Covid live news: Third Omicron case found in UK; Netherlands confirms at least 13 cases of new variant

Covid live news: Third Omicron case found in UK; Netherlands confirms at least 13 cases of new variant
© Photograph: Peter de Jong/AP Signs warn shoppers of mandatory face mask and the need to respect social distancing in Nijmegen, eastern Netherlands. The country has recorded at least 13 cases of Omicron on incoming flights.

LIVE – Updated at 17:05

Large contact tracing operation in Westminster; At least 13 of 61 cases on two flights into Netherlands are new variant; Austria becomes latest country to detect Omicron.

 

17:05

What exactly is the Omicron variant?

The New York Times has this helpful explainer.

Each coronavirus contains nearly 30,000 letters of RNA. This genetic information allows the virus to infect cells and hijack them to make new viruses.

Omicron carries about 50 mutations not seen in combination before, including more than 30 mutations on the spike protein that the coronavirus uses to attach to cells.

The spike protein has several mutations found in other variants of concern, including D614G, N501Y, K417N and E484A, which lies at the same location as E484K, the “Eek” mutation.

More research is needed to determine whether Omicron’s collection of mutations will give the variant an advantage over widely circulating variants like Delta, or cause more severe disease.

European Commission President warns of global ‘race against time’ against Omicron

17:05

Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, said the world faces a “race against time” to understand Omicron and potentially combat the new variant.

“We know we are now in a race against time,” von der Leyen said on Sunday, AFP reported. She called for the public to take precautions now – so scientists have time to understand Omicron and chart a path forward.

“The scientists and manufacturers need two to three weeks to have a full picture about the quality of the mutations of this Omicron variant,” she said.

It comes after BioNTech said it could tweak its Covid vaccine, made with Pfizer, in 100 days if needed.

“We need to buy time,” she said – urging people to get vaccinated, wear masks and socially distance.

Covid live news: Third Omicron case found in UK; Netherlands confirms at least 13 cases of new variant
© Provided by The Guardian European Commission President von der Leyen said the world is in a “race against time.” Photograph: Ints Kalniņš/Reuters

 

16:35

Morocco is suspending all incoming air travel from around the world, starting on Monday, for two weeks because of the rapid spread of the new Omicron variant of coronavirus, its foreign ministry has announced.

The ministry tweeted that the decision was taken to “preserve the achievements realised by Morocco in the fight against the pandemic, and to protect the health of citizens”. It noted the spread of Omicron in Africa and Europe, AP reports.

Morocco kept its borders closed for months in 2020 because of the pandemic, fearing that its health system would not be able to manage the surges of patients seen in Europe.

The kingdom in north Africa has had one of Africa’s highest rates of confirmed infections, but is also at the forefront of the continent’s vaccination effort, with 66% of its population having received at least one dose.

Summary

16:34

I will be handing over blogging duties very soon. These are the main developments in the pandemic in the past few hours:

  • Authorities in the Netherlands confirmed that 13 people who arrived on flights from South Africa on Friday have so far tested positive for the new omicron coronavirus variant, AP reports. The 61 people who tested positive for the virus on Friday were immediately put into isolation while sequencing was carried out to establish if they had the new variant.
  • Under-40s in the UK “should expect” to get the booster earlier than previously thought. The deputy chair of the the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI ), said there was a “strong argument” for raising immunity in the whole community.
  • The UK health secretary has said there is a reason to think that the Omicron variant may make the current vaccines “less effective”. Sajid Javid said that mandatory mask wearing on public transport and in shops would come into force on Tuesday in a “temporary” measure in response to the new strain.

UK records third positive Omicron infection

16:33

The UK has recorded its third case of the new Omicron variant.

The UK Health Security Agency said the individual, who has since left the UK, had travelled to southern Africa.

“Our advanced sequencing capabilities enable us to find variants and take rapid action to limit onward spread,” Jenny Harries, chief executive of UKHSA, said in a statement.

“It is very likely that we will find more cases over the coming days as we are seeing in other countries globally and as we increase case detection through focused contact tracing.”

The Sun’s political editor, Harry Cole, tweets that a big contact tracing operation is under way in Westminster, where the individual visited.

