New Covid Variant Spreads: Antigua With Omicron Travel Ban; US, UK Readies, World Stats

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With immediate effect, Antigua and Barbuda has placed a travel ban on South Africa, Botswana, Belgium and Hong Kong in light of the omicron variant.

This was announced last night by Minister of Health Sir Molwyn Joseph during an interview on ABS Television.

Minister Joseph said Antigua and Barbuda might have to change certain protocols in terms of visitors out of the UK in light of the fact the omicron variant is already in the United Kingdom.

He said officials will review the epidemiological profile of Antigua and Barbuda and will also be looking at developments in their source markets like the UK and the USA.

The Minister of Health said just earlier this week he did emphasize that one of the risks facing Antigua and Barbuda during this time moving into Christmas and New Year’s was the possibility of a variant.

He had also stressed one of the ways to cope with the unpredictable event was to be vaccinated and the reality is here now.


Fauci says omicron variant will ‘inevitably’ hit US

By Caroline Vakil –

Anthony Fauci said on Sunday that the omicron COVID-19 variant will “inevitably” hit the United States, noting that it has already been detected in several other countries.

During an interview on ABC’s “This Week,” anchor George Stephanopoulos asked Fauci if the newly detected variant had been detected by officials in the U.S.

“No, we have not, George, and we have a pretty good surveillance system. But, as we all know, when you have a virus that has already gone to multiple countries, inevitably it will be here,” Fauci, who serves as President Biden’s chief medical adviser, answered.

Inevitably, it will be here. The question is will we be prepared for it?”


Dr. Anthony Fauci tells @GStephanopoulos that “if and when, and it’s going to be when,” the omicron variant reaches the U.S., health protocols should be “revved up.”
— This Week (@ThisWeekABC) November 28, 2021

Fauci also argued during the interview that travel restrictions imposed by the Biden administration and other countries could buy nations time to better respond to omicron, which the World Health Organization called a “variant of concern” last week.

“Travel bans, when you have a highly transmissible virus, never completely would … prevent it from coming into the country. No way that’s going to happen,” Fauci said.

“But what you can do is you can delay it enough to get us better prepared. And that’s the thing that people need to understand. If you’re going to do the travel ban the way we’ve done now and that we’re implementing right now, utilize the time that you’re buying to fill in the gaps,” he added.

The director of the National Institutes of Health, Francis Collins, said during an appearance on “Fox News Sunday” that it will take weeks for scientists to understand how effective COVID-19 vaccines are at protecting against the new variant.

“So if you’ve raised antibodies against [COVID-19] from previously being infected or from being vaccinated, the question is, will those antibodies still stick to this version of the spike protein, or will they evade that protection? We need to find that out, to be honest, though that’s gonna take two, three weeks in both laboratory and field studies to figure out the answer. And that’s what all of us as scientists want to know,” Collins said.


Israel to ban all foreign visitors due to Omicron variant

Israel is to ban the entry of visitors from all countries due to the Omicron variant, Reuters reports.

The country’s government will also reintroduce counter-terrorism phone-tracking technology for contact testing in order to contain the spread of the new strain.

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

Israel, the first country to shut its borders completely over the Omicron variant, has so far confirmed one case of the variant and seven other suspected cases.


Bahrain has banned entry to travellers from four more African states over the spread of Covid-19, the state news agency BNA reported.

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

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

Bahrain on Friday banned entry to travellers from South Africa and five other southern African nations.

The Barbarians have claimed a decision by Public Health England led to their rugby fixture against Samoa at Twickenham being called off 90 minutes before kick-off despite their having enough players who had returned negative tests.

A statement released by the Rugby Football Union revealed that four players and two members of staff from the invitational side had tested positive for Covid-19.

The scrapping of the game followed last year’s fixture against England being called off after 13 players broke the Covid protocols, leading to widespread condemnation of the players’ behaviour.


Government imposes new restrictions to fight Omicron as first cases found in UK

Masks made mandatory in shops and on buses and trains, while new arrivals must take PCR tests

Boris Johnson announces new restrictions at the press conference after cases of the new Covid-19 variant were confirmed in the UK. Photograph: Hollie Adams/Getty Images

Toby Helm, Michael Savage and Denis Campbell
  • Boris Johnson has expressed “absolute confidence” that people will enjoy a better Christmas this year than last, despite reimposing a range of restrictions – including compulsory mask-wearing – to combat the new, highly transmissible Omicron variant of Covid-19.

