COVID-19 Live Updates: CDC Strengthens Its Recommendation on Booster Shots

Live Updates

President Joe Biden provided an update on the U.S.'s response to the emergence of the new Omicron variant of COVID-19.

Biden, who spent the holiday weekend in Nantucket, Massachusetts, has already announced targeted travel bans on countries in southern Africa—a move that has been condemned by South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa.

During a press briefing, Biden said he does not anticipate more travel restrictions at this time.

He said the new variant is "cause for concern not a cause for panic." He encouraged every American to get vaccinated, including the booster dose, and to wear masks while indoors and in large crowds.

White House chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci has already confirmed that the U.S. is preparing to tweak COVID-19 vaccines if it becomes necessary.

Omicron, which was first detected in Botswana, has been labeled a "variant of concern" by the World Health Organisation, with scientists fearing it could spread quicker than previous versions due to its more than 30 mutations.

"Omicron has an unprecedented number of spike mutations, some of which are concerning for their potential impact on the trajectory of the pandemic," the WHO said on Friday.

Both the United States and the United Kingdom are now recommending all adults receive the booster dose of the the COVID-19 vaccine as the Omicron variants is expected to spread.

The live updates for this blog have ended.

CDC recommends COVID-19 booster for all adults

The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is now recommending all adults receive a booster dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

"Everyone ages 18 and older should get a booster shot either when they are 6 months after their initial Pfizer or Moderna series or 2 months after their initial J&J vaccine," CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in a statement.

Dr. Walensky said that the "increased transmissibility" of the Omicron variant "further emphasizes the importance of vaccination, boosters and prevention efforts" to protect against COVID-19.

"I strongly encourage the 47 million adults who are not yet vaccinated to get vaccinated as soon as possible and to vaccinate the children and teens in their families as well because strong immunity will likely prevent serious illness," she said.

She added that increased testing will "help us identify Omicron quickly."

What are the symptoms of the Omicron variant?

According to Dr. Unben Pillay, a general practitioner in the Gauteng province of South Africa, the new COVID-19 cases have been mild.

He described the symptoms as "flu-like" and said they include dry coughs, fever, night sweats, and "a lot of body pains."

Dr. Angelique Coetzee, chair of the South African Medical Association, previously described the new batch of symptoms as "unusual" compared to previous COVID-19 variant strains.

She said one male patient complained of extreme fatigue, body aches and pains and a headache. He had a "scratchy throat" rather than a sore throat and did not have a cough or loss of taste or smell.

Delta variant symptoms usually include headache, sore throat, runny nose and fever, according to Yale Medicine.

The main symptoms of COVID have been high temperature, a new, continuous cough, and a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste, according to the United Kingdom's National Health Service.

FULL STORY: Omicron COVID Variant Symptoms Compared to Delta, Other Forms of the Virus

American family stuck in South African amid travel ban

A North Carolina family is stranded in South Africa following the United States travel ban due to the Omicron variant.

Lauren Kennedy Brady told a local news outlet that she traveled to Africa with her mother, daughter and niece on a "bucket list" trip.

The U.S. travel ban does not apply to American citizens, but Brady said she has been trying to book flights home since Friday with no success.

"We went from having two flights to zero flights and then after that we booked, I don't know, we probably booked 10 flights in total," Brady told the news station. "It hit us like a ton of bricks and of course every other traveler is going through this right now. Those borders just slammed shut and it has wreaked a lot of havoc clearly and a lot of confusion."

FULL STORY: American Family Stranded in South Africa Amid Omicron Restrictions Fight for U.S. Return

New York City health officials warn Omicron will be detected soon

New York City health officials are echoing President Biden's call to wear masks indoors.

"Today, I am also issuing a Commissioners' advisory strongly recommending that all New Yorkers wear a mask at all times, when indoors and in a public setting, like at the grocery, in building lobbies, offices and retail stores," Health Commissioner Dr. David Chokshi told reporters during a COVID-19 briefing.

The mask advisory includes those who are vaccinated and those who already had COVID-19.