Third case of Omicron confirmed…

The individual tested positive after travel to the UK and is linked to travel to Southern Africa. Has now left country…

But…

Big contact tracing operation underway in Westminster where they visited !

— Harry Cole (@MrHarryCole) November 28, 2021

UK reports 37,681 new Covid cases and 51 deaths

16:20

The UK reported 37,681 new Covid infections in the past 24 hours, sightly down from the 49,344 new positive tests on Friday. The seven-day average is now 43,228 new cases a day.

A further 51 Covid-related deaths were reported on Sunday, down from 131 on Saturday and 160 on Friday. (Reported figures tend to be lower at weekends.)

In efforts to suppress the virus and stamp out new Omicron cases, the UK will re-introduce temporary measures from Tuesday for compulsory mask-wearing on public transport and in shops.

 

15:31

Several thousand people protested in Prague against anti-coronavirus restrictions on Sunday as many Czech hospitals halted non-urgent procedures in the face of one of the world’s fastest rates of new infections.

Gathered in a park overlooking the Czech capital’s centre, protesters waved national flags and carried signs with slogans such as: “Get vaccinated? Over your dead bodies”.

The outgoing government toughened measures on Thursday, including a ban on Christmas markets, which was one of the main themes at Sunday’s rally.

“I am here to fight for freedom. I am here because I don’t agree with what is happening today,” Jiri Hulec told Reuters.

Czech hospitals, including the largest one, Prague’s Motol, have ceased planned operations and limited other care in the past days as the number of patients with Covid-19 has doubled to around 6,000 over the past three weeks.

Covid live news: Third Omicron case found in UK; Netherlands confirms at least 13 cases of new variant
© Provided by The Guardian People protest against the government Covid-19 measures with a banner reading ‘Stop Covid-fascism’ in Prague, Czech Republic. Photograph: Martin Divíšek/EPA

 

15:31

The top US infectious disease official said Americans should be prepared to fight the spread of the new Covid-19 variant Omicron, but it is too soon to say what actions are needed, including possible mandates or lockdowns.

Dr Anthony Fauci told ABC News on Sunday that the United States must do “anything and everything” amid likely cases of the variant, but it was “too early to say” whether new lockdowns or mandates were needed, Reuters reports.

He said it was possible that the new variant was already in the United States, although no official case has been confirmed.

 

15:06

The expert whose modelling helped instigate the first UK lockdown welcomed the new measures to slow the spread of the Omicron variant of coronavirus but said all options should be kept on the table in case it spreads very rapidly.

Prof Neil Ferguson, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said he expects to see “substantially larger numbers” of the Omicron variant in the coming days in the UK.

He told BBC Radio 4’s The World This Weekend programme: “We together with the Netherlands … we’re the two European countries with the largest number of passenger flights to and from South Africa, so it’s likely we’ll detect quite a lot more cases in the coming days.”

He said he backs the new measures announced by the government as “proportionate” to slow the spread of the new variant during the “waiting game” over the next two weeks as scientists analyse its properties.

 

15:06

Germany said on Sunday it had detected a total of three cases of the new Omicron coronavirus variant after a suspected infection in the western state of Hesse was confirmed.

“The sequencing has confirmed the result – the suspected case which was made public yesterday morning is the Omicron variant,” Kai Klose, social affairs minister in the state of Hesse tweeted.

On Saturday, he said a suspected Omicron case had been found in a passenger arriving from South Africa in Hesse, home to Frankfurt airport, one of Europe’s busiest air hubs.

On Saturday, health officials in the southern state of Bavaria detected two cases of the Omicron variant, Reuters reports.

Restrictions on air travel from South Africa took effect on Sunday after it was classified as a virus-variant area. This means airlines can fly only Germans to Germany from South Africa and even those who are vaccinated must spend 14 days in quarantine.

Dutch authorities confirm 13 Omicron cases and say there may be more

13:27

The Dutch public health authority confirmed on Sunday that 13 people who arrived in the Netherlands on flights from South Africa on Friday have so far tested positive for the new omicron coronavirus variant, AP reports.

The 61 people who tested positive for the virus on Friday after arriving on the last two flights to Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport before a flight ban was put in place were immediately put into isolation while sequencing was carried out to establish if they had the new variant.

