Omicron hits New York City; South Africa registers 11,535 new cases

Omicron hits New York City; South Africa registers 11,535 new cases
A 12-year-old, Itumeleng Kopana, about to receive his vaccine at Thuto Lefa Secondary School in Lawley, southern Johannesburg on 1 December 2021. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

South Africa registered 11,535 new Covid-19 cases, bringing the cumulative total to 2,988,148. A further 44 Covid-19-related deaths were reported, taking total official deaths to 89,915. A total of 26,109,436 vaccines have been administered.

A Minnesota man who recently visited New York City for a crowded anime convention has tested positive for the Omicron variant. Mayor Bill de Blasio said “we should assume” the variant is spreading in the city. New York state reported the most daily cases since January. 

President Joe Biden called on health providers to expand the availability of vaccines and booster shots, aiming to combat a winter surge of infections – and hold off Omicron.

Pfizer expects its vaccine to hold up against the new variant, an executive said, as the strain continued to pop up in countries around the world, with a handful of infections discovered in countries including Singapore, India and South Korea. 

Germany imposed stringent nationwide restrictions on people who aren’t vaccinated to halt a surge in infections. Lawmakers are considering a national vaccine mandate. 

Key developments 

  • Virus Tracker: Cases top 263.9 million; deaths pass 5.2 million
  • Vaccine Tracker: More than 8.05 billion doses given
  • Omicron lands in US with hospitals still battered by Covid
  • Travel destinations respond to Omicron with more restrictions
  • Omicron threatens to prolong pain in bid to vaccinate the world
  • What we know about Omicron, the new virus variant: QuickTake

New York reports most daily cases in almost a year 

New York reported 11,300 new cases, the highest daily total since January, Governor Kathy Hochul announced in a statement. The state also reported total patients hospitalised with Covid-19 rose by 71 to 3,093.

President Biden takes aim at US winter surge 

President Joe Biden called on health providers to expand the availability of vaccines and booster shots, aiming to combat a winter surge of infections – and hold off the new Omicron variant.

Biden outlined a new strategy to curb the pandemic in a speech at the National Institutes of Health on Thursday, with cases rising in several states. He said his administration would also make free home Covid tests more available by requiring insurers to pay for them and “accelerate efforts to vaccinate the rest of the world.”

“My plan I’m announcing today pulls no punches in the fight against Covid-19,” he said.

US hospitalisations rise in 39 states 

Omicron is stealing most of the attention, but it’s the Delta variant that’s pressuring the US healthcare system.

The seven-day average of hospital admissions with confirmed Covid-19 has climbed 18% in the past two weeks to 6,691, the highest since October 13, according to US Department of Health and Human Services data. The numbers are ticking higher in 39 states and the nation’s capital. 

France weighs new restrictions 

The French government will hold a defence Cabinet meeting Monday to review possible new restrictions to counter what the prime minister called the “fifth wave of the coronavirus”.

“We’ll see if additional measures are appropriate,” Jean Castex said during a visit to a hospital in Angouleme, southwest France. “The situation is worrying.”

This was Castex’s first trip, after spending 10 days in isolation with mild Covid symptoms. He is vaccinated.

Omicron reinfection risk higher: study 

The risk of reinfection from the Omicron coronavirus variant is three times higher than for any previous variant, according to a South African study of infections since the start of the pandemic.

The finding provides evidence of Omicron’s “ability to evade immunity from prior infection,” according to the authors, Juliet Pulliam of the South African Centre for Epidemiological Modelling and Analysis and Harry Moultrie of the National Centre for Communicable Diseases.

Minnesota reports Omicron case with New York City link  

A Minnesota man who recently visited New York City for a crowded anime convention has tested positive for the Omicron variant.

“We should assume there is community spread of the variant in our city,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Thursday.

The adult individual was vaccinated and had received a booster in early November, Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm told reporters. The man reported attending the Anime NYC 2021 convention at the Javits Center from November 19-21. He developed mild symptoms on November 22 and was tested on November 24. His symptoms have since resolved.

Walgreens Boots Alliance cancels Maine booster shots over staffing issues  

Walgreens Boots Alliance, a critical player in the US vaccination campaign, has cancelled some booster-shot appointments in Maine due to staffing issues, a state health official said. 

People began reporting the issue on Twitter last week to Nirav Shah, the director of the northern New England state’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Shah said he contacted Walgreens, thinking he could help if there was a supply shortfall. 

Zimbabwe reports Omicron case 

Zimbabwe has identified its first case of the Omicron variant, a day after announcing a 10-day mandatory quarantine of all travellers entering the country.