The prime minister attempted to calm fears about the prospects of another imminent lockdown on Saturday, hours after the first two cases of the new variant were reported in the UK, in Nottingham and Essex.

At a joint press conference flanked by England’s chief scientific adviser, Patrick Vallance, and chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, Johnson said that people in England would be required to wear face masks again on public transport and in shops. Downing Street later confirmed that masks would become mandatory in shops and on public transport from “next week” but “all hospitality settings will be exempt.”

Johnson also said that anyone coming into this country from abroad would have to take a PCR test by the end of the second day after arriving, and to self-isolate until they had secured a negative result.

The prime minister said people were not going to be prevented from travelling to, or returning from, overseas. He admitted that the restrictions on travel “sound tough”, but insisted that the entire package was “targeted and appropriate”, adding “that’s the way it’s got to be”.

Asked if the government could have moved faster to close borders to protect the country from the new variant, he said action had been taken as soon as news of it had filtered through from southern Africa: “I really don’t know how we could’ve acted faster. We got the news out about it on Thursday and we put quite a lot of southern African countries on the red list yesterday, and some more today.”

Four further countries – Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Angola – were added to a UK list facing flight bans that now includes 10 nations.

When asked how worried people should be, and whether they would have to change their Christmas plans, Johnson said there was still much that was not known about the new variant. But he was sure the UK was in a far stronger position than last year because of the successful vaccine and booster programmes.

On the prospects for Christmas, he said he would stick to a carefully chosen form of words: “I am pretty confident or absolutely confident that this Christmas is going to be better than last Christmas. I think I will stick with that,” he said

Over the festive period last year, plans to allow three households to mix for five days were cancelled at the last minute. In the end, three households were allowed to mix on Christmas Day itself in most of the country, while in London and the south-east, where cases were higher,households were not allowed to mix indoors at all.

Vallance told the press conference that while there were some indications that the Omicron variant might be able to resist Covid vaccines, it was also possible that current vaccines and boosters “may be sufficient to prevent people going on to have severe illnesses”.

Johnson said the government would work to speed up the virus booster programme over the next few weeks and that the central message to everyone was to get vaccinated as soon as possible, and then have the booster when eligible

  • Mask wearing has been made compulsory again on public transport and in shops. Photograph: Victoria Jones/PA

The new requirements to wear mask in shops and on public transport – as well as a new regime of testing for everyone arriving in the UK from abroad – will be reviewed in three weeks.

The first two Omicron cases in this country are believed to be connected, and to be linked to travel in southern Africa. The individuals and their households were ordered to self-isolate, and targeted testing was being carried out in areas where they are thought to have been while they were infectious. The health secretary, Sajid Javid, said the new variant was “a real reminder that this pandemic is far from over”.

Javid said anyone who had travelled in the past 10 days to the 10 countries now on the red list, which also includes South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini (formerly Swaziland), Zimbabwe and Namibia, must self-isolate and take PCR tests.

The UK is the second European nation to have reported the presence of Omicron after Belgium said that it had identified a single case on Friday. On Saturday night, two cases were confirmed in Germany, one in Italy and another suspected in the Czech Republic. There was also concern in the Netherlands after 61 people tested positive for Covid-19 after arriving on two flights from South Africa on Friday. Further tests were under way to determine if any of them had the Omicron variant.

Numerous pharmaceutical firms have said that they are working to adapt their vaccines in light of the emergence of Omicron after the World Health Organization warned that preliminary evidence suggested the variant has an increased risk of reinfection and may spread more rapidly than other strains.

Pollard, who also chairs the government’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation, said that a new vaccine could be developed “very rapidly” if required, because scientists now have a “well-oiled” process.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that it would be weeks before the seriousness could be judged more precisely: “At least from a speculative point of view, we have some optimism that the vaccine should still work against a new variant for serious disease but really we need to wait several weeks to have that confirmed.”

The arrival of the new variant comes as ministers are preparing a series of announcements this week to clear the backlog of operations in the NHS caused by Covid and to prepare it for the winter.

Ministers will an announce an “elective recovery plan” to tackle the huge backlog of NHS care in England as the centrepiece of a “health week” of announcements, which they hope will see them regain control of the narrative about the increasingly fragile state of the health service and social care.

