Zambia has detected its first cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant, as the “highly transmissible” new variant spread to more than 40 countries since it was first detected in South Africa last week.
The country’s health ministry said on Saturday that three people tested positive for COVID-19 in the past week. It added that two of the three infected had travelled abroad recently. A woman who had not travelled abroad had mild symptoms, it said.
The Omicron variant has been detected in 41 countries, up from 23 just two days ago.
Here are the latest updates for Saturday:
Brazil’s Rio cancels New Year celebration
The mayor of Rio de Janeiro canceled New Year’s Eve celebrations after Brazil confirmed the first known cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant in Latin America’s biggest country.
Eduardo Paes tweeted that he would follow the recommendations of Rio de Janeiro state to cancel the celebrations, despite the city’s own view to the contrary.
“We respect science,” Paes tweeted, saying there are dissenting opinions between scientific committees in the city and the state, but he would rather stick with the most restrictive one. “The city’s committee says it can go ahead and the state’s says no. So it can’t take place. Let’s cancel the official New Year’s Eve celebration in Rio,” the tweet said.
Thousands march in Vienna against COVID lockdown
Throngs marched through Vienna to protest against restrictions on public life designed to curb the coronavirus pandemic.
Faced with surging daily infections, the government last month made Austria the first country in Western Europe to reimpose a 20-day lockdown and said it would make vaccinations mandatory from February.
People carried signs saying, “I will decide myself”, “Make Austria Great Again” and “New Elections” – a nod to the political turmoil that has seen three chancellors within two months – as crowds gathered.
Approximately 1,200 police officers deployed to handle scattered protests that were supposed to merge into a march on the Ring boulevard in central Vienna. Police said they would remind marchers to wear masks and charge people who do not.
Russia registers record for virus-linked deaths in October
Russia’s state statistics agency said that 74,893 people with COVID-19 died in October, the highest monthly tally in the pandemic that comes as Russia is grappling with a major surge of coronavirus infections and deaths.
A report released by Rosstat brought the overall number of virus-linked deaths between April 2020 and October 2021 to over 537,000 – almost twice the widely cited toll reported by Russia’s state coronavirus task force to date.
Russia, in recent months, has faced its deadliest and largest surge of coronavirus cases, with officially reported infections and deaths regularly hitting all-time highs and only slowing in the past couple of weeks.
India tour to go ahead under ‘strictest COVID-19 guidelines’
Cricket South Africa confirmed India will play three Test matches on their tour which starts later this month starting on December 17, but “under the strictest COVID-19 guidelines”.
The CSA added the tour will be delayed by a week to allow for “effective logistical planning” following an outbreak of the coronavirus Omicron variant in the host country.
India will also play three one-day internationals. The tour will be shortened, with four Twenty20 internationals being postponed until later in the year.
Thousands protest over Dutch coronavirus restrictions
Several thousand people gathered in the central Dutch town of Utrecht to protest against new coronavirus restrictions that came into force last weekend.
Protesters walked through the streets of the town carrying banners saying “Medical Freedom Now!” and waving Dutch flags. A heavy police presence was visible along the route of the march.
It is the first major demonstration in the Netherlands against the measures, which include a nighttime closure of bars, restaurants and most stores to stem a record-breaking wave of COVID-19 cases that is threatening to overwhelm the country’s healthcare system.
Merkel makes farewell plea for Germans to get vaccinated
Outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel has urged Germans to get vaccinated against COVID-19 to help turn the tide on a fourth wave of cases that she said had become “dramatic” in parts of the country.
“We are in a very serious situation. In some parts of the country you can only describe it as dramatic: overfilled intensive care units, severely ill people who have to be flown across Germany to get the care they need,” she said.
“That is why I appeal to you again urgently: take the malicious virus seriously,” Merkel added in the last of the more than 660 podcasts she recorded in office.
Airline Swiss suspends flights to Hong Kong given quarantine rules
Swiss International Air Lines has temporarily suspended flights to Hong Kong until December 11 as a result of tightened quarantine restrictions for crew members, the Swiss unit of German group Lufthansa said.
The move affects four flights from Zurich in all, a spokesperson said, adding Hong Kong was the only destination involved.
