Covid-19 has infected more than 262M people and killed over 5.2M worldwide. Here are the coronavirus-related developments for November 30:

Borders are being closed and dozens of countries impose travel restrictions due to the rapidly spreading new variant.
Borders are being closed and dozens of countries impose travel restrictions due to the rapidly spreading new variant. (AFP)

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

WHO pleads for 'rational' Omicron response

The WHO has urged countries to remain calm and take "rational" measures against the fast-spreading Omicron coronavirus variant, as Germany's next chancellor voiced support for compulsory vaccinations.

The emergence of Omicron, first reported to the World Health Organization in South Africa less than a week ago, has already spread rapidly across the globe with borders shutting and dozens of countries rolling out travel restrictions in defiance of WHO advice.

German MPs to vote on compulsory vaccine jabs

Germany's incoming chancellor Olaf Scholz has signalled his backing for mandatory coronavirus jabs, as the country struggles to contain a fierce fourth wave of the pandemic.

Scholz, who is holding crisis talks with regional leaders, said he was "aware that there were cross-party debates" among lawmakers about making the vaccine compulsory, he said.

UK aims to offer all adults booster shot by January end

A further eight cases of the Omicron variant have been identified in UK, taking the total number to 13, the United Kingdom Health Security Agency said.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he wants to offer all adults a Covid-19 booster shot by the end of January, because of concern about the spread of the Omicron variant.

A raft of new restrictions came into effect in UK to stem the spread of the variant.

Face masks are now compulsory on transport and in shops, but not in hospitality. International travelers must take PCR tests by the second day after their arrival.

BioNTech says current vaccine may protect against Omicron

BioNTech and Pfizer's Covid-19 vaccine will likely offer strong protection against any severe disease from the new Omicron virus variant, BioNTech's Chief Executive Ugur Sahin has said, even as the biotech firm protectively makes a bolt for an adapted version of the shot.

Lab tests are currently underway over the next two weeks analysing the blood of people who had two or three doses of BioNTech's Comirnaty vaccine to see if antibodies found in that blood inactivate Omicron.

Sahin said he expects results to show some loss of vaccine protection against mild and moderate disease due to Omicron but the extent of that loss was hard to predict.

Switzerland considers tightening curbs

Switzerland is considering tighter restrictions to contain the rising number of new cases and the emergence of the Omicron variant, the government said following an emergency meeting.

The government will consult with local authorities on whether to make Covid-19 certificates - which provide proof of vaccination, recovery or a negative test - compulsory for all indoor events, removing the current exemption for meetings of up to 30 people.

Under the proposed rules, a certificate would also be needed to attend private gatherings of 11 people or more, and outdoor events with 300 people or more.

Russia quarantines people coming from countries with high Omicron risk

People coming to Russia from countries with high risk of the Omicron variant will have to quarantine for two weeks, Anna Popova, the head of the consumer watchdog, said.

Russia has not recorded cases of the Omicron variant on its territory as yet, she added.

Japan confirms 1st case of Omicron

Japan confirmed the first case of omicron, the heavily mutated coronavirus variant, just a day after reinstating the travel ban on foreigners.

“A Namibian man in his 30s has been found to be infected with the heavily mutated variant after he tested positive for the coronavirus at Narita Airport near Tokyo upon his arrival on Sunday,” Kyodo News reported.

France records the highest one-day number of cases since April

France has registered about 47,000 new confirmed cases over the past 24 hours, Health Minister Olivier Veran said, the highest one-day tally since April 8 at the height of the third wave of the pandemic.

The latest data will push the cumulative total of cases in France since the start of the pandemic to 7.67 million and the seven-day moving average of new infections well over 32,000.

Singapore records 1,239 new cases 

Singapore has recorded eight more deaths and 1,239 further cases. The country reported 1,103 infections the previous day.

Moderna CEO warns jabs likely less effective against Omicron

Existing Covid-19 jabs will struggle against the Omicron variant and it will take months to develop a new shot that works, the head of US vaccine manufacturer Moderna has told the Financial Times.

Stephane Bancel told the newspaper in an interview that data would be available on the effectiveness of current vaccines in the next two weeks but scientists were not optimistic.

"There is no world, I think, where (the effectiveness) is the same level . . . we had with Delta," he said.

