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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EU warns differing virus measures put free travel at risk


BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union warned member countries Thursday that they risk undermining the 27-nation bloc’s COVID-19 travel and…

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union warned member countries Thursday that they risk undermining the 27-nation bloc’s COVID-19 travel and access certificate system with new restrictions that some are putting in place to try to thwart a surge in cases.

EU Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders said there is “an obvious risk that differing approaches between countries could endanger confidence in the COVID certificate system, and harm free movement in the Union,” The bloc relies on free movement of people and goods for business and travel to flourish.

The World Health Organization says coronavirus infections jumped 11% in Europe in the last week, the only region in the world where COVID-19 continues to rise. The WHO’s Europe director, Dr. Hans Kluge, warned that without urgent measures, the continent could see another 700,000 deaths by the spring.

Many countries have begun tightening rules on people who are not vaccinated to try to encourage them to get shots to better halt the spread of the virus. Austria even plans to make vaccines obligatory from next February.

As winter closes in and coronavirus restrictions are ramped up, tens of thousands of people have rallied around Europe in recent weeks in protest against the tightening of measures and against the requirement for COVID-19 certificates.

The EU’s COVID pass contains proof that the holder has either been vaccinated, has in the past recovered from the disease, or has recently tested negative.

But some German states are now demanding proof of vaccination and daily negative tests. From next month, Italy will require proof of vaccination or having recovered to access a host of free-time activities over the holiday season. Tests will no longer be enough.

“Holders of (an) EU certificate should, in principle, not be subject to additional restrictions, wherever they come from in the European Union. Restrictions such as additional tests or quarantine, for instance,” Reynders, the justice commissioner, told reporters.

The commission, the EU’s executive branch, says scientific evidence shows that vaccine immunity begins to diminish after about 6 months. But it’s recommending that certificates should continue to be accepted as valid for 9 months after the first shot.

Some countries want booster shots to be mandatory for the certificates to be valid. France, for example, wants to require them on certificates for people over 65, while neighboring Belgium does not think it’s necessary yet.

“The commission is not proposing any period of validity for boosters at the moment,” Reynders said.

___

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Pandemic travel news: US borders open as more of Europe is rated ‘very high’ risk


Francesca Street, CNN

After nearly 20 months of closed borders, the US finally opened to vaccinated international visitors on Monday, November 8.

But transatlantic travel remains an ever changing landscape, with this week also seeing more European destinations added to the CDC’s highest risk travel category.

And as European Covid cases continue to climb, one central European country is considering a lockdown for its unvaccinated population.

Here’s what you need to know about pandemic travel this week:

1. The US opened to vaccinated international travelers

It’s been a long time coming. Almost 20 months since the US banned many international visitors back in March 2020, fully vaccinated travelers from all over the world are finally able to return to the US.

That includes travelers coming from previously banned countries including the UK, as well as EU destinations.

To mark the occasion, Monday morning saw British Airways and Virgin Atlantic join forces to coordinate a historic dual airplane take-off.

The rival transatlantic airlines scheduled two A350 aircraft to depart London Heathrow at the same time, with BA christening its flight BA001, a number usually reserved for the historic Concorde.

Check out our guide to the new US travel rules here.

2. Thanksgiving travel is expected to rebound

For many, the return of international travel to the US means long-awaited family reunions, and some travelers will be timing their trip with Thanksgiving on November 25.

While Thanksgiving 2020 involved hunkering down at home, the American Automobile Association (AAA) predicts 2021 travel will rebound close to pre-pandemic levels. Some 53.4 million Americans are expected to travel for the holiday — a 13% increase from last year.

Kathleen Bangs, a former airline pilot and spokesperson for airplane tracker company Flight Aware, shared her tips for ensuring holiday travel goes smoothly, including booking flights that depart early in the day to avoid a cascading effect of delays and cancellations, and even booking a back-up flight for extra peace of mind.

See more tips here from Bangs and other experts about smooth and safe pandemic holiday travel.

3. The Netherlands has moved to the CDC’s highest-risk category

While transatlantic travel might be back on the table, it’s not without its complications.

This week the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention added two northwestern European countries to its list of “very high” risk travel destinations.

The Netherlands and Luxembourg were joined by two archipelagos in this week’s update to the CDC’s “Covid-19 Very High” Level 4 category. On Friday the Dutch government announced a three-week partial lockdown from Saturday, limiting access to shops, cafes, restaurants and hotels.