Swiss would closely monitor the situation with a view to resuming services, it said.
Two hippos in Belgian zoo test positive for COVID-19
Two hippos have tested positive for COVID-19 at Antwerp Zoo in Belgium in what could be the first reported cases in the species, zoo staff said.
Hippos Imani, aged 14, and 41-year-old Hermien have no symptoms apart from a runny nose, but the zoo said the pair had been put into quarantine as a precaution.
“To my knowledge, this is the first time in this species. Worldwide, this virus has been reported mainly in great apes and felines,” said the zoo’s vet, Francis Vercammen.
Putin speaks to South African president on phone about Omicron
Russian President Vladimir Putin has spoken on the phone with his South African counterpart Cyril Ramaphosa about the new Omicron coronavirus variant.
Both agreed to join forces against the pandemic, the Kremlin announced in Moscow.
According to official information, there has not yet been a confirmed case of the Omicron variant in Russia.
South African official says number of children sick is not cause for panic
Higher hospital admissions among children during a fourth wave of COVID-19 infections in South Africa that is driven by the Omicron variant should prompt vigilance but not panic as infections have been mild, a health official said.
A large number of infants admitted with COVID-19 last month in Tshwane, the metropolitan area that includes the capital Pretoria, raised concerns that the Omicron variant could pose greater risks for young children than other coronavirus variants.
Scientists have yet to confirm any link and have cautioned that other factors could be responsible.
Dutch authorities say 18 passengers from South Africa had Omicron
Dutch health authorities have said the final tally of passengers on two flights from South Africa last week who tested positive for the Omicron coronavirus variant is 18.
The Netherlands’ Institute for Health (RIVM) added in a statement that its investigation on passengers on the two flights has now been wrapped up.
The flights had already taken off on November 26 when the Dutch government introduced new travel restrictions due to worries about the newly detected strain.
Where have Omicron cases been reported?
- Africa: Botswana, Ghana, Mozambique, Nigeria, South Africa, Tunisia, Zambia, Zimbabwe.
- Americas: Brazil, Canada, Mexico, United States.
- Asia-Pacific: Australia, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Malaysia, South Korea, Sri Lanka.
- Europe: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Ireland, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom.
- Middle East: Israel, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates.
Read more here.
India detects third Omicron case
India has reported its third case of the Omicron strain.
Officials in the western state of Gujarat said the patient who tested positive for Omicron was a 72-year-old man of Indian origin who had lived in Zimbabwe for decades, and returned on November 28.
The country reported 8,603 new COVID-19 cases, taking the total to 34.62 million.
Omicron spread ‘to provide jab insight’
Dr Sanjaya Senanayake, associate professor of infectious diseases at the Australian National University, said he expects more Omicron infections in the next days.
“While it was wonderful that South Africa was able to alert us as early as they discovered the variant, the reality is that it was already in some places when that was announced,” Senanayake told Al Jazeera.
“I expect us to see further community spread within Australia and other parts of the world, but that may not necessarily be a bad thing because it will give us a lot of opportunities to understand how this variant works in highly vaccinated countries,” he said.
Omicron variant may have picked up a piece of common-cold virus
According to researchers, the Omicron variant has likely acquired at least one of its mutations by picking up a snippet of genetic material from another virus – possibly one that causes the common cold – present in the same infected cells.
This genetic sequence does not appear in any earlier versions of the coronavirus, called SARS-CoV-2, but is ubiquitous in many other viruses, including those that cause the common cold, and also in the human genome, researchers said.
Japan PM Kishida likely to cancel US visit: Report
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is likely to cancel a planned trip to the United States for talks with President Joe Biden this month due to the spread of the Omicron variant, public broadcaster NHK has said.
Kishida and Biden met in Glasgow last month on the sidelines of the United Nations climate summit, agreeing to meet formally by the end of the year to discuss issues of mutual concern, such as China, Japanese media reported at the time.
Bolsonaro under investigation over COVID-19 comments
The Brazilian judiciary has said it will investigate President Jair Bolsonaro for making false statements about the pandemic.
In a live broadcast on social media in October, Bolsonaro made a connection between the COVID-19 vaccination and AIDS.
