BuzzFeed News previously reported on leaked data that listed various British government agencies and police departments as having run searches with the facial recognition software.

“I have significant concerns that personal data was processed in a way that nobody in the U.K. will have expected,” Elizabeth Denham, Britain’s information commissioner, said in a statement.

Lisa Linden, a Clearview AI spokeswoman, said the I.C.O.’s assertions were incorrect and that the company was considering an appeal. Clearview only “provides publicly available information from the internet to law enforcement agencies,” she said in a statement.

“My company and I have acted in the best interests of the U.K. and their people by assisting law enforcement in solving heinous crimes against children, seniors and other victims of unscrupulous acts,” Hoan Ton-That, Clearview AI’s chief executive, said in a statement.

The fine was the biggest that Clearview AI has faced. Earlier this year, the company was fined €250,000 by a Swedish regulator for data privacy violations. The British fine, if it remains unchanged, would amount to nearly 60 percent of the $38 million in funding that Clearview AI has raised from investors. In July, the company raised $30 million.

This month, an Australian regulator also said the company had violated local privacy laws. The Office of the Australian Office Commissioner ordered Clearview AI to stop collecting data on its residents and to destroy data previously collected in the country. Canada also declared Clearview AI illegal in February.

Clearview AI recently ranked high on a federal test of facial recognition software.

Although there is a lot we don’t know about the Omicron variant, business leaders are wearily asking themselves the same questions they did during previous surges of the coronavirus, the DealBook newsletter reports.

  • Will there be new lockdowns or vaccine mandates? Some jumped on the Omicron variant as an opportunity to urge airlines to require proof of vaccination and testing for passengers. The variant could also put pressure on companies reluctant to impose vaccine mandates on employees. As for government measures, Dr. Anthony Fauci told ABC News it was “too early to say” whether there needed to be new lockdowns or mandates.

  • What does this mean for conferences and in-person gatherings? There’s a full lineup of events this winter, with organizers hoping to get back on track after previous cancellations and postponements. In early January, CES is scheduled to return to Las Vegas in-person, while the World Economic Forum in Davos is set to take place in person later that month. The Beijing Winter Olympics in February will allow spectators, though only from mainland China. South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, is set to return in-person in March. In Britain, new rules come into effect on Tuesday that require all travelers to isolate on arrival until they receive a negative test result; similar policies elsewhere would make attending conferences and other gatherings more difficult, a potential setback for airlines that were just starting to see a rebound.

  • Are workers ever going back to the office? Beyond the immediate question about office holiday parties, there’s the bigger question about the fate of offices next year and beyond. Many companies have already set and delayed their return dates multiple times. Several, including Wells Fargo, Google and Facebook parent Meta, are planning to bring their workers back to the office in January. Will they postpone a return date again or simply order workers back? Is the prospect of a prolonged pandemic enough to persuade some companies to switch to a permanent form of flexibility or will they continue to muddle through with imperfect hybrid setups?

Credit…Amir Cohen/Reuters

For months, airline travel has been steadily rebounding, and Sunday was the busiest travel day at U.S. airports since February 2020. But the discovery of the Omicron coronavirus variant threatens to derail the industry’s recovery, as the Delta variant did this summer.

Several nations, including the United States, have barred visitors from South Africa and a handful of neighboring countries. Japan, Morocco and Israel have barred all incoming foreign visitors, while the Philippines has banned visitors from southern Africa and several European countries.

The tightening of restrictions has drawn criticism from the travel sector. In a statement last week, Willie Walsh, the head of the International Air Transport Association, a global trade association, called for “safe alternatives to border closures and quarantine.” Over the weekend, the U.S. Travel Association urged the Biden administration to rethink its ban.

“Covid variants are of concern, but closed borders have not prevented their presence in the United States while vaccinations have proven incredibly durable,” Tori Emerson Barnes, executive vice president for public affairs and policy, said in a statement. “With a vaccine and testing requirement in place to enter the U.S., we continue to believe that assessing an individual’s risk and health status is the best way to welcome qualified global travelers into the United States.”

For U.S. airlines, the rebound in international travel has been slower than that for travel within the United States. But President Biden’s decision to ease longstanding restrictions on foreign travelers this month promised to stimulate that recovery. It isn’t yet clear whether or how the Omicron variant will affect travel demand, but if travel bans proliferate and concerns over the variant continue to spread, hopes for an accelerated international rebound could be dashed again.

Only two U.S. carriers, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines, fly out of southern Africa. Both have said that they are not yet planning to adjust their schedules in response to the administration’s ban, which took effect on Monday and does not apply to American citizens or lawful permanent residents. Delta operates three weekly flights between Atlanta and Johannesburg. United operates five flights a week between Newark and Johannesburg, and it has not changed its plans to restart flights between Newark and Cape Town on Wednesday.

No major American airline has announced any substantive changes to procedures because of the variant. And all passengers flying into the United States must provide proof of a negative coronavirus test, with noncitizens also required to be fully vaccinated.

Within the United States, air travel has nearly recovered, even with many businesses still wary of sending employees on work trips. The number of people screened at airport security checkpoints over the past week was down only 12 percent from the same week in 2019, according to the Transportation Security Administration.

The industry easily handled the crush of travelers over the holiday week, avoiding the disruptions that lasted for days at some airlines in recent months. In the seven days ending Sunday, there were fewer than 600 cancellations, accounting for less than 0.5 percent of all scheduled domestic flights, according to FlightAware, an aviation data provider.

Credit…Anna Liminowicz for The New York Times

Hoping to alleviate long lines at gas stations, empty shelves in grocery stores and a Christmas without mince pies, the United Kingdom’s Department for Transport began to recruit truck drivers overseas in October.

Official figures have not been released, but in mid-October, Oliver Dowden, a co-chairman of the Conservative Party, said on a radio show that a “relatively limited” number of applications had been received, and a little more than 20 had been approved.

So rather than a source of instant relief, the visa offer has become an informal measure of the appeal of post-Brexit, late-pandemic Britain, David Segal reports for The New York Times.

Some drivers who have worked in Britain said the country had become more xenophobic since Brexit, which took effect in January 2020. The campaign to leave the European Union was championed loudest by the United Kingdom Independence Party, whose leader, Nigel Farage, pushed for a law that would ensure “British jobs for British workers.” In 2013, he warned of a “Romanian crime wave.”

The British government estimates that it needs 100,000 more drivers. This raises the question of why the Department for Transport has made a mere 5,000 temporary visas available. In Parliament, politicians from opposition parties contend that the low figure reflects ambivalence in the Conservative government. READ THE ARTICLE →

Solar panels and electric car batteries rely on cobalt, a metal abundant in the Democratic Republic of Congo and rare elsewhere. The United States had long recognized the Central African nation’s strategic importance, yet recent administrations have done little to maintain ties, leaving China to step in.

A New York Times investigation, “Race to the Future,” examines the global demand for raw materials as the clean energy revolution takes off. Places like the Democratic Republic of Congo, which produces two-thirds of the world’s supply of cobalt, are stepping into the kinds of roles once played by Saudi Arabia and other oil-rich nations. The race to secure supplies could have far-reaching implications for the shared goal of protecting the planet.

Read the investigation:

  • Jack Dorsey will step down as chief executive of Twitter, the social media site he co-founded in 2006 The social media pioneer, whose name has become synonymous with the company, will be replaced by Twitter’s chief technology officer, Parag Agrawal. Mr. Dorsey, who is also the chief executive of the payments company Square, was fired from the top job at Twitter in 2008 but returned in 2015. Shares of Twitter rose on Monday. READ MORE →

Labor market snapshot: On Friday, the Labor Department will release its report on jobs in November. The most recent report showed that the economy added more than 500,000 jobs in October after months of disappointing job figures. Still, 4.2 million fewer Americans were working in October than before pandemic lockdowns.

Theranos trial: Elizabeth Holmes, the founder of the blood testing start-up Theranos, will continue to testify as she defends herself against fraud charges. In three days of testimony last week, she painted herself as someone whose best intentions were misinterpreted.

Cyber Monday and Giving Tuesday: Americans returned to in-person shopping with gusto on Black Friday. But as Wirecutter notes, many shopping deals will extend through today, known as Cyber Monday. And for those who are more inclined to spend on charitable causes, there’s Giving Tuesday.





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Omicron: WHO warns COVID variant risk ‘very high’ – Live | Coronavirus pandemic News


A three-day special session of the World Health Assembly (WHA) has kicked off on Monday to discuss pandemic preparedness and response, amid concerns over the spread of the new Omicron variant.

The WHA normally meets in May but a special session was called for in a decision adopted by the World Health Organization member states.

A draft resolution currently under review stops short of calling for the establishment of a “pandemic treaty” or a “legally binding instrument”, which proponents say would beef up the international response to pandemics.

The WHO has warned against countries hastily imposing travel curbs. However, bans have been introduced in recent days including by the United Kingdom, the European Union and the United States.

Here are the latest updates:


Hospitalisations in Michigan surge

Michigan’s number of hospitalized adults with confirmed COVID-19 cases reached a new pandemic high of nearly 4,200 as the state continued to confront surging infections.

The total of 4,181 surpassed the previous record of 4,158, which was set seven months ago during the state’s third wave.

Only Minnesota had a higher seven-case case rate than Michigan as of Sunday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

State health officials are urging people to get vaccinated and to wear masks in public settings to limit the spread of the coronavirus amid the fourth surge. The federal government has deployed military medical staffers to help Michigan hospitals cope.

The federal government has deployed military medical staffers to help Michigan hospitals cope [File: Emily Elconin/Reuters]

Cuba tightens restrictions on eight African nation

Cuba will ratchet up restrictions from December 4 on passengers from certain African countries over concerns about the Omicron coronavirus variant, the country’s Communist-run government said on Monday.

