Fauci says Omicron figures show no great degree of severity; South Africa registers 11,125 new cases

South Africa registered 11,125 new Covid-19 cases, bringing the cumulative total to 3,031,694. A further one Covid-19-related death was reported, taking total official deaths to 89,966. A total of 26,348,830 people have been vaccinated.

Fauci says Omicron figures show no great degree of severity; South Africa registers 11,125 new cases
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Initial data from South Africa, the epicentre of the outbreak of the Omicron variant, don’t show a resulting surge of hospitalisations. “Thus far, it doesn’t look like there’s a great degree of severity to it,” Anthony Fauci, US President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, said on Sunday, while cautioning it’s too early to be certain. 

Even as Omicron has spread to at least 16 US states, Fauci said the Biden administration is re-evaluating the travel ban on southern African countries as more information becomes available. Moderna President Stephen Hoge said there’s a “real risk” that existing vaccines will be less effective against Omicron. 

France will try to avoid new health rules including a lockdown and Britain’s deputy prime minister expressed reluctance to require vaccinations amid the spread of the Omicron variant.

Fauci says Omicron figures show no great degree of severity; South Africa registers 11,125 new cases
© Provided by Daily Maverick

Key developments

  • Virus Tracker: Cases top 265.7 million; deaths pass 5.2 million
  • Vaccine side-effect database helped sow doubt in vaccinations
  • Omicron mutations signal vaccine evasion, but similar symptoms
  • Scientist who first sequenced Omicron worried by speed of change
  • Travel insurance may save peace of mind but not much money
  • What we know about Omicron: QuickTake

Tunisia reports Omicron case 

Tunisia announced its first infection from the Omicron variant, in a traveller from the Democratic Republic of Congo who arrived on a flight from Turkey on Friday, the Associated Press reported. Several fellow travellers who tested negative for Covid-19 on arrival are in quarantine. 

Belgium police and protesters clash 

Belgian police used tear gas to disperse a protest in Brussels on Sunday afternoon. 

The gathering turned violent when a few dozen rioters hurled firecrackers and flares toward the police barricade that kept the protesters from occupying the Schuman roundabout in the capital’s European Quarter. 

The protest was aimed at mandatory vaccination among healthcare workers and the obligation to wear masks from the age of six. 

Romania imposes travel restrictions 

Romania introduced new travel safety restrictions after it reported its first two infections caused by the Omicron variant. The country will require mandatory PCR tests for all people who enter the country from outside of the EU. Those not vaccinated must quarantine for 10 days.

Fauci says Omicron data show no great degree of severity 

Initial data from South Africa, the epicentre of the outbreak of the Omicron variant, are “a bit encouraging regarding the severity,” Anthony Fauci said on Sunday. 

“Thus far, it does not look like there’s a great degree of severity to it,” Fauci, US President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, said on CNN’s State of the Union. “But we’ve really got to be careful before we make any determinations.” He added that existing vaccines may provide “a considerable degree” of protection against the variant.

Fauci said the administration is reevaluating the travel ban on eight southern African countries as more information about the Omicron variant and its spread becomes available. 

“That ban was done at a time when we were really in the dark – we had no idea what was going on,” he said.

Moderna sees vaccine risk with Omicron 

Moderna President Stephen Hoge said there’s a clear risk that existing Covid-19 vaccines will be less effective against the Omicron variant, though it’s too early to say by how much.

An updated formulation would probably be needed if effectiveness is shown to drop by something like half, Hoge said on ABC’s This Week on Sunday.

“I think that there’s a real risk that we’re going to see a decrease in the effectiveness of the vaccines,” Hoge said. “What I don’t know is how substantial that is.”

Slovakia weighs longer lockdown 

Slovakia, which is currently enduring one of the world’s fastest rises in infections on a per capita basis, is considering prolonging its tight lockdown by a week to December 16. The first 10 days of restrictions failed to stem the pandemic surge. 

A panel of government experts also proposed on Sunday stricter enforcement of the current rules, which shut down most shops and services and effectively ordered remote work, the daily Sme reported.

Denmark variant cases rise 

Denmark had as of Sunday registered 183 cases of the Omicron variant, up from 135 a day earlier, SSI, the country’s institute for infectious diseases, said in a statement. The number of infections is rising at a “worrying” pace, Henrik Ullum, the head of SSI, said in the statement. “We now see infection chains among people who haven’t been travelling or have had connections with travellers,” he said.

South African hospitals not overwhelmed by Omicron 

Initial data from a major hospital complex in South Africa’s Omicron epicentre show that while Covid-19 case numbers have surged, patients need less medical intervention. 

The Steve Biko and Tshwane District Hospital Complex in Pretoria had 166 new admissions between November 14 and November 29, with 42 patients currently in the Covid wards, according to a report showing the early experience of patients at the hospital group. Most originally sought treatment for ailments unrelated to the coronavirus and were discovered to have it in testing required for admission. 

The Omicron variant “is more transmissible, it seems, than others,” President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Saturday, according to the Sunday Times. “Our hospital admissions are not increasing at an alarming rate, meaning that whilst people may be testing positive, they are not in large numbers being admitted into hospitals.”

Senegal reports Omicron case 

Senegal found a first case of the Omicron variant in a visitor who was leaving the country, the Institut de Recherche en Santé said on Saturday.

The 58-year-old patient arrived in Senegal by air from another West African country on November 22, it said, adding that he has since been placed in quarantine and is not showing any symptoms.

Italy cracks down on unvaccinated 

Italy is cracking down on the small minority that has so far refused the shot. As of Monday, a “green pass” – proof of vaccination, recovery or a recent negative test – will be required for buses, metro, local trains and hotels. It’s already compulsory for working, long-distance travel and most indoor venues. 

The new “reinforced” green pass will also be needed for many leisure activities, including eating inside restaurants, going to theatres, cinemas, sporting and other public events.

Germans back mandatory vaccines 

Some 63% of people in Germany support mandatory vaccinations, according to a YouGov poll for DPA, with 30% opposed. That’s a reversal of a December 2020 survey when only 33% backed mandatory vaccinations.

A separate poll by INSA for Bild am Sonntag showed 63% of the unvaccinated don’t intend to get a jab, while 20% plan to do so.

Germany’s Parliament is set to vote on mandatory vaccinations in the coming weeks with both outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel and her successor Olaf Scholz backing such a measure.

France doesn’t want more restrictions 

France will try to avoid any new health rules including a lockdown in the face of rising coronavirus cases and the spread of the Omicron variant, according to Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire. “We should do the maximum to avoid any new health restrictions,” he said on Sunday in an interview with Europe 1, Les Echos and CNews. Unlike some European countries, the government isn’t in favour of making vaccines mandatory, he said.

UK reluctant to require certain vaccine mandates

Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab told Sky News it is “irresponsible” of people not to get vaccinated but does not want to see mandatory vaccines outside certain settings. 

Singapore to vaccinate children 

Covid-19 vaccines for children aged five to 11 will be available soon in Singapore, Finance Minister Lawrence Wong said in a Facebook post. 

Omicron spreads in US  

The Omicron variant continues to spread in the US, with three more cases reported in New York City and one each in Massachusetts, Wisconsin and Connecticut on Saturday. 

The new cases in New York, which bring the state’s total to eight, don’t appear to be connected to a large anime conference in Manhattan, where a Minnesota resident appears to have been infected, Governor Kathy Hochul said in a press release on Saturday. 

Massachusetts reported a case in a fully vaccinated woman in her 20s who had travelled out of state, the Department of Public Health said in a statement. She “has experienced mild disease, and did not require hospitalisation”, the department said.

Connecticut’s first confirmed case involves a man in his 60s whose family member had earlier travelled to New York City to attend the Anime NYC 2021 convention, Governor Ned Lamont said in a statement. The family member had taken an at-home Covid test that delivered a positive result. Both the family member, whose symptoms have resolved, and the man are fully vaccinated.

Norwegian cruise reports outbreak 

Ten people tested positive for Covid-19 on a Norwegian Cruise Line ship due to disembark in New Orleans this weekend, the Louisiana Department of Health said on Twitter. 

The Norwegian Breakaway departed from New Orleans on November 28 and stopped in Belize, Honduras and Mexico. It has more than 3,200 people on board. DM 

– With assistance from Christian Wienberg, Peter Laca, Leanne de Bassompierre, Andra Timu and John Martens.

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