It is expected that patients will be told they will be given fewer follow-up appointments after operations, and will instead be encouraged to use apps, telephone and hospital trusts’ websites to seek a consultation with a specialist if they feel they need it. The plan is part of a shift towards what officials are calling “patient-activated healthcare” that will free space to tackle the backlog.

Under the plans, patients could also be offered the chance to have their surgery outside their home area, in another part of the country. However, demand is likely to be limited by the availability of surgical capacity and patients’ willingness to travel.


Tensions emerge over redefining the fully vaccinated

By Nathaniel Weixel




A debate is emerging around what it means to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19, as some state and local officials push to change the definition to include an additional dose of a coronavirus vaccine.

Governors in two states in the past week indicated they think three shots are necessary for full vaccination, but public health experts warn such a move would result in massive confusion, and a return to the piecemeal, scattered response that marked the early days of the pandemic.

“We’ve just moved from lots of confusion where most people were not aware, could not figure out, if they were eligible for a booster,” said Jennifer Kates, a senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation.”

“If states move out ahead and kind of change their definition of who they’re qualifying as fully vaccinated … that could create a lot more confusion again, because you’d have these different standards all over the country,” she said.

While just two governors have said they think the definition of fully vaccinated should include a booster shot, others could follow as concerns grow among officials about waning immunity levels.

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) on Nov. 17 said she thinks three doses should be considered fully vaccinated, and the state, which does not currently have any vaccine mandates, was looking into implementing some.

“We … are analyzing what we can do to create those incentives — and potentially mandates — for making sure that people are fully vaccinated, which means three vaccines,” she said.

The state’s Health and Human Services Secretary David Scrase said he anticipates a public health order will be released in the coming weeks about updating the definition.

Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont (D) similarly said last week that he thinks booster shots are needed to qualify a person as fully vaccinated, but did not indicate any health orders would be forthcoming.

The debate over what qualifies as fully vaccinated is tied up in the controversy over boosters.

President Biden over the summer promised widespread boosters for all Americans by the end of September, well before the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had examined the evidence.

While officials were careful to say the booster program was contingent on the FDA and CDC giving the green light, scientists inside and outside the government argued there wasn’t enough evidence showing protection against severe illness and hospitalization dropped to levels that warranted a booster.

In a nod to the conflicting views, officials initially authorized boosters for people over the age of 65, plus anyone at high risk because of their line of work or where they live, or those with an underlying medical condition.

The conditions were broad, but members of the public were confused. So last week, administration officials simplified it and authorized a booster of any COVID-19 vaccine for anyone over the age of 18, with certain timing stipulations.

Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said the debate over boosters and changing what it means to be fully vaccinated just further obscures the primary purpose of the coronavirus vaccines.

“It’s first and second doses that change the trajectory of the pandemic, that protect hospital capacity. It’s not boosters. Our hospitals are not getting pressure from people who are fully vaccinated and having breakthrough infections,” Adalja said.

Federal health officials have been encouraging every adult who has been vaccinated in the past six months to get a booster shot, but are also insisting that boosters are not required.

“The definition of fully vaccinated is two doses of a Moderna or a Pfizer vaccine, as well as one dose of a J&J vaccine,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said during a recent White House briefing.

This week, the nation’s top infectious diseases doctor Anthony Fauci said that may change.

“Right now, officially, fully vaccinated equals two shots of the mRNA and one shot of the J&J, but without a doubt that could change,” Fauci told Reuters in an interview. “That’s on the table for discussion.”

In a separate interview on ABC’s “This Week,” Fauci said there needs to be more data from people who have received boosters before making any decisions.

“We’re going to see what the durability of that protection is, and as we always do, you just follow and let the data guide your policy and let the data guide your recommendations,” Fauci said.

But experts said neither states nor the federal government should have any business essentially mandating booster shots, because it sends the wrong message about the effectiveness of the initial series.

“I don’t think there’s any scientific basis to say that somebody who’s gotten two doses of vaccines is equivalent to someone who’s not vaccinated. There’s just no science to back that up. It’s actually wrong,” Adalja said.

Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia, said his hospital has a vaccine mandate, and thinks it would make no sense to require a booster on top of the normal series, even for those over 50 years old who may particularly benefit from additional antibodies.

“Should we then call everybody back who’s over 50 and say, you can’t work here anymore until you get a third dose, given the paucity of data that supports that? No,” Offit said.

