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U.S. steps up fight against Omicron as variant marches across globe

WorldDec 02, 2021 08:08PM ET
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3/3 © Reuters. People take coronavirus disease (COVID-19) tests at a pop-up sidewalk testing site in New York, U.S., December 1, 2021. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/file photo 2/3

By Jeff Mason and Joseph Nasr

WASHINGTON/BERLIN (Reuters) - President Joe Biden on Thursday laid out his strategy to fight the coronavirus as the highly contagious Omicron spread across the globe with winter coming and hours after the first known U.S. case of community transmission of the variant was reported.

With authorities around the world scrambling to contain Omicron, Biden warned in no uncertain terms that infections will rise this winter.

"We're going to fight this variant with science and speed, not chaos and confusion," he said, speaking at the National Institutes of Health medical research facility in Maryland.

New York has found five cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant, its governor said, becoming the fourth U.S. state to detect the variant and bringing the total number of infections in the country to eight.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul told a news conference that one of the cases involved a 67-year-old Long Island woman with mild symptoms who had recently returned from South Africa.

The woman had some vaccination history but it was not yet known how many doses she had received. Further information was not yet available on the other four people, all New York City residents, Hochul said.

The other U.S. states that have found Omicron cases are California, Colorado and Minnesota, one in each state. In all three cases, the patients were fully vaccinated and developed mild symptoms.

In California and Colorado, the patients had recently returned from trips to southern Africa and had not gotten booster doses. The case in Minnesota is the first known community transmission within the United States.

The patient in Minnesota had recently travelled to New York City for an anime convention, prompting the city to launch contact tracing to try to contain the spread.

“We are aware of a case of the Omicron variant identified in Minnesota that is associated with travel to a conference in New York City, and we should assume there is community spread of the variant in our city," New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said ahead of Hochul's announcement.

Much remains unknown about Omicron, which was first detected in southern Africa last month and has been reported in at least two dozen countries, just as parts of Europe were already grappling with a wave of infections of the Delta variant.

Under Biden's plan, the United States will require inbound international passengers to be tested for COVID-19 within one day of departure, regardless of vaccination status. Mask requirements on airplanes, trains and public transportation vehicles will be extended to March 18.

The U.S. government will require private health insurers to reimburse their 150 million customers for 100% of the cost of over-the-counter, at-home COVID-19 tests, administration officials said, and make 50 million more tests available free through rural clinics and health centers for the uninsured.

Less than 60% of the U.S. population, or 196 million people, have been fully vaccinated, one of the lowest rates among wealthy nations.

THE ECONOMY

Fears about the Omicron variant have pounded financial markets and created doubts about the speed of the global economic recovery as the pandemic rages on. Shares fell on Thursday, and crude oil futures extended losses.

The variant could slow global economic growth by exacerbating supply chain problems and depressing demand, U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told the Reuters Next conference on Thursday.

"There's a lot of uncertainty, but it could cause significant problems. We're still evaluating that," she said.

Eager to avoid derailing a fragile recovery of Europe's biggest economy, Germany had kept businesses open to the almost 69% of the population that is fully vaccinated as well as those with proof of having recovered from the virus.

But on Thursday, the country announced it would bar the unvaccinated from all but essential businesses such as grocery stores and pharmacies, while legislation to make vaccination mandatory will be drafted for early next year.

"We have understood that the situation is very serious," Chancellor Angela Merkel told a news conference.

A nationwide vaccination mandate could take effect from February 2022 after it is debated in the Bundestag and after guidance from Germany's Ethics Council, she said.

HIGH TRANSMISSION

The European Union's public health agency said the variant could be responsible for more than half of all COVID infections in Europe within a few months.

A group of South African health bodies said on Thursday their latest findings indicated the variant posed a threefold higher risk of reinfection than the currently dominant Delta variant and the Beta strain.

The country also said it was seeing an increase in COVID-19 reinfections in patients contracting Omicron - with people who have already had the illness getting infected again - in a way that it did not see with other variants.

Global travel curbs accelerated on Thursday in response to the threat from Omicron.

In the Netherlands, health authorities called for pre-flight COVID-19 tests for all travel from outside the European Union, after it turned out that most of the passengers who tested positive after arriving on two flights from South Africa on Nov. 26 had been vaccinated.

Graphic: Omicron variant map: https://graphics.reuters.com/USA-VARIANT/zdvxonlxxpx/Omicron.jpg

Russia has imposed a two-week quarantine for travellers from some African countries including South Africa, the Interfax news agency said, quoting a senior official. Hong Kong extended a travel ban to more countries and Norway, among others, re-introduced travel restrictions.

Amid all the new restrictions, Europe's largest budget airline, Ryanair, said it expected a challenging time at Christmas, although it was still optimistic about summer demand.