Countries are designated Level 4 if they have had more than 500 cases per 100,000 residents in the past 28 days. The CDC recommends people avoid traveling to Level 4 countries, and advises that anyone who must travel should be fully vaccinated first.

There’s been a surge of cases across Europe recently, which a WHO official said is “of grave concern.”

4. Austria considers implementing a lockdown for unvaccinated people

Austria, another European country on the CDC’s Level 4 list of “very high” risk travel destinations, is considering a lockdown for its unvaccinated population.

Unvaccinated people in Austria are already banned from certain public places, including entertainment venues, restaurants and hairdressers.

According to Johns Hopkins data, 64.3% of Austria’s population is fully vaccinated. On Thursday November 11, the Austrian chancellor Alexander Schallenberg called the vaccination rate “shamefully low.”

“A lockdown for the unvaccinated means one cannot leave one’s home unless one is going to work, shopping for essentials, stretching one’s legs — namely exactly what we all had to suffer through in 2020,” he said.

Schallenberg is pushing for this measure to be put in place ASAP.

5. Haunting image of coastal erosion wins Environmental Photographer of the Year 2021

This week, the winners of this year’s Environmental Photographer of the Year awards were announced at the COP26 Climate Summit in Glasgow.

Taking the top spot was a haunting image by Spanish photographer Antonio Aragón Renuncio of a child sleeping in the ruins of a home eroded by rising sea levels on a beach in Togo, in West Africa.

“I’m very happy. It’s a huge honor to win such an important prize,” Aragón told CNN. “Especially one that’s related to the environment, which is a topic I’ve been working on for several years and which I’m very worried about.”

6. Myanmar plans to reopen to tourists, raising one big question

The Southeast Asian country of Myanmar plans to welcome back international tourists from early 2022, amid a complex domestic situation.

In addition to navigating the pandemic, Myanmar is also dealing with the aftereffects of a February 2021 coup in which a military junta overthrew the country’s democratically elected government.

“We are planning to reopen tourism for vaccinated tourists if plans are well-prepared for safe and convenient travel,” Zeyar Htun, deputy director of the Public Relations and Information Department at the military-run Ministry of Hotels & Tourism, confirmed to CNN Travel.

The US State Department currently has two Level Four “do not visit” alerts for Burma, as it refers to Myanmar: one for its high number of Covid cases, and one for the ongoing political situation.

All this raises one big question for Myanmar tourism.

7. Some travelers are turning their back on airplanes

And as discussions about tackling the climate crisis wrap up at COP26, some eco-conscious travelers are turning their backs on air travel.

Anna Hughes is the director of Flight Free UK, a campaign group that promotes alternative forms of travel beyond aviation.

As the group starts to encourage people to sign a pledge to remain flight free for 2022, there are “two distinct camps” of travelers, according to Hughes.

Find out which camp you fall in.

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CNN’s Marnie Hunter, Joseph Ataman, Chris Liakos, Anna Cooban, Chris Isidore, Geneva Sands, Julia Buckley, Forrest Brown, Rob Picheta, Sharon Braithwaite, Tara John, Nadine Schmidt, Lilit Marcus and Jeevan Ravindran contributed reporting



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Pandemic travel news: US borders open as more of Europe is rated ‘very high’ risk


(CNN) — After nearly 20 months of closed borders, the US finally opened to vaccinated international visitors on Monday, November 8.

But transatlantic travel remains an ever changing landscape, with this week also seeing more European destinations added to the CDC’s highest risk travel category.

And as European Covid cases continue to climb, one central European country is considering a lockdown for its unvaccinated population.

Here’s what you need to know about pandemic travel this week:

1. The US opened to vaccinated international travelers

The United States opened its borders to vaccinated international travelers after nearly 20 months. CNN spent the day in three US airports talking to travelers and their families about what it’s like to be able to see one another again.

It’s been a long time coming. Almost 20 months since the US banned many international visitors back in March 2020, fully vaccinated travelers from all over the world are finally able to return to the US.

That includes travelers coming from previously banned countries including the UK, as well as EU destinations.

To mark the occasion, Monday morning saw British Airways and Virgin Atlantic join forces to coordinate a historic dual airplane take-off.

The rival transatlantic airlines scheduled two A350 aircraft to depart London Heathrow at the same time, with BA christening its flight BA001, a number usually reserved for the historic Concorde.

