HomeABC NationalCOVID-19 live updates: WHO classifies Omicron as ‘a variant of concern’COVID-19 live updates: WHO classifies Omicron as ‘a variant of concern’Fri, November 26, 2021 by ABC NewsSHARE NOW Tomwang112/iStock(NEW YORK) — As the COVID-19 pandemic has swept the globe, more than 5.1 million people have died from the disease worldwide, including over 773,000 Americans, according to real-time data compiled by Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Systems Science and Engineering.Just 59.2% of the population in the United States is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.Here’s how the new is developing. All times Eastern:Nov 26, 2:11 pm US, Canada place travel ban on foreign nationals traveling through southern African countriesThe U.S. will be restricting entry for foreign nationals from southern African countries in response to the discovery of omicron, the new COVID-19 variant, said senior administration officials.According to officials, President Joe Biden will restrict travel from South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi.The policy will not apply to American citizens or lawful permanent residents.Canada and the United Kingdom announced a similar ban on Friday and Thursday, respectively.Nov 26, 1:25 pm WHO classifies Omicron as ‘a variant of concern’The World Health Organization on Friday named the new B.1.1.529 variant Omicron and classified it as a SARS-CoV-2 “variant of concern.”“This variant has a large number of mutations, some of which are concerning,” the WHO said in a statement.The variant was first reported on Wednesday in South Africa, the WHO said. The first confirmed infection was from a specimen collected on Nov. 9.Current PCR tests are successful in diagnosing the variant, the WHO said.Nov 26, 11:22 am Fauci says newly detected variant could be a ‘red flag’U.S. and South African scientists will address the new B.1.1.529 variant that has been reported in Europe and Africa, Dr. Anthony Fauci said Friday.In an interview with CNN, Fauci said there is no indication the variant is in the U.S. but “anything is possible.”“There’s a lot of travel, you never know exactly where it is,” Fauci said.Scientists are still trying to determine if the variant can evade vaccines and is more transmissible.“So right now you’re talking about sort of a red flag that this might be an issue, but we don’t know,” Fauci said.The U.S. will evaluate the variant’s scientific data and decide if prevention measures such as travel bans are necessary, he noted.“You’re prepared to do everything you need to do to protect the American public. But you want to make sure there’s a basis for doing that. And that’s what we’re doing right now,” Fauci said.Nov 26, 10:08 am Belgium confirms 1st European case of new variantBelgium’s health department has confirmed its first case of the new B.1.1.529 variant.The patient, a woman, had traveled to Belgium from Egypt via Istanbul. She developed symptoms 11 days after her return and was not vaccinated. Her family members have tested negative for COVID and the woman is not in a life-threatening condition, officials said.Hong Kong has two confirmed cases and Israel has one other confirmed case of the B.1.1.529 variant. Several cases have been reported in South Africa and Botswana.European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Friday issued a formal recommendation for countries in the 27 nation EU bloc to suspend travel with countries affected by the new variant.Nov 26, 4:04 am EU to propose travel ban on southern Africa over new variantThe European Union’s executive branch said Friday that it wants to suspend air travel to the bloc from southern Africa due to concerns over a newly identified variant of the novel coronavirus.European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen made the announcement via Twitter, saying a proposal “to activate the emergency brake to stop air travel from the Southern Africa region” will be made “in close coordination” with EU member states.The @EU_Commission will propose, in close coordination with Member States, to activate the emergency brake to stop air travel from the southern African region due to the variant of concern B.1.1.529.— Ursula von der Leyen (@vonderleyen) November 26, 2021The variant, called B.1.1.529, was first detected in South Africa earlier this week and has quickly spread. At least 22 cases have been confirmed in the country so far, according to South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases. South African scientist Tulio de Oliveira told reporters Thursday that the new variant carries “a very high number of mutations,” but it’s unclear whether it will limit the effectiveness of vaccines.Several cases of B.1.1.529 have since been confirmed in neighboring Botswana as well as in Hong Kong and Israel. The cases detected in Hong Kong and Israel were linked to travelers who had arrived from southern Africa.The World Health Organization will meet on Friday to assess B.1.1.529 and determine whether it should be designated a variant “of interest” or “of concern.”Nov 24, 7:11 pm New Hampshire to establish ‘surge centers’Amid a record-setting COVID-19 surge, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu signed an executive order allowing hospitals to establish temporary acute care centers, or internal “surge centers,” in an effort to increase bed capacity.“We are seeing record levels of cases; we’re seeing record levels of hospitalizations. This winter surge that we predicted is unfortunately now rearing its ugly head. We are definitely in the throes of it,” Sununu said during a press conference on Tuesday.The state is also working to identify whether the National Guard can play a role in supporting hospitals.“I think the next few weeks are going to be very telling. I think it’s going to be a fairly bumpy road. We just want everyone to be vaccinated. Be safe because the system right now is at an emergency point,” Sununu added.The governor made clear that this executive order is not a state of emergency.