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Live updates: US announces travel restrictions over new Covid-19 variant

Aliena Ace 11 November 26, 2021

1 hr 4 min ago

From CNN's Virginia Langmaid

A nurse fills a syringe with Johnson & Johnson's Janssen Covid-19 vaccine on August 19, in Pasadena, California.
A nurse fills a syringe with Johnson & Johnson's Janssen Covid-19 vaccine on August 19, in Pasadena, California. (Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images)

Vaccine maker Johnson and Johnson is testing the effectiveness of its Covid-19 vaccine against the new Omicron coronavirus variant, the company said Friday.

“We are closely monitoring newly emerging Covid-19 virus strains with variations in the Sars-CoV-2 spike protein and are already testing the effectiveness of our vaccine against the new and rapidly spreading variant first detected in Southern Africa," Clare Boyle, a Johnson & Johnson spokesperson, told CNN in a statement.
2 hr 14 min ago

From CNN's Virginia Langmaid

A health official prepares a syringe with the Moderna vaccine prior to administering it during a vaccination drive in Nairobi, Kenya on September 17.
A health official prepares a syringe with the Moderna vaccine prior to administering it during a vaccination drive in Nairobi, Kenya on September 17. (Simon Maina/AFP/Getty Images)

Vaccine maker Moderna says the new Omicron variant represents a "significant potential risk" to the efficacy of its Covid-19 vaccine as well as immunity reached naturally.

"The recently described Omicron variant includes mutations seen in the Delta variant that are believed to increase transmissibility and mutations seen in the Beta and Delta variants that are believed to promote immune escape," Moderna said Friday in a news release.

"The combination of mutations represents a significant potential risk to accelerate the waning of natural and vaccine-induced immunity," the company said.

The company said it is working rapidly to test the ability of its vaccine to neutralize the new variant and data is expected in the coming weeks.

If the current vaccine and the current booster dose of the vaccine are insufficient against the variant, one possible solution is boosting people with a larger dose, which Moderna said it is testing.

The company is also evaluating two multi-valent booster candidates to see if they provide superior protection against Omicron. Both candidates include some of the viral mutations present in the new variant.

Moderna is also evaluating an Omicron-specific booster candidate.

“We have three lines of defense that we are advancing in parallel,” Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel said in the release. "The mutations in the Omicron variant are concerning and for several days, we have been moving as fast as possible to execute our strategy to address this variant."

1 hr 37 min ago

From CNN's Jonny Hallam

There is a "high to very high" risk that the new Covid variant, named Omicron by the World Health Organization on Friday, will spread in Europe, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control said Friday.

"There is considerable uncertainty related to the transmissibility, vaccine effectiveness, risk for reinfections and other properties of the Omicron variant. However, given its immune escape potential and potentially increased transmissibility advantage compared to Delta, we assess the probability of further introduction and community spread in the EU/EEA as HIGH. In a situation where the Delta variant is resurgent in the EU/EEA, the impact of the introduction and possible further spread of Omicron could be VERY HIGH. In conclusion, the overall level of risk for the EU/EEA associated with the SARS-CoV-2 variant Omicron is assessed as HIGH to VERY HIGH," the ECDC said.

More context: The WHO announced Friday that it has designated Omicron, which was identified as coronavirus variant B.1.1.529, as a variant of concern.

Besides South Africa, the newly identified variant has been detected in Botswana, Hong Kong and Belgium.

It appears to be spreading rapidly in parts of South Africa and scientists are concerned that its unusually high number of mutations could make it more transmissible and result in immune evasion.

WHO's Technical Advisory Group on SARS-CoV-2 Virus Evolution (TAG-VE), an independent group of experts, met Friday to discuss the variant, a WHO statement said.

The advisers recommended that WHO designate the variant as "of concern," referencing the variant's large number of mutations, the possibility of increased risk of reinfection and other evidence.