Check out our guide to the new US travel rules here.

2. Thanksgiving travel is expected to rebound

Many families are coming together this holiday season for the first time in a long time. CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta shares these tips on how to protect your loved ones from getting Covid-19.

For many, the return of international travel to the US means long-awaited family reunions, and some travelers will be timing their trip with Thanksgiving on November 25.

While Thanksgiving 2020 involved hunkering down at home, the American Automobile Association (AAA) predicts 2021 travel will rebound close to pre-pandemic levels. Some 53.4 million Americans are expected to travel for the holiday — a 13% increase from last year.

Kathleen Bangs, a former airline pilot and spokesperson for airplane tracker company Flight Aware, shared her tips for ensuring holiday travel goes smoothly, including booking flights that depart early in the day to avoid a cascading effect of delays and cancellations, and even booking a back-up flight for extra peace of mind.

3. The Netherlands has moved to the CDC’s highest-risk category

The Netherlands landed in the CDC's highest risk category for travel this week.

The Netherlands landed in the CDC’s highest risk category for travel this week.

Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

While transatlantic travel might be back on the table, it’s not without its complications.

This week the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention added two northwestern European countries to its list of “very high” risk travel destinations.

Countries are designated Level 4 if they have had more than 500 cases per 100,000 residents in the past 28 days. The CDC recommends people avoid traveling to Level 4 countries, and advises that anyone who must travel should be fully vaccinated first.

There’s been a surge of cases across Europe recently, which a WHO official said is “of grave concern.”

4. Austria considers implementing a lockdown for unvaccinated people

Austria is days away from ordering millions of unvaccinated people to stay at home, its chancellor has said, in a rare move that underscores the increasing exasperation of European leaders towards those who have not yet been inoculated against Covid-19. CNN’s Scott McLean reports.

Unvaccinated people in Austria are already banned from certain public places, including entertainment venues, restaurants and hairdressers.

According to Johns Hopkins data, 64.3% of Austria’s population is fully vaccinated. On Thursday November 11, the Austrian chancellor Alexander Schallenberg called the vaccination rate “shamefully low.”

People walk among Christmas lights on November 12, 2021, near Stephanplatz in Vienna, Austria.

People walk among Christmas lights on November 12, 2021, near Stephanplatz in Vienna, Austria.

Georg Hochmuth/AFP via Getty Images

“A lockdown for the unvaccinated means one cannot leave one’s home unless one is going to work, shopping for essentials, stretching one’s legs — namely exactly what we all had to suffer through in 2020,” he said.

Schallenberg is pushing for this measure to be put in place ASAP.

5. Haunting image of coastal erosion wins Environmental Photographer of the Year 2021

This week, the winners of this year’s Environmental Photographer of the Year awards were announced at the COP26 Climate Summit in Glasgow.

“I’m very happy. It’s a huge honor to win such an important prize,” Aragón told CNN. “Especially one that’s related to the environment, which is a topic I’ve been working on for several years and which I’m very worried about.”

6. Myanmar plans to reopen to tourists, raising one big question

Myanmar is dealing with the pandemic and the aftereffects of a coup.

Myanmar is dealing with the pandemic and the aftereffects of a coup.

Mladen Antonov/AFP/Getty Images

The Southeast Asian country of Myanmar plans to welcome back international tourists from early 2022, amid a complex domestic situation.

In addition to navigating the pandemic, Myanmar is also dealing with the aftereffects of a February 2021 coup in which a military junta overthrew the country’s democratically elected government.

“We are planning to reopen tourism for vaccinated tourists if plans are well-prepared for safe and convenient travel,” Zeyar Htun, deputy director of the Public Relations and Information Department at the military-run Ministry of Hotels & Tourism, confirmed to CNN Travel.

The US State Department currently has two Level Four “do not visit” alerts for Burma, as it refers to Myanmar: one for its high number of Covid cases, and one for the ongoing political situation.

7. Some travelers are turning their back on airplanes

Anna Hughes is the director of Flight Free UK, a campaign group that promotes alternative forms of travel beyond aviation.

As the group starts to encourage people to sign a pledge to remain flight free for 2022, there are “two distinct camps” of travelers, according to Hughes.

