COVID-19 Live Updates: Omicron Spreads to Five U.S. States, WHO Warns Countries to 'Prepare for New Surge'

Live Updates

The World Health Organization is warning "every country and every community" to prepare for a new wave of COVID cases after the Omicron variant spread rapidly to over 20 countries - including the United States.

Ten cases of the variant have been reported in five states so far - half of which are in New York. Others affected are California, Minnesota, Colorado, and Hawaii, where an unvaccinated resident with no recent travel history tested positive earlier this week.

An unsurprised Dr. Anthony Fauci said "we knew it was just a matter of time" before the strain was detected in the country after it spread to several countries in a matter of days. Unveiling his winter plan to tackle the virus yesterday, President Joe Biden said the White House will expand efforts to get booster shots in arms, offer free at-home tests, reevaluate school COVID protocols, and strengthen requirements for international travelers entering the U.S.

Research is ongoing into how infectious Omicron is and its potential to evade current vaccines, with early signs showing booster shots help prevent the most serious disease.

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'Resistance must be loud': Angela Merkel rails against fake news

Making her final address of the German Chancellor, she used the speech to encourage people to strongly oppose the spread of conspiracy theories and false information.

The end of her time in power comes as the country grapples with a major COVID wave - and the new Omicron variant - threatening to overwhelm hospitals.

Germany, just like many other countries, is also combating anti-vaxxers who are discouraging people from getting their shots.

Over 200 million people under vaccine mandate orders

At least 203 million people worldwide are affected by the mandates as governments become increasingly impatient with those not yet vaccinated.

The figure, calculated by Newsweek based on figures from the World Population Review, does not include countries such as the U.S., which have introduced compulsory vaccination for only some workers and public officials but not for the rest of the population.

Austria last month became the first Western democracy and E.U. member state to announce restrictions, saying vaccination would be compulsory from February 1.

FULL STORY: COVID Vaccine Compulsory for More Than 200 Million People Worldwide

Oklahoma files lawsuit against Defense Department of vaccine mandate

The state's Republican governor and the state attorney general wants to challenge the federal rule which affects the Oklahoma National Guard.

Governor Kevin Stitt argued that the Biden administration's defense secretary, Lloyd Austin, overstepped his constitutional authority by subjecting the National Guard to the mandate, which applies to active-duty military members.

This week, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin declared his intention to proceed with unconstitutional punishment that individually targets Oklahoma National Guard soldiers and airmen, including withholding their pay.

Daily COVID infections in South Africa jump by 9,000 in a week

There were 11,535 new cases recorded in South Africa in the past 24 hours, according to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases.

Health Minister Joe Phaahla said he aims not to have to introduce lockdown-style restrictions if people do "basic duties of the safety measures" in the current spike.

We can still manage this in a manner where government doesn't have to invoke serious restrictions over the next few days if we all just do our basic duties of the safety measures, but also if more and more of us who are eligible ... approach their nearest vaccination sites.

Meta in hot water over selling anti-vax ads

Meta has been allowing ads to run on its platforms comparing the Biden administration's response to COVID to Nazi Germany, according to a CNN report.

The ads are being placed by merchandise companies which are regular clients of the social media giant, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on Facebook over the last few years.

One ad spotted by the news organization compared the rollout of vaccines to the Holocaust, while another promoted a sweater with the words "I'm originally from America but I currently reside in 1941 Germany" on the front.

A spokesperson for Meta said the ads went against Facebook's vaccine misinformation policies, raising questions about why they were allowed to begin with.

Switzerland quarantines thousands of people after suspected Omicron outbreak

Local authorities in the Geneva and Vaud regions have put 2,000 people - most of them children - into quarantine after two cases of the variant were detected at an international school.

Geneva health authorities said in a statement that confirmed all campus students and staff will be quarantined for ten days.

Following two confirmed cases of the Omicron variant which attended the Chataigneraie campus of the International School of Geneva this week, the cantonal medical services of the cantons of Vaud and Geneva have jointly taken the decision to quarantine all of the students and campus staff for ten days.

British man jailed for three months after gluing shut doors of vaccination centre

Hayden Brown, 53, was handed a 12-week sentence after his action prevented over 500 people from receiving their booster shots.

Appearing before Norwich Magistrate's Court earlier this week, he pleaded guilty to the charge of criminal damage and admitted causing a public nuisance.

Much like the U.S., the U.K. has a large number of anti-vaxxers who have tried to disrupt the vaccination effort in recent months.