Travelers arriving from South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Malawi, and Mozambique will be allowed to enter Cuba, the country’s health ministry said, but will be required to comply with multiple precautionary measures, including proof of vaccination, three PCR tests and a seven-day quarantine.


France reports biggest jump in hospital patients since spring

France registered its biggest jump in coronavirus-related hospital admissions since the spring, health ministry data showed.

The number of patients in intensive care units with COVID-19 jumped by 117 to 1,749 people, the biggest increase since March-April, when the ICU number rose by more than 100 per day on several days.

The French health minister last week said that France has entered a fifth wave of the COVID-19 epidemic.

The French health minister last week said that France has entered a fifth wave of the COVID-19 epidemic [File: Stephane Mahe/Reuters]

WHO warns that new virus variant poses ‘very high’ risk

The World Health Organization says the global risk from the omicron variant of the coronavirus is “very high” based on early evidence, and it could lead to surges with “severe consequences.”

The UN health agency, in a technical memo to member states, says “considerable uncertainties” remain about the new variant that was first detected in southern Africa. But it says the likelihood of possible further spread around the world is high.


Canada’s Quebec province discovers first case of Omicron

Quebec has discovered its first case of the COVID-19 Omicron variant, the Canadian province’s health minister said on Monday, bringing Canada’s total number of cases to three.

Quebec Health Minister Christian Dube also told reporters at a briefing that 115 travellers from countries affected by the new variant, primarily South Africa, were called and asked to take a new PCR test for COVID-19.


Omicron ‘not a cause for panic’: Biden

President Joe Biden in a televised address from the White House said the Omicron coronavirus strain “is a cause for concern, not a cause for panic”.

“We have more tools today to fight the variant than we’ve ever had before,” he said, while adding that his chief medical adviser Anthony Fauci expected current vaccines would remain protective, with boosters enhancing protection.

The US president appealed to the roughly 80 million unvaccinated Americans aged five and up to get their shots, and for the rest of the country to seek out booster shots six months after their second dose.

Biden also urged Americans to get back to wearing face masks in all indoor public settings – a pandemic precaution that has fallen out of use across much of the country.

US President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the Omicron COVID-19 variant following a meeting with his COVID-19 response team at the White House on November 29, 2021 in Washington, DC [Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images via AFP]

Sweden reports first confirmed case of Omicron

One case of the Omicron coronavirus variant has been detected in Sweden, the Public Health Agency said.

The case was detected in a test taken just over a week ago from a person who had travelled from South Africa, the agency said in a statement.


Omicron: Are gov’ts prepared to deal with a new COVID variant?

Countries around the world have reimposed travel restrictions in response to new Omicron variant.

They were starting to reopen their borders and lift COVID-19 restrictions. But a new variant is now threatening to derail the progress made in the past few months.

Several nations have already imposed travel restrictions to and from Southern Africa, where the Omicron variant was first detected.

Watch here.


UN’s Gutteres ‘deeply concerned’ by curbs on Southern Africa

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Monday he was “deeply concerned” as countries around the world imposed travel restrictions on Southern Africa in an attempt to stop the spread of a worrying new COVID-19 variant discovered there.

“The people of Africa cannot be blamed for the immorally low level of vaccinations available in Africa – and they should not be penalized for identifying and sharing crucial science and health information with the world,” the UN chief said in a statement.

“I am now deeply concerned about the isolation of southern African countries due to new Covid-19 travel restrictions,” Guterres added.


Spain detects first case of Omicron variant

Spain has detected its first case of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus in a traveller coming from South Africa, Spanish newspaper El Pais reported.

The case of the new variant was sequenced by Madrid’s Gregorio Maranon hospital, according to a tweet by its microbiology unit, adding that the patient was in a fair condition.

Spain has recorded at least 5.1 million cases since the pandemic began [File: Javier Barbancho/Reuters]

Moderna says Omicron vaccine could be ready by early 2022

Moderna Inc is having its best two-day rally in a year after the company said a new vaccine to fight the Omicron strain of the coronavirus could be ready by early 2022 if required.

The stock soared as much as 14 percent to the highest level in two months, after jumping 21 percent during Friday’s global risk-asset sell-off, to reclaim its place as top performer on the S&P 500 year to date. The company mobilised hundreds of workers on Thanksgiving Day last Thursday in order to start work on Omicron, Chief Medical Officer Paul Burton said over the weekend.

Read more here.


US stocks rebound after Friday’s Omicron-fuelled sell-off

The major stock indexes in the United States rebounded on Monday after fears about the potential economic effects of the Omicron COVID-19 variant triggered a steep sell-off on Friday.

At the opening bell, the Dow Jones Industrial Average jumped 118 points or 0.34 percent at 35,017.71, according to Refinitiv data.

Read more here.


‘Highly transmissible’ Omicron requires ‘urgent action’: G7

The Omicron variant is highly transmissible and requires “urgent action,” G7 health ministers said, while applauding South Africa’s “exemplary work” for both detecting the strain and alerting others to it.

“The global community is faced with the threat of a new, at a first evaluation, highly transmissible variant of COVID-19, which requires urgent action,” the health ministers said in a statement following an emergency meeting.

Underlining the “strategic relevance of ensuring access to vaccines”, they pledged to hold to their donation commitments, as well as to provide support to research and development.


UK vaccine advisers say all adults to receive boosters

Britain will offer a COVID-19 booster vaccine to all adults and give second doses to children aged between 12 and 15, the UK’s top vaccine advisers said on Monday, accelerating shots in light of concern about the spread of the Omicron variant.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation said that all adults between 18-39 years old could receive shots, extending a programme that is already open for over 40s.

“Having a booster dose of the vaccine will help to increase our level of protection against the Omicron variant,” said Wei Shen Lim, the JCVI’s Chair for COVID-19 immunisation.

JCVI advised a largely age-based approach to the booster programme, with older adults as well as vulnerable people prioritised for shots [File: Neil Hall/EPA]

Dutch find 14 Omicron cases among passengers from South Africa

Netherlands health authorities say they have found another case of the new Omicron COVID-19 variant among passengers arriving from South Africa, bringing the total to 14.

“With the help of sequencing, it has now been confirmed in 14 people that it is the Omicron variant,” Health Minister Hugo de Jonge said in a letter to parliament.

De Jonge had on Sunday announced 13 Omicron infections. They were among 61 passengers who were confirmed with coronavirus, out of 624 travellers who arrived in Amsterdam on two KLM flights from South Africa on Friday.


Biden to provide update on Omicron, US response: AJ correspondent

United States President Joe Biden is expected to give a speech on Monday to address the Omicron variant and measures required to curb its spread.

“What we expect is that the president will be urging the 80 million Americans still not vaccinated to get vaccinated, to get a booster,” Al Jazeera’s correspondent Kimberley Halkett reported from the White House.

“But what we think is the president will stop short of putting in place further travel restrictions with respect to international travel as well as domestic travel,” she added.

INTERACTIVE- COVID19 - How Omicron comparesAl Jazeera

Poland announces new curbs amid Omicron concerns

Poland said it would ban flights to seven African countries, extend the quarantine period for certain travellers and reduce limits on numbers allowed into places like restaurants.

“We must appreciate the importance of this phenomenon and the risk that a new mutation emerging poses,” Health Minister Adam Niedzielski told a news conference.


China’S Xi pledges 1bn Covid vaccine doses for Africa

President Xi Jinping has offered one billion coronavirus vaccine doses to Africa, in a speech made via videolink to a China-Africa summit in Senegal’s capital Dakar.

The Chinese leader said that his country would donate 600 million doses directly. Meanwhile, a further 400 million doses would come from other sources.

Chinese President Xi Jinping (on the screen) delivers his speech during the China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) meeting in Dakar, Senegal, on November 29, 2021 [Seyllou/AFP]

Ukraine orders self-isolation for travellers from countries with Omicron cases

Ukraine has introduced mandatory 14-day self-isolation for travellers returning from countries where the Omicron variant of COVID-19 has been detected, the health ministry said.

“Travellers who have spent more than seven days in the Republic of South Africa, the Republic of Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, the Kingdom of Lesotho, the Kingdom of Eswatini, and the Republic of Mozambique must complete 14 days of self-isolation,” it said in a statement, adding that the list would be expanded soon.

Health Minister Viktor Liashko told a televised briefing earlier on Monday that cases of the Omicron variant had not been registered in Ukraine yet.


Vaccines should give good protection against Omicron: South African expert

Existing COVID-19 vaccines should be highly effective at preventing severe disease and hospitalisation from the newly identified Omicron variant, a top South African infectious disease expert said.

Professor Salim Abdool Karim, who served as the government’s chief adviser during the initial response to the pandemic, also said it was too early to say whether Omicron led to more severe clinical symptoms than previous variants.

However, he said it did appear more contagious and more likely to infect people with immunity from vaccination or prior infection, and he was expecting it to drive new daily infections in the country above 10,000 before the end of the week, from 2,858 on Sunday.

“Based on what we know and how the other variants of concern have reacted to vaccine immunity, we can expect that we will still see high effectiveness for hospitalisation and severe disease, and that protection of the vaccines is likely to remain strong,” Abdool Karim told a news conference.

Preventing severe disease is mainly a function of T-cell immunity, different from the antibody immunity that often blocks infections, “so even if there’s some escape from antibodies it’s very hard to escape T-cell immunity”, he said.


South Africa says travel ban by African nations ‘regrettable’

South Africa says it is “regrettable” that fellow African nations have joined a rush to impose travel bans over the new Omicron variant.

“It is quite regrettable, very unfortunate, and I will even say sad, to be talking about travel restrictions imposed by a fellow African country,” foreign ministry spokesman Clayson Monyela said on Monday.

Angola, Mauritius, Rwanda and the Seychelles have halted flights from South Africa in a bid to shield themselves from the spread of the new COVID-19 variant.

