Editor’s note: This is a live account of COVID-19 updates from Wednesday, December 1, as the day unfolded. It is no longer being updated. Click here to see all the most recent news about the pandemic, and click here to find additional resources.
Though the severity of omicron is still unknown, Moderna’s CEO predicted that existing COVID-19 vaccines would be less effective in combating the omicron variant than they were for other virus variants. While country leaders move to take precautions and learn about the variant, it may take months for vaccine developers to create doses to specifically target omicron.
New reports indicate that the mutated virus was already in Europe about a week before South African health officials reported their first omicron case. Brazil and Japan reported their first cases this week, showing the difficulty in containing the variant in an era of readily accessible travel.
Greek officials passed a measure requiring individuals over 60 to be fully vaccinated or face monthly fines of 100-euro, which is equivalent to $114 dollars. The measure goes into effect at the beginning of next year and was passed in an attempt to disrupt the country’s current surge in cases and concerns over omicron.
We’re updating this page with the latest news about the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on the Seattle area, the U.S. and the world. Click here to see previous days’ live updates and all our other coronavirus coverage, and here to see how we track the daily spread across Washington.
Japan retracts new flight bookings ban after criticisms
Japan says it has retracted a ban on new bookings on incoming international flights to defend against the new variant of the coronavirus only a day after the policy was announced.
The transport ministry on Wednesday issued a request to international airlines to stop taking new reservations for flights coming into Japan until the end of December as an emergency precaution to defend against the new omicron variant.
The ministry said Thursday it has retracted the request after receiving heavy criticisms from inside and outside the country that the ban was too strict.
Japan has reported two cases of the omicron variant, which was first reported in South Africa last week.
Chicago drops police union lawsuit over vaccine mandate
The city of Chicago dropped its lawsuit Wednesday against the police union in its fight over city employee COVID-19 vaccine orders, saying the complaint became unnecessary as more officers complied.
The move follows a judge’s ruling last month to suspend an end-of-the-year city deadline for police officers to get vaccinated. Still, Mayor Lori Lightfoot vowed Wednesday that if union leaders revived talk of an “illegal work stoppage” over the mandate, the city would return to court.
The city sued the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 7 in October, accusing President John Catanzara of encouraging an “illegal strike.” The city said those who didn’t comply with the vaccine mandate would eventually be placed on “no-pay status.” In public statements and on social media, Catanzara encouraged police to disobey the order. The union also sued.
Lightfoot and police leaders said the mandate was put in place to protect officers and the public. More than 460 law enforcement officers have died of COVID-19, including four in Chicago, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page.
Airlines told to keep data on travelers from southern Africa
Federal health officials are requiring airlines to gather contact-tracing information on passengers heading to the U.S. who have been in southern Africa in the previous two weeks.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday that it issued the latest requirement “to prevent the importation and spread of a communicable disease of public health importance.”
The directive follows President Joe Biden’s order that bars most foreign nationals from entering the U.S. if they have been in southern Africa, where the omicron variant of COVID-19 was first reported. The ban does not apply to American citizens or permanent U.S. residents who have been in those countries, although they must show evidence of a negative test for COVID-19.
Under the CDC order, which was obtained by The Associated Press, airlines will be required to keep information on those passengers for 30 days and give it to the CDC within 24 hours of a request by the health agency.
Japan suspends new reservations on all incoming flights
Japan has asked international airlines to stop taking new reservations for all flights arriving in Japan until the end of December as the country further tightens its border controls against a new coronavirus variant, the transportation ministry said Wednesday.
It said the request is an emergency precaution amid growing concern over the spread of the new omicron variant.
Those who have already made reservations are not affected, although flights may be canceled if there are insufficient passengers, the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism said. Transit passengers are also unaffected, it said. Japan is a major transit hub for flights to and from Asia.
The move comes as Japan confirmed a second case of the omicron variant in a person who arrived from Peru via Doha, one day after it reported its first case in a Namibian diplomat.
State health leaders continue search for omicron variant in Washington, say it’s ‘not a time to panic’
As state researchers continue to search for the omicron variant of the coronavirus and are prioritizing testing travelers, Washington health leaders are reminding the public not to panic.
There have been no detections of omicron in Washington, though the White House announced Wednesday the country’s first case of the new variant was identified in someone in California.
The person, a traveler from South Africa who returned on Nov. 22, was vaccinated but hadn’t received a booster shot and was experiencing mild symptoms. The person tested positive for the virus on Monday.
“Don’t be surprised if you get a positive case of omicron variant here in the state of Washington,” state Secretary of Health Dr. Umair A. Shah said Wednesday after the California omicron case was confirmed. “Again, not a time to panic. It is what it is, and we need to continue to emphasize those tools and strategies, most importantly … that people are getting tested.”