FULL STORY: Man Who Glued Shut COVID Vaccine Center, Stopping Hundreds of Shots, Jailed

France Omicron cases jumps to nine

Nine cases of the variant have been confirmed across five different regions - including overseas territory La Reunion - French Health Minister Olivier Veran told radio station FranceInfo this morning.

For the moment, there is no alarm...we need a few more days to better understand the virus.

France reported its first offshore Omicron case on Sunday and the first mainland case on Wednesday -- a man who returned from a trip to Nigeria in November.

Australia sees community transmission of Omicron

A student with no history of recent foreign travel tested positive for the variant yesterday detected in Sydney - the country's largest city.

It is not yet clear how the infection got into the country despite a ban on non-citizens entering.

Health officials in New South Wales confirmed further investigations and contact tracing are underway.

FDA jokes with Seth McFarlane about booster shots

The Family Guy creator drew the attention of the Food and Drug Administration after he celebrated getting his booster shot and encouraged others to get theirs.

Malaysia confirms first Omicron case

Health minister Khairy Jamaluddin said this morning that a foreign student who arrived in Malaysia from South Africa two weeks ago tested positive for the COVID variant yesterday.

The student - at a university in Perak state - is fully vaccinated and asymptomatic, Dimishtra Sittampalam, an adviser to the health minister, tweeted. He confirmed the case was "contained" as the student has quarantined in line with isolation rules in the country.

Case of Omicron hits Hawaii - but the infected person hasn't traveled

The variant was confirmed last night in an unvaccinated resident of Oahu island by health official and epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Kemble, who said the person is suffering "mild-to-moderate" symptoms.

The infected person had no recent travel history, prompting concerns that infectious people who have yet to be tested are spreading the variant in the state.

These five states have Omicron variant cases

A total of five U.S. states have now reported Omicron cases, with 10 infections confirmed so far this week.

  • New York - 5 cases
  • California - 2 cases
  • Hawaii - 1 case
  • Minnesota - 1 case
  • Colorado - 1 case

Five states with lowest vaccination rates see fall in COVID cases

Five U.S. states with the lowest vaccination rates are seeing a fall in COVID case numbers, according to data from the New York Times.

West Virginia, Idaho, Wyoming, Alabama, and Mississippi have all seen their average daily cases fall over the last two weeks. The states, which all have less than half the population fully vaccinated, have seen their daily average of new cases fall by between 7 and 48 percent over the last 14 days.

Dr. Ellie Murray, assistant professor in epidemiology at Boston University School of Public Health, told Newsweek that "it's not surprising for surges to come and go" and that vaccinated have helped by "decreasing the number of hospitalizations" in the states in recent weeks.

FULL STORY: COVID Cases Are Falling in the Five Least Vaccinated States

Good morning and welcome to Newsweek's liveblog

The Omicron variant has now spread to five U.S. states, with 10 confirmed cases so far.

Follow Newsweek's liveblog throughout Friday for all the latest.

2.2 million doses reported administered today, White House reported

2.2 million doses reported administered today, White House reported.

The White House reported 2.2 million more Covid-19 doses were administered today. They also stated it was the highest single day total in nearly 7 months. This comes as new Covid-19 variant Omicron cases were identified in two states Thursday.

White House officials also urged unvaccinated people to get vaccinated and boosted.

New York City mandates vaccine for public and religious school workers

In a statement released Thursday, New York City is set to require Catholic schools and other private schools, along with employees at yeshivas to be vaccinated against COVID-19. This is a part of the city's latest push to expand vaccine mandates.

The mandate is expected to include roughly 930 schools and 56,000 employees, city officials said. They will have to show proof that they received the first dose of a vaccine by December 20.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio also said in the statement, "We're doing everything in our power to protect our students and school staff, and a mandate for nonpublic school employees will help keep our school communities and youngest New Yorkers safe."

With Omicron cases now in U.S., some states still battle Delta variant

As Omicron cases increase in the U.S., many states are still greatly battling the delta variant. Experts are scrambling to figure out how hospitals will cope.

According to the Associated Press, The Delta variant is responsible for nearly every current case in the U.S., causing overcrowding that increases patient wait times in many hospitals.

Dr. Nirav Shah, director of state center for Disease Control and Prevention in Maine said, "Omicron is a spark that's on the horizon. Delta variant is the fire that's here today."

Vaccines required to enter nonessential stores in Germany

Unvaccinated Germans will no longer be allowed to enter nonessential stores or culture and recreations venues, Chancellor Angela Merkel announced Thursday.

This move comes as German officials inch closer to a national COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

"The situation in our country is serious," Merkel said during the press conference.

Around 68.7 percent of Germany's population of 83.2 million people are fully vaccinated.