Monyela said South Africa had recently made “substantial donations” of vaccines to some of the countries that were now imposing flight bans.

“When a fellow African country does that, especially in the context where most of these countries are beneficiaries … it doesn’t make sense,” he told an online news conference organised by the health ministry.

“That’s why we think these decision must be reversed immediately.”

A healthcare worker assists a traveller to obtain his test results after conducting a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) COVID-19 test at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg on November 27, 2021 [Phill Magakoe / AFP]

Portugal probes local transmission of Omicron among football team

Portuguese health authorities have identified 13 cases of Omicron among members of a top football club and have ordered those who have been in contact with the positive cases to isolate and be regularly tested.

The national health institute said on Monday that one of those who tested positive was a player from the Lisbon-based Belenenses SAD football club who had recently been to South Africa, where Omicron was first identified. The others had not travelled to South Africa.

Portuguese health authorities are investigating whether this is one of the first cases of local transmission outside of Southern Africa.

Portugal also found two positive coronavirus cases when it screened 218 passengers arriving in Lisbon from the capital of Mozambique on Saturday. One of the cases was the Delta variant and the other one could not be established, authorities said.


WHO chief calls for ‘legally binding’ agreement to help prevent future pandemics

The WHO chief says the spread of Omicron is a “test of our collective ability to respond to future pandemics” and called for a “legally binding” agreement to coordinate collective action.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told the WHA opening session: “Omicron demonstrates just why the world needs a new accord on pandemics,” adding that “courageous and compassionate leadership” and an “unshakeable commitment to solidarity” will be fundamental.

Tedros said “our current system disincentivises countries from alerting others to threats that will inevitably land on their shores” after many countries announced travel restrictions to and from Southern Africa.

He also criticised the inequitable distribution of vaccines, saying access for all was necessary to limit the spread of the virus and its mutations.


Germany’s Angela Merkel calls for funding increase to WHO

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called for a 50-percent increase in funding to the WHO.

Speaking at the opening session of the WHA, Merkel called for a binding international accord on preventing pandemics.

Germany’s outgoing chancellor added that a global approach was needed to prevent the spread of a virus that “knows no borders”.


South Africa ramping up to cope with Omicron

South Africa’s Health Minister Joe Phaahla says the government is doing everything possible to prepare health facilities to cope with Omicron and scientists are working to establish whether it is more transmissible and whether vaccines can protect against severe illness.

Phaahla also said, at the news conference on Monday, officials are engaging with countries that imposed travel restrictions on Southern African countries to try to get them to reverse them.

South African epidemiologist Salim Abdool Karim also said on Monday that not enough data had been collected to determine the clinical implications of Omicron compared with previous variants, and that reinfections are likely but that vaccinated people had less probability of developing serious symptoms.

“Based on what we know and how the other variants of concern have reacted to vaccine immunity, we can expect that we will still see high effectiveness for hospitalisation and severe disease, and that protection of the vaccines is likely to remain strong,” Abdool Karim told a news conference.


WHO says Omicron poses ‘very high’ global risk, countries must prepare

The WHO says “the overall global risk related to … Omicron is … very high” and that it is likely to spread internationally with “severe consequences” in some areas.

In technical advice to its 194 member states, the UN health agency on Monday urged them to accelerate the vaccination of high priority groups and to “ensure mitigation plans are in place” to maintain essential health services.

Further research is needed to better understand Omicron’s potential to evade the immunity induced by vaccines and previous infections. More data is expected in the coming weeks.


Six cases of Omicron identified in Scotland

Six cases of Omicron have been identified in Scotland, the Scottish government says, adding that public health officials are working to investigate.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said at a press conference on Monday that not all of the identified cases had a recent travel history or known links with others who have travelled to the countries in Southern Africa where the variant was originally detected.

“This suggests that there might already be some community transmission of this variant in Scotland,” Sturgeon said. “But again, let me stress, there is no evidence yet that this is sustained, nor any evidence from the enhanced surveillance that it is widespread at this stage.”


Britain to unveil new booster guidance as Omicron spreads

Britain is set to unveil new guidance on extending the rollout of COVID-19 booster shots to those under 40 on Monday, in light of the rapid spread of Omicron.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has restricted travel to Southern Africa, tightened testing rules and made mask-wearing compulsory in shops and on transport.

He also asked the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation to urgently review boosters for under-40s, and look at reducing the gap between second doses and boosters.

Britain, which currently holds the G7 presidency, has called for an emergency meeting on Monday to discuss the new COVID strain.


Dr Angelique Coetzee: Omicron causing ‘very mild symptoms’ in people who are vaccinated

Dr Angelique Coetzee, who first spotted the new COVID-19 variant in South Africa, says that so far, people infected with Omicron have “very mild symptoms”, especially those who were inoculated after August.

Coetzee, of the South African Medical Association, said Omicron had raised concerns due to its more than 30 mutations, which might hinder vaccine effectiveness.

While it might take weeks for scientists to understand the implications of the new variant, hospital admissions in South Africa remain low, raising hopes that the new variant will not lead to increased hospitalisation rates.

Speaking to Al Jazeera’s Fahmida Miller, Coetzee said the travel bans imposed on South Africa were “extremely premature”.


Dutch police arrest couple attempting to flee quarantine for Spain

Dutch police have arrested a married couple attempting to flee the country after testing positive for COVID-19. It was unclear whether the couple had tested positive for Omicron.

The Spanish man and Portuguese woman had left a quarantine hotel and were trying to fly to Spain. They were arrested “in an aeroplane that was about to depart,” the military police said in a statement.

Dozens of passengers who tested positive for COVID-19 after arriving on two flights from South Africa on Friday are being kept in quarantine at a hotel near Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport.


Singapore, Malaysia reopen land border

Singapore and Malaysia have reopened one of the world’s busiest land borders, allowing vaccinated travellers to cross after nearly two years of being shut due to the pandemic and amid concerns the border might close again due to Omicron.

Under the latest arrangement, up to 1,440 travellers from either side can cross the land border per day without quarantine, if they hold citizenship, permanent residency or long-term visas in the destination country.

Travel requirements include testing negative for COVID-19 before departure and an on-arrival test. Malaysia’s Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said a traveller had tested positive to a rapid antigen test, and that some COVID cases were inevitable.


Singapore blocks Middle East airlines

Singapore has deferred the start of vaccinated travel lanes with Middle Eastern countries, such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, in view of their role as “transport nodes” for affected countries, its health ministry says.


US scientist Fauci defends travel ban on African countries

US infectious diseases expert, Dr Anthony Fauci, has defended the Biden administration’s travel restrictions in response to Omicron.

The US plans to ban travel from South Africa and seven other Southern African countries starting from Monday. Fauci stressed the purpose of any travel ban was to buy time to ramp up preparedness, urging not to let the measure “go without a positive effect”.


First suspected case of Omicron detected in Switzerland

Switzerland’s first probable Omicron case has been detected, as the country tightens its entry restrictions to check the spread.

The case is a person who returned to Switzerland from South Africa a week ago, the Federal Office for Public Health said on Twitter. Testing will clarify the situation in the coming days, it added.

Switzerland has said travellers from 19 countries must present a negative test when boarding a flight to the country and must quarantine for 10 days on arrival. The list includes Australia, Britain, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Israel, and South Africa.


New variant not stopping New Zealand reopening

The emergence of Omicron has not changed New Zealand’s plans to ease restrictions in Auckland and move into a new, more open phase of its pandemic response, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says.

Bars, restaurants and gyms in Auckland can reopen from late Thursday, ending a coronavirus lockdown that began in August.

Around the country, a new “traffic light” system will bring an end to lockdowns, but people will need to be fully vaccinated in order to do anything from getting a haircut to watching a concert.


Japan to bar foreign arrivals over virus variant

Japan says it will bar entry to foreigners, joining Israel in the strictest border measures yet since the discovery of Omicron.

Tokyo already announced it would require travellers permitted to enter Japan from six Southern African countries to quarantine in government-designated facilities for 10 days on arrival.

Japan’s borders have been almost entirely shut to overseas visitors for most of the pandemic, with even foreign residents at one point unable to enter.

No Omicron cases have been detected in the country so far. One traveller from Namibia tested positive for the coronavirus, and further tests were being conducted to find out if it was from the new variant, Health Minister Shigeyuki Goto said.

Read the previous live blog here





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Covid travel news live: Latest updates as Japan shuts borders


Japan has closed its borders to all international travellers amid fears that the newly identified omicron variant of Covid-19 could be more transmissible and reduce the efficacy of vaccines.

Stricter border controls and travel restrictions are being introduced across the globe in response to the latest variant of concern.

The UK has reintroduced day two PCR tests for all inbound travellers, including those who are fully vaccinated, along with a mandatory quarantine while arrivals await their results.

In addition to the six southern African countries unexpectedly added to the UK’s red list last week – South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Namibia – a further four nations have been given red status.

As of 4am on Sunday, UK and Irish residents returning to England from Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Angola must also pay to isolate in an approved quarantine hotel for 10 days.

Follow all the latest travel news below:

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British Airways suspends flights to Hong Kong

British Airways has suspended flights to Hong Kong after a crew member tested positive for Covid-19.

The move followed reports that members of the crew were forced to isolate for three weeks at a quarantine facility built from shipping containers.

The city has one of the strictest quarantine policies in the world, with those arriving from abroad having to spend up to 21 days in government-mandated hotels.

The airline said a member of staff tested positive on arrival in the special administrative region after first testing negative before departure.

Helen Coffey29 November 2021 08:18

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What are the new rules for UK arrivals?

PCR tests and self-isolation are back for travellers arriving in the UK. Weeks after international travel rules were eased to allow cheaper and faster lateral flow (antigen) tests, the government is tightening restrictions once again in response to the spread of the omicron variant of coronavirus.