-ABC News’ Arielle MitropoulosNov 24, 12:13 pm Daily case average up 46% since OctoberHospital admissions in the U.S. are up by 15% over the last two weeks, according to federal data.These states and Washington, D.C, have seen at least a 10% increase in hospital admissions over the last week: Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Texas and Wisconsin.The U.S. daily case average has jumped by more than 46% since late October, according to federal data.The Northeast and Midwest are seeing the greatest increase in cases and hospitalizations.In Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont, case averages are up 30%.-ABC News’ Arielle MitropoulosNov 24, 11:23 am Deaths, hospitalizations predicted to increase in weeks to comeForecast models used by the CDC suggest that weekly deaths and hospital admissions will rise over the next four weeks — the first increase in U.S. death rates and hospital admissions since the summer surge.Nearly 15,000 more Americans could die from COVID-19 over the next two weeks, according to the forecasts.The CDC obtains the forecasts from the COVID-19 Forecast Hub at UMass Amherst, which monitors and combines forecasting models from the nation’s top researchers.-ABC News’ Arielle MitropoulosNov 24, 10:33 am 89% of DHS workers have had at least 1 shotNearly 89% of workers at the Department of Homeland Security, an agency that includes airport security workers and the president’s Secret Service detail, have received at least one vaccine dose, according to the White House.Ninety-two percent of federal workers have received at least vaccine dose, according to the White House. Just under 5% of the federal workforce has requested an exemption or extension to the vaccine mandate.The White House has not said how many workers have met Biden’s deadline of being “fully immunized” by Nov. 22. That would have required workers to get their final dose on Nov. 8.Nov 24, 9:37 am 700K more could die in Europe between now and March: WHOAn additional 700,000 people in Europe could die from COVID-19 between now and March, the World Health Organization said Tuesday.COVID-19 is now Europe’s leading cause of death, the WHO said.Deadly deaths in Europe neared 4,200 last week, which is twice as many as the daily deaths at the end of September, according to the WHO.-ABC News’ Dragana JovanovicNov 24, 3:25 am Massachusetts asks hospitals with limited capacity to reduce elective surgeriesHospitals with limited capacity in Massachusetts are being asked to, once again, begin reducing elective surgeries.The Massachusetts Department of Public Health released the updated guidance to hospitals on Tuesday. The guidance explains that, “on a statewide basis, hospitals are currently operating at over 90% inpatient capacity,” which it says “is compounded by 500 fewer acute care inpatient beds available as a result of unprecedented staffing shortages.”“The current strain on hospital capacity is due to longer than average hospital stays and significant workforce shortages, separate and apart from the challenges brought on by COVID,” Massachusetts Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders said in a statement Tuesday. “COVID hospitalizations in Massachusetts remain lower than almost every other state in the nation, but the challenges the healthcare system face remain, and this order will ensure hospitals can serve all residents, including those who require treatment for COVID-19.”Although COVID-19 hospitalizations in Massachusetts are still significantly lower than last January, when more than 2,000 patients were receiving care, approximately 740 patients are currently hospitalized across the state.Given the current “high census level” and expected increase in hospitalization rates, as seen last year during the period following Thanksgiving and through January, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health said a “concerted effort to preserve inpatient capacity” was necessary.The current strain on the Bay State’s health care system has been further exacerbated by staffing shortages.“We are now seeing significant strain on hospital capacity due largely to workforce shortages and an influx of non-COVID-19 patients who deferred care and now need complex medical care,” Steve Walsh, president and CEO of the Massachusetts Health and Hospital Association, said in a statement Tuesday.The reduction of non-essential, non-urgent scheduled procedures will not apply to ambulatory services, pediatric care or immunizations, pregnancy terminations and essential, urgent inpatient procedures that have a high risk or would lead to a significant worsening of the patient’s condition, if deferred.-ABC News’ Arielle MitropoulosNov 23, 3:58 pm New cases in US up by more than 42%New cases in the U.S. have jumped by more than 42% over the last four weeks, according to federal data.These states as well as Washington, D.C., have seen at least a 10% uptick in daily cases over the last two weeks: Arkansas, Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin.Michigan is currently experiencing its highest case average of the entire pandemic, according to federal data.New York is now averaging its highest number of new cases since February.More than 101 million Americans remain completely unvaccinated; 81 million of those people are over the age of 5 and thus eligible to be vaccinated, according to federal data.-ABC News’ Arielle MitropoulosNov 23, 3:02 pm Denver hospitals running out of spaceDenver area hospitals are 95% full, Denver Health CEO Robin Wittenstein warned at a Tuesday news conference.“Emergency rooms are routinely diverting patients because they simply don’t have the capacity to take care of people who need help,” Wittenstein said.Eighty-three percent of hospitalized COVID-19 patients in Colorado are unvaccinated, said Bob McDonald, executive director of Denver’s Department of Public Health and Environment.“To suggest that the vaccines don’t work… that’s like suggesting seatbelts don’t work,” McDonald said.Denver is implementing an indoor mask mandate unless businesses choose to require proof of vaccination.-ABC News’ Zachary FerberCopyright © 2021, ABC Audio. 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