Current finance minister Olaf Scholz, who will replace Merkle as chancellor, expressed his support for a vaccine mandate.

"If we had a higher vaccination rate," he said, "we wouldn't be discussing this now."

FULL STORY: Germany Bans Unvaccinated From Nonessential Stores, Could Enact National Mandate

Omicron reported in Colorado

Colorado has reported its first case of the Omicron variant of COVID-19.

The patient is an adult female who recently traveled to multiple countries in southern Africa for tourism, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) confirmed in a news release Thursday.

She is fully vaccinated but did not yet receive a booster shot, state epidemiologist Dr. Rachel Herlihy said during a press briefing. The patient is experiencing minor symptoms and isolating in her home.

Dr. Herlihy said the woman was not symptomatic when she returned to Colorado and began experiencing symptoms around the time she was tested.

Tri-County Health Department conducted a contact tracing investigation among people who recently traveled. This women's test results were flagged for genetic sequencing and confirmed the infection was the Omicron variant, CDPHE said.

Colorado Governor Jared Polis said he is "not terribly alarmed" at this point, adding that there is currently no evidence of widespread community transmission.

Mayor Bill de Blasio urges residents to get vaccinated against Omicron variant

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio released a statement Thursday urging all residents to get vaccinated and wear a face mask while indoors and in public. This comes after a Minnesota man tested positive for the COVID-19 Omicron variant at a New York City conference.

Mayor de Blasio also stated, "We are aware of a case of the Omicron variant identified in Minnesota that is associated with travel to a conference in New York City, and we should assume there is community spread of the variant in our city."

"We are working closely with the State and the CDC, as well as the Javits Center's event organizers, and our Test and Trace Corps will be contracting conference attendees. This conference required masks and complied with our Key2NYC requirement to mandate vaccination."

He also said,"anyone who attended the AnimeNYC conference, especially anyone experiencing symptoms, should get tested immediately and take additional precautions, including social distancing."

Mask requirements on public transportation will remain in place until March, Biden says

As the Omicron variants spread around the world, the Biden administration will "accelerate" the delivery of 200 million more vaccine doses to countries in need over the next 100 days.

Biden will also strengthen travel protocols.

Inbound international travelers must test one day from departure to the U.S., regardless of vaccination status.

Mask requirements on public transportation, including airplanes and trains, have also been extended until March 18, 2022.

"Travel restrictions can slow the spread of omicron but it can't prevent it," Biden said.

Biden administration to offer free at-home COVID tests

President Biden will expand efforts to get children ages 5 and older to get vaccinated and expand at-home COVID-19 testing.

Getting children vaccinated will allow schools to remain open as new variants emerge and spread. The administration will also review school COVID-19 prevention policies to avoid closures when there is a positive case.

He is also launching family vaccination clinics to get more people vaccinated.

The Biden administration will offer free at-home tests for all Americans to control the spread of COVID-19 in the hardest-hit and highest-risk communities.

Private health insurers will now cover the costs of these at-home tests. There are a total of eight test options on the market now and Biden said the prices are coming down.

Biden ensured that by winter, "you will be able to test for free at home with peace of mind."

Biden to offer paid time off for federal employees to get booster shots

President Joe Biden is outlining his multi-step plan to fight COVID-19 through the winter.

"We're going to fight this variant with science and speed, not chaos and confusion," he said.

His first point of action is to expand booster shots.

Biden has called on pharmacies to offer more appointments and walk-in times, and send texts to remind people to return for boosters. He will coordinate with AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) and Medicare to get booster shots in arms.

The Biden administration will also offer paid time off for federal employees to get boosters.

"No one should choose between a paycheck and getting an extra booster shot," he said.

Omicron may have originated in animals, researcher suggests

An immunologist at the Scripps Research Institute in California suggests the Omicron variant may have come from an animal.

Kristian Andersen theorized that the newest COVID-19 variant could be "zoonotic," meaning it circulated in animal hosts before jumping to humans.

"I don't think we should dismiss that possibility, because I think it's definitely on the table," he told Stat, adding that this theory "seems more likely" to him than the persistent human infection theory.

Paul Digard, chair of virology at the University of Edinburgh's Roslin Institute, told Newsweek that the Omicron animal pathway theory is "certainly possible" but said there is insufficient evidence to be sure at the moment.

"We have some very good surveillance systems for SARS-CoV-2 but unfortunately they don't provide universal coverage across the globe, so there will be places where we just don't know what's happening," he said.

FULL STORY: Omicron Variant May Have Spread From Animal to Human, Scientists Suggest

WHO Africa Director says South Africa, Botswana 'bought the world time'

The World Health Organization's (WHO) Africa director said South Africa and Botswana "bought the world time" with their quick detection of the Omicron variant.