At the same time, the previously dormant red list has been expanded and now applies to arrivals from 10 southern African nations.

Here are the key questions and answers to what the new rules mean for UK travellers:

Simon Calder29 November 2021 08:01

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Good morning, and welcome to The Independent’s travel liveblog. We’ll be posting all the latest travel updates throughout the day.

Helen Coffey29 November 2021 07:56



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Omicron COVID-19 variant cases identified in UK: LIVE UPDATES


Britain adds further travel restrictions: 4 new ‘red list’ countries, required testing on entry

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced new travel restrictions as the United Kingdom grapples with the confirmation of multiple COVID-19 omicron variant cases.

Officials added Angola, Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia to its “red list,” which requires all travelers to test before entry and quarantine upon arrival.

But Johnson announced that all travelers entering the U.K. will now need a PCR test upon entry.

“Measures at the border can only minimize the impact of the variant, not contain it,” Johnson said before announcing for all residents who have made contact with a confirmed omicron case to isolate for 10 days – regardless of vaccination status.

Johnson also asked residents to “tighten up” on mask policies, announcing that masks will be compulsory in shops and on transit.

WHO skips over Greek letters ‘nu’ and ‘xi’; names new variant ‘omicron’

The World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed it skipped the Greek letters “nu” and “xi” in naming its new COVID-19 variant, which it dubbed the “omicron” variant.

“‘Nu’ is too easily confounded with ‘new,’ and ‘X’ was not used because it is a common last name, and WHO best practices for naming disease suggest avoiding ‘causing offence to any cultural, social, national, regional, professional or ethnic groups,’” a WHO spokesperson told Fox News in a statement on Saturday.

The move did not go unnoticed by pundits and politicians on social media — some of whom criticized the decision while others praised it.

Click here to read more.

Fauci would ‘not be surprised’ if omicron is already in US, predicts it will go ‘all over’

Dr. Anthony Fauci said Saturday morning that he would not be shocked to learn that the COVID-19 omicron variant is already in the U.S.

In an interview on NBC’s “Weekend TODAY” show, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Director told co-hosts Kristen Welker and Peter Alexander that the strain has a large number of mutations that would suggest it could potentially evade immune protection and that scientists can predict it will be more transmissible. 

“We don’t know that yet, but you have to be careful and assume that that’s the case. It also has a bunch of mutations that would suggest it could evade the protection, for example, of monoclonal antibodies and perhaps even convalescent plasma for people who’ve been infected and recovered and possibly vaccine. These are all ‘maybes,’ but the suggestion is enough,” he said.

Click here to read more.

Dutch authorities check for omicron variant after 61 arrivals from South Africa test positive

Dutch authorities are checking for the omicron variant after 61 passengers on two flights from South Africa tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday. 

The passengers who tested positive have been isolated and further investigations are being carried out. 

The planes arrived in the Netherlands from Johannesburg and Cape Town shortly after the Dutch government – like many other nations – imposed a travel ban from southern African nations. 

Click here to read more.

Germany detects possible case of omicron variant

Germany announced Saturday that it has detected a possible case of the COVID-19 omicron variant.

Kai Klose, social affairs minister in the western state of Hesse, tweeted
that “several mutations typical of Omicron were found on a returnee from South Africa.”  The person in question is isolating while the government sequences the virus to confirm whether or not it is the new variant.

Klose urged any visitor from southern Africa in the past week to isolate and get tested.

South Korea restricts travel from 8 southern Africa countries with omicron variant

South Korea has joined the growing list of countries that have added travel restrictions for visitors arriving from eight southern African countries after health officials identified the new COVID-19 omicron variant.

The South Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency advised that any South Korean citizens returning from South Africa, Bostwana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi will need to quarantine. The agency will also limit new visas to people traveling from those countries.

The restrictions will take effect starting Nov. 28.

Breaking News

2 omicron COVID-19 variant cases identified in UK: official

Two cases of the new omicron COVID-19 variant have been identified in the United Kingdom, an official said.

“The two cases are linked and there is a connection with travel to southern Africa,” said Member of Parliament Sajid Javid.

Javid said the two individuals are isolating and that more testing and contact tracing is underway.

The UK banned travel from southern Africa nations Friday.

COVID-19 antiviral treatments would be effective against omicron variant: Makary

Anti-COVID-19 treatments from Merck and Pfizer would be effective against the omicron variant, Fox News medical contributor Dr. Marty Makary told “Fox & Friends.”

“Therapeutics are massively understated here,” said Makary, adding that if the Food and Drug Administration authorizes the Merck drug on Tuesday, it could be available to consumers two weeks from now.

Watch the interview here.

No cases of omicron variant yet identified in US, CDC says

No cases of the omicron COVID-19 variant have yet been identified in the U.S., the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday night.

“We expect Omicron to be identified quickly, if it emerges in the U.S.,” the CDC said.

The CDC thanked the South African government for disclosing the variant to the World Health Organization, which labeled it a “variant of concern” on Friday. The CDC also encouraged people to get vaccinated as the best way to protect themselves from COVID-19.

“We are working with other U.S. and global public health and industry partners to learn more about this variant, as we continue to monitor its path,” the CDC said.

Dutch official check for omicron variant in 61 passengers who tested positive

Sixty-one passengers who landed from South Africa in the Netherlands have tested positive for COVID-19, and officials there are seeking to determine whether any of the infections are new omicron variant, the Associated Press reports.

Will flight restrictions help as new virus variant emerges?

South African foreign minister calls travel restrictions ‘unjustified’

South Africa’s Health Minister Joe Phaahla called travel restrictions from the country by the United States and other nations “unjustified.”

“Covid-19 is a global health emergency,” the health minister said, according to CNBC. “We must work together, not punish each other. Witch hunts don’t benefit anyone. South Africa wants to be an honest player in the world, to share health info not just of benefit to South Africans and citizens of the world.”

Phaahla said South Africa was being blamed for the new variant after scientists in the country identified it on Thursday. The variant has caused a surge of cases in South Africa.

Counties in Europe and Asia have also restricted travel from southern Africa.

New York governor issues state of emergency over variant

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul issued a state of emergency order on Friday in response to the identification of the COVID-19 omicron variant.

The emergency order is intended to increase hospital capacity in New York and will last until at least Jan. 15, when it will be reassessed. 

According to a copy of the order, the state will utilize the “surge and flex system,” which allows the Department of Health to limit non-essential and non-urgent hospital procedures in situations where a hospital has less than 10% staffed bed capacity.

Click here to read more on Fox News.

US plans to limit travel from 8 African countries over new coronavirus variant omicron

The United States will restrict travel from South Africa and seven other countries starting Monday over concerns of the “heavily mutated” COVID-19 omicron variant, senior administration officials said.

The Biden administration will follow advice from Dr. Anthony Fauci and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and restrict travel from several African nations following the identification of variant B.1.1.529, which appears to be highly contagious among young people. 

“This morning I was briefed by my chief medical advisor, Dr. Tony Fauci, and the members of our COVID response team, about the Omicron variant, which is spreading through Southern Africa,” Biden said in a statement. As a precautionary measure until we have more information, I am ordering additional air travel restrictions from South Africa and seven other countries. These new restrictions will take effect on November 29.”

Click here to read more on Fox News.





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Omicron variant triggers scramble to impose travel curbs: Live | Coronavirus pandemic News


A new variant of the coronavirus has prompted several countries to impose restrictions such as travel bans, while others have renewed lockdowns over the Omicron strain.

The new restrictions come after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the new COVID-19 variant to be “of concern”.

The Omicron variant, which scientists say has a high number of mutations, was first detected in South Africa last week and has spread rapidly through the province of Gauteng, home to the economic hub Johannesburg and the capital Pretoria.

It has so far been detected in at least four other countries.

Also known as B.1.1.529, the mutations could help the virus evade the body’s immune response and make it more transmissible, according to scientists.

It could take weeks to know if current vaccines are less effective against it.

In response to the variant’s discovery, the United States, Canada, Russia and a host of other countries joined the European Union in restricting travel for visitors from several southern African countries.

Here are the latest updates:


Variants may be a result of vaccine inequity: Analyst

Oksana Pyzik, global health adviser and a lecturer at teaching fellow at University College London’s School of Pharmacy, told Al Jazeera that vaccine inequality will likely lead to more coronavirus variants as the pandemic is prolonged, and that a more coordinated international approach towards vaccine distribution is needed.

“The World Health Organization has been warning repeatedly for months on end … that if vaccine inequity continues, if we continue to have high income countries hoarding vaccines such that entire continents are left with very limited access to vaccines, this will inevitably lead to a [more powerful] virus, a potentially vaccine-resistant virus,” she said.

Pyzik said that less than 3.5 percent of people across the continent of Africa have been vaccinated against COVID-19.

“So only focusing on high income regions has been a short term view of the issue, and we have also taken for granted that Delta is the worst variant that we could come across and now we have evidence that points otherwise – of course it is early days, but what scientists have come across is deeply worrying.”


Oil prices crash as fears loom over global recovery

Cornerlia Meyer, an economist and oil analyst, said oil prices fell more than 10 percent.

“That was probably an overreaction, it’s always overshoot and undershoot,” Meyer told Al Jazeera.

“But it shows real awareness amongst traders … in terms of what does this mean … what will that mean for air travel,” she said.

“Should this variant spread, and if transatlantic routes close down again, that would be bad.”

To read more about the crash, click here.


‘Monitoring systems’ in place to detect new variants: WHO COVID lead

Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead for COVID-19, said despite people’s concern over the Omicron variant, the good thing is that “we have monitoring systems around the world to detect these variants very quickly”.

“This variant was detected a few weeks ago, and already, scientists are sharing research with us … so that we can take action,” she told Al Jazeera.


