Covid-19 has infected more than 261M people and killed over 5.2M. Here are the latest developments related to the pandemic for November 27, 2021:

The new variant, B.1.1.529, was first identified November 11 in Botswana. (Reuters Archive)
The new variant, B.1.1.529, was first identified November 11 in Botswana. (Reuters Archive) (AFP)

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Two cases of Omicron variant detected in Britain

Two linked cases of the new Omicron coronavirus variant have been detected in Britain connected to travel to southern Africa, Health Minister Sajid Javid said.

"Late last night I was contacted by the UK Health Security Agency. I was informed that they have detected two cases of this new variant, Omicron, in the United Kingdom. One in Chelmsford, the other in Nottingham," he said in a broadcast clip.

The two individuals and all members of their households are being re-tested and told to self-isolate while further testing and contact tracing is done, the health ministry said.

England will also add Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Angola to its travel "red list" from 0400 GMT on Sunday, meaning British and Irish residents who arrive in the country must quarantine in a government-approved hotel for 10 days. Non-residents will be refused entry.

That list already contained Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

The United Kingdom reported 39,567 more cases and 131 further deaths within 28 days of a positive test, according to official data.

Bahrain adds four more African nations to ban list

Bahrain has banned entry to travellers from four more African states, increasing the number of banned countries on its red list to ten, the state news agency (BNA) reported, citing a decision by the Civil Aviation Affairs.

The four additional countries are Malawi, Mozambique, Angola and Zambia.

The ban excludes Bahraini citizens and those with Bahraini residency visa holders, it said.

Czech Republic reports first Omicron strain

The regional hospital in the northern Czech city of Liberec confirmed the new Omicron strain of Covid-19 in a female patient, its spokesman Vaclav Ricar told Czech Television.

"We can confirm that the strain was confirmed," Ricar said.

Italy announces first case of new variant

Italy has detected its first case of the new Omicron strain of Covid-19 in a traveller from Mozambique.

A top laboratory "sequenced the genome from the positive sample of a patient coming from Mozambique", the national health institute said in a statement.

Cases detected in Germany's Bavaria state

Two cases of the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus have been detected in the southern German state of Bavaria, the regional health ministry said.

The two infected people entered Germany at Munich airport on November 24, before Germany designated South Africa as a virus-variant area, and are now isolating, said the ministry.

Spain tightens restrictions for British tourists

British tourists will be admitted to Spain from next month only if they can show proof of a Covid-19 vaccination, according to a Spanish government bulletin.

Until now, Britons were admitted to Spain if they could show proof they had been fully vaccinated against coronavirus or a negative PCR test result taken up to 72 hours before arriving.

"The appearance of new variants causing (coronavirus) obliges an increase in restrictions," with regard to people from the UK and Northern Ireland, said the announcement in the Bulletin of State.

The new measure comes into force from Wednesday, December 1.

South Korea curbs arrivals from 8 southern African countries

South Korea has said it will restrict arrivals from South Africa and seven other nations over concerns over Omicron.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said that from November 28 the issuance visas for those from eight nations in southern Africa would be restricted while South Korean citizens returning from the region would be quarantined.

The eight countries subject to the new restrictions are South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi.

Women's cricket WC qualifying tournament in Zimbabwe cancelled

The women's cricket World Cup qualifying tournament in Zimbabwe has been abandoned after the discovery of Omicron variant in South Africa that prompted travel curbs, the sport's governing body (ICC) said.

The ICC took the decision after Saturday's game between the West Indies and Sri Lanka was called off when a member of the Sri Lankan support staff tested positive.

Germany announces first suspected variant case

A German regional official has said that health authorities have identified the first suspected case in the country of the new Covid-19 variant, in a person who returned from South Africa.

"The Omicron variant has with strong likelihood already arrived in Germany," Kai Klose, social affairs minister in the western state of Hesse, tweeted, referring to the strain first detected in southern Africa.

Klose said that tests late Friday on the traveller who had returned to Germany from South Africa revealed "several mutations typical of Omicron".

Dutch say 61 positive for Covid on flights from South Africa

A total of 61 people who arrived in the Netherlands on two flights from South Africa have tested positive for the coronavirus and are in isolation.