The public health institute said in a statement that testing was continuing on the samples.

Most of the 61 people who tested positive were put into isolation at a hotel near the airport, while a small number were allowed to sit out their quarantine at home under strict conditions.

“The Omicron variant has so far been identified in 13 of the positive tests. The investigation has not yet been completed. The new variant may be found in more test samples,” the National Institute for Public Health (RIVM) said in a statement.

Covid live news: Third Omicron case found in UK; Netherlands confirms at least 13 cases of new variant
© Provided by The Guardian Signs warn shoppers of mandatory face mask and the need to respect social distancing in Nijmegen, eastern Netherlands. Photograph: Peter de Jong/AP

 

13:26

Craig Revel Horwood said he “hated it” when he could not appear on Strictly Come Dancing last weekend because of a positive Covid test.

The judge was absent from the panel for musical week on 20 and 21 November, when he was replaced by Cynthia Erivo.

Erivo was back on the panel again the following weekend, when she filled in for Motsi Mabuse, who was unable to travel back to the UK after close contact with someone with a positive test.

Revel Horwood told Hello! magazine: “My work ethic is, unless you’re dead you go on stage and Dr Footlights takes care of the rest.

“Even when I had my hip replaced, I was back at work on the Saturday. So I just hated it when they said I couldn’t go in.”

Covid live news: Third Omicron case found in UK; Netherlands confirms at least 13 cases of new variant
© Provided by The Guardian Craig Revel Horwood has said he ‘hated it’ when he could not appear on Strictly due to coronavirus. Photograph: Mark Thomas/Rex/Shutterstock

 

12:22 Lisa O’Carroll

The UK government has confirmed that PCR tests will not be required for any passengers travelling from Ireland, the isle of Man or Channel Islands.

Travel will remain free of the new restrictions in the common travel areas.

The British embassy in Dublin confirmed the development this morning.

The confirmation will be a relief to all the Irish families planning their first Christmas in Ireland in two or three years who may otherwise have reviewed or cancelled trips because of onerous cost of tests.

 

12:08 Larry Elliott

Economics viewpoint: Mandatory face masks are back in England. The fear factor has returned. After months of assuming the Covid-19 pandemic was all but over, the UK government has imposed new restrictions in an attempt to curb the spread of the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

Financial markets didn’t wait for the announcement from Downing Street. It is far too early to know how big a threat the new strain poses but investors assumed the worst as soon as the reports arrived from southern Africa. Share prices fell heavily, with airline stocks the hardest hit as travel bans were re-introduced.

Toughening up restrictions in the west in response to Omicron is a classic case of shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted, because for months the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have been warning rich developed countries that an end to the pandemic requires poor people as well as rich to be vaccinated.

Related: The Omicron variant reveals the true global danger of ‘vaccine apartheid’

Covid live news: Third Omicron case found in UK; Netherlands confirms at least 13 cases of new variant
© Provided by The Guardian A baby cries as her mother receives her Pfizer vaccine against COVID-19, in Diepsloot Township near Johannesburg. Photograph: Denis Farrell/AP

 

11:52 Severin Carrell

Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, has urged people to act on the assumption the riskier new Omnicron Covid variant is circulating in Scotland and follow all the existing face-covering and restrictions.

Sturgeon told the Andrew Marr programme on BBC1 that the variant, which was first detected in southern Africa, had not yet been found in Scotland. But she added: “I’m asking people to behave in Scotland just now as if it is present.”

She said tougher restrictions, including on travel, could be needed if the variant caught hold. The Scottish government has already matched all the restrictions on travel from southern Africa introduced by the UK government for English airports last week.

“I think we may need to go further to restrict travel in the next few days,” she said. “I think we need to be open minded to doing anything to keep the population safe right now.”

She said that “on the upside”, health experts and ministers knew what to do in these situations, and the vaccines were still effective at limiting its spread and its ill-effects. She urged people to take up vaccines and booster jabs.

Under-40s ‘should expect’ to get booster earlier because of Omicron

11:48

In the UK the deputy chair of the The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI ), said under-40s “should expect” to get the booster earlier than previously thought because of the Omicron variant.

