Covid-19 has infected more than 261M people and killed over 5.2M. Here are the latest developments related to the pandemic for November 28, 2021:

As the world grapples with the emergence of the new variant of Covid-19, scientists in South Africa, where omicron was first identified, are scrambling to combat its spread across the country.
As the world grapples with the emergence of the new variant of Covid-19, scientists in South Africa, where omicron was first identified, are scrambling to combat its spread across the country. (AP)

Sunday, November 28, 2021

EU chief: 'Race against time' to tackle new Covid variant

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen has said the world was in a "race against time" to understand the new coronavirus variant and, if needed, modify vaccines to counter it.

"The scientists and manufacturers need two to three weeks to have a full picture about the quality of the mutations of this Omicron variant," she said.

"We need to buy time," she added, urging people to vaccinate, wear masks and practise social distancing.

She said that a contract struck in the summer by the European Commission with BioNTech-Pfizer for 1.8 billion vaccine doses included a clause in case of an "escape variant" - a strain that can evade vaccine immunity.

A clause in the contract states "that if a variant turns into an escape variant... BioNTech-Pfizer is able to adapt its vaccine within 100 days," she said.

The new, heavily mutated Covid-19 variant has spread across the globe, shutting borders, renewing curbs and sparking fears for the fight against the nearly two-year-old coronavirus pandemic.

Britain records 37,681 cases

Britain has reported 37,681 more cases and a further 51 deaths within 28 days of a positive test, according to official data. 

Britain's government defended the pace and scale of its response to the Omicron as officials reported a third case of the emerging variant, and warned of more to come.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said mandatory mask-wearing would return to shops and public transport in England on Tuesday, but told families to plan for Christmas "as normal", despite new rules to combat Omicron.

Swiss vote approves restrictions as infections rise

Swiss voters gave clear backing to legislation that introduced a system with special Covid-19 certificates under which only people who have been vaccinated, recovered or tested negative can attend public events and gatherings.

Final results showed 62 percent of voters supporting the legislation, which is already in force. 

The referendum offered a rare bellwether of public opinion on the issue of government policy to fight the spread of coronavirus in Europe, which is currently the global epicentre of the pandemic.

Dutch impose new tighter lockdown amid spiking infections

The Netherlands moved into a tougher lockdown that was announced amid spiking infections even before the country recorded its first confirmed cases of the new, more highly transmissible omicron virus variant.

Bars, restaurants, nonessential stores, cinemas and theatres were among the public places forced to shut from 5 pm until 5 am under the new lockdown.

The country detected 13 cases of the Omicron variant, which came from South Africa to the Netherlands on Friday, the Netherlands’ National Institute for Public Health and the Environment said.

Italy reports 47 deaths

Italy reported 47 coronavirus-related deaths, against 90 the day before, the health ministry said, while the daily tally of new infections rose slightly to 12,932 from 12,877.

Italy has registered 133,674 deaths linked to Covid-19 since its outbreak emerged in February last year, the second-highest toll in Europe after Britain and the ninth-highest in the world. The country has reported five million cases to date.

Ghana to make vaccine mandatory from January

Ghana will ramp up its Covid-19 inoculation campaign next month and make the vaccine mandatory for targeted groups including all public sector and health workers from January 22, health service director general Patrick Kuma-Aboagye said.

Ghana, like most African nations, has seen a sluggish uptake in vaccinations despite an increase in supplies. Only 1.4 million people out Ghana's population of 30 million are fully vaccinated.

Egypt authorises Pfizer's vaccine for 12 to 15 year-olds

Egypt has authorised Pfizer's vaccine for children aged 12-15, the cabinet said in a statement.

The step effectively lowers the minimum age of eligibility to receive the two-shot vaccine in Egypt, which was 15 years old previously.

Australia confirms two cases of Omicron Covid-19 variant

Two overseas travellers arriving in Sydney are the first to test positive in the country for the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, Australian officials confirmed.

The two passengers were among a group of 14 others who arrived in Australia from southern Africa on Saturday.

They were asymptomatic and were both vaccinated for Covid-19. The remaining 12 have been placed in quarantine.

The New South Wales health department said the infected travellers were from one of nine African countries that are now required to quarantine in a hotel upon arrival in Sydney.

The countries are South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia, Eswatini, Malawi and the Seychelles.

Swiss voters back Covid pass law: projected results

Swiss voters have backed the law behind the country's Covid pass, according to the first projections following Sunday's referendum at the end of an unusually tense and hostile campaign.

Shortly after the polls closed at 1100 GMT, market researchers GFS Bern, who conducted the main polling throughout the campaign, projected that the "yes" vote was heading for victory.

Angola shuts borders to regional neighbours over Omicron

Angola has become the first southern African country to suspend flights from its regional neighbours in a bid to prevent the spread of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

Angola's state-owned TAAG airline said it would suspend all flights to Mozambique, Namibia and South Africa until further notice.

The suspension is in compliance with the government's decision to temporarily ban air links to Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe, it said in a statement.