The development came as the world anxiously sought to contain a highly transmissible new coronavirus variant.

Further tests are now underway on the travelers who arrived at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport to establish if any of them have the new omicron variant of Covid-19 that was first discovered in southern Africa.

Two planes arrived in the Netherlands from Johannesburg and Cape Town shortly after the Dutch government, along with other nations around the world, on Friday imposed a ban on flights from southern African nations following discovery of the new omicron variant.

The Kennermerland local health authority, which is responsible for the testing and isolation operation, said in an update on Saturday that the people who tested positive must quarantine for seven days if they have symptoms and five days if they are symptom-free.

The 539 travelers who tested negative were allowed to return home or continue their journeys to other countries. Under government regulations, those who live in the Netherlands and are allowed to return home must self-isolate for at least five days.

Qatar Airways bans travellers from southern Africa

Qatar Airways has banned entry to travellers from South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique due to the spread of a new variant of Covid-19 first detected in South Africa. 

Thailand bans entry of people from eight African countries

Thailand has said it would ban entry of people travelling from eight African countries it designated as high-risk for the new B 1.1.529 Covid-19 variant.

Starting in December, travel from Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe, will be prohibited, a senior health official told a news conference.

UAE suspends flights from 7 southern African nations

The United Arab Emirates has suspended flights from seven southern African nations because of a new coronavirus variant.

The Emirates News Agency, WAM, on Friday said on Twitter that travel bans for South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Lesotho and Eswatini will take effect beginning Monday.

Qatar also updated its travel and return policy for exceptional red list countries following the emergence of the new variant, according to its Ministry of Public Health.

Qatar Airways tweeted that it will not allow passengers to board flights from South Africa and Zimbabwe.

The new heavily mutated variant that might be able to evade vaccines, was first identified November 11 in Botswana.

The World Health Organization (WHO) declared Friday that the new variant is a "variant of concern," and named it Omicron.

The declaration came after the Technical Advisory Group on SARS-CoV-2 Virus Evolution, an independ ent group of experts, met to assess the variant that was initially named B.1.1.529.

Oman joins traveler banners list

Oman has suspended entry to travellers from South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Lesotho and Eswatini starting from November 28 due to the spread of a new variant of Covid-19 discovered in South Africa, the country's state news agency said in a tweet on Saturday.

New York governor declares 'disaster emergency'

New York Governor Kathy Hochul has issued a Covid-19 "disaster emergency" declaration. The governor on Friday cited increasing rates of infections and hospitalizations.

Mexico records 165 deaths

Mexico recorded 165 coronavirus deaths on Friday, according to health ministry data, bringing the overall death toll to 293,614 and the number of confirmed cases to 3,879,836.

Sri Lanka bans travellers from 6 African nations due to Omicron

Sri Lanka has said it was barring travelers from six Southern African countries on Saturday over concerns about the new Omicron variant of Covid-19.

From Monday, travellers will not be allowed into the country from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho and Eswatini, Colombo said in a statement.

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

The World Health Organization on Friday declared the new coronavirus variant to be "of concern".

It was first reported to the WHO from South Africa on Wednesday and has been identified in Botswana, Belgium, Hong Kong and Israel.

CDC says no cases of Omicron identified in US so far

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

The World Health Organization (WHO) designated the B.1.1.529 variant, dubbed Omicron, as being "of concern," the fifth variant to be classified as such.

"We expect Omicron to be identified quickly, if it emerges in the U.S.," CDC said in a statement on Friday. 

Australia bans southern Africa flights over virus concerns

Australia has banned flights from nine southern African countries, tightening its borders to prevent the entry of the new Covid-19 Omicron variant. 

Non-Australians who visited South Africa, Zimbabwe and several other nations in the past fortnight will also be barred from Australia, Heath Minister Greg Hunt said.

Citizens and residents travelling from the listed countries will have to quarantine for 14 days.

"These are strong, swift, decisive and immediate actions," Hunt told media in Canberra.

The variant – which has a large number of mutations – was first detected on November 9.

Scientists are racing to understand how it behaves, but there are fears the strain may be more transmissible or render existing vaccines less effective.

WTO delays ministerial conference indefinitely

Next week's World Trade Organization ministerial conference, the global trade body's biggest gathering in four years, was postponed at the last minute.