When asked if those aged 18-39 should brace for an extension to the booster programme on Radio 4’s Broadcasting House, Professor Anthony Harnden said: “I think there’s a very good, strong argument for raising the antibody level in the whole of the community.

“So, accelerating the booster programme, both by extending the age range and by reducing the interval between the second dose and the booster dose, will be an acceptable strategy.”

When pushed on whether people aged 18 and over would be invited to get the booster sooner, he added: “Those adults 18 plus will have an offer of a booster earlier than we had previously envisaged.”

 

11:48

The exemption of the common travel area from new Covid-19 restrictions against the Omicron variant has been welcomed by the Irish Foreign Affairs Minister.

Simon Coveney clarified that travellers from Ireland to the UK will not be affected by the measures against the new Covid-19 variant.

On Saturday the Irish Department of Health announced its own measures to mitigate against Omicron, including mandatory home quarantine regardless of vaccine status.

Returning Irish residents will be required to undergo strict home quarantine regardless of vaccine/recovery/test status, and undergo PCR testing during quarantine.

 

11:29

The government is “nowhere near” having to reimpose mandatory social distancing and home working to mitigate the threat from the Omicron Covid variant, Sajid Javid has said, adding that he hoped other new measures could be removed within weeks.

Beginning a morning of media interviews after Boris Johnson announced rules to combat the variant, including compulsory masks on public transport and in shops, the health secretary called the plans “proportionate and balanced”.

Covid live news: Third Omicron case found in UK; Netherlands confirms at least 13 cases of new variant
© Provided by The Guardian Health Secretary Sajid Javid outside BBC Broadcasting House, London. Photograph: Aaron Chown/PA

Related: Sajid Javid: we’re nowhere near imposing social distancing Covid rules

 

10:12

The chief medical officer of Moderna has said while Omicron is a “dangerous-looking” variant, he is “optimistic” about fighting it.

Dr Paul Burton said: “I think we have cause to be hopeful, we’ve learnt a lot about this virus in general.

“You know, we’ve learned so much about how to deal with Covid as well, through simple measures, and obviously through vaccines, but until we see how this virus now behaves in populations of older people, people with other comorbidities. We really want to get a handle on exactly how severe the disease could be, I think.”

He added: “This is a dangerous-looking virus, but I think we have many tools in our armamentarium now to get to fight it, so I’m optimistic.”

Dr Burton said researchers will have a better idea about the effectiveness of the current vaccines against Omicron in the “next couple of weeks”, but if a new vaccine is required that could be produced on a large scale by early 2022.

Doctor who discovered Omicron variant says UK ‘panicking unnecessarily’ and that symptoms ‘extremely mild’

10:05

The doctor who discovered the Omicron variant said the UK was “panicking unnecessarily” and that the symptoms are “extremely mild”.

Dr Angelique Coetzee, chair of the South African Medical Association, told The Andrew Marr Show she first encountered the variant in a man in his early 30s who presented with tiredness and a mild headache, but none of the usual coronavirus symptoms.

She said: “What we are seeing clinically in south Africa, and remember I’m at the epicentre – that’s where I’m practising – it’s extremely mild. For us, that’s mild cases.”

When asked if the UK was “panicking unnecessarily”, she said: “I think you already have it there in your country and you’re not knowing it, and I would say, yes, at this stage I would say definitely.

“Two weeks from now maybe we will say something different.”

UK health secretary says people should continue ‘as normal’ with Christmas plans

09:37

The UK health secretary has said he expects the public to comply with the new rules around mask wearing.

Speaking to Trevor Phillips on Sky, Sajid Javid said that following the news of a new variant: “I do think people will take this more seriously.”

He added that people should make plans for Christmas “as normal” amid questions about another lockdown.

Javid said: “I think it’s fair to say that the nature of this pandemic is it would be irresponsible to make guarantees.

“As for Christmas, I think people should continue with their plans as normal for Christmas, I think it’s going to be a great Christmas.”

 

09:37

The UK shadow foreign secretary said Labour supports measures on mask wearing but that her party “desperately” wants to see the Government “tighten up” travel restrictions.

Speaking to Trevor Phillips On Sunday on Sky News, Lisa Nandy said her party will consider the plans in Parliament on Monday but there are “a number of outstanding holes in our defences” that need to be addressed.