While Mayor Bill de Blasio said there have been no reports of the Omicron variant in the city yet, Chokshi said officials expect to detect Omicron in New York City "in the coming days."

FULL STORY: Amid Global Omicron Spread, NYC's Top Doctor Warns City Will See Variant in Coming Days

Spain reports first case of Omicron variant

Spain detected its first case of the Omicron variant Monday.

The microbiological and infection disease service of the Gregorio Marañón hospital said in a tweet that sequencing of samples from a patient corresponded with the Omicron variant.

The hospital said the patient, a 51-year-old man returning from South Africa, is in good condition.

Madrid health officials said in a statement that the man had a stopover in Amsterdam and he first tested positive for coronavirus during an antigen screening at the Madrid airport.

All adults in U.K. are eligible for the COVID-19 booster shot

All adults in the United Kingdon are now eligible for the COVID-19 booster shot, the British government said Monday.

Booster doses were previously reserved for people over the age of 40 and adults over the age of 16 with underlying health conditions.

Additionally, the period between the second shot and the booster dose has been reduced from six months to three months.

This move comes after a recommendation from the Joint Committee on Vaccinations and Immunisations (JCVI) as the Omicron variant spreads worldwide.

FULL STORY: UK Extends COVID Booster Shots, Speeds Up Wait for Doses as Omicron Cases Surface

Pfizer working on a new COVID vaccine

Pfizer has already started working on a new COVID-19 as the Omicron variant spreads.

"Friday we made our first DNA template, which is the first part of the development process of a new vaccine," Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said on CNBC's Squawk Box Monday. "We have made multiple times clear that we will be able to have the vaccine in less than 100 days."

While little is known about the new variant, Bourla does not think the vaccine will be ineffective against Omicron.

"I don't think the result will be the vaccines don't protect," he said. "I think the results could be, which we don't know yet, that the vaccines protect less."

Pfizer spokesperson Keanna Ghazvini told Newsweek that the company is "beginning to run neutralization tests on the new Omicron variant of concern and expect to have initial data in the coming weeks."

FULL STORY: Pfizer CEO Says They've Started Developing New COVID Vaccine Amid Omicron Spread

Biden does not anticipate more travel bans due to the Omicron variant

President Biden said the immediate travel ban from South Africa was due to the "significant number of cases" in the country.

"We needed time to give people an opportunity to say 'get that vaccination now before it moves around the world,'" he said.

Biden said the travel restrictions can't prevent the spread of Omicron, but they can slow it.

He said the restrictions "give us time to take more actions" and get more people vaccinated. Biden added that he does not anticipate more travel bans at this point.

Dr. Anthony Fauci said there are testing protocols in place for people traveling to the U.S. He said that "fortunately for us" the existing PCR tests can pick up the variant.

Biden encourages everyone to wear masks indoors

President Biden reinforced mask-wearing indoors or in large crowds as the Omicron variant spreads.

"I encourage everyone to wear a mask when they're indoors in a crowded circumstance like we are right now, unless you're eating or speaking in a microphone," he said.

He said that if everyone wears a mask and gets vaccinated, "there is no need for lockdowns."

FULL STORY: Biden Denies Lockdowns Are Coming Amid Concerns About Omicron Evading Vaccines

U.S. will keep sending vaccines around the world, Biden says

Biden said that the United States will continue to send COVID-19 vaccines to nations around the world.

"No shot sent to another country will come at the expense of any American," Biden assured.

He said sending vaccines to the world is a "moral obligation" and the "best way to protect Americans"

"We can't let up until the world is vaccinated," he added.

Biden says U.S. is 'throwing everything we can at this virus'

President Biden said that if the current vaccines don't protect against the new variant and will update vaccines.

"We will accelerate their development with every available tool," he said.

Biden said his administration is "throwing everything we can at this virus" in order to protect Americans and reopen schools and businesses.

He added that the United States has the best vaccine, the best medicines and the best scientists.

Biden says Omicron is 'cause for concern not a cause for panic'

President Biden applauded South Africa for its transparency after discovering the Omicron variant, as it increased the ability of other nations to respond to new threats.

He said that the variant is "cause for concern not a cause for panic."