“We have already identified that we now have it in this country,” Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga, who is also the nation’s health minister, told a meeting of farmers Thursday in the capital, Harare. He did not provide further details on the origins of the case.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa on Wednesday announced rules imposing quarantine on all travellers entering the country, including returning residents. Hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans who work and live in neighbouring South Africa, which was first to disclose detection of the new variant, are expected to travel home over Christmas.

UK cases surge 

The UK reported the most new coronavirus cases since before its “Freedom Day” on Thursday, amid fears that the Omicron variant could disrupt the holiday season for another year.

A further 53,495 cases were reported, the highest since July 17, although there have been a handful of days close to that number before today. That’s compared to a 7-day rolling average of about 44,600 new cases a day.

Thanks to a comprehensive vaccine uptake, the number of deaths and people in hospital in the UK has remained consistently low compared to previous outbreaks.

Oslo tightens curbs after Omicron case 

Oslo is heading back to working from home and using face masks after an outbreak at a Christmas party raised the prospect of a jump in Omicron variant infections.

Home office will now be required for part of the week in Norway’s capital and 21 other municipalities, while face masks must be worn in shops, public transport, bars and restaurants, Health and Care Services Minister Ingvild Kjerkol told reporters on Thursday. Bars will have to serve customers at tables, guests will need to register to receive notices of infection exposure and limits will be placed on events held inside.

Germany imposes curbs for unvaccinated 

Germany imposed nationwide restrictions on people who aren’t vaccinated against Covid-19 and limited attendance at football games and other public events to check a brutal surge in infections.  

In one of her final acts as chancellor, Angela Merkel held talks with her incoming successor, Olaf Scholz, and Germany’s 16 regional premiers on Thursday, where they agreed on new curbs including allowing only people who are vaccinated or recovered into restaurants, theatres and non-essential stores.

The officials also backed a plan to make Covid shots mandatory, saying that the lower house of parliament would vote on it soon. Scholz said he expects the measure to pass. 

Finland, Greece confirm Omicron presence 

Finland confirmed its first case of the Omicron variant on a person who had returned from Sweden.

Other people travelling with the person had also tested positive for the coronavirus, but the variant was not yet confirmed from their samples. 

Greece has found its first case of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, Health Minister Thanos Plevris told reporters on Thursday. The case was detected on the island of Crete in a Greek citizen who had arrived from southern Africa on November 26., he said.

Singapore detects imported Omicron cases 

Singapore has detected two imported cases who tested preliminary positive for the Omicron variant, after both individuals arrived on a flight from Johannesburg.

They were isolated upon arrival in the island state on December 1 and had not interacted in the community. Both individuals, who tested negative during their pre-departure tests, are fully vaccinated and have mild symptoms. 

India detects first Omicron cases 

India confirmed two cases of the Omicron variant in the southern state of Karnataka, home to the nation’s Silicon Valley.

The two infected individuals have mild symptoms and are males aged 66 and 46, Lav Agarwal, a senior health ministry official, told reporters at a Thursday briefing in New Delhi, without elaborating.

Pfizer optimistic on Omicron protection 

Pfizer expects data on how well its shot protects against Omicron to be available within two to three weeks.

“We don’t expect that there will be a significant drop in effectiveness,” Ralf Rene Reinert, vice-president of vaccines for international developed markets, said in an interview with Bloomberg Television. “But again, this is speculation. We will check this. We will have the data in the next couple of weeks.” 

Glaxo says its treatment effective against Omicron 

GlaxoSmithKline said its Covid-19 antibody treatment appears to be effective against the Omicron variant in early testing.

Lab tests of the mutations found in the variant showed the drug is still active against the virus, Glaxo said. The drugmaker is now conducting in vitro testing to confirm the response against a combination of all the Omicron mutations.

Omicron spreading faster in South Africa’s Gauteng province 

The Omicron coronavirus variant is spreading faster in the Gauteng province, the epicentre of the latest outbreak in South Africa, than the Delta strain or any of the earlier mutations, an adviser to the provincial government said. 

There is the “strongest acceleration in community transmission ever seen in South Africa,” Bruce Mellado, the adviser, said in a presentation on Thursday. This is “consistent with dominance of a variant that is more transmissible,” he said.

South Africa announced the discovery of a new variant, later named Omicron, on November 25 as cases began to spike and the strain spread across the globe. National daily cases almost doubled on Wednesday, days after countries across the world halted flights to and from southern Africa. DM

– With assistance from Vivek Shankar, Claire Che, Randy Thanthong-Knight, Andreo Calonzo, Felix Tam, Paul Tugwell, Stacie Sherman, Charles Capel, Ania Nussbaum and Luke McGrath.


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