Asked if she accepts the Government’s strategy laid out on Saturday, she said: “There is a balance to be struck, I think the Health Secretary is right about that.

“We don’t think the Government has been getting the balance right up to now. That’s why we support the measures to bring in greater use of masks, mandatory masks in some settings, and we’ll be asking questions about whether the scientific basis for that suggests that that needs to go further.

“We desperately want to see them tighten up the travel restrictions. There is a real problem when for 18 months the Government has been warned that there are holes in those defences and still hasn’t taken action to plug what you rightly suggested are just practical measures that could be dealt with in order to stop the new variant spreading around the country.”

Austria detects its first case of Omicron

09:17

Austria has detected its first suspected case of the new Omicron coronavirus variant in the Tirol, Reuters reports.

A traveller who returned from South Africa last week tested positive for COVID-19 with indications of the new variant, though confirmation requires further sequencing over the coming days, Tirol authorities said in a statement.

South Africa’s discovery of the variant has sparked global concern, a wave of travel bans or curbs and a sell-off on financial markets on investor fears that it could stall recovery from the pandemic. Cases were detected in several European countries on Saturday, including Italy and Germany.

Austria had already powered down public life last Monday with its fourth national coronavirus lockdown, becoming the first western European country to reimpose the unpopular measure this autumn owing to surging COVID-19 infections.

UK health secretary says vaccines may be less effective against Omicron variant

09:05

The UK health secretary has said there is a reason to think that the Omicron variant may make the current vaccines “less effective”.

Sajid Javid said that mandatory mask wearing on public transport and in shops would come into force on Tuesday in a “temporary” measure in response to the new strain.

Speaking to Trevor Phillips on Sky said the government’s approach was “proportionate and balanced”, but said the impact of the variant on vaccines was not yet known.

He said: “There is reason to think that maybe, and I stress the word may, that this variant may turn out to make our vaccines less effective, it may not. We just don’t know enough.

“We will learn to live with this.”

Javid said that even if Omicron makes vaccines less effective it was still expected to make only a “small impact”.

 

08:57

Measures intended to control the spread of the new Omicron coronavirus variant have been described as “a watered-down version of Plan B” by Professor Lawrence Young.

The professor of molecular oncology at the University of Warwick said it is a “shame” the measures introduced by Boris Johnson do not go as far as to advise people to work from home and use vaccine passports.

Speaking to Times Radio, he said: “I think what we’re looking at at the moment is what I call ‘Plan B lite’. It’s a shame that we’re just not going a little bit further.

“That’s not about lockdowns, but it’s about encouraging people to work from home where possible and thinking about how we, you know, dare I say, use some form of vaccine passport just to make sure that we’re all safe.

“So, what we heard yesterday, and what’s likely to happen over the next few weeks, is a watered-down version of Plan B and the hope is that that will be sufficient so we don’t end up in a really difficult situation at Christmas.”

Summary

07:57

I will be handing over blogging duties very soon. These are the main developments in the pandemic in the past few hours:

  • Cases of the new Omicron variant of Covid-19 are continuing to be detected in countries across the world. Australia confirmed two cases on Sunday, joining Britain, Germany, Italy and the Czech Republic among others that have declared cases.
  • Boris Johnson said arrivals to the UK have to take a PCR test by the second day of their arrival and self-isolate until they have a negative result after the first cases of the new variant were reported in Nottingham and Essex. Face coverings will also become compulsory in shops and on public transport in the UK from next week.
  • US government expert Dr Anthony Fauci said he “would not be surprised” if the Omicron variant was already in the US. President Joe Biden has been briefed on the situation.
  • Israel is to ban the entry of visitors from all countries due to the Omicron variant. The country will also reintroduce counter-terrorism phone-tracking technology for contact testing in order to contain the spread of the new strain.
  • China would face a ‘colossal” outbreak if it opened up society along the lines of the USA, a study by mathematicians has said. It could have 630,000 Covid-19 infections a day if it dropped its zero-tolerance policies, according to researchers at Peking University.
  • There was concernabout the Omicron variant in the Netherlands after 61 people tested positive for Covid-19 after arriving on two flights from South Africa on Friday. Further tests were under way to determine if any of them had the Omicron variant.
  • Health officials in New South Wales confirmed two cases after people arrived on a flight from southern Africa on Saturday and tested positive to the coronavirus. Some states and territories are tighteniung up their borders to stop any spread, but New South Wales’s opening up plan remains in place.

