Covid live news: UK, Germany and Italy detect Omicron cases; China outbreak warning

LIVE – Updated at 05:12

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Cases of the Covid-19 variant Omicron have been detected in several European countries after spreading from southern Africa.

Mandatory mask-wearing in shops and transport reimposed in England; Anthony Fauci says new variant is probably already in the US; Australia scrambles to prevent outbreak.


The Australian Red Cross has sent a large delivery amount of PPE to Papua New Guinea to be distributed to remote hard-to-reach communities as the nation continues to battle coronavirus.

The critical delivery includes:

  • 636,000 surgical masks
  • 65,000 examination gloves
  • 360 infrared thermometers
  • 24,000 bottles of hand-sanitizer

PNG has officially confirmed almost 35,000 coronavirus cases and 542 deaths but it is believed many more cases and deaths are going unreported in the nation of nine million where vaccination hesitancy is reported to be high.

China could face ‘colossal’ outbreak if restrictions eased

China could face more than 630,000 Covid-19 infections a day if it dropped its zero-tolerance policies by lifting travel curbs, according to a study by Peking University mathematicians, Reuters reports.

In the report by the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, the mathematicians said China could not afford to lift travel restrictions without more efficient vaccinations or specific treatments.

Using data for August from the United States, Britain, Spain, France and Israel, the mathematicians assessed the potential results if China adopted the same pandemic control tactics as those countries.

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A journalist is given a test for coronavirus at a Winter Olympics site near Beijing. Photograph: Tingshu Wang/Reuters

China’s daily new cases would reach at least 637,155 if it adopted the United States’ pandemic strategy, the report said.

And daily cases would hit 275,793 if China took the same approach as Britain and 454,198 if it imitated France, it said.

“The estimates revealed the real possibility of a colossal outbreak which would almost certainly induce an unaffordable burden on the medical system,” the report said.

“Our findings have raised a clear warning that, for the time being, we are not ready to embrace ‘open-up’ strategies resting solely on the hypothesis of herd immunity induced by vaccination advocated by certain western countries.”


Germany has reported another 44,401 Covid cases, tasking its total to 5,761,696. There were also another 104 deaths from Covid in the past 24 hours, meaning that 100,883 people have died from the disease.

The health ministry in the German state of Bavaria announced on Saturday two confirmed cases of the Omicron variant.

The two people entered Germany at Munich airport on 24 November, before Germany designated South Africa as a virus-variant area, and were now isolating, said the ministry, indicating without stating explicitly that the people had travelled from South Africa.

Financial markets face turbulent week

World stock markets plunged on Friday as news emerged of the Omicron variant – and futures trading suggests more steep falls when trading resumes on Monday.

Wall Street’s Dow Jones industrial average is on course to shed around 2.5% on Monday and the broader S&P500 is tracking for losses of 2.2%. Other major indices are heading the same way with the FTSE100 expected to drop 3.8%, the Hang Seng seen losing 1.2%%, and the Nikkei to drop more than 3%.

However, there’s a lot that could happen in the meantime. If evidence emerges that the new variant is not as dangerous as previous ones, markets could rebound very sharply so the futures indices will be closely watched for the next 24 hours in the build up to the next session opening in Asia Pacific.

Worth quoting comments by Dr Angelique Coetzee, chair of the South African Medical Association and a practising GP based in Pretoria, who said it was “premature” to make predictions of a health crisis.

“It’s all speculation at this stage. It may be it’s highly transmissible, but so far the cases we are seeing are extremely mild,” she said”


Australian states and territories are braced for the spread of Omicron, with authorities conceding on Sunday that positive cases were inevitable.

Both the NSW and Victorian governments have introduced 72-hour isolation requirements for all fully vaccinated international arrivals, regardless of where they have arrived from.

NSW health minister Brad Hazzard said the new variant may “already be here” and that little is known about it.

“What we do know is that it’s going to be hard to ascertain just how many people are here who have been in those African nations.”

Full story here:

Related: Covid update: NSW health minister says Omicron may ‘already be here’

Israel bans all foreigners from midnight on Sunday

Israel is banning the entry of all foreigners into the country, making it the first country to shut its borders completely in response to the Omicron variant. It also said it would use counter-terrorism phone-tracking technology in order to contain the spread of the Omicron variant.

Naftali Bennett, the prime minister, said in a statement that the ban, pending government approval, would last 14 days.

Officials hope that within that period there will be more information on how effective COVID-19 vaccines are against Omicron, which was first detected in South Africa and has been dubbed a “variant of concern” by the World Health Organization.

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Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett announces a ban on foreign visitors at the Ben-Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv on Saturday. Photograph: Atef Safadi/EPA

“Our working hypotheses are that the variant is already in nearly every country,” interior minister Ayelet Shaked told N12’s “Meet the Press,” “and that the vaccine is effective, although we don’t yet know to what degree.”