U.S. steps up fight against Omicron as variant marches across globe
 

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Comments (19)
Jo Pa
Jo Pa Dec 03, 2021 1:27AM ET
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You don't mass distribute antibiotics because it causes antibiotic resistant bacteria. Forcing vaccines on low risk groups makes vaccine resistant strains common, threatening the safety of high risk groups.
Tre Hsi
Tre Hsi Dec 03, 2021 1:27AM ET
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I see you still believe in the herd immunity theory...
Sample Sciences
Sample Sciences Dec 02, 2021 8:36PM ET
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Biden could lay out his shoes! Haha
Sample Sciences
Sample Sciences Dec 02, 2021 8:36PM ET
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*couldn't
Tre Hsi
Tre Hsi Dec 02, 2021 8:36PM ET
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Sample Sciences  so the sleepy grandpa who couldn't even tie his shoes managed to get 8m more votes, what does that say about his orange opponent???
James Hilliard
James Hilliard Dec 02, 2021 7:56PM ET
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The elite are testing their troops, pigs and teachers to see how far they will go to "protect" people from themselves. The vaccines don't work OR they do. Get the vaccine if you want.
Me comment
Me comment Dec 02, 2021 4:43PM ET
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Looks as though the vaccine is doing its job in preventing serious illness or death. See what happens when the anti-vaccinated start dying from it.
Matt Novakovich
Matt Novakovich Dec 02, 2021 4:43PM ET
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I eat covid for breakfast
Samantha Sa
Samantha Sa Dec 02, 2021 4:43PM ET
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We're not dying.
Miriam Morkhul
Miriam Morkhul Dec 02, 2021 3:11PM ET
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How it started. How it's going.
Amel Khrouf
Amel Khrouf Dec 02, 2021 1:02PM ET
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If those vaccines really worked, why is it that variants are predominant in vaccinated countries, while most African countries barely notice any deaths? And if vaccines do not stop transmission, why imposing vaccine passports- to get the vaccinated contaminate each other? And if there was a real risk, why i it that there are less deaths attributed to this virus in 2020 than in 2021?
Oldfashioned Owl
Oldfashioned Owl Dec 02, 2021 12:53PM ET
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Fearmongerers. The virus will be here forever. Pandemic is over.
Tre Hsi
Tre Hsi Dec 02, 2021 12:53PM ET
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so you admit there was a pandemic?  I am guessing back in 2020 you probably went around and told everyone it's no worse than the flu......
ben sc
ben sc Dec 02, 2021 11:53AM ET
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In case you missed it, was a good excuse to make 2-3% profit. Bring on the scariants!
Moses Chege
Moses Chege Dec 02, 2021 11:19AM ET
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To know the truth, just follow the money. It is always about money all the time. They don't care about lives. Just the $$$
Roberto Simone
Roberto Simone Dec 02, 2021 10:16AM ET
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The great reset, is well under way.
Anthony Cloud
Anthony Cloud Dec 02, 2021 7:52AM ET
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So a vaccinated person brought it to the USA.... go figure.
The Man
The Man Dec 02, 2021 7:52AM ET
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You would think the person was tested prior to artivsl back in USA
Jurgen Daub
Jurgen Daub Dec 02, 2021 7:52AM ET
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William Smith
William Smith Dec 02, 2021 7:46AM ET
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And to think Fauci is still not in prison for funding the making of Covid 19.
Jamie An
Jamie An Dec 02, 2021 6:56AM ET
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After Omicoron, many bad news are waiting for batton change. Opec decision, Deft ceiling, Inflaton and needed rapid interest rate raising, market shock...
John Healy
John Healy Dec 02, 2021 6:35AM ET
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The Coronavirus’ effect upon the world’s economies was never a problem. The response by governments is what caused the mess we’re in. I’m all for vaccines and the CHOICE to receive them, hand-washing etc., but these “lockdown” measures (closing schools, businesses, and paying people to not work) is what kills economies. Call your state and federal lawmakers and tell them NO MORE LOCKDOWNS.
Tom Scurlo
Tom Scurlo Dec 02, 2021 6:35AM ET
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I’ll agree with your CHOICE and hand washing, etc comments. But as for my opinion…. Drop the masks… THEY DON’T WORK…. And stop the mandates…. And especially stop the whisper of “GET THE VACCINE” Joe Biden!!!! Every thing ypu get in front of a mic…. You are pushing VACCINE!!!!Instead say: It’s your CHOICE to get the vaccine ir not. Leave it at that.
Jack Bquick
Jack Bquick Dec 02, 2021 5:08AM ET
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Omicron is obviously Biden's fault. Everything he's involved with gets worse.
Jack Bquick
Jack Bquick Dec 02, 2021 5:08AM ET
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*Worst US President in history*
Jurgen Daub
Jurgen Daub Dec 02, 2021 5:08AM ET
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lol
Whaling Trawler
Whaling Trawler Dec 02, 2021 3:13AM ET
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...lol lol
Randall Paul
Randall Paul Dec 02, 2021 2:44AM ET
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now we use the word virus as opposed to the flu. ridiculous.
darren marshall
darren marshall Dec 02, 2021 2:44AM ET
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yawn
William Bailey
William Bailey Dec 02, 2021 2:28AM ET
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The guy is fine ! This is a joke now
 
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