Maldives bans travellers from 7 African nations due to Omicron variant

Maldives is barring travellers from seven African countries over concerns about the new Omicron variant of Covid-19.

Travellers will not be allowed into Maldives from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia, Lesotho and Eswatini, the health ministry said in a statement.

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

Sri Lanka cricketers test positive for Covid-19

Six Sri Lanka women cricketers who took part in a World Cup qualifying tournament in Zimbabwe have tested positive for Covid-19.

It was not known whether the Sri Lankan players' positive tests were for the new Omicron variant of the virus, the Asian country's cricket board said.

"Steps will be taken to bring back the Sri Lanka women's team from Zimbabwe," the Sri Lankan cricket board (SLC) said.

Cricket's governing body ICC abandoned the qualifiers in Zimbabwe on Saturday after discovery of a new Covid-19 variant in South Africa, which prompted widespread travel curbs.

The ICC took its 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 for Covid-19.

Covid booster advice should come imminently: UK minister

UK's health minister Sajid Javid expects to receive advice imminently on whether the government can broaden a booster shot programme to try to weaken the impact of the Omicron variant.

Britain announced new measures to try to slow the spread of the variant, toughening rules for people arriving in the country and ordering the use of face masks in retail settings and on transport.

But ministers also want to ramp up booster jabs, saying even if vaccines prove to be less effective against Omicron, they should offer better protection overall and reduce the number of hospitalisations and deaths.

"The other thing that still remains hugely important, but I think it's fair to say now more important than it was before, is our vaccination programme," Javid told Sky News.

"That is why I have also asked our expert advisers on vaccines called JCVI (the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation) to give me very quick advice on broadening, boosting our booster programme, and I expect to get that advice imminently."

Philippines to buy extra 20 million doses of Pfizer's Covid-19 vaccine

The Philippines will buy an additional 20 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer Inc and BioNTech SE, seeking to fully inoculate more than 80% of its population by mid-2022.

A deal has been signed with Pfizer, bringing the government's total purchases of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to 60 million doses, said Carlito Galvez Jr, who is in charge of the country's Covid-19 vaccine procurement.

The additional Pfizer-BioNTech doses will be used as booster shots and for paediatric vaccinations, Galvez said at a virtual media briefing a day before the start of a downscaled three-day national inoculation drive.

The country has now received about 142 million doses of vaccines via purchases and donations according to Galvez.

The Omicron variant has not yet been detected in the Philippines, which has suspended inbound flights from seven African nations until December 15.

Curbing travel over Omicron coronavirus variant of little use: Mexico

Measures such as restricting travel or closing borders are of little use in response to the emergence of the new Omicron coronavirus variant, Mexico's deputy health secretary said.

Hugo Lopez Gatell, the face of the Mexican government's response to the pandemic, said some of the measures other countries have taken are "disproportionate" to what the existing scientific evidence shows.

"It has not been shown to be more virulent or to evade the immune response induced by vaccines," he said in a Twitter post.

"Travel restrictions or border closures are not very useful measures. They affect the economy and well-being of people."

Israel to ban entry of foreigners from all countries over Omicron

Israel said it would ban the entry of all foreigners into the country, making it the first country to shut its borders completely in response to a new and potentially more contagious coronavirus variant.

It also said it would use counter-terrorism phone-tracking technology in order to contain the spread of the Omicron variant.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said in a statement that the ban, pending government approval, would last 14 days.

"Our working hypotheses are that the variant is already in nearly every country," Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked told N12's "Meet the Press," "and that the vaccine is effective, although we don't yet know to what degree."

Israelis entering the country, including those who are vaccinated, will be required to quarantine, Bennett said.

The ban will come into effect at midnight between Sunday and Monday. 

A travel ban on foreigners coming from most African states was imposed on Friday.

Covid breaks match in Portugal

Portuguese club Belenenses started a league match against Benfica with just nine players after an outbreak of coronavirus in the squad. The game was later called off just after halftime.

The referee called the match off just after the start of the second half. Only seven players took the field for Belenenses, which soon lost another player when one dropped to the turf, leaving them with only six.

The laws of soccer allow for games to be played as long as each team has seven players, including a goalkeeper.

NHL delays more games in US

The National Hockey League (NHL) has postponed two more games for coronavirus-related reasons, making it five so far this season.

Upcoming New York Islanders games Sunday at the Rangers and Tuesday at the Philadelphia Flyers were postponed after additional members of the team went into the NHL’s Covid-19 protocol.

The league said the possibility of additional spread contributed to the Islanders’ games through at least Tuesday being called off for now.

Turkey evacuates its citizens from South Africa

Turkish Airlines carried out evacuation flights from South Africa because of the Omicron strain of the coronavirus after Turkey implemented travel restrictions on the country.

As many as 41 passengers were evacuated in flights from Cape Town and Johannesburg to Istanbul, an official with the airline told Anadolu Agency.

Passengers will spend 14 days in quarantine regardless of their vaccination statuses or recent infection with the virus. A negative PCR test will be required to end isolation in places determined by the local governorate.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies