Covid news live: Omicron variant spreads to Europe; countries rush to impose travel bans on southern Africa

44 minutos 29 segundos ago

The first European case of the B.1.1.529 variant has been identified in Belgium; the US, UK, Australia, Canada and parts of Europe impose travel bans targeting countries across southern Africa

As Europe braces for a possible outbreak of the new Omicron coronavirus variant, here is a quick visual refresh of where the continent stands in its fight against the coronavirus.

This updated map indicates incidence rates across Europe.

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Samantha Lock

US to restrict travel from southern Africa over Omicron Covid variant fears

1 hora 16 minutos ago

Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, Anthony Fauci, said on Friday there was “no indication” the new “Omicron” coronavirus variant discovered in southern Africa had reached the US.

Nonetheless, the Biden administration – along with the UK, Canada and Australia governments – said it would restrict travel from South Africa and seven other countries in southern Africa, starting on Monday.

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Victoria Bekiempis and Martin Pengelly in New York

Northern Territory records two cases including returned traveller from South Africa – as it happened

1 hora 29 minutos ago

Australians attempting to return from nine southern African nations to be subject to hotel quarantine. This blog is now closed

New South Wales double-dose vaccination rates have hit 94.5% for people over 16.

For those 12-15, the rates are also increasing rapidly. 81.2% have had a single dose; 76.2% are fully vaccinated.

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Caitlin Cassidy and Ben Smee (earlier)

Covid live: world scrambles to combat Omicron variant; New York declares ‘disaster emergency’

1 hora 58 minutos ago

ECDC follows WHO in threat assessment of new variant; countries bar foreign nationals from several southern African nations; UK sees most new infections for a month

Hungary needs to increase the number of people taking booster shots against COVID-19 to curb infections, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán told state radio this morning.

Reuters report that Orbán said the government would extend a special campaign making vaccinations available without any prior registration to next week following a surge in Covid-19 cases.

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Harry Taylor (now); Lucy Campbell, Martin Belam and Samantha Lock (earlier)

Omicron Covid variant: Greg Hunt backflips as Australia shuts border to southern Africa

3 horas 16 minutos ago

Australians attempting to return home from southern Africa will be allowed into the country, but ordered into mandatory hotel quarantine

Australia has suspended flights from nine southern African countries and closed its borders to any foreign nationals who have been to the region, amid concern about the emerging Covid-19 variant of concern, Omicron.

The announcement, made by the federal health minister, Greg Hunt, on Saturday afternoon, followed travel restrictions imposed by the United States, United Kingdom and European Union.

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Ben Smee

Covid forces rugby teams and golfers in South Africa to race for flights home

9 horas 29 minutos ago

Cardiff and the Scarlets say they are struggling to fly their teams back from South Africa despite securing a charter plane.

The two Welsh regions, along with Munster and Zebre Parma, have been in the country preparing to play back-to-back matches in the United Rugby Championship (URC). Those fixtures have since been postponed after South Africa was added to the UK Government’s red travel list.

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PA Media

Omicron variant spreads to Europe as UK announces countermeasures

13 horas 1 minuto ago

Experts stress importance of delaying import of new Covid variant to UK to avoid Christmas mixing

As an alarming new Covid variant spread to Europe on Friday, scientists warned that it would inevitably reach Britain, while ministers faced calls to urgently speed up the vaccination programme.

Thousands of travellers were left stranded or with their plans in disarray after flight bans were introduced targeting countries across southern Africa, where the variant was discovered. Hotel quarantine and enhanced testing would be brought in across the UK, the health secretary, Sajid Javid, said.

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Rowena Mason, Hannah Devlin, Nicola Davis and Daniel Boffey

Separation anxiety: how to manage your pet’s mental health as post-lockdown routines resume

13 horas 14 minutos ago

Experts say demand for wellness and calming products for animal companions have surged since Australia’s restrictions lifted

When Melburnian Anni O’Donnell used to arrive home from work, her sausage dog, Ziggy, would be excited to see her. Since lockdown, though, “he cries and wiggles his body for a good five minutes”.

“He even does it for short periods of time, like a five-minute pop to the shops,” O’Donnell said.

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Caitlin Cassidy

‘Wellness warriors’: how Victoria’s vaccine mandate sparked divisions in progressive Brunswick

13 horas 14 minutos ago

Explanations for why Brunswick’s second-dose rate is 10% or more behind the state average vary – from the younger demographic to the alternative health crowd

At the start of Sydney Road in the Melbourne suburb of Brunswick is a popular yoga studio. Its promise is humble: “Provide opportunities for the community to positively change their experience of life.”

On its Facebook page, in between posts about Krishna and breath-work, the studio is offering those who lost their job because of the vaccine mandate a chance to participate in a free yoga course, valued at $2,700.

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Cait Kelly

Queensland Human Rights Commission flooded with inquiries due to Covid border confusion

13 horas 14 minutos ago

Commissioner says lack of detail has ‘created a vacuum where misinformation is able to be spread’

The Queensland human rights commissioner, Scott McDougall, says the commission has received a spike in inquiries due to confusion about the state’s Covid border rules.

