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Covid news - live: Biden says omicron not ‘cause for panic’ as Hong Kong extends travel ban

Watch live as Sajid Javid makes Covid announcement to MPs

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has recommended the coronavirus booster campaign be extended to all over-18s, amid fears about the new omicron variant of coronavirus.

The gap between the second and booster doses of a vaccine should also be cut to three months, experts say. The government is expected to implement the recommendations while the NHS will take responsibility for rolling them out and calling forward younger adults.

It came after leaders in Scotland and Wales demanded Boris Johnson introduce tougher border quarantine rules for travellers visiting the UK.

Meanwhile, Joe Biden in an address to the nation said that omicron was a “cause for concern, not panic” and that he would not be initiating an immediate lock down as a result.

Hong Kong has extended a travel ban to include more countries, and introduced tougher restrictions for returning residents. And Australia said it fears community spread of omicron, after a Covid-positive passenger visited a busy shopping centre while infectious.

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Australia on alert for omicron community cases

Australian authorities are racing to track the contacts of a person suspected to be infected with the omicron variant after they spent time in the community visiting a busy shopping centre in Sydney.

The traveller arrived in Sydney last week before the latest border restrictions, and though the person was fully vaccinated, health authorities suspect they were likely infectious when they visited the shopping centre.

All passengers in the person’s flight have been directed to isolate themselves for two weeks regardless of their vaccination status. If confirmed, the total number of omicron cases in Australia will rise to six.

International travellers wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) arrive at Melbourne’s Tullamarine Airport on 29 November 2021

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World squash championship in Malaysia called off

The men’s World Team Squash Championship in Malaysia has been cancelled due to concerns over the omicron variant, announced the World Squash Federation.

The tournament was scheduled to take place in Kuala Lumpur between 7 and 12 December after it was moved from Tauranga, New Zealand in May. However, several countries imposed travel restrictions following the identification of the new variant, prompting the Squash Racquets Association of Malaysia (SRAM) to inform the WSF of the decision to scrap the upcoming tournament.

“We’re extremely disappointed to announce that this year’s WSF Men’s World Team Squash Championship has been cancelled. Together with SRAM, we have worked very hard to put the event on against the backdrop of the global Covid-19 pandemic, which had already caused us to move the event from Tauranga in New Zealand,” said WSF President Zena Wooldridge.

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CDC urges all adults to get booster shot

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has urged all adults to get a booster dose if at least six months have passed since their second dose of either the Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna vaccines, and two months after the single dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

“Today, CDC is strengthening its recommendation on booster doses for individuals who are 18 years and older,” CDC Director Dr Rochelle Walensky said in a statement.

“The recent emergence of the omicron variant further emphasises the importance of vaccination, boosters, and prevention efforts needed to protect against Covid-19,” she added.

“Early data from South Africa suggest increased transmissibility of the omicron variant, and scientists in the United States and around the world are urgently examining vaccine effectiveness related to this variant. 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.”

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South Africa says it is seeing 'very low hospitalisation' from omicron

India’s health authorities have reportedly spoken to their South African counterparts about the situation with the outbreak of the omicron variant there, according to media reports.

South African health officials said that while they had found the new variant to be “highly transmissible”, it is also resulting in “very low [rates of] hospitalisation”, reported the Indian Express citing sources on the Indian side.

In their communication to the Indian Council of Medical Research and National Centre for Disease Control, the South African authorities reportedly said that omicron has resulted in no deaths so far and it only manifests itself in “the form of mild disease with extreme fatigue and throat irritation being the predominant symptoms”.

Patients are not experiencing symptoms like loss of sense of smell and taste or drop in oxygen levels, which was very widely observed in India and elsewhere as the delta variant spread across the world.

A healthcare worker conducts a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) Covid-19 test on a traveller at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg on 27 November 2021

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Biden says omicron ‘cause for concern, not panic’

President Joe Biden on Monday said that the new omicron variant is a “cause for concern, not a cause for panic”.

Making it clear that he does not intend to lock down the country, the president in his address from the White House advocated for more widespread vaccination within the country and across the world.

“We need to do more than vaccinate Americans,” Mr Biden said. “To beat the pandemic, we have to vaccinate the world as well. America is leading that effort. We’ve shipped, for free, more vaccines to other countries than all other countries in the world combined — over 275 million vaccines to 110 countries.”

Mr Biden however, reiterated his commitment to vaccinating Americans first. “Not a single vaccine shot Americans send to another part of the world will ever come at the expense of any American,” he said.

“I will always make sure our people are protected first. But vaccinating the world is just one more tool in how we need to meet our moral obligation as Americans and how to best protect Americans as well.”

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LA begins enforcement of strict vaccine mandate

LA on Monday began the enforcement of one of the strictest vaccine mandates in the US, requiring proof of vaccine from everyone entering a host of indoor businesses. These will include restaurants, theatres, gyms and nail and hair salons.

While the latest order took effect from 8 November, city officials spent the past three weeks working to equip business owners with information and resources they would need to comply.

“Nobody wants to penalise anyone,” said Sharon Tso, the city’s Chief Legislative Analyst, whose office drafted the enforcement rules. “That’s why we’ve been prioritising education.”

A first offence will invite a warning, but subsequent violations could invite fines running from $1,000 to $5,000. Ms Tso said that the inspectors with the Department of Building and Safety will enforce the mandate, adding that the city might eventually get assistance from the LA County Department of Public Health.

Travellers with their luggage walk past the Covid-19 Testing location at the airport in Los Angeles, California on 23 November 2021

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Hong Kong bans non-resident arrivals from 13 more countries

Hong Kong banned the arrival of non-residents from four African countries including Angola, Ethiopia, Nigeria and Zambia.

In a statement issued late on Monday, the government said that while it will allow in vaccinated residents of the financial hub, those returning to the city will have to quarantine themselves for seven days at a government facility and another two weeks at a hotel at their own cost.

“Non-Hong Kong residents from these four places will not be allowed to enter Hong Kong,” the statement said. “The most stringent quarantine requirements will also be implemented on relevant inbound travellers from these places.”

The government said that non-residents who have been to Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Israel and Italy in the past three weeks would also not be allowed to enter the city from 2 December onwards.

It added that the fully vaccinated residents from these countries will have to quarantine in a hotel for three weeks. Hong Kong had banned non-residents from South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe last week.

People leave the Regal Airport Hotel at Chek Lap Kok airport in Hong Kong on 26 November 2021, where a new Covid-19 variant deemed a ‘major threat’

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Wes Streeting made shadow health secretary

Wes Streeting has been appointed as shadow health secretary just four months after he returned to the Labour frontbench after beating cancer.

In a tweet shortly after the announcement, he said: “Delighted to have been appointed as shadow health and social care secretary.

“This year the NHS saved my life and staff across health and social care are getting us through the worst pandemic in living memory.

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Closing schools ‘last possible option’, says Zahawi

Closing schools is the last possible option in the fight against the new omicron variant of coronavirus, the education secretary has said.

Nadhim Zahawi said he does not support the return of “bubbles” in schools – where whole classes or year groups could be sent home after a positive Covid-19 test – as it reduces attendance “significantly”.

On ITV earlier he was asked if closing schools was the “last possible option”, he said: “Absolutely.”

“Keep schools open: do all the things necessary, like face masks in communal areas... to protect the education in the classroom.

“Face masks are not a panacea... these are all interventions that just help you slow the virus... from accelerating too quickly.”

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Omicron: Everything we know about the new Covid variant

We’ve updated our guide on the omicron variant with the latest from today.

There’s about as much as here is to know in there, and we’re keeping it up to date as more is learned about this new variant.

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