 

07:37

Amid all the concern about Omicron it seems like a good idea to re-up this explainer about what we know about the new variant and what the risks might be:

Related: Omicron: everything you need to know about new Covid variant

 

07:22

The Maldives said it was barring travellers from seven African countries from Sunday over concerns about the new Omicron variant of COVID-19. Travellers will not be allowed into Maldives from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia, Lesotho and Eswatini, the health ministry said in a statement on Sunday.

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

 

06:59

A quarter of people with severely suppressed immunity that leaves them highly vulnerable to Covid have still not had a third vaccination, according to official figures.

The figure emerged just days after NHS England contacted cancer specialists and services across the country asking them to assist in boosting the numbers, with concerns that it means more than 100,000 extremely vulnerable people are yet to have their third jab. A letter from the NHS sent earlier this month said that 30% were still without the third vaccination, which has since fallen to 25%.

You can read Michael Savage’s full story here:

Related: Over 100,000 of the most vulnerable people have not had third jab

Two cases of Omicron found in Australia

06:20

Back to Australia, and health authorities in New South Wales have confirmed that the two overseas travellers that tested positive overnight have been infected with the new Omicron variant.

Both passengers arrived from southern Africa on Saturday evening, and underwent testing last night.

Both cases are asymptomatic and in isolation at special health accommodation, and both are fully vaccinated.

 

06:14

As curbs spread around Europe along with the new variant, Switzerland has widened quarantine requirements to travellers arriving from Britain, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Egypt and Malawi, where cases have been detected, its health ministry said.

On Friday, Switzerland banned direct flights from South Africa and the surrounding region due to the detection of a new COVID-19 variant, while also imposing restrictions on travel from other countries including Hong Kong, Israel and Belgium.

Entry from those countries would only be possible for Swiss citizens or those with a residence permit in Switzerland or the broader Schengen area.

Now, following the detection of new Omicron cases, travellers from Britain, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Egypt and Malawi will need to present a negative COVID-19 test and quarantine for ten days as well, the Federal Office of Public Health said in a tweet.

 

05:12

The Australian Red Cross has sent a large delivery amount of PPE to Papua New Guinea to be distributed to remote hard-to-reach communities as the nation continues to battle coronavirus.

The critical delivery includes:

  • 636,000 surgical masks
  • 65,000 examination gloves
  • 360 infrared thermometers
  • 24,000 bottles of hand-sanitizer

PNG has officially confirmed almost 35,000 coronavirus cases and 542 deaths but it is believed many more cases and deaths are going unreported in the nation of nine million where vaccination hesitancy is reported to be high.

China could face ‘colossal’ outbreak if restrictions eased

04:50

China could face more than 630,000 Covid-19 infections a day if it dropped its zero-tolerance policies by lifting travel curbs, according to a study by Peking University mathematicians, Reuters reports.

In the report by the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, the mathematicians said China could not afford to lift travel restrictions without more efficient vaccinations or specific treatments.

Using data for August from the United States, Britain, Spain, France and Israel, the mathematicians assessed the potential results if China adopted the same pandemic control tactics as those countries.

Covid live news: Third Omicron case found in UK; Netherlands confirms at least 13 cases of new variant
© Provided by The Guardian A journalist is given a test for coronavirus at a Winter Olympics site near Beijing. Photograph: Tingshu Wang/Reuters

China’s daily new cases would reach at least 637,155 if it adopted the United States’ pandemic strategy, the report said.

And daily cases would hit 275,793 if China took the same approach as Britain and 454,198 if it imitated France, it said.

“The estimates revealed the real possibility of a colossal outbreak which would almost certainly induce an unaffordable burden on the medical system,” the report said.

“Our findings have raised a clear warning that, for the time being, we are not ready to embrace ‘open-up’ strategies resting solely on the hypothesis of herd immunity induced by vaccination advocated by certain western countries.”

