Protests in the Netherlands over lockdown restrictions
Several thousand people gathered in the central Dutch town of Utrecht on Saturday 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.
The Netherlands saw violent protests two weeks ago after the government announced plans to ban most people who have not been vaccinated from public places. Those plans face widespread opposition in parliament, including from parties in the governing coalition and have not been put into place yet.
04 Dec 14:50
Zambia detects first Omicron case
Zambia has detected its first cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant in three people who tested positive for Covid-19 in the past week, the health ministry said on Saturday.
The three cases are a man living in the district around the capital Lusaka who travelled abroad recently and is showing mild symptoms, a man in Chibombo District who also travelled abroad recently but is asymptomatic, and a woman in Lusaka District who had not travelled abroad recently and had mild symptoms.
The Omicron variant first detected in southern Africa last month has caused global alarm, with countries imposing travel restrictions for fear it could spread quickly even among vaccinated people.
04 Dec 14:19
Two hippos at 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.
The coronavirus is thought to have jumped from an animal to a human, and it is proved to have passed from humans to animals.
SA’s latest Covid-19 numbers
The total number of vaccinations sits at 26 263 590.
Zimbabwe records 50 Omicron cases
Zimbabwe has identified 50 cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant, deputy health minister John Mangwiro said on Friday, as the government announced it would start offering booster shots to frontline workers, the elderly and people with chronic illnesses.
Most of the Omicron cases were detected at a teacher training college as well as the country’s under-17 football team that was due to participate at a regional tournament, Mangwiro told reporters.
“From the outbreak that we detected from Masvingo Teachers College and the Under 17 soccer team, we took 20 samples from the college and 22 samples from the soccer team, they all tested positive for the Omicron variant,” he said, adding that the other 8 cases were found in random samples.
03 Dec 18:52First case of Omicron variant confirmed in Mexico is traveller from SA
The first case of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 has been confirmed in Mexico, the deputy health minister said on Friday, marking the latest country where it has turned up amid concerns a new spike in infections could follow.
The infected person is a 51-year-old who traveled from South Africa, according to a post on Twitter from Deputy Health Minister Hugo Lopez-Gatell, who added that the person has only presented mild symptoms so far.
“Their likelihood of recovery is favorable,” wrote Lopez-Gatell.
He added that closing borders is not a useful tool to contain coronavirus variants, and discouraged over-reacting to the development.
“We call on all to stay calm and keep applying measures to avoid the spread of infection,” he said, like getting vaccinated and the use of face coverings.
03 Dec 16:41
JUST IN | New twist as Dutch say passengers from SA have Covid-19 despite testing negative before flight
Dutch health authorities said on Friday they were worried that some passengers arriving from South Africa in the past week were testing positive for Covid-19 on arrival despite having been vaccinated and testing negative before their flight departure.
“It shows that the virus is spreading easily and that is worrying,” said Bert van de Velden, director of the regional health authority for Kennemerland, which includes Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport.
“It is of the utmost importance that travellers are properly tested before they fly and that they let themselves be tested after arrival.”
Hundreds of passengers arrive on flights from South Africa at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport weekly, and health authorities said about 9% of those who agreed to undergo voluntary testing on arrival – only a third of passengers agreed – turned out to have Covid-19.
Health authorities began conducting post-flight tests after a complete investigation into two flights from South Africa on 26 November.
Those flights were mid-air when the Dutch government introduced new travel restrictions in light of worries about the newly detected Omicron variant.
The more than 600 passengers on the flights were kept isolated and were carefully tested, and it emerged that 62 had Covid-19, of whom 14 had the Omicron variant.
The US government on Thursday announced rules requiring a preflight test for all international travellers that goes into effect on Monday.
03 Dec 16:20
At least 17 suspected Omicron cases after party in Norway
At least 17 people who caught Covid-19 after a Christmas party with more than 100 guests in Oslo last week are suspected of having the Omicron variant, officials said Friday.
The number is likely to grow as sequencing is carried out on other positive tests from partygoers.
“So far, 60 people have tested positive (for Covid) with PCR tests, and four with antigen tests,” the city of Oslo said in a statement.”
Seventeen are probably Omicron, but that has yet to be confirmed.
So far, one case is confirmed to be Omicron after sequencing.
03 Dec 16:08
Covid-19: WHO has no reports yet of Omicron deaths
The World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Friday it had not seen any reports of deaths relating to the new Omicron variant of Covid-19.
The WHO said it was collecting evidence about the variant of concern as countries around the world scramble to stop it from spreading.
But despite a growing number of countries registering infections with the new variant, no deaths have yet been reported to the UN health agency.Read the full report
03 Dec 14:58
European stocks waver on caution over Omicron
European equities wavered Friday as dealers tracked Omicron news and awaited key US data, while oil prices surged after OPEC and other producers hinted at lowering output.
London stocks added 0.2% in late morning deals after gains in Asia, while Frankfurt and Paris fell 0.1% and 0.2% respectively in early afternoon eurozone trade.