The WTO hoped the four-day gathering in Geneva would breathe new life into the crippled organisation, which has been stuck for years trying to make progress on resolving issues like fishery subsidies.

"Health, fairness and inclusiveness informed the call. It is the right decision. Work will and must continue," WTO deputy director-general Anabel Gonzalez said.

Arab states ban travel from African nations

Saudi Arabia and several other Arab Gulf countries have imposed travel bans from several African countries due to fears over a new coronavirus variant.

They listed the countries as South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Lesotho and Eswatini.

Morocco, a North African nation, also banned travellers from those countries.

Another north African country, Egypt, followed its allies' decisions and banned direct flights to and from South Africa.

South African scientists brace for wave propelled by omicron

As the world grapples with the emergence of the new highly transmissible variant of Covid-19, worried scientists in South Africa — where omicron was first identified — are scrambling to combat its lightning spread across the country.

In the space of two weeks, the omicron variant has sent South Africa from a period of low transmission to rapid growth of new confirmed cases. The country’s numbers are still relatively low, with 2,828 new confirmed cases recorded Friday, but omicron’s speed in infecting young South Africans has alarmed health professionals.

“ We’re seeing a marked change in the demographic profile of patients with Covid-19,” Rudo Mathivha, head of the intensive care unit at Soweto’s Baragwanath Hospital, told an online press briefing.

“Young people, in their 20s to just over their late 30s, are coming in with moderate to severe disease, some needing intensive care. About 65 percent are not vaccinated and most of the rest are only half-vaccinated,” said Mathivha. “I’m worried that as the numbers go up, the public health care facilities will become overwhelmed.”

She said urgent preparations are needed to enable public hospital s to cope with a potential large influx of patients needing intensive care.

“We know we have a new variant,” said Mathivha. “The worst case scenario is that it hits us like delta ... we need to have critical care beds ready.”

What looked like a cluster infection among some university students in Pretoria ballooned into hundreds of new cases and then thousands, first in the capital city and then to nearby Johannesburg, South Africa’s largest city.

Studying the surge, scientists identified the new variant that diagnostic tests indicate is likely responsible for as many as 90 percent of the new cases, according to South Africa’s health officials.

Early studies show that it has a reproduction rate of 2 — meaning that every person infected by it is likely to spread it to two other people.

The new variant has a high number of mutations that appear to make it more transmissible and help it evade immune responses. The World Health Organization looked at the data on Friday and named the variant omicron, under its system of using Greek letters, calling it a highly transmissible variant of concern.

“It’s a huge concern. We all are terribly concerned about this virus,” Professor Willem Hanekom, director of the Africa Health Research Institute, told The Associated Press.

“This variant is mostly in Gauteng province, the Johannesburg area of South Africa. But we’ve got clues from diagnostic tests ... that suggest that this variant is already all over South Africa,” said Hanekom, who is also co-chair of the South African Covid Variant Research Consortium.

“The scientific reaction from within South Africa is that we need to learn as much as soon as possible. We know precious little,” he said. “For example, we do not know how virulent this virus is, which means how bad is this disease that it causes?”

A key factor: vaccination

The new variant appears to be spreading most quickly among those who are unvaccinated. Currently, only about 40 percent of adult South Africans are vaccinated, and the number is much lower among those in the 20 to 40-year-old age group.

South Africa has nearly 20 million doses of vaccines — made by Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson — but the numbers of people getting vaccines is about 120,000 per day, far below the government’s target of 300,000 per day.

As scientists try to learn more about omic ron, the people of South Africa can take measures to protect themselves against it, said Hanekom.

“This is a unique opportunity. There’s still time for people who did not get vaccinated to go and get the vaccine, and that will provide some protection, we believe, against this infection, especially protection against severe infection, severe disease and death,” he said. “So I would call on people to vaccinate if they can.”

Some ordinary South Africans have more mundane concerns about the new variant.

“We’ve seen increasing numbers of Covid-19, so I’ve been worried about more restrictions,” said Tebogo Letlapa, in Daveyton, eastern Johannesburg.

“I’m especially worried about closing of alcohol sales because it’s almost festive season now.”

Source: TRTWorld and agencies