 

04:01

Germany has reported another 44,401 Covid cases, tasking its total to 5,761,696. There were also another 104 deaths from Covid in the past 24 hours, meaning that 100,883 people have died from the disease.

The health ministry in the German state of Bavaria announced on Saturday two confirmed cases of the Omicron variant.

The two people entered Germany at Munich airport on 24 November, before Germany designated South Africa as a virus-variant area, and were now isolating, said the ministry, indicating without stating explicitly that the people had travelled from South Africa.

Financial markets face turbulent week

03:49

World stock markets plunged on Friday as news emerged of the Omicron variant – and futures trading suggests more steep falls when trading resumes on Monday.

Dow Jones closed down >900 points in biggest drop since Oct 2020 as new COVID variant sparks market plunge. It’s the worst Black Friday on record for the Dow, acc to Dow Jones Market Data. WHO says new Coronavirus strain detected in Southern Africa is variant of concern. pic.twitter.com/CsxdzsfK9r

— Holger Zschaepitz (@Schuldensuehner) November 26, 2021

Wall Street’s Dow Jones industrial average is on course to shed around 2.5% on Monday and the broader S&P500 is tracking for losses of 2.2%. Other major indices are heading the same way with the FTSE100 expected to drop 3.8%, the Hang Seng seen losing 1.2%%, and the Nikkei to drop more than 3%.

However, there’s a lot that could happen in the meantime. If evidence emerges that the new variant is not as dangerous as previous ones, markets could rebound very sharply so the futures indices will be closely watched for the next 24 hours in the build up to the next session opening in Asia Pacific.

Worth quoting comments by Dr Angelique Coetzee, chair of the South African Medical Association and a practising GP based in Pretoria, who said it was “premature” to make predictions of a health crisis.

“It’s all speculation at this stage. It may be it’s highly transmissible, but so far the cases we are seeing are extremely mild,” she said”

 

03:41

Australian states and territories are braced for the spread of Omicron, with authorities conceding on Sunday that positive cases were inevitable.

Both the NSW and Victorian governments have introduced 72-hour isolation requirements for all fully vaccinated international arrivals, regardless of where they have arrived from.

NSW health minister Brad Hazzard said the new variant may “already be here” and that little is known about it.

“What we do know is that it’s going to be hard to ascertain just how many people are here who have been in those African nations.”

Full story here:

Related: Covid update: NSW health minister says Omicron may ‘already be here’

Israel bans all foreigners from midnight on Sunday

02:15

Israel is banning the entry of all foreigners into the country, making it the first country to shut its borders completely in response to the Omicron variant. It also said it would use counter-terrorism phone-tracking technology in order to contain the spread of the Omicron variant.

Naftali Bennett, the prime minister, said in a statement that the ban, pending government approval, would last 14 days.

Officials hope that within that period there will be more information on how effective COVID-19 vaccines are against Omicron, which was first detected in South Africa and has been dubbed a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization.

Covid live news: Third Omicron case found in UK; Netherlands confirms at least 13 cases of new variant
© Provided by The Guardian Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett announces a ban on foreign visitors at the Ben-Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv on Saturday. Photograph: Atef Safadi/EPA

“Our working hypotheses are that the variant is already in nearly every country,” interior minister Ayelet Shaked told N12’s “Meet the Press,” “and that the vaccine is effective, although we don’t yet know to what degree.”

Israelis entering the country, including those who are vaccinated, will be required to quarantine, Bennett said. The ban will come into effect at midnight between Sunday and Monday. A travel ban on foreigners coming from most African states was imposed on Friday.

Czech Republic confirms Omicron case

01:28

A hospital in the northern Czech city of Liberec has confirmed a case of the Omicron strain in a female patient, a spokesman told Czech Television on Saturday.

Czech prime minister Andrej Babis said earlier Saturday that the woman had been in Namibia and flew back to the Czech Republic via South Africa and Dubai. Babis said the woman was vaccinated and had mild symptoms of the disease.

“Given where the patient came from and all the circumstances, we can confirm the strain has been confirmed,” the spokesman added.

The Czech Republic is currently grappling with a spike in Covid-19 infections making it one of the worst-hit countries in the world in terms of infections per capita.