World oil prices won 2.5%, extending Thursday’s gains after the OPEC+ group opened the door to cutting crude output should Omicron fallout cut energy demand.
The dollar traded mixed as traders waited on a US nonfarm payrolls report to give the latest healthcheck on the world’s biggest economy.
“Investors are clearly still anxious about the Omicron variant, despite anecdotal evidence suggesting symptoms are less severe” than first thought, said Craig Erlam, analyst at Oanda trading group.
03 Dec 14:49
England’s Covid-19 prevalence rises, led by Delta not Omicron
The prevalence of Covid-19 infections in England rose to around 1 in 60 people in the week ending on 27 November, Britain’s Office for National Statistics said on Friday, led higher by the dominant Delta variant rather than newly identified Omicron.
The prevalence was up from 1 in 65 reported the previous week, the ONS said.
03 Dec 14:30
UK study finds mRNA vaccines provide biggest booster impact
Covid-19 vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna that use mRNA technology provide the biggest boost to antibody levels when given 10-12 weeks after the second dose, a British study published on Thursday has found.
When AstraZeneca, Novavax, Johnson & Johnson and Curevac were given as boosters, they increased antibody levels for either initial vaccine, albeit to a smaller degree.
However, while Valneva boosted antibodies in people initially vaccinated with AstraZeneca, it did not provide a boost for Pfizer.
The study found that booster shots also helped to generate a broad T-cell response against the Beta and Delta variants, which may play a key role in longer-term protection.
03 Dec 14:20
Nightclubs, cafés and casinos reopen in Auckland
Aucklanders returned to nightclubs, cinemas and cafés on Friday as New Zealand’s biggest city exited pandemic lockdown after more than 100 days.
Retailers threw open their doors to vaccinated customers as the country ended lockdowns and moved into a new “traffic light system” that rates regions as red, orange or green depending on their level of exposure to Covid-19 and vaccination rates.
Auckland, the epicentre of the country’s Delta outbreak, will start at red, making face masks mandatory and putting limits on gatherings in public places. Bars, nightclubs and restaurants can open to guests with vaccine certificates but with a limit of 100 people and 1m social distancing. Outdoor events are allowed.
03 Dec 14:00
FACTBOX | Global spread of Omicron cases
The Omicron variant of the coronavirus was first detected in southern Africa last month and dubbed a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organisation.
Scientists are still gathering data to establish how contagious and severe it is.
Following is a snapshot by region of cases reported by Reuters in recent days.
South Africa – infections spreading in seven of nine provinces
Zimbabwe – unspecified number of cases
United States 10
South Korea 6
Sri Lanka 1
United Kingdom 42
United Arab Emirates 1
Saudi Arabia 1
03 Dec 13:41
China easing rules for US business travellers, approvals in 10 days
China will cut to no more than 10 days the time required for approval of travel by US business executives, its ambassador to the United States said on Thursday, promising to turn “an attentive ear” to concerns raised by businesses.
Qin Gang, who arrived in the United States in July, told a dinner hosted by the US-China Business Council that Beijing would also work to make Covid-19 testing more convenient and allow executives to work during quarantine.
Qin said Beijing would share its specific workplan “very soon” with the US Centres for Disease Control.
03 Dec 13:19
The Student Union of South Africa (SAUS) is expecting students and university management to be at “loggerheads” at the start of the next academic year because of mandatory vaccination policies, which could lead to violent protests, SAUS president Yandisa Ndzoyiya told a joint meeting of the Portfolio Committee on Higher Education, Science and Technology and the Portfolio Committee on Police on Friday.
“We’ve been saying to USAF there must be a way to engage students on the vaccine. Off course, as the union, we want to encourage students to take the vaccine, because when they save their own lives, they save other people’s lives,” he said.
“But how universities are doing it, already a number of institutions, through their councils, through their senate meetings, they have resolved on mandatory vaccines. And students, when the leave those meetings, they feel excluded because they are not thoroughly engaged. And that is going to lead to some violent protest because we are going to have a situation where students are protesting and university management want to proceed with registration because they don’t want to lose academic time.”
03 Dec 13:12
New US international travel testing rules take effect on Monday
New rules requiring international air travellers arriving in the United States to obtain a negative Covid-19 test within one day of travel will take effect on Monday at 00:01 ET (05:01 GMT), according to an order issued late on Thursday.
The administration is considering whether to grant temporary exemptions for about two dozen countries where access to same-day testing is limited, but the details are still being finalised, the sources added. Those exemptions could last for only about a week and are expected to be detailed on Friday.
03 Dec 12:51
New York has found 5 cases of the Omicron variant, governor says
Five cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant have been detected in New York state, Governor Kathy Hochul said on Thursday.Omicron marches on as Biden prepares US for grim winter
US President Joe Biden warned on Thursday that infections will rise during the northern-hemisphere winter and the European Union’s public health agency said Omicron could account for more than half of all infections in Europe within months.