The third dose is “a detour away from what’s really important, which is vaccinating the unvaccinated,” Offit said.

“We’re not going to get past this pandemic by boosting people who’ve already been vaccinated. We’re going to get past this pandemic by vaccinating the unvaccinated,” he added. “That should be the focus.”


Michigan accounts for one in 10 new Covid cases in US amid surge

by Melody Schreiber
  • Michigan is now leading the country in new Covid cases and hospitalizations, accounting for about one in 10 new cases in the US, even though the state represents only 3% of the country’s population.

Cases across the US have risen by 18% in the past week, but some states have seen much more dramatic increases. In Michigan, new cases have gone up by 67% and new hospitalizations by 46% in the past two weeks.

“It’s gobsmacking,” Aron Sousa, interim dean of the College of Human Medicine at Michigan State University, told the Guardian.

A week or so ago, cases in the state were fairly steady, at about 5,000. Then they shot up to about 8,000 in just a few days. “It was astonishing, the rapid increase,” Sousa said.

Now hospitals are full and patients are being treated in hallways and recovery lounges, while deaths are going up.

“It’s actually as bad as or worse than it was during our last big peak in April or the peak that we saw the November-December before that,” Sousa said.

And what’s happening in Michigan is a sign of what’s likely to come in other parts of the US, particularly in states with low vaccination rates.

“I don’t think there’s anything unique about Michigan,” Adam Lauring, an ​​associate professor of infectious disease and microbiology at the University of Michigan Medical School, told the Guardian.

Some northern states have seen big increases recently as people headed indoors in cooler weather. But as winter and holidays approach, other states could see dramatic surges like these as well.

“This is exactly what happened in November of last year. The timing is almost exact, when we had our fall surge,” Lauring said.

More than half of the state, 54.8%, is now fully vaccinated, which is lower than the national average.

More than 10% of children aged five to 11 have received their first doses of the vaccine. Several school districts, facing outbreaks and staff shortages, are closing temporarily.

“The best predictors of case levels are going to be your vaccination coverage,” said Lauring. “The counties that have high vaccination rates have lower case rates.”

The reasons behind any rise in cases are complicated. “However, those who are not immunized contribute disproportionately to hospitalizations and deaths due to Covid-19 in Michigan,” Chelsea Wuth, a public information officer with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, told the Guardian in an email. Three-quarters of recent hospitalizations and deaths were among those not fully vaccinated.

“As more individuals are vaccinated, it is less likely that the virus will circulate and mutate, avoiding the development of more transmissible and vaccine-resistant variants in the future,” Wuth said.

“If you aren’t vaccinated, you’re gonna get it,” Sousa said. And “there are still a lot of people who haven’t previously gotten sick and haven’t been vaccinated,” so the surge will likely continue at least for a few weeks.

Experts hope that higher rates of vaccinations will mean a rise in cases will not necessarily result in more hospitalizations or deaths. While vaccinated people can have breakthrough infections, they are much less likely to get very sick or die from Covid – which also puts less strain on health systems.

In response to rising cases, Michigan last Friday recommended that all residents above the age of 2 wear a face mask indoors, as well as urging the early use of monoclonal antibodies among those who test positive and vaccinations for all who are eligible.

“Covid-19 cases are high as we head into the holidays, and we must take every measure we can to keep our families and loved ones safe – which starts with getting vaccinated,” Dr Natasha Bagdasarian, chief medical executive, said in a statement.

The University of Michigan is also seeing a major outbreak of influenza, with 760 cases reported since the beginning of October. The flu and other respiratory illnesses can put a strain on hospitals in normal times; layering Covid on top of a bad flu year could be catastrophic.

“It doesn’t take a whole lot of cases to overwhelm a hospital system,” Lauring said.

It’s not just about not having enough room at hospitals to treat patients. “You have to have enough staff to take care of everybody,” Sousa said, including physicians, nurses, respiratory techs, phlebotomists and housekeepers. “And all those people have been working flat out for just shy of two years.”

A surge in cases is not inevitable, though. Proven precautions can help tamp down the rise now.

“At the end of the day, we know what we have to do. We need people to be vaccinated, we need people to mask and we need people to put a little space between us,” Sousa said.

Vaccination, in particular, is critical to preventing long Covid, severe illness and death – and, ultimately, to ending the pandemic.

“Until we build up enough immunity, through vaccination or infection, we’re going to continue to have these surges,” Lauring said.



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