CNN’s Marnie Hunter, Joseph Ataman, Chris Liakos, Anna Cooban, Chris Isidore, Geneva Sands, Julia Buckley, Forrest Brown, Rob Picheta, Sharon Braithwaite, Tara John, Nadine Schmidt, Lilit Marcus and Jeevan Ravindran contributed reporting



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World’s largest country moves to CDC’s highest risk travel category – Erie News Now


On Monday afternoon, the world’s largest country by area (covering more than 17 million square kilometers or 6.6 million square miles), moved up to Level 4, the agency’s highest risk category. It was previously listed as Level 3, or “high” risk for Covid-19.



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CDC moves Ukraine to its highest level of Covid-19 travel risk


On Monday afternoon, architecturally rich Ukraine, the second-largest nation in Europe in land area, was moved up from Level 3, or “high” risk for Covid-19, to Level 4, the agency’s highest risk category.

These last two updates in October are a far cry from the situation in early August, when the CDC added 16 destinations in one week to Level 4, and Delta variant cases were rising rapidly across much of the planet.

Destinations that fall into the “Covid-19 Very High” Level 4 category have had more than 500 cases per 100,000 residents in the past 28 days, according to CDC criteria.

Popular favorites remaining on Level 4

 A view of Bonis Windmill and the Old Port of Mykonos, Greece. This popular vacation nation remains at the CDC's Level 4.

A view of Bonis Windmill and the Old Port of Mykonos, Greece. This popular vacation nation remains at the CDC’s Level 4.

Byron Smith/Getty Images

Popular international vacation spots remained lodged at this highest level of alert, evidence of Covid-19’s continuing grip. The current list of Level 4 destinations includes:

• Austria
• Bahamas
• Botswana
• Croatia
• Greece
• Ireland
• Jamaica
• Maldives
• Switzerland
• Thailand
• Turkey
• United Kingdom

In the case of the UK, it’s been lodged at Level 4 since July 19. Greece has been there since August 2. Thailand has been there since August 9.

In total, there were 77 destinations worldwide still at Level 4 on October 25.

Lots of new entries on Level 3

The Level 3 category — which applies to destinations that have had between 100 and 500 cases per 100,000 residents in the past 28 days — saw more action this week.

Being placed in Level 3 was a sign of progress in these seven destinations, all moving down from Level 4:

• Guatemala
• Lebanon
• Libya
• Mauritius
• Puerto Rico
• Saint Martin
• Sri Lanka

For three destinations, the move to Level 3 was a sign of worsening conditions. Egypt and the Dominican Republic had been at Level 2 (“moderate” risk), and Cayman Islands had been at an enviable Level 1 (“low” risk).

Cruising on Level 3

The CDC has updated guidance on cruising on ships such as the Norwegian Gem.

The CDC has updated guidance on cruising on ships such as the Norwegian Gem.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The CDC also added cruise ships, including river vessels, to its Level 3 warning this week and advised that only fully vaccinated people cruise. The CDC said Covid-19 “spreads easily between people in close quarters aboard ships, and the chance of getting [it] on cruise ships is high.”

Some options in Level 2

Destinations carrying the “Level 2: Covid-19 Moderate” designation have seen 50 to 99 Covid-19 cases per 100,000 residents in the past 28 days.

Popular destinations in this less risky category on October 25 included the following:

• Colombia
• Peru
• Poland

Just keep in mind the CDC list updates weekly, and your lower-risk destination of choice might move up after you begin making plans.

Level 1 and no ratings

In the category of “Level 1: Covid-19 Low” destinations, fewer than 50 new cases per 100,000 residents have been logged over the past 28 days. New Zealand is in this category, but it has yet to open its doors to leisure travelers yet.

Finally, there are destinations for which the CDC has an “unknown” risk because of a lack of information. As of October 25, that included Monaco, the Azores and Tanzania.

In its broader travel guidance, the CDC has recommended avoiding all international travel until you are fully vaccinated.

“Fully vaccinated travelers are less likely to get and spread Covid-19. However, international travel poses additional risks, and even fully vaccinated travelers might be at increased risk for getting and possibly spreading some Covid-19 variants,” the agency said.

Top image: A view of the left bank of Kiev, the capital of Ukraine. (Photo by STR/NurPhoto via Getty Images)



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CDC travel advisories: Singapore placed at Level 4, “highest risk” for Covid


(CNN) — The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has added one new location to its list of “very high” risk travel destinations this week.

The ultramodern city-state of Singapore has moved up from Level 3, or “high” risk for Covid-19, to Level 4, the agency’s highest risk category.