2 hr 32 min ago

From CNN's Kaitlan Collins

Travelers carry luggage as they arrive at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport November 23, in Arlington, Virginia.
Travelers carry luggage as they arrive at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport November 23, in Arlington, Virginia. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

The new travel restrictions announced by President Biden today will buy the US federal government more time to investigate the new Omicron variant that has emerged in South Africa, officials say. But not much.

Earlier today, the Biden administration announced it will restrict travel from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi, starting Monday. The administration stressed it was acting on advice from Dr. Anthony Fauci and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, after the World Health Organization labeled the newly discovered strain as a "variant of concern."

Inside the government, it is seen as inevitable that the new variant will appear in the US at some point, but the new restrictions should give federal health agencies and their global counterparts more time to learn about the variant, including the severity of the disease it causes. Officials do not believe, based on current thinking, that the variant is in the US yet. 

Officials acted quickly to implement the new restrictions. While the emergency of the variant had been flagged in the last several weeks, it was only in recent days that they learned how serious it was. 

US officials are expected to speak to scientists in South Africa again potentially on Sunday. 

2 hr 12 min ago

The discovery of a new Covid-19 variant first detected in South Africa prompted multiple countries to impose travel restrictions on at least six African nations

Currently known as B.1.1.529, the newly identified variant appears to be spreading rapidly in parts of South Africa, and scientists are concerned that its unusually high number of mutations could make it more transmissible and result in immune evasion.

Cases have so far been detected in South Africa, Botswana, Hong Kong, Israel and Belgium. The World Health Organization classified it as a "variant of concern" on Friday. 

These are the countries that have announced restrictions so far:

  • The cascade of closures began late Thursday as the UK announced it would be temporarily suspending flights from South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho and Eswatini.
  • Japan has tightened border controls for travelers from the same six countries, bringing in a 10-day quarantine beginning 12 a.m. on Nov. 27. On Friday, Bahrain said it would suspend entry from those countries as well.
  • Fellow EU nations Austria, France, Italy, the Netherlands and Malta have all announced imminent entry bans to all travelers who've entered South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia and Eswatini in the past two weeks. Switzerland has banned all direct flights from the same seven countries as well.
  • Egypt, Singapore, Malaysia, Dubai, Saudi Arabia and Jordan have also announced restrictions on the seven countries.
  • Meanwhile, Germany plans to declare South Africa a "virus variant area" from Friday night, which will mean that airlines may only enter from the country to repatriate German citizens.
  • President Biden announced that the United States will restrict travel from South Africa and seven other countries starting Monday as a new coronavirus variant has emerged, administration officials tell CNN. Acting on advice from Dr. Anthony Fauci and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Biden administration will restrict travel from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi. Officials, who are still learning more about the variant, said the policy was implemented out of an abundance of caution.
  • Canada is taking similar steps as the US, according to its health minister.
  • Greece will allow only essential travel from South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Mozambique, Eswatini, Zambia and Malawi, the country's health ministry said Friday. Travelers will have to obtain a special permit from the local Greek embassies and diplomatic missions to travel, the ministry said, adding that on arrival they will be tested and put in quarantine hotels for 10 days, after which they'll be tested again. The new measures take effect Saturday at 6 a.m. local time.
  • Turkey issued a travel ban from five African countries — Botswana, South Africa, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe — through land, air, sea and rail border crossings starting Friday night, according to a tweet from Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca.
3 hr 16 min ago

From CNN's Hamdi Alkhshali

Saudi Arabia announced a temporary suspension of flights to and from seven African countries, namely South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Lesotho and Eswatini.

The Saudi interior ministry said in a statement on Friday that the move was taken due to the spread of the novel coronavirus.

“Non-Saudi passengers aboard flights arriving directly and indirectly from the aforementioned countries shall not be allowed into the Kingdom except for those who have spent at least 14 days in another country whose health procedures in the Kingdom allow entry to those coming from it,” the statement said.

The ministry added that the exempted categories, including Saudis, coming from the seven countries should subject to a 5-day “institutional quarantine regardless of their immunization status.”

The ministry warned both citizens and residents to avoid traveling to the seven countries until further notice.