UK Labour Party calls for quicker COVID booster jabs

Britain should cut the gap between the second dose of a COVID-19 vaccination and the booster jab from six to five months, Britain’s main opposition Labour Party said.

“This new variant is a wake-up call,” said Labour’s junior health spokesman Alex Norris. “The pandemic is not over. We need to urgently bolster our defences to keep the virus at bay.”


Japan tightening border controls on three more African countries

Japan will tighten border controls for the southern African nations of Mozambique, Malawi and Zambia, requiring a 10-day quarantine for any entrants, the Foreign Ministry.

The new rules will take effect from midnight (15:00 GMT on Saturday) and come a day after Japan tightened border controls for those arriving from South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Zimbabwe, Namibia and Lesotho.


Travellers from South Africa in Netherlands positive for COVID-19

Dutch health authorities said that 61 people who arrived in Amsterdam on two flights from South Africa on Friday tested positive for COVID-19, and they were conducting further testing early Saturday to see if any of the infections are with the Omicron variant.

“Travelers with a positive test result will be placed in isolation at a hotel at or near Schiphol,” health authorities said in a statement.

“Of the positive test results, we are researching as quickly as possible whether they are the new variant of concern, now named ‘Omicron’.”

The Dutch government banned all air travel from southern Africa early on Friday.


Sri Lanka bans travellers from six African nations

Sri Lanka said it was barring travellers from six Southern African countries on Saturday over concerns about the new Omicron variant of COVID-19.

From Monday, travellers will not be allowed into the country from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho and Eswatini, Colombo said in a statement.

Travellers who arrived from these six countries over the past two days will have to undergo mandatory 14 days quarantine.


Thailand bans entry from eight African countries

Thailand said it would ban the entry of people travelling from eight African countries it designated as high-risk for the new Omicron variant of COVID-19.

Starting in December, travel from Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe, will be prohibited, senior health official Opas Karnkawinpong told a news conference.

Thailand will not allow travellers from these countries to register to travel to Thailand starting on Saturday, he said.

“We have notified airlines and these countries,” Opas said adding that travellers from other African countries will not be allowed to use the country’s quarantine-free travel scheme for vaccinated travellers.


South African scientists brace for wave propelled by Omicron

South Africa’s numbers are still relatively low, with 2,828 new confirmed cases recorded on Friday, but Omicron’s speed in infecting young South Africans has alarmed health professionals.

“We’re seeing a marked change in the demographic profile of patients with COVID-19,” Dr Rudo Mathivha, the head of the intensive care unit at Soweto’s Baragwanath Hospital, told an online press briefing.

“Young people, in their 20s to just over their late 30s, are coming in with moderate to severe disease, some needing intensive care. About 65 percent are not vaccinated and most of the rest are only half-vaccinated,” said Mathivha.

She said urgent preparations are needed to enable public hospitals to cope with a potentially large influx of patients needing intensive care.





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Covid-19 Live Updates: Latest News on New Variant


ImageIn the town of Parys, South Africa, on Friday. South Africans faced travel restrictions in several countries over growing fears about the new variant.
Credit…Kim Ludbrook/EPA, via Shutterstock

European countries on Friday joined Singapore, Israel and others in restricting travel from southern Africa in a frantic effort to keep a newly identified, and apparently significantly evolved, variant of the coronavirus from crossing into their borders.

In the past, governments have taken days, weeks or months to issue travel restrictions in response to new variants. This time, restrictions came within hours of South Africa’s announcement — at least 10 countries around the world had announced measures before South African scientists had finished a meeting with World Health Organization experts about the variant on Friday.

There is no proof yet that the variant could diminish the protective power of the vaccines, but uncertainty on that question was one factor in the speed of countries’ move toward restrictions.

The new variant, initially called B.1.1.529, has a “very unusual constellation of mutations,” according to Tulio de Oliveira, director of the KwaZulu-Natal Research and Innovation Sequencing Platform. On the protein that helps to create an entry point for the coronavirus to infect human cells, the new variant has 10 mutations, many more than the dangerous Delta variant, Professor de Oliveira said.

Still, even epidemiologists who have been the most outspoken in urging protection from the virus urged calm on Friday, noting that little is known about the variant and that several seemingly threatening variants have come and gone in recent months.

“Substantively NOTHING is known about the new variant,” Roberto Burioni, a leading Italian virologist, wrote on Twitter, adding that people should not panic.

Stocks tumbled around the world on Friday as the news of the variant spooked markets, prompted Britain, France, Italy and others to bar flights and impose restrictions, and terrified many Europeans already exhausted by news of breakthrough infections, surging cases ahead of another imperiled holiday season and rallies by vaccine skeptics.

So far only a few dozen cases of the new variant have been identified in South Africa, Botswana, Belgium, Hong Kong and Israel.

But the case in Israel was a person who had recently arrived from Malawi, according to the state broadcaster, Kan. And Belgium’s case was detected in a young, unvaccinated woman who had recently returned from travel abroad, but not to South Africa or neighboring countries, Belgian researchers said.

Countries in Europe, once again the epicenter of the pandemic, wasted no time and were among the first to announce travel bans. Britain announced its restriction on Thursday, and put it into force on Friday.

“More data is needed but we’re taking precautions now,” Sajid Javid, the British health secretary, said on Twitter.

The discovery of the variant by South African authorities this week comes as the virus was already galloping across the continent in a deadly fourth wave, especially in Eastern Europe where vaccination levels are low and restrictions have been loose.

Italy’s decision on Friday to block travel from South Africa and the region showed that even a country that has generally been ahead of the wave, vaccinating much of its population and introducing early, and then progressively stricter, health passes to keep infections low, is not taking any chances.

The history of the pandemic has shown that blocking flights has not been a panacea in stopping the virus, and especially variants that spread with increasing ease. But this time, countries acted much earlier and more restrictions seemed likely.

Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Union’s executive arm, said in a Twitter post on Friday morning that it would also propose restricting air travel to European countries from southern Africa.

In a statement posted on Friday on a government website, South Africa said it would urge Britain to reconsider its travel restrictions, saying “even the World Health Organization is yet to advise on the next steps.” But that complaint came before a flurry of other bans from other countries.

In the past two days, scientists in South Africa — which has a sophisticated detection system — discovered the variant after observing an increase in infections in South Africa’s economic hub surrounding Johannesburg.

“This variant did surprise us — it has a big jump in evolution, many more mutations than we expected, especially after a very severe third wave of Delta,” Professor de Oliveira said.

Credit…Themba Hadebe/Associated Press

Scientists are still unclear on how effective vaccines will be against the new variant flagged by a team in South Africa, which displays mutations that might resist neutralization. Only several dozen cases have been fully identified so far in South Africa, Botswana, Hong Kong and Israel.

The new variant, B.1.1.529, has a “very unusual constellation of mutations,” with more than 30 in the spike protein alone, according to Tulio de Oliveira, director of the KwaZulu-Natal Research and Innovation Sequencing Platform.

On the ACE2 receptor — the protein that helps to create an entry point for the coronavirus to infect human cells — the new variant has 10 mutations. In comparison, the Beta variant has three and the Delta variant two, Mr. de Oliveira said.

The variant shares similarities with the Lambda and Beta variants, which are associated with an innate evasion of immunity, said Richard Lessells, an infectious diseases specialist at the KwaZulu-Natal Research and Innovation Sequencing Platform.

“All these things are what give us some concern that this variant might have not just enhanced transmissibility, so spread more efficiently, but might also be able to get around parts of the immune system and the protection we have in our immune system,” Dr. Lessells said.

The new variant has largely been detected among young people, the cohort that also has the lowest vaccination rate in South Africa. Just over a quarter of those ages between 18 and 34 in South Africa are vaccinated, said Dr. Joe Phaahla, the country’s minister of health.

While cases of the variant are mainly concentrated in the country’s economic hub, particularly in the country’s administrative capital, Pretoria, it is “only a matter of time” before the virus spreads across the country as schools close and families prepare to travel for the holiday season, Dr. Phaahla said.

Credit…Altea Tejido/EPA, via Shutterstock

As of

Data delayed at least 15 minutes

Source: FactSet


Stocks around the world tumbled on Friday, along with oil prices, after evidence of a new coronavirus variant detected in South Africa prompted some countries to reinstate travel restrictions, reigniting concerns about the economic toll the pandemic could impose after months of recovery.

The S&P 500 dropped 1.3 percent and European markets fell 3 to 4 percent.

Futures of West Texas Intermediate oil, the U.S. crude benchmark, fell more than 6 percent to $73.39 a barrel.

Demand for the relative safety of government bonds jumped, pushing their prices up and their yields down. The yield on 10-year U.S. Treasury plunged as much as 13 basis points, or 0.13 percentage point, to 1.50 percent, the most since Nov. 4, 2020, the day after the U.S. presidential election. But by market open in the U.S., the drop had eased and yields traded at about 1.53 percent. The yield on Germany’s bund, Europe’s benchmark bond, fell 7 basis points to minus 0.32 percent.

The number of mutations in this new variant has raised fears that it could be especially contagious, and caused concern about the effectiveness of current vaccines. But scientists haven’t come to any conclusions yet.

“As long as markets are faced with a familiar virus situation that can be overcome with a sufficiently crafted and executed vaccination strategy, the reactions will be muted,” analysts at Royal Bank of Canada wrote in a note to clients. “This new variant, however, creates a potential threat to the known responses and thus creates a more lasting market response.”

U.S. stock markets were closed on Thursday for the Thanksgiving holiday and will close early on Friday afternoon. Thin trading in markets because of the holidays can exacerbate the swings.

In a hark back to the fluctuations in markets last year, stocks that flourished under lockdowns and staying at home rose in early trading, including Zoom, Netflix and Peloton. Meanwhile companies vulnerable to travel restrictions, like Carnival, the cruise company, and Boeing, the plane maker, fell.