"All the scientists I've talked to ... are like 'this is not going to be good'," he told the newspaper.

Greece to make vaccinations for persons over 60 'mandatory'

Greece has said it would fine people over the age of 60 who have not received a first shot, as the country grappled with a new surge in cases.

Authorities said they would impose a $113 (100 euro) fine on every individual over the age of 60 who was not vaccinated. The measure would apply each month from January 16 onwards.

EU could approve shot against new variant in 3-4 months

The EU drug regulator said it could approve vaccines adapted to target the Omicron variant of the coronavirus within three to four months if needed, but that existing shots would continue to provide protection.

Speaking to the European Parliament, European Medicines Agency (EMA) executive director Emer Cooke said it was not known if drugmakers would need to tweak their vaccines to protect against Omicron, but the EMA was preparing for that possibility.

"Were there a need to change the existing vaccines, we could be in a position to have those approved within three to four months," she said.

"Companies adapting their formulations to include the new sequencing (...) will then have to show that the production system works, they will then have to do some clinical trials to determine that this actually works in practice."

COVAX allocates 4.7M AstraZeneca vaccine doses to N.Korea

The global vaccine-sharing network COVAX has set aside 4.73 million doses of AstraZeneca Plc's shot for shipment to North Korea, one of the very few countries that haven't started vaccination, according to its allocation plan.

The plan follows an earlier offer for nearly two million doses of the shot that the reclusive state had rejected due to concerns over side effects, according to a South Korean think-tank.

Rise in German infections flattens

Germany has reported another 45,753 new cases and 388 deaths, but the seven-day incidence of cases per 100,000 people fell slightly for the first time in three weeks.

The Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases reported that 452.2 people per 100,000 were infected in the last week, down from 452.4 on Monday and the first fall since early November.

The number of new cases was still 427 more than a week ago, but the pace of weekly increase has been flattening in the last few days.

Mask mandates to tackle Omicron come into force in England

New mask mandates and other measures aimed at curbing the spread of the Omicron variant have come into force in England, as Prime Minister Boris Johnson eyes an expanded booster programme to help increase protection.

From Tuesday morning, face masks are compulsory on transport and in shops, banks and hair salons.

Singapore to hold off further reopening to evaluate Omicron 

Singapore will hold off on further reopening measures while it evaluates the Omicron variant and will boost testing of travellers and frontline workers to reduce the risk of local transmission, authorities have said.

"This is a prudent thing to do for now, when we are faced with a major uncertainty," Health Minister Ong Ye Kung told a media briefing, adding the variant had not yet been detected locally.

Ecuador announces restrictions for travellers

Ecuador will impose entry restrictions on travelers flying from or via a number of African countries and will request vaccine certificates from those arriving from other countries, President Guillermo Lasso has said, citing the new Omicron strain of coronavirus.

Anyone who has traveled from or through South Africa, Botswana, Egypt, Mozambique, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Eswatini, and Namibia will not be allowed to enter the country, Ecuador's government said. 

Hong Kong bans non-resident arrivals from 13 more countries 

Hong Kong has banned non-residents from entering the city from four African countries and plans to expand that to travellers who have been to Australia, Canada, Israel, and six European countries in the past 21 days due to fears over Omicron.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Monday the Omicron coronavirus variant carried a very high risk of infection surges, and countries around the world have tightened travel restrictions.

Currencies stabilise as worst Omicron fears recede

The dollar has hovered above the one-week low against major peers it hit last week, as fears eased that the new Omicron variant would derail the US recovery and delay Federal Reserve interest rate hikes.

The safe-haven yen stabilised some half a percent off its strongest level since November 11, reached on Monday. The euro meandered about a third of a percent below Monday's one-week high.

The risk-sensitive Australian dollar drifted about 0.4 percent from a three-month low.

Traders took comfort from remarks by President Joe Biden that the United States would not reinstate lockdowns, as well as a South African doctor's comments that the new strain causes milder symptoms.

Morrison: Australia not going back to lockdowns

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said the country will not return to lockdown in the wake of the Omicron variant.

The Australian government had announced that it would delay plans to relax border restrictions by at least two weeks, as the country reported its fifth case of the new variant.

But Morrison told reporters in Canberra that the measures are temporary to enable authorities to learn more about the variant.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies