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Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on Dec. 1

A person in California became the first identified U.S. case of the omicron coronavirus variant, the White House announced Wednesday as scientists continue to study the risks posed by the new variant.

U.S. confirms 1st omicron case; coronavirus variant now in 23 countries

Travel bans buy time to understand omicron, Fauci says

7 months ago
Duration 0:36
Description: Dr. Anthony Fauci, the United States' top infectious disease expert, explains how the current travel restrictions may not prevent infected individuals from entering the U.S., but are instrumental in delaying the spread of the omicron variant while scientists work to understand the variant better. (Credit: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

The latest:

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The U.S. confirmed its first case of the omicron variant on Wednesday — a person in California who had been to South Africa — as scientists around the world raced to establish whether the new version of the coronavirus is more dangerous than previous ones.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the United States' top infectious disease expert, made the announcement at the White House.

"We knew it was just a matter of time before the first case of omicron would be detected in the United States," he said.

The infected person was identified as a traveler who had returned from South Africa on Nov. 22, developed mild symptoms and tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday. Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco obtained a sample from the patient Tuesday evening and worked overnight to assemble the genetic sequence.

WATCH | Responding to omicron's 'early days':

WHO warns how world should respond in omicron's 'early days'

7 months ago
Duration 2:17
The World Health Organization says that every tool used to fight the delta coronavirus variant needs to be strengthened against omicron. (Fabrice Coffrini/Reuters)

The person, who had had the full two doses of the Moderna vaccine and wasn't yet due for a booster shot, is improving, California officials said.

Fauci and other medical experts strongly emphasized that Americans should continue to get vaccinated and get their booster shots. The vaccine has been proven to reduce the risk of severe illness and death, and Fauci said it is reasonable to believe it will offer protection against the omicron variant.

The mild nature of the California person's infection "is a testimony to the importance of the vaccinations," said California Health Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly.

All the individual's close contacts have been reached and have tested negative, officials said. The patient, who agreed to remain in quarantine, was identified only as being between 18 and 49.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom expressed confidence in the state's efforts to control the virus and said he does not anticipate imposing another stay-at-home order or other shutdown measures.

Gov. Gavin Newsom announces the confirmation of California's first case of the omicron coronavirus variant during a visit to a COVID-19 vaccination clinic located in an elementary school in Winton, Calif., on Wednesday. (Andrew Kuhn/The Merced Sun-Star via AP)

At least 23 other countries have reported omicron infections since South African authorities first identified the variant a week ago — an announcement that led the U.S. and many other nations to almost immediately bar airline travellers arriving from southern Africa.

In South Africa, new cases of COVID-19 nearly doubled in a single day to almost 8,600, authorities reported Wednesday, and the country's National Institute for Communicable Diseases said omicron has overtaken the delta variant among samples now being analyzed at the genetic level.

On Wednesday, the World Health Organization warned that blanket travel bans are complicating the sharing of lab samples from South Africa that could help scientists understand the new variant.


What's happening across Canada

WATCH | Canada expands travel bans, testing requirements over omicron: 

Canada expands travel bans, testing requirements over omicron variant

7 months ago
Duration 1:52
Canada has expanded the list of countries from which travellers are banned and will require everyone arriving from anywhere except the U.S. to take a COVID-19 and isolate upon arrival over concerns about the omicron variant, which is already in at least four provinces.
  • Saskatchewan gives advice on gathering for the holidays safely.
  • 8 travellers from omicron variant-barred countries in N.B., province says.
  • N.L. registers 2 new cases; source of infections under investigation.

What's happening around the world

As of Wednesday, more than 263 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to the case-tracking database maintained by U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University. The reported global death toll stood at more than 5.2 million.

In Africa, Nigeria is now requiring all federal government employees to be inoculated or present a negative COVID-19 test result done in the last 72 hours. With the vaccine mandate taking effect on Wednesday, there were chaotic scenes at several offices in the nation's capital as civil servants without a vaccination card or a negative PCR test were turned away by security agents.

PHOTOS | Mandate takes effect for civil workers in Nigeria: 

In the Americas, health officials on Wednesday confirmed Brazil's third known case of the omicron variant as the government examined possible new measures to contain the virus, such as suspending some flights and requiring arriving passengers to show proof of vaccination.

In Europe, Greek lawmakers have approved legislation making vaccination mandatory for all residents older than 60. That age demographic now has until Jan. 16 to get their first jabs or face fines of 100 euros ($145 Cdn) for every month they remain unvaccinated.

In Asia, Lebanon has declared a nighttime curfew for the unvaccinated ahead of and during the holiday seasons. Its health minister on Wednesday called it one of the measures to stem a recent rise in coronavirus infections and a precaution against the new variant.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story cited the Nigeria CDC as saying omicron was discovered in a sample from October. The disease control agency later issued a statement to say omicron was only discovered in the West African country in November.
    Dec 01, 2021 10:17 AM ET

With files from CBC News

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