Israelis entering the country, including those who are vaccinated, will be required to quarantine, Bennett said. The ban will come into effect at midnight between Sunday and Monday. A travel ban on foreigners coming from most African states was imposed on Friday.

Czech Republic confirms Omicron case

A hospital in the northern Czech city of Liberec has confirmed a case of the Omicron strain in a female patient, a spokesman told Czech Television on Saturday.

Czech prime minister Andrej Babis said earlier Saturday that the woman had been in Namibia and flew back to the Czech Republic via South Africa and Dubai. Babis said the woman was vaccinated and had mild symptoms of the disease.

“Given where the patient came from and all the circumstances, we can confirm the strain has been confirmed,” the spokesman added.

The Czech Republic is currently grappling with a spike in Covid-19 infections making it one of the worst-hit countries in the world in terms of infections per capita.

Australia toughens up restrictions

01:15 Mostafa Rachwani

Australia’s federal health minister said he was meeting the prime minister, Scott Morrison, and the chief health officer, and state and territory counterparts to discuss developments around the Omicron Covid-19 variant.

Greg Hunt did a swift u-turn on Saturday by shutting the country’s border with South Africa and reinstating mandatory quarantine for arrivals from nine southern African countries as concerns about Omicron mounted. States such as South Australia are already tightening up their borders again after only beginning to emerge from the Delta lockdown in place in much of the country since June and July.

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NSW premier Dominic Perrottet arrives for a press conference about Covid in Sydney. Photograph: Bianca de Marchi/AAP

New South Wales, however, is sticking with its reopening plan. State premier Dominic Perrottet said it was “inevitable” that more variants will emerge and enter Australia, and said the state was taking a “precautionary approach” with the changes to international arrivals announced yesterday.

“We need to learn to live alongside the virus and to live alongside the various strains of the virus that will come our way, and the best thing we can do is get vaccinated and get booster shots,” he said.

“Urgent” genomic sequencing is under way after two passengers on a Qatar Airways flight arrived in Sydney on Saturday night. Perrottet confirmed that 29 people arrived in Sydney yesterday, after spending time in southern Africa.


Mexico recorded 245 coronavirus deaths on Saturday and an additional 2,956 confirmed cases, according to health ministry data, bringing the overall death toll to 293,859 and the number of cases to 3,882,792.


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US praises South African response

The US has praised South Africa for quickly identifying the Omicron strain and sharing the information with the world, AFP reports.

In what has been viewed as a swipe at China’s handling of the original outbreak of Covid in 2019, secretary of state Antony Blinken spoke with South Africa’s international relations and cooperation minister, Naledi Pandor, and discussed cooperation on vaccinating people in Africa.

“Secretary Blinken specifically praised South Africa’s scientists for the quick identification of the Omicron variant and South Africa’s government for its transparency in sharing this information, which should serve as a model for the world,” a statement from the State Department said.

First under Donald Trump and now under president Joe Biden, the US has repeatedly criticised China as not being forthcoming on the origins of the coronavirus.


Morning/afternoon/evening wherever you are in the world, and welcome to the Guardian’s rolling updates about the coronavirus pandemic.

The main developoments in the past 24 hours or so concern the rush to contain the Omicron variant as cases are detected in countries around the world.

Here is a quick summary of where we are:

  • Britain, Germany, Italy and the Czech Republic detected cases of the new Omicron coronavirus variant on Saturday. There was also concern in the Netherlands after 61 people tested positive for Covid-19 after arriving on two flights from South Africa on Friday. Further tests were under way to determine if any of them had the Omicron variant.
  • Boris Johnson said arrivals to the UK have to take a PCR test by the second day of their arrival and self-isolate until they have a negative result after the first two cases of the new variant were reported in Nottingham and Essex. Face coverings will also become compulsory in shops and on public transport in the UK from next week.
  • US government expert Dr Anthony Fauci said he “would not be surprised” if the Omicron variant was already in the US. President Joe Biden has been briefed on the situation.
  • Israel is to ban the entry of visitors from all countries due to the Omicron variant. The country will also reintroduce counter-terrorism phone-tracking technology for contact testing in order to contain the spread of the new strain.
  • Health officials in New South Wales, Australia, have begun urgent testing after two people who arrived on a flight from southern Africa overnight tested positive to the coronavirus. But the state’s opening up plan remains in place for now. Follow all the developments in Australia at our separate live blog here.
  • Two people with the new variant entered Germany at Munich airport on 24 November, before South Africa was designated a virus variant area and were now isolating, Bavaria’s health ministry said. Earlier, officials in the western state of Hesse, home to Frankfurt airport, said a suspected case of the Omicron variant had been found in a passenger arriving from South Africa.
  • A case of the Omicron variant has been detected in Italy. The genome was sequenced at the Laboratory of Clinical Microbiology, Virology and Bioemergency Diagnostics of the Sacco Hospital in Milan from a positive sample of a patient coming from Mozambique.

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