"We have a window of opportunity but must act quickly and ramp up detection and prevention measures," Dr. Matshidiso Moeti said in a statement.

She said countries need to adjust their COVID-19 response to stop the surge in cases across Africa that is "possibly overwhelming already-stretched health facilities."

COVID-19 cases in Africa increased by 54 percent after the recent surge in the southern region of the continent, WHO Africa reported.

South Africa and Botswana account for 62 percent of the global Omicron cases that have now reached more than 20 countries worldwide.

President Biden's speech to include '5 key actions' for Covid-19 winter plan

During President Biden's speech, he will unveil the five key actions for his COVID-19 winter plan.

This plan will include boosters for all adults, vaccinations to protect kids and keep schools open, expanding free at-home testing for Americans, stronger public health protocols for safe international travel, and protections in workplaces to keep the economy open.

You can watch on the White House website or YouTube channel:

New York governor expects Omicron to hit state soon

New York Governor Kathy Hochul said it is "not unexpected" that a Minnesota resident contracted the Omicron variant after visiting New York City

The man attended the Anime NYC convention at the Javits Center two weeks ago. He had mild symptoms that have already subsided, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

During a COVID-19 briefing Thursday, Hochul said she has contacted city health officials. She said vaccines were required to attend the convention and advised all attendees to get tested.

While there are no reports of Omicron cases in the state, Hochul anticipates New Yorkers will be testing positive soon.

She said the new variant is "no cause for alarm," as the state is "ready for it."

"New Yorkers, get vaccinated, get boosted, get ready," she said.

Omicron will likely 'dominate and overwhelm the world' in coming months, doctor says

According to a Singapore based infectious disease doctor, the new covid variant Omicron will likely "overwhelm the whole world " in 3-6 months.

Dr. Leong Hoe Nam also stated,while vaccines against the strain can be developed quickly, they need to be tested over three to six months to prove that they can provide immunity against the variant.

Experts also don't know exactly how contagious the highly mutated Omicron variant is, but the virus' spike protein which binds to human cells has mutations associated with higher transmission and a decrease in antibody protection.

Omicron detected in Minnesota

The COVID-19 variant was reported in Minnesota, the state health officials confirmed Thursday.

According to the Minnesota Department of Health, the infected resident is an adult male who recently returned from New York City for the Anime NYC convention from November 19 to 21. He is vaccinated and developed mild symptoms on November 22.

"This news is concerning, but it is not a surprise," Governor Tim Walz said in a statement. "We know this virus is highly infectious and moves quickly throughout the world."

This report comes one day after the first U.S. case of Omicron was identified in California Wednesday.

Germany to stop unvaccinated from entering non-essential stores and venues

Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters just now that people who have not taken the shot will be excluded from non-essential buildings.

Mandatory vaccinations are also set to be debated in the country's parliament early next year - after she has left office. Currently, around 69 percent of the population is fully vaccinated - short of the 75 percent target set by Merkel's government.

She said the fourth wave of infections hitting Germany was "very serious" and she had been left "depressed" by the impact it is having on the country.

President Biden to announce COVID-19 winter plan

President Joe Biden is set to announce new actions to combat Delta and Omicron variants this winter.

During a press call, a senior White House official said the administration is "pulling out all the stops to get people the maximum amount of protection as we head into the winter months."

During his address this afternoon, President Biden will:

  • Announce a nationwide campaign to encourage people to get their COVID-19 booster shots.
  • Announce steps to ensure schools remain open by launching one-stop-shops for family vaccinations.
  • Expand at-home testing by distributing 50 million free at-home tests to community health sites and requiring health insurers to cover the cost of at-home tests purchased by members.
  • Continue to provide support to states and local communities to respond to COVID-19 cases.
  • Strengthen travel safety by requiring all international travelers to have a negative COVID test within one day of their departure to the United States, regardless of vaccine status.

"We will continue to prepare for all scenarios and work day and night to protect the American people, keep our schools open, keep our economy growing, and get this pandemic behind us," the official said.

'About a quarter' of fully vaccinated adults get boosted - poll

Research from polling firm the Kaiser Family Foundation suggests 23 percent of American adults got their third dose of a COVID vaccine last month - more than double the number in October's poll.

South Africa boosts vaccine incentives to combat hesitancy

The country's health department announced a raft of measures this morning to encourage people to take their first, second, or booster shot amid a wave of vaccine hesitancy.

People who get their first shot before the end of the year will be entered into a draw to win a slice of 2 million rand ($126,000). The government is also doubling the value of food vouchers handed out to over-50s who get vaccinated - now 200 rand ($12).