McDougall said that in the past few weeks, since the Queensland government announced its plans to reopen the state border, more than a third of inquiries had been about Covid issues as a lack of detail had “created a vacuum where misinformation is able to be spread”.

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Ben Smee

FTSE 100 suffers biggest fall since June 2020 as Covid variant fears shake markets – as it happened

13 horas 20 minutos ago

Rolling coverage of the latest economic and financial news, as London’s stock market sees its biggest selloff in over a year

Oil giant Royal Dutch Shell has dropped by 5.5%, following the heavy falls in crude price this morning, while BP has tumbled 6.7%.

Anxiety over the economic outlook is hitting banks too, with Lloyds Banking Group and NatWest falling 5%.

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Graeme Wearden

Omicron: everything you need to know about new Covid variant

13 horas 22 minutos ago

Key questions answered about coronavirus variant first detected in southern Africa

The variant was initially referred to as B.1.1.529, but on Friday was designated as a variant of concern (VOC) by the World Health Organization because of its “concerning” mutations and because “preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection with this variant”. The WHO system assigns such variants a Greek letter, to provide a non-stigmatising label that does not associate new variants with the location where they were first detected. The new variant has been called Omicron.

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Hannah Devlin Science correspondent

The Guardian view on the Omicron variant: caution needed | Editorial

13 horas 31 minutos ago

We do not yet know how much of a threat it poses, but the pandemic has already shown it is better to act early

Hearts are sinking. Many had hoped the worst of the pandemic was over, enjoying a return to quasi-normality despite warnings that this winter could prove punishing. Now Covid cases are surging across Europe; rates are rising in the UK again after a half-term dip; and the new Omicron variant detected in South Africa is ringing alarm bells across the world.

At present we have a limited understanding of how much of a threat this variant poses, though the World Health Organization has classified it “of concern”. The fear is that its multiple mutations – 32 on its spike protein, the key it uses to unlock our body’s cells – could mean antibodies from previous infections or vaccination may not counter it so well. Scientists are also looking at its interaction with another aspect of the immune system: T-cells. A surge of cases in South Africa’s Gauteng province is increasing anxiety about its transmissibility. We do not yet know whether it may cause more severe disease. Dr Susan Hopkins, the chief medical adviser of the UK Health Security Agency, described it as “the most worrying we’ve seen”, while the health secretary, Sajid Javid, warned: “It may be more transmissible than the Delta variant and current vaccines may be less effective against it. It may also impact the effectiveness of one of our major treatments.”

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BioNTech says it could tweak Covid vaccine in 100 days if needed

13 horas 44 minutos ago

Company says it will know in two weeks whether current Pfizer jab is effective against Omicron variant

BioNTech says it could produce and ship an updated version of its vaccine within 100 days if the new Covid variant detected in southern Africa is found to evade existing immunity.

The German biotechnology company is already investigating whether the vaccine it developed with US drugmaker Pfizer works well against the variant, named Omicron, which has caused concern due to its high number of mutations and initial suggestions that it could be transmitting more quickly.

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Hannah Devlin and Julia Kollewe

South Africa accuses UK and others of ‘knee-jerk’ reaction to new variant

14 horas 5 minutos ago

Travel restrictions on southern African states imposed by countries after discovery of B.1.1.529 already harming economy

South Africa has angrily condemned travel restrictions imposed by countries including Britain as “knee-jerk and draconian” as it scrambled to assess the potential for the new Covid-19 variant to unleash a deadly fourth wave.

In a heated press conference on Friday, the health minister, Joe Phaahla, said his country had acted transparently by alerting the world to the B.1.1.529 variant, which was detected by its scientists earlier this week.

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Nick Dall in Cape Town and Lizzy Davies

US officials say Merck Covid pill effective but questions remain over pregnancy

14 horas 38 minutos ago

FDA scientists consider possible toxicity and birth defects before public meeting next week

US federal health regulators say an experimental Covid-19 pill from Merck is effective but will seek input from outside experts on risks of birth defects and other problems during pregnancy.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) posted its analysis of the pill before a public meeting next week where academic and other experts will weigh in. The agency isn’t required to follow the group’s advice.

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Associated Press in New York

FTSE 100 hit by biggest fall since June 2020 amid new variant fears

14 horas 43 minutos ago

Travel, aviation and oil stocks around world badly hit as worries deepen over effect of fresh Covid wave on global economy

Stock markets around the world plunged on Friday as investors sold off shares, commodities and cryptocurrencies amid concerns that a new coronavirus variant, described as potentially the worst so far identified, could usher in a fresh wave of global pandemic restrictions.

The FTSE 100 suffered its biggest one-day fall since June last year when the pandemic was still in its first phase, closing down 3.6% – knocking £72bn off the value of companies on the index of blue-chip stocks. On Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrial average dropped 2.5% by the close.

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Rob Davies and Mark Sweney