In Europe, energy stocks led the markets lower. The Stoxx Europe 600 index fell 2.5 percent. The FTSE 100 in Britain dropped 3 percent, while major stock indexes in France and Spain fell by nearly 4 percent. In Asia, the Nikkei 2225 in Japan closed 2.5 percent lower and the Hang Seng index in Hong Kong closed down 2.7 percent.

As several countries including Britain and France rushed to restrict flights from South Africa and other countries in the region, airline stocks dropped. IAG, the parent company of British Airways, fell more than 13 percent, the biggest fall in the FTSE 100.

Credit…Jerome Delay/Associated Press

Someday, I may appreciate the irony in this situation.

For now, I’m in my fourth hour trapped on the tarmac at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, where officials will not allow so much as a catering truck to bring us water. And an appreciation for irony is elusive.

My flight took off nearly 16 hours ago from Johannesburg, where people were abuzz with the news of the discovery of a coronavirus variant that is spreading in South Africa.

This variant has many mutations, in particular on the spike protein that helps it enter human cells, and there are fears that it might be able to overcome the immune response generated by vaccination. The variant is spreading relatively quickly around Johannesburg.

South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases shared what it knew midday on Thursday, and before I even took off, Britain had banned flights from southern Africa. Europe apparently panicked while I was somewhere over the Sahara; by the time we landed, we were told we would not be permitted off the plane.

The irony lies in the fact that I was in South Africa to report on the risk of variants emerging in countries with low vaccination coverage — and on the impressive, multilayered approach South Africa is using to try to protect global public health. I spent time in the labs of the same scientists who, yesterday, made the announcement that has left me hostage with a planeload of strangers while “the authorities” somewhere debate what to do with us.

Everyone on this flight had to show proof of a negative Covid test; most, it seems, are fully vaccinated, as I am. (We’ve all had time to chat.)

The prevailing sentiment among these restive, and thirsty, people is that South Africa is being punished for having some of the world’s most advanced study of infectious disease, a legacy of its battle with H.I.V. — and for being transparent, quickly, about what it learns.

Passengers are reading aloud to each other from news stories that say Europe intends to put us all into mandatory 14-day quarantine, regardless of our vaccination status or test results.

From our windows we can see a flight from Cape Town, also parked out here, stuck in limbo.

For now, I have plenty of time to make my way through the mountain of research that South African scientists shared with me.

Credit…Jerome Favre/EPA, via Shutterstock

The Hong Kong government said on Thursday that it had detected two cases of a new variant identified in South Africa, which scientists have warned shows a “big jump in evolution” and could limit the effectiveness of vaccines.

The infections were detected in a man who had returned to Hong Kong from South Africa this month, and later in another man staying across the hall in the same quarantine hotel. (Hong Kong requires almost all overseas arrivals to quarantine in hotels for two to three weeks.) The virus’s genetic sequence was identical in both men, suggesting airborne transmission, according to the city’s Center for Health Protection. Both men were vaccinated.

Further sequencing by the University of Hong Kong confirmed that the viruses belonged to the new variant from South Africa, officials said, though they acknowledged that information about the variant’s public health impact was “lacking at the moment.”

Some Hong Kong experts have questioned the length and efficacy of Hong Kong’s quarantines, noting that officials have recorded several cases of residents in quarantine hotels apparently infecting people who were staying in other rooms.

In the case of the latest variant infections, the government has blamed the first man for not wearing a surgical mask when opening his hotel room door, as well as “unsatisfactory air flow” in the hotel. As of Friday afternoon there had been no reports of infections in nearby rooms.

The presence of the new variant may complicate efforts to reopen the border between Hong Kong and mainland China. For months, Hong Kong officials have said that resuming quarantine-free travel between the Chinese territory and the mainland — virtually the only places in the world still pursuing a containment strategy that seeks full eradication of the virus — is their top priority, even though the strategy has damaged the city’s reputation as a global finance hub.

Mainland officials have said that Hong Kong is not doing enough to control the virus, even though the city has recorded just two locally transmitted cases in the last six months. The mainland has recently faced new domestic outbreaks; on Thursday, the National Health Commission there reported four new local cases.

On Thursday evening, Hong Kong’s No. 2 official, John Lee, said mainland officials had told him earlier in the day that Hong Kong had “basically fulfilled” the conditions to reopen the border. He said details would still need to be worked out, including the introduction of a mainland-style “health code” app that has raised privacy concerns.

Asked by a reporter whether the new variant would delay reopening with the mainland, Mr. Lee said only that the Hong Kong authorities would “ensure that adequate research and tracking are done in this regard.”

“Of course, we must manage and control any new risks,” he said.

Credit…Focke Strangmann/EPA, via Shutterstock

Nearly 20 months after pandemic lockdowns first began, governments across Europe are beginning to tighten restrictions again amid the latest wave of new coronavirus cases, threatening the gains that the region has made against the pandemic.

France is racing to offer booster shots to all adults and will not renew health passes for those who refuse. Deaths are rising in Germany, with its 68 percent vaccination rate, a worrying trend for a highly inoculated country. Austria has been in a nationwide lockdown since Monday, and made vaccinations mandatory.

In Eastern Europe, where far-right and populist groups have fueled vaccine skepticism, vaccination rates are lower than the rest of the continent. Bulgaria, where a quarter of the population is fully vaccinated, is turning back to shutdowns or other restrictive measures.

The quickly deteriorating situation in Europe is worrisome for the United States, where the seven-day average of new cases has risen 24 percent in the past two weeks. (The number of new deaths reported in the United States is down 6 percent.) Trends in new cases in the United States have tended to follow Europe by a few weeks.

“Time and again, we’ve seen how the infection dynamics in Europe are mirrored here several weeks later,” Carissa F. Etienne, director of the Pan American Health Organization, told reporters on Wednesday. “The future is unfolding before us, and it must be a wake-up call for our region because we are even more vulnerable.”

The White House insists that while new infections are on the rise, the United States can avoid European-style lockdowns.

“We are not headed in that direction,” Jeff Zients, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, said this week. “We have the tools to accelerate the path out of this pandemic: widely available vaccinations, booster shots, kids’ shots, therapeutics.”

But the chief of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said that some countries had lapsed into a “false sense of security.”

He issued a warning during a news briefing on Wednesday: “While Europe is again the epicenter of the pandemic, no country or region is out of the woods.”

Credit…Toby Melville/Reuters

The new variant that emerged in southern Africa could pose “a substantial risk to public health,” Britain’s health secretary, Sajid Javid, said on Friday, explaining a British decision to suspend flights and place six African countries on a quarantine list.

“This new variant is of huge international concern,” Mr. Javid said in a statement to Parliament while adding that no cases have yet been detected in the U.K.

Mr. Javid described the situation as fast moving and said there was a high degree of uncertainty around the spread of the virus and its possible impact. But he suggested that the signs were worrying.

“Early indications show that this variant may be more transmissible than the Delta variant and current vaccines may be less effective against it,’’ he said.

Late on Thursday Britain said it was suspending flights temporarily from South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Namibia and Zimbabwe. When they start up again, British and Irish citizens returning from these countries will be required to quarantine in government-approved hotel facilities.

Mr. Javid said that assessments were being made of the situation in other nations with strong travel links to South Africa, suggesting that the list of so-called “red list” countries could grow.

“The sequence of this variant, currently called B.1.1.529, was first uploaded by Hong Kong from a case of someone traveling from South Africa,” Mr. Javid said. “Further cases have been identified in South Africa, in Botswana, and it is highly likely that it has now spread to other countries.”

Early in the pandemic the British government was criticized for delaying the introduction of its quarantine system and the swiftness of Thursday’s move reflects a desire not to repeat that mistake.

“One of the lessons of this pandemic is that we must move quickly and at the earliest possible moment,” said Mr. Javid.

Speaking for the opposition Labour Party, Alex Norris welcomed the move but said that the emergence of the new variant reflected the “failure of the global community to distribute the vaccine” around the world.





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Covid-19 Live Updates: U.S. Air Travel Doubles for Thanksgiving Holiday


ImageTravelers at Ronald Reagan National Airport outside Washington on Wednesday. It was the busiest day for airports across the United States since the pandemic began.
Credit…Shawn Thew/EPA, via Shutterstock

Thanksgiving air travel did not reach the record highs of 2019, but it was close. About 2.3 million people passed through Transportation Safety Administration checkpoints on Wednesday, more travelers than on any other day during the pandemic.

This figure was more than twice as many travelers as the Wednesday before Thanksgiving last year. This year’s total was about 88 percent of the travelers that flew on that same Wednesday in 2019.

Social media was abuzz with nearly equal complaints about the longest airport lines people had experienced in years and surprise that lines were so short, reinforcing the idea pandemic unpredictability persists.

Among those travelers sharing a sense of excitement about being able to visit family this Thanksgiving, was Katie Thurston of San Diego, known to some as the Bachelorette from Season 17 of that reality show.

“To go back to something that feels normal makes me feel so emotional,” she said in a telephone interview, after tweeting about her tearful reaction to landing in Seattle to visit her mother and sister and meet her baby niece for the first time.

Hundreds of airport food service workers picketed on Wednesday at San Francisco International Airport over a dispute involving health care. But contrary to some passengers’ fears — and warnings from the Southwest Airlines pilots union in August — there were no walkouts by flight attendants or pilots on Wednesday.

Amid concerns that passengers would get aggressive with flight attendants and pick fights about masks — issues throughout the pandemic — Attorney General Merrick B. Garland urged federal prosecutors to prioritize the prosecution of passengers that commit assault or other crimes on board.

Typically, the busiest days for air travel during the Thanksgiving period are the Tuesday and Wednesday before the holiday, and the Sunday after it, according to a T.S.A. spokesman.

