Coronavirus updates | November 27, 2021

A beneficiary receiving COVID-19 vaccine as part of mega vaccination drive by the Mangaluru City Corporation, in Mangaluru, on November 26, 2021   | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

The World Health Organization on November 26 declared the recently-discovered B.1.1.529 strain of COVID-19, first detected in southern Africa, to be a variant of concern and renamed it Omicron. The classification puts Omicron into the most-troubling category of COVID-19 variants, along with the globally-dominant Delta, plus its weaker rivals Alpha, Beta and Gamma.

Scientists are racing to determine the threat posed by the heavily mutated Omicron strain, which is more transmissible than the dominant Delta variant, and whether it can evade existing vaccines.

With a new coronavirus variant detected in South Africa, scientists and health experts in India have said that new waves of infection are anticipated and unless we act quickly and efficiently, the country will possibly see repeat waves. India has better tools in hand now compared to two years ago, said Vinod Scaria, scientist at CSIR-Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (IGIB). He added the country, however, had to improve its vaccination drive, public health measures, health infrastructure and genomic surveillance to be better prepared.

Explained | What is the new coronavirus variant in South Africa?

You can track coronavirus cases, deaths and testing rates at the national and State levels here. A list of State Helpline numbers is available as well.

Here are the latest developments:



U.K. confirms first two cases of new COVID-19 strain

Britain has confirmed its first two cases of the new Omicron strain of COVID-19, both linked to travel from southern Africa, and expanded travel restrictions on the region.

"After overnight genome sequencing, the U.K. Health Security Agency has confirmed that two cases of COVID-19 with mutations consistent with B.1.1.529 (Omicron) have been identified in the U.K.," a government statement said.

"The two cases are linked and there is a link to travel to southern Africa," it said.

One case was detected in the central English city of Nottingham, and the other in Chelmsford east of London, officials said.

"We have moved rapidly and the individuals are self-isolating while contact tracing is ongoing," Health Secretary Sajid Javid said.

He added that the government was placing another four African countries on its travel "red list" — Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Angola — effective from 4 a.m. GMT (9.30 a.m. IST) on Sunday.

Britain has already said it is banning travel from six southern African nations because of the emergence of Omicron: South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Botswana.

The government was widely criticised for its travel and quarantine policy earlier in the pandemic, when it kept borders open to foreign travellers even as infection rates spiralled.

"This is a stark reminder that we are not yet out of this pandemic," Mr. Javid said, urging the public to get follow-up booster jabs of vaccines. "We will not hesitate to take further action if required."



Passengers from ‘at risk’ countries to undergo RT-PCR on arrival in Gujarat

Passengers from countries categorized as ‘at risk’ by the Union Health Ministry will have to undergo COVID-19 tests upon arrival in Gujarat if they are not fully vaccinated, an official said in Ahmedabad Saturday.

Nine countries have been classified as ‘at risk’ following worldwide concern about a new variant of coronavirus, designated as Omicron.

The countries categorized as ‘at risk’ are United Kingdom, South Africa, Brazil, Bangladesh, Botswana, China, Mauritius, New Zealand and Zimbabwe, State Additional Chief Secretary (Health) Manoj Aggarwal said.

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Top U.K. scientist says Omicron ‘not a disaster’, vaccination likely to protect

The new potentially highly-transmissible variant of COVID-19, named Omicron by the WHO, is not a disaster as vaccines are still likely to protect against the serious disease from it, a U.K. scientist, who advises the government, said on Saturday.

Professor Calum Semple, a microbiologist from the U.K. government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), struck a note of caution on the worldwide headlines around the new B.1.1.529 variant detected in South Africa.

The U.K. imposed travel restrictions on six southern African countries – South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe and Namibia – as health authorities said that they are investigating the “most significant variant” which could be potentially more infectious and vaccine-resistant.

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New Covid variant: Delhi LG instructs officers to prepare for any emergency

Delhi Lt Governor Anil Baijal instructed senior officials to ensure strict adherence to Covid appropriate behaviour at public places and preparedness at hospitals to deal with any emergency situation, official sources said on Saturday.

The Delhi Disaster Management Authority (DDMA), in its meeting on Monday, is likely to take a call on RT-PCR testing of passengers deboarding from international flights, and quarantining of passengers from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Hong kong and other countries where a new variant of Covid has been reported, they said. - PTI

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PM chairs important meeting on COVID-19 situation

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is chairing an important meeting on the Covid situation and the vaccination drive in the country with top officials.

The meeting is being attended by Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba, Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister, P K Mishra, Union Health Secretary Rajesh Bhushan and NITI Aayog member (health) Dr V K Paul among others.

The meeting comes amid rising global concerns over a new strain of the coronavirus which the World Health Organization has named 'Omicron' and classified as a highly transmissible virus of concern. - PTI


India's active cases comes down to 1,07,019, lowest in 541 days

India saw a single-day rise of 8,318 new coronavirus infections taking the country's tally of COVID-19 cases to 3,45,63,749, while the active cases have declined to 1,07,019, the lowest in 541 days, according to Union Health Ministry data updated on Saturday.

The death toll has climbed to 4,67,933 with 465 daily fatalities, according to the data updated at 8 am.

The daily rise in new coronavirus infections has been below 20,000 for 50 continuous days and less than 50,000 daily new cases have been reported for 153 consecutive days now.