This news comes on the heels of a recent decision by Singapore to further loosen restrictions and add eight new countries, including the United Kingdom and the United States, to its Vaccinated Travel Lane program. Fully vaccinated people arriving from those nations can apply for a quarantine-free entry.

Destinations that fall into the “Covid-19 Very High” Level 4 category have had more than 500 cases per 100,000 residents in the past 28 days, according to CDC criteria.

People should avoid traveling to locations designated with a Level 4 notice, the CDC recommends. Anyone who must travel should be fully vaccinated first, the agency advises.
This newest update is far cry from early August, when the CDC added 16 destinations in one week to Level 4, and Delta variant cases were rising rapidly across much of the planet. This is the first week since early August that only one nation has been added to Level 4.

Popular favorites remaining on Level 4

However, other popular international vacation spots remain at this highest level of alert, evidence of Covid-19’s continuing foothold. The current list of Level 4 destinations includes the following:

• Austria
• Belize
• Botswana
• Croatia
• Greece
• Ireland
• Malaysia
• Switzerland
• Turkey
• United Kingdom

In the case of the UK, it’s been lodged at Level 4 since July 19, and Greece has been there since August 2.

New Level 3 locations

Budapest is the capital of Hungary, which was placed at Level 3 ("high" risk for Covid) by the CDC on October 18.

Budapest is the capital of Hungary, which was placed at Level 3 (“high” risk for Covid) by the CDC on October 18.

Rita Franca/NurPhoto/Getty Images

The Level 3 category applies to destinations that have had between 100 and 500 cases per 100,000 residents in the past 28 days.

Six new destinations were assigned to this “high” risk category, three of which moved up from Level 2:

• Angola
• Djibouti
• Hungary

The Level 3 designation was good news for people interested in the following three destinations, which previously had been at Level 4:

Cypus
Eswatini
Tunisia

Some options in Level 2

Destinations carrying the “Level 2: Covid-19 Moderate” designation have seen 50 to 99 Covid-19 cases per 100,000 residents in the past 28 days.

Popular destinations in this less risky category on October 18 included the following:

• Dominican Republic
• Egypt
• Peru

Just keep in mind the CDC list updates weekly, and your lower-risk destination of choice might move up after you begin making plans.

In the category of “Level 1: Covid-19 Low” destinations, fewer than 50 new cases per 100,000 residents have been logged over the past 28 days. New Zealand is in this category, but it has yet to open its doors to leisure travelers yet.
In its broader travel guidance, the CDC has recommended avoiding all international travel until you are fully vaccinated.

“Fully vaccinated travelers are less likely to get and spread Covid-19. However, international travel poses additional risks, and even fully vaccinated travelers might be at increased risk for getting and possibly spreading some Covid-19 variants,” the agency said.

Top image: A view of the skyline and waterfront of Singapore. (Ore Huiying/Bloomberg/Getty Images)



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CDC issues travel notice for Ukraine due to polio risk




By NewsDesk  @bactiman63

After the confirmation of a circulating vaccine-derived poliovirus type 2 (cVDPV2) case in a young child in Rivne Oblast, Ukraine recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a travel notice for Ukraine classifying it as currently considered high risk for polio.

Image/CDC-/ Meredith Boyter Newlove, M.S., James Archer, M.S.

CDC says anyone unvaccinated, incompletely vaccinated, or with an unknown polio vaccination status should complete the routine polio vaccine series.

In addition, CDC recommends administering a single, lifetime booster dose of inactivated poliovirus vaccine (IPV) to adult travelers that meet all three of the following conditions:

  • Are going to destinations considered high risk for polio
  • Have previously completed the full, routine polio vaccine series
  • Have not already received an adult booster dose

Polio is a crippling and potentially deadly disease that affects the nervous system. Good hand washing practices can help prevent the spread of this disease. Because the virus lives in the feces of an infected person, people infected with the disease can spread it to others when they do not wash their hands well after defecating. People can also be infected if they drink water or eat food contaminated with infected feces.

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Most people with polio do not feel sick. Some people have only minor symptoms, such as fever, tiredness, nausea, headache, nasal congestion, sore throat, cough, stiffness in the neck and back, and pain in the arms and legs. In rare cases, polio infection causes permanent loss of muscle function (paralysis). Polio can be fatal if the muscles used for breathing are paralyzed or if there is an infection of the brain.

 





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