The leader has also played down the virus and rejects protective measures and restrictions.
Melbourne pro- and anti-vaccine protests
Pro-vaccination demonstrators have held a rally in Melbourne as their opponents protested in the Australian city.
Hundreds of anti-vaccine protesters gathered in the Treasury Gardens to voice their opposition against a coronavirus vaccine mandate. They also protested against an incoming law that would give Victoria state’s government wider powers to manage a pandemic.
Black, South Asian Britons remain at higher risk of COVID: Report
Black and South Asian people remain at higher risk of catching and becoming seriously ill with COVID-19 in the United Kingdom, a government study has found, prompting experts to call on unvaccinated people to get their jabs as soon as possible.
The review revealed that a greater proportion of Black and South Asian people are dying with the virus than white people, despite infection rates being higher among white people during the latest surge in cases.
Read more here.
Oil drops for sixth straight week as Omicron jolts markets
Oil has slid for a sixth straight week, marking the longest stretch of weekly declines since 2018, as the Omicron strain jolts markets and OPEC+ continues to increase supply.
West Texas Intermediate crude futures fell 2.8 percent this week. The spread of the Omicron variant has investors concerned about any potential hit to demand as the US reported at least six states with cases.
Read more here.
Hello, this is Elizabeth Melimopoulos taking over the live blog from my colleague Ted Regencia.
Most cases in the US linked to Delta variant: health expert
The US reported today:
157,500 new Delta cases*
11 Omicron cases
*most cases in a day since September 15, with nearly 1,800 deaths
— Eric Topol (@EricTopol) December 4, 2021
Toronto reports its first 3 Omicron cases
The Canadian city of Toronto has reported its first three cases of Omicron, local health officials said, bringing to at least 15 the number of cases nationwide.
Two of those individuals had recently returned from Nigeria, while another individual had returned from Switzerland, according to Toronto Public Health (TPH).
South Korea reports 3 more Omicron cases; record high infections
South Korea has reported daily records in coronavirus infections and deaths and confirmed three more cases of Omicron as officials scramble to tighten social distancing and border controls.
The country’s daily coronavirus cases recorded an all-time high of 5,352, the highest daily number since COVID-19 was first reported in the country in January 2020.
New cases of critically ill patients also hit record highs at 16 on Friday and deaths also hit record highs of 70 the day earlier, according to the Yonhap news agency.
Omicron spreads in Australia, testing reopening plans
A Sydney Omicron cluster grew to 13 cases and an infection was suspected in the state of Queensland in a person who travelled from South Africa and that genome sequencing was ongoing.
After Australia reported its first community transmission of Omicron on Friday, further cases were expected during the weekend when more tests results come, said Kerry Chant, chief health officer of New South Wales, of which Sydney is the capital.
The Australian Capital Territory, home to the capital Canberra, was also on alert for further spread after one of its new coronavirus cases was found to be a close contact of the Territory’s first Omicron case reported on Friday.
Children warned of risks of hospitalisation due to Omicron
⚠️KIDS HOSPITALIZATIONS—The “highly transmissible” #Omicron variant is putting disproportionately large numbers of children under the age of 5 years old in hospitals, a top South African government medical adviser said Friday. #COVID19 🧵 https://t.co/ZdYaN19oFr pic.twitter.com/8aaleyNnUf
— Eric Feigl-Ding (@DrEricDing) December 3, 2021
Utah reports US state’s first Omicron case
Utah reported its first confirmed case of COVID-19 caused by the Omicron variant.
“The case was discovered through ongoing genetic sequencing of positive COVID-19 samples at the Utah Public Health Laboratory,” the state’s health department said on social media.
The Omicron variant is now reported in at least nine US states.
US state of Missouri reports first Omicron variant
Missouri has detected its first Omicron case in a resident of St Louis who had recently travelled domestically, according to the state health department.
Earlier, the state of Nebraska also reported the Omicron variant after detecting six confirmed cases of the highly contagious strain.
12 new Omicron variant cases reported in Canada
Canada has discovered a total of 12 cases of Omicron and severe illness trends across the country could start to rise again, public health officials said.
Go here for all the updates from Friday, December 3.