The active cases have declined to 1,07,019 comprising 0.31% of the total infections, the lowest since March 2020, while the national COVID-19 recovery rate was recorded at 98.34%, the highest since March 2020, the health ministry said. -PTI


Australia starts 14-day quarantine for citizens travelling from southern Africa

Australia will introduce 14-day quarantine for citizens and their dependents travelling from nine countries in southern Africa due to the new coronavirus variant, its health minister said on Saturday.

"Anyone who is not a citizen of Australia or their dependents, and who has been in African countries where the Omicron variant has been detected and spread within the past 14 days will not be able to enter Australia," Health Minister Greg Hunt told a press briefing. -Reuters


Merck's COVID-19 pill shows lower efficacy in updated data

Merck & Co said on Friday updated data from its study on its experimental COVID-19 pill showed the drug was less effective in cutting hospitalizations and deaths than previously reported.

The drugmaker said its pill showed a 30% reduction in hospitalizations and deaths, based on data from over 1,400 patients. In October, its data showed a roughly 50% efficacy, based on data from 775 patients. -Reuters


Countries suspend flights with South Africa over COVID-19 concerns

U.S. President Joe Biden will restrict travel to the United States from eight southern African countries effective Monday over concerns about a new COVID-19 variant found in South Africa, a senior administration official said on Friday.

Saudi Arabia has suspended flights to and from South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Lesotho and Eswatini due to concerns related to the spread of COVID-19, the state news agency (SPA) reported on Friday.

Morocco banned entry to travellers arriving from South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Zimbabwe due to concerns related to the spread of a new variant of the COVID-19 virus discovered in South Africa, foreign ministry said on Friday.

Cyprus on Friday said it was banning arrivals from a number of African states, including South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe, following the detection of a new COVID-19 variant.

European Union states have agreed to temporarily suspend travel to southern Africa after the detection of a new COVID-19 variant, the presidency of the EU said on Friday.

The Swiss government on Friday banned direct flights from South Africa and the surrounding region due to the detection of a new COVID-19 variant, while also imposing restrictions on travel from other countries including Hong Kong, Israel and Belgium.

Turkey closed its borders to passengers from five countries as a measure against the new coronavirus variant, Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said on Friday.

The United Arab Emirates has suspended entry for travellers from South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Mozambique starting from Nov. 29 due to concerns about a new variant of the COVID-19 virus, the state news agency reported on Friday.

Canada is closing its borders to the citizens of seven southern African nations to help stop the spread of a newly identified variant of COVID-19, Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos told reporters on Friday.

Iran has banned the entry of travelers from South Africa and five neighbouring countries after the discovery of a new coronavirus variant in the region, a top Iranian epidemiology official said on Friday.

Egypt suspends direct flights to and from South Africa due to concerns about a new variant of the COVID-19 virus, the state news agency (MENA) reported on Friday.

Brazil will ban arrivals from six countries in southern Africa due to the emergence of the Omicron COVID-19 variant, the government said in a Friday night statement. -Reuters

Tamil Nadu

Students travelling to Europe, South-East Asia face hurdles

With COVID-19 vaccine administered in India not recognised in some countries, students got admission in those countries are having a rough time.

A student accepted for a programme in Austria learnt to his dismay that although he can enter that country he cannot use the Indian certificate for Covishield vaccine to visit restaurants and gyms.

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Novavax testing vaccine that targets new COVID-19 variant

Novavax Inc said on Friday it had started working on a version of its COVID-19 vaccine to target the variant detected in South Africa and would have the shot ready for testing and manufacturing in the next few weeks.

The company's COVID-19 shot contains an actual version of the virus' spike protein that cannot cause disease but can trigger the immune system. The vaccine developer said it had started developing a spike protein specifically based on the known genetic sequence of the variant, B.1.1.529. -Reuters

South Africa

South African health minister says travel bans "unjustified"

South African Health Minister Joe Phaahla said on Friday that preliminary studies suggest a new COVID-19 variant detected in his country may be more transmissible, but the decision of other countries to impose travel restrictions is "unjustified". -Reuters


Ireland extends COVID-19 booster shots to all adults

Ireland, one of the world's most vaccinated nations, will make COVID-19 booster shots available to all adults in a sharp ramping up of plans to provide additional protection, the health minister said on Friday.

Almost 90% of Ireland's eligible 3.9 million people over the age of 12 have been fully vaccinated and booster shots had previously been approved for those over the age of 50 and for those with underlying health issues. -Reuters


FIH Junior Women's World Cup in South Africa put on hold owing to COVID-19

The upcoming FIH Junior Women's Hockey World Cup in South Africa was on Saturday put on hold as a new variant of COVID-19 in the country stoked worldwide fears.

The prestigious tournament was to be held in the Rainbow Nation from December 5 to 16.

However, following the outbreak of a new coronavirus variant in South Africa, the International Hockey Federation (FIH), the South African Hockey Association and the North-West University of Potchefstroom have jointly decided that the tournament "will not happen under these circumstances". -PTI


India has exported vaccines to 95 countries

India has delivered around 70.70 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines to 95 countries till November 22 and out of these, 12.7 million doses were given to 47 nations by the government, Union minister Jitendra Singh said on Friday. He said the remaining 58 million were supplied by the Serum Institute of India under its commercial and COVAX obligations.


International flights to be resumed from Dec 15

Scheduled international flights to and from India will be resumed from December15 after 20 months of coronavirus-induced suspension, the Civil Aviation Ministry said on Friday. However, the countries deemed 'at risk' of COVID-19 by the Health Ministry will be allowed to operate only a certain percentage of their pre-COVID scheduled flights, the Aviation Ministry clarified.

Read | Covishield had 63% effectiveness against Delta variant in second wave

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