Some background: South African health authorities announced the discovery of a new and potentially more transmissible coronavirus variant on Thursday. It sparked a forceful reaction across the world, with a growing number of countries banning travelers from several southern African countries.

The B.1.1.529 was labeled a "variant of concern" by the WHO on Friday. Although it was first detected in South Africa, cases have so far been confirmed in Botswana, Belgium, Israel and Hong Kong. Scientists are concerned that its unusually high number of mutations could make it more transmissible and result in immune evasion.

3 hr 10 min ago

From CNN's Allie Malloy

President Joe Biden speaks to members of the media in Nantucket, Massachusetts, Friday, November 26.
President Joe Biden speaks to members of the media in Nantucket, Massachusetts, Friday, November 26. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

President Biden told the press Friday that he decided to ban travel from South Africa and seven other countries in the region due to the emergence of the Omicron variant.

“We don’t know a lot about the variant except that it is a big concern and seems to spread rapidly," Biden said. “I’ve decided we’re going to be cautious." 

When asked why the travel ban won’t go into effect until Monday, Biden said it was “because that was the recommendation coming from my medical team.”

“We don’t know a lot about the variant except that it is a big concern and seems to spread rapidly and I spent about a half-hour this morning with my Covid team led by Dr. Fauci so that was the decision we made,” Biden said.

On the stock market tumble Friday, Biden said he “expected it.”

Biden also used the opportunity to call on Americans to get their booster shots. 

When asked if he was considering any new mandates, Biden said: “No. Not at the moment.”

3 hr 38 min ago

 From CNN’s Virginia Langmaid

A healthcare worker administers the Johnson and Johnson vaccine to a woman outside a polling station at the Kopanong Hall in Soweto, on November 1st, 2021, during South Africa's local elections. 
A healthcare worker administers the Johnson and Johnson vaccine to a woman outside a polling station at the Kopanong Hall in Soweto, on November 1st, 2021, during South Africa's local elections.  (Michele Spatari/AFP/Getty Images)

The discovery of a new and potentially more transmissible coronavirus variant by South African health authorities has sparked a forceful reaction across the world, with a growing number of countries banning travelers from several southern African countries.

The B.1.1.529 was labeled a "variant of concern" by the WHO. It appears to be spreading rapidly in parts of South Africa and scientists are concerned that its unusually high number of mutations could make it more transmissible and result in immune evasion.

Here's what we know about Covid-19 in South Africa:

South Africa, which has fully vaccinated 35.37% of its adult population, has seen its rate of people initiating vaccination fall in recent days, according to data from the country’s Department of Health.

In the week ending Oct. 24, this metric hit its peak, with 1,047,427 people receiving a first vaccination. Since then, this metric has fallen, with 613,033 people vaccinated in the week ending Nov. 21.

More than 40% of adults – more than 16 million people – have initiated vaccination in South Africa. More than 5 million people have been vaccinated with Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccine, and additional doses have been administered as part of a booster dose trial. More than 19 million Pfizer doses have been administered – nearly 11 million of which are first doses. 

The country has administered a first dose of Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine to more than 400,000 children ages 12 to 18 years old.

3 hr 51 min ago

From CNN's Melissa Alonso

Canada will be "banning the entry of foreign nationals...that have traveled through southern Africa in the last 14 days," due to the new coronavirus variant Omicron, Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said at a news conference Friday.

Anyone who has traveled through southern Africa in the last 14 days should get a Covid-19 test and quarantine until they get a negative test result, Duclos said. The countries include South Africa, Mozambique, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Eswatini, he said. 

"Canadians and permanent residents and those with a right of entry into Canada will be tested on arrival, [and] they will quarantine until they get the result of a negative test," Duclos said.

Global Affairs Canada, which handles national diplomatic matters, will be issuing "a travel advisory asking all Canadians not to travel to southern Africa," Duclos added.

"Canadians returning from that region" will need to be tested for the virus in the country they are departing from "before they can be allowed to come home," he said.