Biden said the best protection from new variant, or any variant, is getting fully vaccinated and getting the booster shot.

He encourages every adult who was fully vaccinated before June 1 to get the next dose.

Biden to speak on Omicron variant soon

President Joe Biden will provide an update on the Omicron variant soon.

You can watch him deliver his remarks on the White House YouTube page at 11:45 a.m. ET.

Miss Universe contestant tests positive for COVID-19 in Israel

One of the Miss Universe contestants has tested positive for COVID-19, pageant organizers said Monday.

The contestant has not been identified and it is not clear yet whether she tested positive for the omicron variant.

The Miss Universe Organization said the contestant tested positive upon her arrival in Israel and was taken to a government-run hotel for isolation. The organization said she was fully vaccinated and tested before her departure.

Israel excluded Miss Universe pageant contestants from its travel ban Sunday.

World leaders praise South African for detecting omicron amid travel bans

World leaders are praising South Africa for detecting the omicron COVID-19 variant.

European Union Commission President Ursula von der Leyen complimented South African President Cyril Ramaphosa for his response to discovering the variant.

"South Africa's analytic work and transparency and sharing its results was indispensable in allowing a swift global response," she said. "It no doubt saved many lives."

Several countries, including the United States, have banned travel from many African countries, including South Africa.

President Ramaphosa said in a statement that he was "deeply disappointed" by these actions. He added that the travel bans will not help stop the spread of the variant but will damage the economies of the countries affected.

World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said South Africa should be thanked, not punished.

"South Africa and Botswana should be thanked for detecting, sequencing and reporting this variant, not penalized," he said during a special session of the World Health Assembly Monday.

New York to limit non-essential hospital procedures ahead of possible COVID-19 winter spike

New York Governor Kathy Hochul is encouraging New Yorkers to get vaccinated as the Omicron variant spreads and COVID-19 cases are expected to spike this winter.

Hochul issued an executive order Friday to increase hospital capacity by limiting non-essential, non-urgent procedures in hospitals with limited capacity.

"We've taken extraordinary action to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and combat this pandemic. However, we continue to see warning signs of spikes this upcoming winter, and while the new Omicron variant has yet to be detected in New York State, it's coming," Governor Hochul said in a statement. "I am announcing urgent steps today to expand hospital capacity and help ensure our hospital systems can tackle any challenges posed by the pandemic as we head into the winter months."

As of Sunday, 90 percent of adults in New Yorker have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

World Health Organization chief notes the 'perilous and precarious' COVID-19 situation

World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the emergence of the "highly-mutated Omicron variant" shows how "perilous and precarious" the current COVID-19 situation is.

"Omicron demonstrates just why the world needs a new accord on pandemics," he said during his opening remarks at the special session of the World Health Assembly Monday. "Our current system disincentivizes countries from alerting others to threats that will inevitably land on their shores."

He added that this new variant is a reminder that "although many of us might think we are done with COVID-19, it is not done with us."

Tedros said that without courageous and compassionate leadership, fidelity to science, generosity in "sharing the fruits of research" and the "unshakeable commitment to equity and solidarity," history may be doomed to keep repeating itself.

Israel exempts Miss Universe contestants from travel ban

Miss universe contestants arrive in Israel.
Miss universe contestants arrive to Israel's Ben Gurion Airport in Lod, east of Tel Aviv, on November 28, 2021. Israel closed its borders to all foreigners on November 28 in a bid to stem the spread of the new Omicron variant of COVID, authorities said. Getty Images/AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP

As we've been hearing, South Africa has condemned countries imposing travel restrictions on it and neighboring countries.

Israel, Japan and Morocco have shut their borders completely. Well, except for one exception: Miss Universe contestants.

Israel announced its ban on Saturday but Tourism Minister Yoel Razvozov on Sunday told reporters that participants in the Miss Universe pageant would be granted waivers while possibly undergoing PCR testing every 48 hours.

"This is an event that will be broadcast in 174 countries, a very important event, an event that Eilat, too, is very much in need of," he said before Sunday's weekly cabinet meeting, per The Jerusalem Post.