How at risk is the U.S. from Omicron?

Dr. Anthony Fauci said it was "just a matter of time" before the variant was detected in the country - and now the first case has arrived in California. Currently, 59 percent of people in the U.S. had been fully vaccinated as of December 1, according to data from The New York Times.

Out of all states, West Virginia had the lowest proportion of fully vaccinated people at 42 percent. 10 states in total have 50 percent or fewer of their population vaccinated - nearly all in the south.

The states with the highest percentage of their population vaccinated are Vermont and Rhode Island, both with 73 percent.

READ MORE: As First U.S. Omicron Case Reported, These States 50 Percent Vaccinated or Fewer

U.K. approves COVID X which will 'cut hospitalisation and death by 79 percent'

Xevudy - otherwise known as sotrovimab - was approved by the country's Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) after it was found to be "safe and effective" at significantly managing symptoms in high-risk people with a mild to moderate infection.

The drug, developed by GlaxoSmithKline and Vir Biotechnology, is a "single monoclonal antibody" that binds to the spike protein on the outside of the virus, preventing it from entering human cells and replicating.

The FDA gave the green light to the same drug - an 'Emergency Use Authorization' - in the U.S. earlier this year for people aged 12 years and older.

WATCH: U.N. chief denounces flight bans on southern African countries as 'travel apartheid'

Antonio Guterres likened the decision of many countries to block flights from South Africa - following the discovery of the Omicron variant - to the racist system of government adopted in the country for nearly half of the 20th century.

We have the instrument to have safe travel. Let's use these instruments to avoid this kind of - if you will allow me to say it - travel apartheid, which I think is unacceptable. What is unacceptable is to have one part of the world, which is one of the most vulnerable parts of the world economy, condemned to a lockout when they were the ones that revealed the existence of a new variant.

India detects first Omicron cases

Two men, aged 66 and 46, are currently under observation after testing positive for the COVID variant this morning. Both the men are located in the southern state of Karnataka, local health officials confirmed.

Another six samples from people who tested positive for the virus in capital city Delhi - and another six samples from the state of Maharashtra - have all been sent for analysis suspected of also being the Omicron variant.

South Africa daily COVID cases double

New infection rose from 4,373 on Tuesday to 8,561 yesterday, according to the South African government.

It is fuelling fears that Omicron could become to dominant strain - overtaking Delta - in a short space of time in the country and elsewhere.

FULL STORY: South Africa Reports New COVID Cases Have Doubled, Braces for Rapid Rise Amid Omicron

Biden vows to fight Omicron 'with scientific and knowledgeable actions'

The president has been hinting at the theme of his speech at the National Institutes of Health due to take place later today.

France confirms first Omicron case

The infected person, who lives in a town near Paris, had recently returned from a trip to Nigeria, local health officials said just now.

The French government's top scientific adviser, Jean-Francois Delfraissy, told BFM Television that Omicron could become dominant "possibly by the end of January" but said Delta is the main priority as the country tackles a fifth wave.

The country recorded nearly 50,000 new COVID cases over 24 hours - a majority of them the Delta variant - the Health Ministry confirmed on Wednesday.

WHO boss pushes for vaccine equity 'breeding and amplifying' variants

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said a "toxic" mix of low vaccination rates in many countries and poor testing regimes was to blame for the rise of new variants like Omicron.

Biden to set out 'winter plan' at NIH later

The president will address concerns about a seasonal COVID spike - and the Omicron variant - in a speech at the National Institute for Health this afternoon. In a press briefing on Monday, he hinted at plans to tackle the virus "not with shutdowns or lockdowns" but by boosting measures already in place.

I'll be putting forward a detailed strategy outlining how we're going to fight COVID this winter — not with shutdowns or lockdowns but with more widespread vaccinations, boosters, testing, and more. I promised every American that there will be — always be the latest vaccines available and the booster shots available to them and for free and — everywhere available. Every single American, free of charge — and I will keep that commitment.

White House extends transit mask mandate after first Omicron case discovered

The mandate has been in place since January but the Biden administration is expected to announce it officially later today.

The rule requires travelers to wear face masks on airplanes, trains, ships, subways, buses, taxis, and rideshares as well as in airports, train stations, ports, and bus and ferry terminals.

FULL STORY: As First Case of Omicron Variant Hits U.S., Transit Mask Mandates to Be Extended

Good morning and welcome to Newsweek's liveblog

The U.S. is expected to step up its COVID measures in the coming days after a first case of the Omicron variant was detected in California yesterday.

Follow Newsweek's liveblog throughout Thursday for all the latest.