Fauci says COVID diverted resources from fighting AIDS
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease expert, said Tuesday the COVID-19 pandemic has diverted scientific and financial resources from the fight against AIDS, seriously impeding global efforts to achieve the U.N. goal of ending AIDS by 2030.
Fauci told the U.N. General Assembly that tackling COVID-19 has also disrupted supply chains and increased the risk for people with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, of being infected with another deadly virus.
“To confront these challenges, we must intensify our collaborative research efforts and unclog supply chains through investment and regulatory action,” he said.
The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the chief medical advisor to President Joe Biden spoke at the assembly’s commemoration of World AIDS Day, which is Wednesday. The 40th anniversary of the first report that brought AIDS to the attention of the public was on June 5 .
Brazil confirms 3rd omicron case, considers new measures
Health officials on Wednesday confirmed Brazil’s third known case of the omicron coronavirus variant as officials examined possible new measures to contain the virus, such as requiring proof of vaccination or even possibly scrapping Carnival celebrations if conditions grow worse.
A passenger from Ethiopia tested positive for Covid-19 upon landing in Sao Paulo on Nov. 27, the state’s health secretariat said in a statement. The 29 year-old man is vaccinated with two doses of the Pfizer shot and is in good health, officials said.
The news came a day after Brazilian health officials reported confirmed cases of the omicron variant in two travelers arriving from South Africa –– the first such cases in Latin America.
The number of daily deaths and new infections from the virus are currently low and vaccination coverage is higher than in many countries — including the United States. But Brazil has suffered heavily from the coronavirus pandemic, with more than 610,000 deaths, second only to the U.S.
South Africa’s new COVID cases double in 1 day amid omicron
South Africa’s new cases of COVID-19 nearly doubled in a day, authorities reported Wednesday, signaling a dramatic surge in the country where scientists detected the omicron variant last week.
New confirmed cases rose to 8,561 Wednesday from 4,373 a day earlier, according to official statistics.
Scientists in South Africa said they are bracing for a rapid increase in COVID-19 cases following the discovery of the new omicron variant.
“There is a possibility that really we’re going to be seeing a serious doubling or tripling of the cases as we move along or as the week unfolds,” Dr. Nicksy Gumede-Moeletsi, regional virologist for the World Health Organization, told The Associated Press. “There is a possibility that we are going to see a vast increase in number of cases being identified in South Africa.”
South Africa had seen a period of low transmission in early November with a 7-day average of about 200 new cases per day, but in the middle of November new cases began to rapidly increase. The new cases reported Wednesday represent a 16.5% positivity rate of cases tested, up from a 1% rate early in November.
Trump tested positive for coronavirus before first debate with Biden, former chief of staff says
President Donald Trump tested positive for the coronavirus days before his first debate against then-Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden in September 2020, a former top aide says in a new book.
Former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows writes that Trump tested positive for the virus on Sept. 26, 2020, three days before his Sept. 29 debate with Biden, according to the Guardian, which obtained a copy of the book ahead of its official release next week.
The White House did not reveal the positive test at the time and it was not until Oct. 2 that Trump revealed that he and his wife, then-first lady Melania Trump, had tested positive for the virus.
In addition to attending the debate, Trump participated in a number of other events after his positive diagnosis — including a close-quarters exchange with reporters aboard Air Force One.
Fauci: 1st US case of COVID-19 omicron variant identified
A person in California who had been vaccinated against COVID-19 became the first in the U.S. to have an identified case of the omicron variant, the White House announced Wednesday as scientists continue to study the risks posed by the new virus strain.
Dr. Anthony Fauci told reporters that the person was a traveler who returned from South Africa on Nov. 22 and tested positive on Nov. 29. Fauci said the person was vaccinated but had not received a booster shot and was experiencing “mild symptoms.”
The Biden administration moved late last month to restrict travel from Southern Africa where the variant was first identified and had been widespread. Clusters of cases have also been identified in about two dozen other nations.
“We knew that it was just a matter of time before the first case of omicron would be detected in the United States,” Fauci said.
Officials said they had contacted everyone who had close contact with the person and they had all tested negative.
Slovakia eyes bonus to boost vaccinations for 60 and overs
Slovakia’s government has proposed a plan to give people 60 and older a 500-euro ($568) bonus if they get vaccinated against COVID-19, the finance minister said Wednesday.
The measure, announced by Finance Minister Igor Matovic, should boost inoculations in the European Union country with one of the bloc’s lowest vaccination rates. So far, only 46.1% of the nation’s 5.5 million people have been fully vaccinated.
The bill will now go to Parliament where it would need some opposition support to be approved.
Omicron keeps world jittery as more information drips out
The omicron variant kept a jittery world off-kilter Wednesday as Japan further tightened travel restrictions, infections linked to the new version of the coronavirus popped up in more places and new evidence made clear the mutant strain was circulating weeks earlier than thought.
