Boosters may protect against new virus variant as US checks vaccine effectiveness – as it happened | World news

Date: 2021-12-01T00:45:42.000Z

Location: www.theguardian.com

That’s it from me, Samantha Lock, reporting from Sydney, Australia.

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Updated

Summary

  • Stricter coronavirus testing is set to be required for all travellers to the US amid Omicron variant concerns, the Washington Post reports.
  • All eligible adults in the UK should be offered a Covid booster jab by the end of January, British prime minister Boris Johnson announced.
  • The Omicron variant was present in Europe at least 10 days ago, according to health authorities in the Netherlands.
  • Austria extends lockdown to 20 days after lawmakers voted to extend a nationwide lockdown by 10 days on Tuesday, bringing the total lockdown ending on 11 December to 20 days.
  • Germany’s constitutional court has ruled that sweeping restrictions to stem Covid infections such as curfews, school closures and contact restrictions were lawful, in a decision that could pave the way for further curbs.
  • Greece has said it will fine people over the age of 60 who have not received a first Covid-19 shot €100 per month from 16 January.
  • All travellers entering Ireland will now have to show negative Covid tests.
  • An expert committee voted to recommend the US Food and Drug Administration authorise Merck’s Covid pill for high-risk adults, the first of a new class of antiviral drug that could tackle Omicron and other variants.The drug, molnupiravir, is likely to be approved for older and more vulnerable people at greater risk of severe illness.
  • Brazil reports first Omicron cases in Latin America after detecting two cases of the Omicron Covid strain on Tuesday, the country’s health regulator, Anvisa, said.
  • Slovenia has halted use of Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccine after experts confirmed a death in September was related to an extremely rare blood-clotting condition.
  • Poland records highest Covid deaths since April with 526 deaths in the past 24 hours.
  • Israel’s health minister says boosters may protect against Omicron.
  • The US Food & Drug Administration says it is evaluating the effectiveness of authorised Covid vaccines against the Omicron variant and expects to have more information in the next few weeks.
  • Japan confirmed its first case of the Omicron variant. A Namibian diplomat in his 30s is thought to have tested positive for the variant.

Stricter coronavirus testing is set to be required for all travellers to the US amid Omicron variant concerns, the Washington Post reports.

The Biden administration is believed to be preparing stricter testing requirements for all travellers, including returning Americans, according to three federal health officials.

The move is part of an enhanced winter Covid strategy Biden plans to announce on Thursday, the publication added.

US officials will require everyone entering the country to be tested one day before boarding flights, regardless of their vaccination status or country of departure. Administration officials are also considering a requirement that all travellers get retested within three to five days of arrival.

Authorities are reportedly debating a controversial proposal to require all travellers, including US citizens, to self-quarantine for seven days, even if their test results are negative.

It’s Samantha Lock back on deck and ready to take you through all the Covid news.

Let’s start off with some Covid numbers out of Australia before I dive in.

The state of Victoria has just reported 1,179 new Covid cases and six deaths in the past 24 hours. NSW has recorded 251 Covid cases and no deaths.

Ukraine recorded 10,554 new Covid cases in the past 24 hours, according to local media Ukrinform, down from a late-October peak when daily cases topped 27,000.

A further 561 people died from Covid-related causes, the Ukrainian Health Ministry said, down from 756 deaths on the same day last week.

Ukrainian authorities ordered on Monday that arrivals from seven African countries must complete a mandatory 14-day quarantine, to prevent spread of the Omicron variant.

That’s all from me, Jem Bartholomew, here in London as Samantha Lock in Australia takes over from here.

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Austria extends lockdown to 20 days

Lawmakers in Austria voted to extend a nationwide lockdown by 10 days on Tuesday, bringing the total lockdown ending on 11 December to 20 days. The government said this will be the maximum time.

About 67% of Austria’s population is double vaccinated, lagging behind other Western European nations.

Austria detected 8,186 positive Covid infections on Tuesday, down from a peak of 15,365 positive tests on Wednesday last week. Cases began surging in early October, prompting heightened restrictions.

The lockdown means people can only leave home under specific conditions – such as exercise and other activities for “physical and mental recovery,” work and essential shopping. Austria also reported its first Omicron strain case on Sunday.

