29 November

Global: The global Covid death toll has passed 5.2 million, with a figure of 5,200,271 according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University . Meanwhile, infections passed 261.8 million world wide as the new Omicron variant begins to spread.

The World Health Organization is urging caution after two South African health experts, including the doctor who first sounded the alarm about the Omicron variant, indicated that symptoms linked to the coronavirus strain have been mild so far. The initial reported infections were among university students, WHO said, adding that younger patients tend to have milder symptoms. “Understanding the level of severity of the Omicron variant will take days to several weeks,” WHO said in a statement, adding that “there is currently no information to suggest that symptoms associated with Omicron are different from those from other variants.”

The health ministers of the G7 will hold an emergency meeting on Monday to discuss the Omicron variant.

The 194 member states of the World Health Organization agreed to launch pandemic treaty negotiations as the world prepares to learn the lessons of Covid for the next pandemic.

Americas

US: Covid -19 infections have passed 48 million. Meanwhile, the US coronavirus death toll has passed 776,000 according to Johns Hopkins University data.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said no cases of the new Covid-19 Omicron variant detected in South Africa have so far been identified in the United States to date.

The US chief medical adviser Anthony Fauci warned of a potential “fifth wave” of Covid in America, as the US vaccination rate slows, cases rise and the Omicron variant looms on the horizon.

New York governor Kathy Hochul issued a Covid-19 “disaster emergency” declaration on Friday, citing increasing rates of infections and hospitalisations. An order from the governor said the state was experiencing Covid-19 transmission “not seen since April 2020” and that hospital admissions has been increasing over the past month to over 300 a day.

Merck & Co.’s Covid-19 pill will likely still get US authorization despite disappointing efficacy data and concerns raised by regulators, Morgan Stanley analysts predicted. Merck shares fell 3.8% Friday after the release of data showing molnupiravir was less effective than previously reported, and as the Food and Drug Administration raised concerns about its safety and long-term effectiveness.

Stocks in the US followed those in Asia and Europe by falling sharply on Friday in the wake of concerns about the new Covid variant. The Dow Jones industrial average closed down 2.5%, its worst day since late October 2020, while the S&P500 was down 1.73% and the tech-heavy Nasdaq fell 2.23%.

Brazil: Brazil will shut its borders to travellers arriving from six southern African countries, the chief of staff to president Jair Bolsonaro said.

Europe

EU: European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen warned of global “race against time” against Omicron, urging people to practice social distancing and get vaccinated so scientists have time to understand the new variant’s transmissibility and severity.

European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde said vaccination drives in poorer countries must be improved. “We won’t be protected until we are all vaccinated,” Lagarde told Italy’s Rai 3 in a live television interview. “If some companies can deliver packages everywhere, I’m sure we can do that with vaccines too.”

Germany: Germany reports an additional 67,125 Covid cases and 303 deaths, according to data from the Robert Koch Institute.

Germany has more suspected cases of infections with the Omicron variant, this time in Essen and Dusseldorf, Rheinische Post reported, citing a spokesman for the State government of North-Rhine Westphalia.

Half of Germany’s intensive care beds are now taken by patients with Covid-19. The nation’s state governments are now planning to postpone all elective operations, Business Insider reported, citing a draft decisions to be adopted at the national conference of health ministers scheduled for Monday.

Netherlands: Authorities in the Netherlands detected at least 13 cases of the Omicron variant from recent flights into Amsterdam from South Africa.

UK: The UK said it has detected three total Omicron infections in Nottingham, Essex and the London borough of Westminster, with targeted PCR testing being stepped up.

Moderna Inc. Chief Medical Officer Paul Burton said he suspects the new Omicron coronavirus variant may elude current vaccines, and if so, a reformulated shot could be available early in the new year. “We should know about the ability of the current vaccine to provide protection in the next couple of weeks,” Burton said Sunday on the BBC’s “Andrew Marr Show.” “If we have to make a brand new vaccine, I think that’s going to be early 2022 before that’s really going to be available in large quantities.”

The UK reported 37,681 new Covid cases and 51 deaths, with the government vaccine watchdog suggesting the vaccine booster drive could be accelerated as soon as Monday to suppress cases.

Secondary school pupils and teachers in England will wear once again face coverings in communal areas.

There’s no need to impose a new work-from-home rule or other draconian steps now that the new coronavirus variant has spread to the UK, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said. Moves taken on Saturday by the government will buy scientists “precious weeks” to evaluate the Omicron strain and work on new vaccine formulations if needed, Javid said. In interviews with Sky News and the BBC, he cited the “heavy cost” of lockdowns on the economy and mental health.

Switzerland: Swiss voters backed the government’s use of Covid-19 certificates for entry into theaters and restaurants despite vociferous campaigning by skeptics, who consider them an infringement of civil liberties. Support for the measure was at 62%. Polls for the broadcaster SRF had indicated the law, which also covers financial aid to pandemic-stricken companies, was supported by a comfortable majority.

Asia-pacific

South Korea: South Korea’s Covid deaths hit record high with new curbs expected. The country reported 4,068 new Covid-19 cases and 52 new deaths. Critically ill patients hit an all-time high of 634, up 17 from the previous day, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).

China: China would face a “colossal outbreak” on a scale beyond anything any other country has yet seen, if it were to reopen in a similar manner to the US. That’s a prediction based on statistical modeling by researchers at Beijing’s prestigious Peking University . A switch from China’s current Covid elimination strategy to an American-style approach with few restrictions would lead to as many as 637,155 infections a day, according to the study, which was published by the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention on 24 November.

India: India will resume scheduled international flights from 15 December with a limited service to 14 nations, the Civil Aviation Ministry said.

Australia: Australia confirmed it will close its borders to anyone who has been in southern Africa, and is not an Australian citizen. Australian citizens, residents and their dependents arriving from these countries will need to go into immediate supervised quarantine for 14 days.

Middle-east and Africa

Botswana: Botswana, which borders South Africa, said it has recorded a total 19 Omicron cases.

South Africa: South Africa’s president Cyril Ramaphos said the new variant is a “wake-up call” for global vaccine inequality and criticised travel bans for their economic fallout.

Israel: Israel suspended all flights into the country on Sunday at 10pm GMT after detecting its first Omicron infection on Friday, just four weeks after it fully opened its skies to vaccinated travellers.

Morocco: Morocco said it will stop all incoming flights for two weeks starting Monday to prevent spread of the new strain.