United said that the airline expected the Sunday after Thanksgiving to be its busiest day since the pandemic began. Still, the day seemed unlikely to surpass prepandemic travel figures overall given how extraordinary that weekend was two years ago. More people flew on the Sunday after Thanksgiving in 2019 — according to T.S.A. checkpoint data — than ever before in the agency’s 20-year history.

And travelers are unlikely to face weather delays as they try to get home.

“Sunday is pretty quiet across much of the country,” said Lara Pagano, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service.

Still, Becky Esquivel, a T.S.A. officer at the McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, urged people to arrive at least two hours before boarding their return flights just to be safe.

Credit…Anna Watts for The New York Times

A handful of people lingered around the counter in Andy’s Deli on 80th Street and Columbus Avenue, ordering bagels and coffee or picking up last-minute holiday supplies as the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade rolled on nearby.

Nick Spathis and his staff took orders and rang up purchases from police officers and parade volunteers. Locals trickled in. Across the street, Columbus Avenue was packed.

Last year, Andy’s was closed, the first time Mr. Spathis, who’s owned the business for 33 years, was not open on Thanksgiving. And while this year Mr. Spathis opened at 5 a.m., the morning was quiet.

“It’s not surprising to me,” he said, after handing some coffees to wranglers for the Pillsbury Doughboy balloon. “With the pandemic, everything is slow.”

“It’s getting along little by little,” he added later. “It might take another year.”

Businesses and entrepreneurs along Columbus Avenue, parallel to the parade route along Central Park West, had mixed reactions to whether the parade’s comeback and the foot traffic brought with it an economic boost. For some, the morning yawned on no differently from other mornings. For others, its return brought a high volume of customers.

A few blocks away, Mast Market, which opened one week ago, had its first lull in the morning at about 9:30. The shop normally opened a half-hour earlier than normal.

“There were enough people lined up outside peering in,” Robin Mates, the market’s manager, said. “It’s been nonstop.”

Banca Grucan stood on Columbus, yelling as she hawked balloons, including a Buzz Lightyear one.

Originally from Ecuador, Ms. Grucan has been selling her wares on Thanksgiving morning for 12 years. She had barely sold 20 balloons by about 10 a.m., she said in Spanish, less than half of what she sold in years past.

For the past 40 years, Thomas Johnson has trekked from Connecticut to sell turkey hats on Thanksgiving. Last year, was the first he did not make the yearly pilgrimage. “It was depressing,” Mr. Johnson, 62, said.

On Thursday, Mr. Johnson was all smiles as he stood on the corner of 73rd Street and Columbus Avenue.

“Turkey hats,” he shouted, gobbling like a turkey with his signature headgear.

One happy customer called out to him from the street: “My gobbling friend you got me looking good on Facebook — thank you so much!”

Business was so brisk he could barely keep up with demand. By early morning, he had sold about 100 hats and was ordering more from a supplier.

“I love it — I love it!” Mr. Johnson said, holding some turkey hats and throwing his hands up in the air. The people and the costumes bring him joy, he said. He posed for at least one photo with costumers.

“If my friends could see me now, they’d be laughing,” he added later, saying he’s a teacher. “I wear a suit and tie normally.”

Credit…Stephane Mahe/Reuters

Thousands rushed to book vaccination appointments in France on Thursday after the government announced that all adults were eligible for a booster shot and that health passes would no longer be valid after a certain period if they failed to get one.

France’s health minister, Olivier Véran, said at a news conference on Thursday that France was experiencing a new wave of cases that would be “stronger and longer” than the one over the summer, but that “no lockdown, no curfew, no store closures, no travel restrictions” would be enforced.

By focusing on vaccinations and social distancing measures, he said, “we are making the choice to reconcile freedom and responsibility.”

Starting this weekend, anyone age 18 and above will be able to get a booster shot, beginning five months after their second injection at the earliest, Mr. Véran said. Previously the booster shot was available only for health care workers, those at high risk of severe Covid and people 65 and above. Approximately 19 million people are affected by the new announcement, Mr. Véran said.

Some adults who have not received a booster shot within seven months of their second injection will see their passes expire, barring access to restaurants, museums, long-distance trains and other public places unless they get tested regularly, Mr. Véran said.

He said that over 400,000 vaccination appointments had been booked on Wednesday, ahead of his news conference.

About 70 percent of the population is fully vaccinated. But the number of new daily cases has spiked recently to about 30,000 over the past few days, according to French officials, and have reached the prime minister. The recent surge has led to the closure of 8,500 school classes, up from 4,100 last week.

Jean-Michel Blanquer, France’s education minister, announced at the news conference that classes would no longer close if one student tests positive, but that they will require that all students continue to be tested. Only those who test negative will be able to return, he said.

Hospitalizations — mainly of unvaccinated patients — have also been increasing, according to French health authorities.

Mr. Véran also urged the French to observe social distancing rules and guidelines. He announced that starting on Friday, masks would be mandatory indoors even for establishments or events that require a health pass, and that the pass would also be required to gain access to Christmas markets.

“We must remain vigilant at all times, get back to good habits,” Mr. Veran said.

Credit…Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade gets people excited — at least judging by some of the responses I received when I posted on social media last week that I would be marching with the Pikachu balloon.

Growing up, I often watched the parade on television. I have fond memories of a Sesame Street float, a vague recollection of one with Marvel heroes and villains, and I was always in awe of the Superman balloon. (It turns out there were three. The last Man of Steel balloon made his final parade appearance in 1987.)

But as a child I never gave a second thought to what a production it must be to pull off a successful parade. A year and a half ago, I started looking for a way to participate. (I first tried to do it last year, but Covid curtailed the length of the parade, the balloons, the volunteers and the onlookers.)

I was brought into the ranks of balloon handlers — it almost feels like a whisper network, you need to know someone who knows someone — by a former colleague who had marched many times. I told her I was interested in joining in and she helped me become a volunteer on her team this year.

Credit…Idris Solomon for The New York Times

The sign-up process involved uploading my proof of vaccination, watching a training video in the proper care of balloon handling and more. I added a new phrase to my vocabulary: “handling bone.” That’s the device used to hold and tow the lines that ease the balloons down the parade route and, later, to the deflating area.

As a native New Yorker, I’m eager to take part in such a Big Apple experience, though it’ll be a long day, thankfully, if forecasts are correct, with mild weather. I need to check in at 7:15 a.m. and will likely not be done until after 12:30 p.m.

My one worry, as a momma’s boy, was being late to my family’s Thanksgiving lunch, a tradition which stems from a time when my sister and I worked evening shifts at The New York Times. But I dutifully visited my mother on Wednesday afternoon, asked her to keep an eye out for me on television and promised I would eat plenty when I arrived.

Credit…Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times

A giant, animatronic turkey is once again waddling down Central Park West at the head of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, which returned on Thursday in its full, helium-filled glory.

Last holiday, the coronavirus forced officials to order a one-block long, nearly crowd-free version of the parade, which typically runs from 77th Street on the Upper West Side to Herald Square in Midtown Manhattan. The parade, which began in 1924 and is in its 95th iteration, has been canceled rarely, including during World War II.

Along the 2.5 mile route will stroll over 4,500 volunteers towing among them 15 giant helium balloons, old favorites like Smokey Bear, and newcomers like Ada Twist, Scientist, from the popular storybook, who clocks in at 51-feet tall.

The return of such sights — of large crowds, of public joy, of celebrities on floats and beloved characters transformed into balloons — felt deeply symbolic for many who anticipated the spectacle.

“Moments of celebration are important,” said Leroy Lamar, who came with his family to see the parade from Atlanta. “And it is important that we do them together.”

Video

transcript

transcript

‘Inflation Day’ Returns Before the Thanksgiving Day Parade

Spectators lined up to watch workers prepare giant character balloons before the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, which was reduced to just one block in 2020 because of the pandemic.

“We decided to come last year, but for the pandemic, we couldn’t come. So finally, we get it this year, and we are so happy and excited to be here.” “Yes.” ”This is amazing. We are we are waking up at 5 a.m. to be here tomorrow.” [laughs] “So this is his first time in New York and his first time seeing the parade, and it’s exciting for us because it’s been a family tradition since I was a little kid.” “Say ‘balloon.’” “Balloon.” “Balloon.”

Video player loading
Spectators lined up to watch workers prepare giant character balloons before the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, which was reduced to just one block in 2020 because of the pandemic.CreditCredit…Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times

The 95th Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on Thursday is notably different from last year’s limited celebration, which was reduced to just one block, with spectators discouraged from coming out.

Around 6,500 people will come together to work on this year’s parade, which will follow a 2.5-mile route through New York City, starting on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and ending in Midtown. Everyone who participates in the parade must be vaccinated, but there is no vaccination requirement for spectators.

Here’s what you need to know about this year’s festivities.

Who will broadcast the event?

Credit…Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times

The parade is being televised starting at 9 a.m. on NBC, Telemundo and the Peacock streaming service.

The “Today” show’s Al Roker, Hoda Kotb and Savannah Guthrie are hosting the show, which will end at noon.

Where is the parade?

The parade started at 9 a.m. at West 77th Street and Central Park West, but there will be limited public viewing, or none at all, at that location.

Many fans arrived along the route hours earlier to get spots with unobstructed views of the performers. The best places for viewing the parade include Central Park West from West 75th to West 61st Streets, and Sixth Avenue from West 59th to West 38th Streets.

You can find a detailed map of the route here.

Who will be in the parade?

Credit…Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times

Performers in the parade will include Jon Batiste, Kelly Rowland, Nelly, Mickey Guyton and Carrie Underwood.

Some of the younger participants will include Ballet Hispánico’s School of Dance, the Young People’s Chorus of New York City and a group of competitive rope jumpers. Ten high school and college marching bands — including the Hampton University Marching Force — will also fill the streets. (Children under 12 will not be allowed to participate in the parade itself this year but will be allowed as spectators.)

There will also be 15 giant balloons and 28 floats. Some of the balloons will be as high as four-story buildings or as wide as six taxicabs.

What’s new?

A balloon resembling Grogu — a character from “The Mandalorian” who is also known as Baby Yoda — will fly above the parade Thursday, the first time a “Star Wars” balloon will be part of the festivities.

Ada from the Netflix show “Ada Twist, Scientist” will also make her debut in balloon form this year. The pen tucked behind her ear is the length of 27 real pens lined up.

Pokémon is celebrating its 25th anniversary with a new balloon of Pikachu and his friend Eevee sitting on a sleigh — the blades of which are about the same length as a semitrailer truck.

While McDonald’s has had a Ronald McDonald balloon in the parade since 1987, this year it will debut a new design. The balloon of Ronald McDonald will hold a giant red heart.

“Ronald is sharing his heart with us at a time when we all need some extra love,” the Macy’s website reads.

Credit…Anna Watts for The New York Times

On Thursday, five members of the extended Dewar family stood on Central Park West at 81st Street in pastel pink and teal jumpsuits and hot pink wigs.

For nearly a decade, Raymond Dewar, the patriarch, had led them through the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. But he died in 2020, the year the extravaganza was cut short because of the pandemic.

Now they’re marching to honor Mr. Dewar, said Monique Dewar, one of his daughters.

“We are so happy to be here,” she said, standing next to family members, who were beaming under their masks. “The only problem with the mask,” she said, was “no clown makeup this year.”

The Dewars were joined by thousands of others who had to skip the parade last year.

Credit…Sarah Nir/The New York Times

Minutes before the kickoff, Sergeant Gabriel Vazquez of the New York City Parks Department, sat on an American spotted draft horse named Apollo, holding up an American flag.

He hasn’t ridden in the parade in several years he said, but this year he couldn’t miss it.

Atop his horse, striding down the route, he said, “It’s like we are walking back toward normal.”

Video

transcript

transcript

‘Inflation Day’ Returns Before the Thanksgiving Day Parade

Spectators lined up to watch workers prepare giant character balloons before the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, which was reduced to just one block in 2020 because of the pandemic.

“We decided to come last year, but for the pandemic, we couldn’t come. So finally, we get it this year, and we are so happy and excited to be here.” “Yes.” ”This is amazing. We are we are waking up at 5 a.m. to be here tomorrow.” [laughs] “So this is his first time in New York and his first time seeing the parade, and it’s exciting for us because it’s been a family tradition since I was a little kid.” “Say ‘balloon.’” “Balloon.” “Balloon.”

Video player loading
Spectators lined up to watch workers prepare giant character balloons before the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, which was reduced to just one block in 2020 because of the pandemic.CreditCredit…Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times

For a moment it seemed New York City was almost back to normal.

After the pandemic forced an attenuated, blocklong version of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade last year, this year the iconic event was set to roar back to life, with the full complement of floats, balloons, and marching bands expected to parade on Thursday all along Central Park West to Herald Square.

And once again it kicked off on Wednesday with another tradition, known locally as “Inflation Day” — the public viewing on 72nd Street of the giant Pikachu, Papa Smurf, Smokey Bear and other balloon stars as they were filled with helium for the parade.

“Anyone wishing to see the inflation of the balloons must get off at this station,” a train driver for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority said over the loudspeaker of an uptown C train as it pulled in to the 72nd Street subway station “This is where you see the balloons.”

Just up the subway stairs was another, less welcoming announcement. “Welcome to fascist New York!” an anti-vaccine demonstrator shouted repeatedly at the crowd, which included little children, parents, and veterans in wheelchairs, as they passed by on their way to view the balloons.

And as people streamed east on 71st Street, they were met by a gauntlet of people in red pinnies with “vax checker” written on their backs. The checkers asked everyone to show their identification and vaccination cards, and to put on a face mask.

On 81st Street, Diane Roberts, who works in media in Washington, D.C., was celebrating a what she called a milestone birthday a year late — she refused to say which one — with four best friends who were at last able to travel from around the country to be with her.

Credit…Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times

Just speaking about being able to see the parade brought tears to her eyes. She wasn’t bothered by the vaccine checkers, the crowd control or the necessity of masks. “It is a cloud over it but it but I still think it’s better to be here masked then not to be here at all,” she said.

A few blocks away was the Lamar family, visiting from Atlanta, Georgia, on their first family trip since the pandemic began more than 20 months ago. They were taking in a giant green dinosaur. “Moments of celebration are important,” Leroy Lamar, who runs a nonprofit organization, said. “And it is important that we do them together.”

Credit…Laetitia Vancon for The New York Times

The European Medicines Agency approved on Thursday the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine for children ages 5 to 11, bringing European governments one step closer to inoculating young children.

The recommendation of the European Union’s drug regulator will now be sent to the European Commission, the bloc’s administrative arm, for final approval, which it is expected to do swiftly. It will then be up to the national health authorities to decide if and when they will start inoculating young children.

The decision comes amid a Covid spike across the bloc. The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control said on Wednesday that European governments should accelerate their vaccination rates, consider booster shots for adults and tighten restrictions in order to avoid a “very high burden” on national health care systems. Approximately 66 percent of the European Union’s total population has been fully inoculated, according to E.C.D.C. data.

The regulator approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children aged 12 to 15 in May, in what the agency called “an important step forward in the fight against the pandemic.”

All 27 member nations are now inoculating adolescents, according to the E.C.D.C.

The European Commission also proposed a nine-month period of validity of coronavirus vaccinations for travelers coming from outside and inside the bloc.

“It’s good to have a booster shot after the six months have expired,” Didier Reynders, the bloc’s commissioner for justice, told reporters on Thursday, citing evidence that the immunity provided by coronavirus vaccines wanes after six months. “These three months should allow national campaigns to be set up and for citizens to actually get the booster shot.”

E.U. citizens traveling between different member countries will be required to present a vaccination certificate, proof of recovery from the virus in the past six months or a negative test.

The proposal is expected to come into force on Jan. 10, pending approval from national governments.

The commission also proposed new rules for foreigners traveling from outside the bloc: Until now, nonessential tourists from a limited number of countries could enter the European Union regardless of their vaccination status. That list has been updated to include other criteria, including caseload and vaccination rates.

Credit…Carlos Osorio/Reuters

Canada’s health regulator on Wednesday granted full approval for Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine, making Canada the first nation to do so.

The decision was made after a third phase of a study showed the shot was 85 percent effective in preventing severe disease and, starting 28 days after vaccination, from death.

“Today marks the first major regulatory approval for the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine and an important moment to recognize the dedication of everyone involved in our Covid-19 vaccine development, our partners, the regulators and clinical study participants,” said Paul Stoffels, the company’s chief scientific officer.

Use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in the United States has not been as widespread as that of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines, and studies have found the Johnson vaccine provides less protection than the other two. In April, use of the vaccine came to a sudden halt after U.S. health agencies called for a brief pause so they could study a rare blood-clotting disorder that emerged in six recipients.

The Food and Drug Administration authorized Johnson & Johnson booster shots last month, despite concern among the F.D.A.’s expert advisory panel that data in the company’s application was limited and wasn’t independently verified.

Some F.D.A. experts and committee members argued that recipients of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine needed an additional shot to bolster against severe Covid-19, since that vaccine was less effective than those of Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech.

The F.D.A. discussed data with the committee showing that Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine was only roughly 70 percent effective against hospitalization, compared with around 90 percent for the Moderna and Pfizer shots. But other data, including from a study of nearly nine million people in New York State, found better results from a single dose of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, including for older Americans, by offering durable protection.

Johnson & Johnson doses have been distributed abroad through Covax, the global vaccine-sharing program, in an effort to bolster immunity in poorer countries, including many in Africa.

Many of those shots have been provided through a deal reached in May, under which Johnson & Johnson agreed to sell about 200 million doses to Covax at a discounted rate. Last week, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said that the United States had negotiated a deal to ship additional doses of the vaccine overseas, to help people living in conflict zones.

Credit…Brittainy Newman/The New York Times

The tragedy at a parade in Waukesha came less than a week from one of the country’s best known events: the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City.

Concern about intentional attacks on the parade have long driven law enforcement efforts to secure the route. And New York has seen vehicle ramming turn deadly at other crowded events in recent years.

In 2017, a driver who was apparently under the influence of drugs rammed into crowded sidewalks in Times Square, killing one and injuring more than 20 people before security barricades stopped him. And, later that same year, a 29-year-old man rammed his pickup truck into pedestrian traffic along the busy West Side Highway, killing eight and injuring 11.

More recently, in September 2020, a vehicle rammed through a crowd of demonstrators who were protesting police brutality in Times Square.

But the scale of the Thanksgiving parade in New York is so large that it is difficult to draw comparisons, a law enforcement official said. The parade for years has been seen as a high-value target for extremist and terror groups.

“You can’t really take an incident that occurs at a holiday parade in a relatively small city and compare it to what we do in New York City for that event,” said John Miller, the deputy commissioner for the Police Department’s Intelligence Bureau.

The space around the parade is what is known as a “hardened route,” cordoned off from traffic by cars that block roads, sand-filled dump trucks and long gun teams, Mr. Miller said. The security measures include tools as mundane as metal barriers and as high-tech as radiation detectors fastened to the belts of police officers. And, the entire route is blanketed by the Lower and Midtown Manhattan Security Initiatives, a surveillance dragnet that overlays tactics like license plate readers and video surveillance to secure Midtown and Lower Manhattan.

“We don’t worry. We plan,” Mr. Miller said. “It’s a better use of our time.”

Clockwise from top left: Earl Wilson/The New York Times (2); Andrew Seng for The New York Times (2); Earl Wilson/The New York Times

Thousands of spectators lined the streets of New York City to watch the return of the full Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.





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