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An expert committee voted to recommend the US Food and Drug Administration authorise Merck’s Covid pill for high-risk adults, the first of a new class of antiviral drug that could tackle Omicron and other variants.

The drug, molnupiravir, is likely to be approved for older and more vulnerable people at greater risk of severe illness. The treatment is given within five days of the start of symptoms and is taken as 40 pills over five days.

Molnupiravir works differently from existing vaccines. That might give it the edge over Omicron.

The New York Times reports the details of how it works:

Health officials around the world have been counting on the new pills to reduce the number of severe cases and save lives. If Omicron causes a surge in severe infections, it could make them even more important.

Scientists have yet to run experiments to see how well the pills block Omicron viruses from replicating. But there are reasons to think they would remain effective even if the variant can sometimes evade vaccines.

The pills do not target the spike protein [that Omicron mutated]. Instead, they weaken two proteins involved in the virus’s replication machinery. Omicron carries only one mutation in each of those proteins, and neither looks as if it would stop the pills from doing their jobs.

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Lloyd Austin, the US defense secretary, said National Guard members who refuse the Covid vaccine will be barred from federally funded drills and training required to maintain their Guard status.

“Vaccination is essential to the health and readiness of the force,” he wrote in an internal memo, first reported by Associated Press.

All members of the US military are required to be vaccinated unless they obtain an official waiver. According to National Guard Bureau figures, about 70% of Guard members were vaccinated with at least one shot on 22 November and 63% were double vaccinated (and the precise figures may be higher).

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Here’s the UK’s Covid infections visualised.

Today saw a further 39,716 Covid cases, down from 42,482 on Tuesday last week. New infections have rarely dropped below 30,000 a day in recent months.

Canada will ban fliers from a further three countries – Nigeria, Malawi and Egypt – to suppress the Omicron variant, the Toronto Star reports.

Canada has detected five Omicron strain cases so far, at least two from travellers from Nigeria.

Last week Ottawa barred travellers who had recently visited South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Botswana, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Mozambique

Premiers in Ontario and Quebec are calling for tougher measures and greater testing from Ottawa.

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Brazil reports first Omicron cases in Latin America

Brazil has detected two cases of the Omicron Covid strain, the country’s health regulator, Anvisa, said on Tuesday, the first infections of the variant recorded in Latin America.

The two infections are related and linked to travel from South Africa. Reuters has the details:

Anvisa said a traveller arriving in Sao Paulo from South Africa and his wife had both apparently contracted the variant.

The traveller landed at Guarulhos international airport on 23 November with a negative test for Covid-19. But before a planned return trip, the couple tested positive and the samples were sent for further analysis, which identified the Omicron variant.

The samples will be sent for a second confirmatory analysis, the regulator said.

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Slovenia halted use of Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccine after experts confirmed a death in September was related to an extremely rare blood-clotting condition.

The country’s health minister, Janez Poklukar, told reporters the temporary ban implemented in September would become permanent. A 20-year-old woman died in September after a rare brain haemorrhage and blood clots after vaccination.

With more than 16 million Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine doses being administrated in the European Union until the end of October, six deaths linked to the jab have been confirmed, according to the Slovenian authorities.

In April the US lifted an 11-day pause to Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, with the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention saying the risk was “very low”. “The vaccine’s known and potential benefits outweigh its known and potential risks in individuals 18 years of age and older,” the FDA and CDC said.

Slovenia has vaccinated 54% of its population, lagging behind the EU-wide rate of 68%. The country of 2.1 million people experienced record Covid infections above 3,000 a day this month, but new cases have since fallen from the mid-November peak.

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Russia reported 1,229 Covid-related deaths on Tuesday, according to figures from the Moscow Times, up from 1,207 reported deaths on Tuesday last week.

Russia also detected 32,648 new Covid infections on Tuesday, the lowest since 15 October. Russia’s latest wave peaked in early November, when the country was reporting record totals sometimes above 40,00 cases a day.

Anna Popova, the head of Russia’s Rospotrebnadzor consumer and health watchdog, said on Tuesday that Russians flying into the country from some locations must quarantine for 14 days, and New Year’s Eve travel was discouraged.

The validity of health passes obtained by a negative PCR test, she said, will also be reduced from 72 to 48 hours, as part of a package of measures designed to block the Omicron strain from gaining a foothold.

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