FULL STORY: Israel Bans All Foreigners Except Beautiful Women Over Omicron

Should Americans Be Worried by Omicron?

Omicron is the latest COVID variant of concern, but plenty remains unknown.

As the news cycle kicks into gear, just how worried should people be?

Omicron has caused alarm because it is more heavily mutated than any other COVID variant, meaning it could potentially spread faster or better resist natural or vaccine-induced immunity—but this has yet to be proven.

Two cases have been identified in Ottawa, Canada, but none have yet been recorded in the States, although White House infectious diseases expert Dr. Anthony Fauci has said it could already be here.

Scientists are still getting to grips with what the new variant could mean for the pandemic, but—to help gain some idea—experts have told Newsweek about their concerns and outlined the current understanding about Omicron (here's what we know about Omicron so far).

FULL STORY: How Worried Americans Should Be About Omicron

Omicron could boost U.S. stocks: Leading investor

Investor Bill Ackman has said the new Omicron variant could boost U.S. stocks, if symptoms prove to be less severe than the Delta variant.

"While it is too early to have definitive data, early reported data suggest that the Omicron virus causes 'mild to moderate' symptoms (less severity) and is more transmissible," the 55-year-old CEO of hedge fund management company Pershing Square Capital Management tweeted on Sunday.

"If this turns out to be true, this is bullish not bearish for markets."

He later clarified: "I should have said: bullish for the equity market, bearish for the bond market."

Early data suggests the new variant could spread quicker, but may have mild symptoms. Scientists are studying the variant and expect t know more in the next two weeks.

Lift travel bans, urges South Africa's president

South Africa's president has called on world leaders to lift travel bans on his country and its neighbors following the emergence of the Omicron variant.

In a Cyril Ramaphosa said he was "deeply disappointed" by travel restrictions announced by the U.S., Britain, Japan and the EU, and several other countries (find more details here).

Speaking on Sunday, Ramaphosa said: "The only thing the prohibition on travel will do is to further damage the economies of the affected countries and undermine their ability to respond to, and recover from, the pandemic."

He called on countries to"urgently reverse their decisions...before any further damage is done to our economies."

Ramaphosa's comments follow criticism from South Africa's foreign ministry, which has said "excellent science should be applauded and not punished."

Nancy Mace's Differing Vaccine Remarks on Fox News, CNN

A U.S. representative has faced criticism online over her differing remarks on COVID vaccines while speaking on Fox News and CNN.

Nancy Mace, for South Carolina, spoke of the benefits of natural immunity over vaccination in her Fox News interview on Sunday.

But appearing on CNN that same day, she said she was a supporter of getting vaccinations and highlighted the dangers of COVID.

Joseph Sakran, a Johns Hopkins surgeon, was among those to criticize Mace for her comments to Fox News, dubbing them "reckless" in a Twitter post.

FULL STORY: Video of Nancy Mace's Vaccine Remarks on Fox News and CNN Goes Viral

Nancy Mace
Rep Nancy Mace (R-SC) speaks with reporters after voting in the affirmative to hold former Trump adviser Stephen Bannon in criminal contempt at the U.S. Capitol Building on October 21, 2021 in Washington, DC. Nancy Mace’s different vaccine remarks on Fox News and CNN going viral Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Soccer team behind Portugal's first 13 Omicron cases: Officials

A COVID-19 breakout among a top-flight Portuguese soccer squad is thought to account for the first 13 Omicron cases in the country, health officials have said.

Belenenses were without 13 players for their Saturday match with Benfica, which was later abandoned at half-time with the depleted side being thrashed.

On Monday morning, the country's Directorate-General for Health announced that analysis confirmed Omicron had been detected, per Observador.

Defender Cafu Phete tested positive for COVID-19 after returning last week from international duty in South Africa.

Belenenses' SAD players.
Belenenses' SAD players arrive at the pitch before the Portuguese league football match between Belenenses SAD and SL Benfica at the Jamor stadium in Oeiras, outskirts of Lisbon on November 27, 2021. PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA/AFP/Getty Images

Omicron symptoms mild so far, says doctor who first spotted variant

A South African family doctor, who was among the first to spot the Omicron variant, has said that many patients to have contracted it so far have suffered only mild symptoms—but warned there is cause for concern.