Much is still unknown about the new variant, including how contagious it is and whether it can evade vaccines, but Japan continued its aggressive stance, asking international airlines to stop taking new reservations for all flights arriving in the country until the end of December.
The move by the world’s third-largest economy, coupled with its recent return to a ban on foreign visitors, is among the most severe anywhere, and more in line with cloistered neighbor China than with some other democracies in the region.
Many countries around the world, however, have barred travelers from southern Africa, and the U.S. is moving to toughen testing requirements for international arrivals.
Saudis detect 1st case of new coronavirus variant omicron
Saudi Arabia said Wednesday it detected its first case of the new coronavirus variant omicron.
The kingdom’s state-run Saudi Press Agency said the case was a citizen coming from what it described as a “North African country.”
The report said the infected individual and his close contacts had been quarantined.
The case marks the first known instance of omicron being detected in a Gulf Arab nation.
How 2 flights to Europe may have spurred the spread of the omicron variant
For the hundreds of passengers traveling from South Africa to Amsterdam on Friday, flight KL592 had all the trappings of international travel in the COVID era.
They came armed with paperwork proving their eligibility to fly, and check-in agents sifted through a bewildering assortment of requirements determined by final destination. Some countries, like the United States, required vaccinated travelers to show negative test results. On the long flight, only some wore masks, passengers said, as flight attendants often let the slipping masks slide.
But while the flight was en route, everything changed on the ground.
Panic about the new omicron variant that had been discovered in southern Africa prompted countries to close their borders. The arrivals descended into a new post-omicron reality, and it was a hellish one, with hours spent breathing stale air as their planes sat on the tarmac, then fighting exhaustion in crammed waiting rooms, awaiting swab results in close quarters with fellow travelers who would turn out to be infected with the new and possibly more dangerous variant.
“We were in the same place, the same room,” said one passenger, Jan Mezek, 39, a laboratory technician whose company services swab-test machines and who was returning from a two-week work trip to his home in Prague. “I felt like a pig in a pen,” he said, adding “they were completely spreading the virus around us.”
Omicron variant, in at least 20 nations, spread earlier than was known
The heavily mutated new coronavirus variant was in Europe several days earlier than previously known, health officials said Tuesday, and the number of countries where it has been found increased to at least 20, raising questions about whether the pandemic is about to surge once again.
The Netherlands’ National Institute for Public Health and the Environment said that samples taken on Nov. 19 and Nov. 23 — before the Nov. 24 announcement of omicron’s existence — tested positive for the variant. Health officials have notified the two infected people and are doing contact tracing to try to limit the spread.
Mutations in the omicron variant strongly suggest that it is more contagious than previous forms of the virus, scientists say. They caution that they cannot be sure without more testing and data, but the evidence so far is sobering.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it planned to toughen coronavirus testing and screening of people flying to the United States, by requiring all international passengers to provide a negative result from a test taken within 24 hours of departure.
Marcus Lamb, head of Daystar, a Christian network that discouraged vaccines, dies after getting COVID-19
Marcus Lamb, founder of the large Christian network Daystar, died Tuesday after contracting the coronavirus. Lamb’s network during the pandemic has made the virus a huge focus, calling it a satanic attack that should not be treated with vaccines.
Daystar is the second-largest Christian network in the world, according to CBN News, a competitor, reaching 2 billion people worldwide. Its brand is a fluid, modern, charismatic faith, more about general good-vs.-evil, miraculous healings and religious freedom than any specific denominational theology.
But during the pandemic, Lamb and his network went in big with anti-vaccine conspiracies, hosting daily interviews with skeptics who talked about dangerous, hidden forces pushing vaccines and stealing Christians’ freedoms.
Lamb’s son, Jonathan, said the disease was a '"spiritual attack from the enemy" who was "doing everything he can to take down my dad.”
White evangelical Christians resist coronavirus vaccines at higher rates than other religious groups in the United States, a phenomenon experts say is bound up in politics, skepticism about government and in their consumption of alternative media and unfounded conspiracy theories about vaccine dangers.
Catch up on the past 24 hours
If you travel outside the U.S., you may soon need a COVID-19 test to get back in, even if you're vaccinated. That's among the controversial new requirements for travelers that President Joe Biden is expected to announce tomorrow. This comes as we learn how two flights may have acted like virus bombs that spewed the omicron variant "around the world, who knows where."
Get a vaccine or you'll be fined every month, one nation is telling its older residents. A slew of countries are slapping unvaccinated people with fines and bans.
Michigan's biggest district is closing schools one day a week to deep clean for COVID-19. An expert says it’s absurd "hygiene theater."
A federal judge has blocked Biden’s vaccine mandate for health workers — for now. Read about what happens next.
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