Australia toughens up restrictions

01:15 Mostafa Rachwani

Australia’s federal health minister said he was meeting the prime minister, Scott Morrison, and the chief health officer, and state and territory counterparts to discuss developments around the Omicron Covid-19 variant.

Greg Hunt did a swift u-turn on Saturday by shutting the country’s border with South Africa and reinstating mandatory quarantine for arrivals from nine southern African countries as concerns about Omicron mounted. States such as South Australia are already tightening up their borders again after only beginning to emerge from the Delta lockdown in place in much of the country since June and July.

Covid live news: Third Omicron case found in UK; Netherlands confirms at least 13 cases of new variant
© Provided by The Guardian NSW premier Dominic Perrottet arrives for a press conference about Covid in Sydney. Photograph: Bianca de Marchi/AAP

New South Wales, however, is sticking with its reopening plan. State premier Dominic Perrottet said it was “inevitable” that more variants will emerge and enter Australia, and said the state was taking a “precautionary approach” with the changes to international arrivals announced yesterday.

“We need to learn to live alongside the virus and to live alongside the various strains of the virus that will come our way, and the best thing we can do is get vaccinated and get booster shots,” he said.

“Urgent” genomic sequencing is under way after two passengers on a Qatar Airways flight arrived in Sydney on Saturday night. Perrottet confirmed that 29 people arrived in Sydney yesterday, after spending time in southern Africa.

 

01:05

Mexico recorded 245 coronavirus deaths on Saturday and an additional 2,956 confirmed cases, according to health ministry data, bringing the overall death toll to 293,859 and the number of cases to 3,882,792.

US praises South African response

01:00

The US has praised South Africa for quickly identifying the Omicron strain and sharing the information with the world, AFP reports.

In what has been viewed as a swipe at China’s handling of the original outbreak of Covid in 2019, secretary of state Antony Blinken spoke with South Africa’s international relations and cooperation minister, Naledi Pandor, and discussed cooperation on vaccinating people in Africa.

“Secretary Blinken specifically praised South Africa’s scientists for the quick identification of the Omicron variant and South Africa’s government for its transparency in sharing this information, which should serve as a model for the world,” a statement from the State Department said.

First under Donald Trump and now under president Joe Biden, the US has repeatedly criticised China as not being forthcoming on the origins of the coronavirus.

 

00:55

Morning/afternoon/evening wherever you are in the world, and welcome to the Guardian’s rolling updates about the coronavirus pandemic.

The main developoments in the past 24 hours or so concern the rush to contain the Omicron variant as cases are detected in countries around the world.

Here is a quick summary of where we are:

  • Britain, Germany, Italy and the Czech Republic detected cases of the new Omicron coronavirus variant on Saturday. There was also concern in the Netherlands after 61 people tested positive for Covid-19 after arriving on two flights from South Africa on Friday. Further tests were under way to determine if any of them had the Omicron variant.
  • Boris Johnson said arrivals to the UK have to take a PCR test by the second day of their arrival and self-isolate until they have a negative result after the first two cases of the new variant were reported in Nottingham and Essex. Face coverings will also become compulsory in shops and on public transport in the UK from next week.
  • US government expert Dr Anthony Fauci said he “would not be surprised” if the Omicron variant was already in the US. President Joe Biden has been briefed on the situation.
  • Israel is to ban the entry of visitors from all countries due to the Omicron variant. The country will also reintroduce counter-terrorism phone-tracking technology for contact testing in order to contain the spread of the new strain.
  • Health officials in New South Wales, Australia, have begun urgent testing after two people who arrived on a flight from southern Africa overnight tested positive to the coronavirus. But the state’s opening up plan remains in place for now. Follow all the developments in Australia at our separate live blog here.
  • Two people with the new variant entered Germany at Munich airport on 24 November, before South Africa was designated a virus variant area and were now isolating, Bavaria’s health ministry said. Earlier, officials in the western state of Hesse, home to Frankfurt airport, said a suspected case of the Omicron variant had been found in a passenger arriving from South Africa.
  • A case of the Omicron variant has been detected in Italy. The genome was sequenced at the Laboratory of Clinical Microbiology, Virology and Bioemergency Diagnostics of the Sacco Hospital in Milan from a positive sample of a patient coming from Mozambique.
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