Dr. Angelique Coetzee, who has diagnosed people with the variant, told British radio station TalkRadio that since discovering the variant on November 18 "patients that we've seen are mild patients, mild symptoms," but stressed that that could change.

"Patients I've seen had mild symptoms and recovered. None were admitted and no oxygen was needed," she said.

Dr. Coetzee said the high number of mutations (more than 30) that could effect vaccine's efficacy is "the problem that scares the world," but that a clearer picture would emerge once scientists have studied the variant over the next two weeks.

Asked about the global response to the discovery, she said: "We're not saying it's not going to change going forward, but for now the hype doesn't make any sense to us at all."

Which countries have imposed travel curbs on southern Africa?

Many world leaders have been scrambling to impose travel restrictions in response to the emergence of the Omicron variant.

Some countries, such as Japan, Israel and Morocco, have announced sweeping bans to seal their borders to all foreign travelers.

Others, such as the U.S., Britain, Australia and Canada, have looked toward more targeted travel restrictions for countries in southern Africa.

South Africa, which first reported the variant detected in Botswana, has hit out at travel bans, accusing countries of punishing the country for discovering it.

"Excellent science should be applauded and not punished," a statement by the South African foreign ministry read on Saturday.

A small number of countries, including Indonesia, India, Pakistan, have also banned travel with Hong Kong after Omicron cases were detected on Thursday.

Departure Board at Heathrow airport.
A man wearing a mask walks past a sign listing airlines at London's Heathrow Terminal 5 on November 28, 2021. The U.S. has imposed travel restrictions to South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi in what President Biden called "a precautionary measure until we have more information." Hollie Adams/Getty Images

Which countries have confirmed or suspected Omicron variant cases?

The variant was detected in South Africa on November 25, where The New York Times reports that it appears to be spreading rapidly. The World Health Organization has said that it is currently investigating if the variant is highly transmittable and assessing its ability to evade current vaccines.

The variant has been detected in at least 15 countries so far, including Canada, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Australia, and Israel. Many of the detected cases have been linked with travel from southern Africa.

This article from Newsweek will be updated as the variant spreads.

Fauci Says U.S. 'preparing' to tweak vaccine for Omicron

Omicron is estimated to contain about 32 mutations to the spike protein, compared to the 13 to 17 observed in the Delta variant, which facilitates the virus' entry into the body.

Speaking to NBC News' Meet the Press on Sunday, Fauci said:

We're preparing to [modify the vaccines]...but we might not have to.

FULL STORY: Fauci Says U.S. 'Preparing' to Tweak Vaccine for Omicron

Joe Biden to give COVID update later today

The White House said it the president has been consistently briefed about the dangers of the new variant and confirmed a meeting with Dr. Anthony Fauci and his team yesterday.

Biden is set to make a statement later today about the Omicron variant and the possible danger it poses to the U.S.

Joe Biden at Andrews Air Force Base.
Joe Biden walks to his limousine after answering reporters question upon arrival at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland on November 28, 2021. Biden returned to Washington after spending Thanksgiving in Nantucket, Massachusetts. MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

Moderna boss warns Omicron variant likely to evade current vaccines

Paul Burton, Moderna's chief medical officer, said on Sunday that nine (of the more than 30) mutations in the Omicron variant are known to be associated with immune escape, with another 11 thought to be.

If that suspicion proves correct, a reformulated vaccine could be available early in 2022, he said during an appearance on the BBC's The Andrew Marr Show.

We should know about the ability of the current vaccine to provide protection in the next couple of weeks, but the remarkable thing about the mRNA vaccines, Moderna platform is that we can move very fast. If we have to make a brand new vaccine, I think that's going to be early 2022 before that's really going to be available in large quantities.

Good morning and welcome to Newsweek's liveblog

The Omicron variant is spreading fast across the world, with over a dozen countries investigating suspected cases.

Follow Newsweek's liveblog throughout Monday for all the latest updates.