Covid Live Updates: Omicron News, Vaccines and More

The latest developments in the news of interest to Covid Live users, as well as updates on things such as vaccines.


After a coronavirus-related shutdown went into place on Monday, the streets of Amsterdam were almost deserted. Credit… Associated Press/Peter Dejong

According to Dutch health experts, two persons who tested positive for the coronavirus in the Netherlands more than a week ago were infected with the Omicron strain.

The timing is significant because it indicates that the variant had been present in the country for at least a week before two flights from South Africa arrived on Friday, and before the World Health Organization designated Omicron as a “variant of concern,” prompting countries around the world to ban flights from southern Africa, where researchers first discovered the variant.

The Omicron coronavirus strain was discovered in two test samples collected on November 19 and November 23, according to a statement released by the Dutch health ministry on Tuesday. “It’s unclear if these individuals also traveled to Southern Africa.”

Municipal health services took the two samples at public testing facilities, and health authorities have begun contact tracing in those regions, according to Dutch health experts.

Omicron’s diagnosis in Botswana and South Africa has produced the most uncertain moment of the pandemic since the extremely infectious Delta variety surfaced in the spring, despite the fact that nothing is known about how transmissible it is or whether it can resist current vaccinations.

The release from the Netherlands also underlined the fact that scientists are still unsure of where or when the variation first appeared. According to Gisaid, a worldwide database for disease variations, the first known sample of the Omicron variant was obtained on Nov. 9 in South Africa.

Officials throughout Europe are concerned that Omicron would add to the burden on nations currently dealing with some of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in history.

According to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, 42 cases of the new variety have been verified in ten European countries so far.

The agency’s head, Andrea Ammon, said in an online press conference that all of the verified cases in Europe had minimal or no symptoms, and that officials were looking into six other “possible” cases. She stated that health authorities were doing further tests on patients who had recovered from Omicron-related illnesses to see how the variation behaved in vaccinated people, and that more information would be available in a “few of weeks.”

As the World Health Organization warned that the danger presented by the extensively mutated form was “extremely significant,” countries throughout the European Union hurried to tighten travel restrictions in the hopes of halting its spread.

However, the World Health Organization’s top official warned governments on Tuesday that their actions were “not evidence-based.”

In Geneva, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus remarked, “We still have more questions than answers concerning the influence of Omicron on transmission, severity of illness, and the efficiency of testing, therapies, and vaccinations.”

The news by Dutch authorities about the two Omicron incidents followed a hectic sequence of closures in Amsterdam on Friday, which delayed 600 people on two planes from South Africa for a period. On those flights, 61 people tested positive for the coronavirus, with at least 14 of them having the Omicron variety.

In reaction to a Covid wave that started before Omicron was detected, the Netherlands tightened regulations beginning on Sunday, requiring numerous enterprises, including pubs, restaurants, and theaters, to shut from 5 p.m. to 5 a.m. On Monday, Dutch health authorities recorded more than 22,000 new coronavirus cases, one of the largest daily totals seen in the nation since the outbreak started.

Adeel Hassan and Carl Zimmer contributed reporting.

On Monday, Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke via video connection at the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in Dakar, Senegal. Credit… Getty Images/Seyllou/Agence France-Presse

As Africa battles the new Omicron coronavirus type, China’s leader, Xi Jinping, has promised to supply another billion doses of vaccinations to the world’s least immunized continent.

Mr. Xi’s declaration is part of China’s ongoing campaign to polish its image as a responsible global power aiding in the battle against the epidemic, and it comes at a critical moment for African nations, particularly those in the south, where Omicron was originally discovered. Scientists are concerned that Omicron is already spreading swiftly there, but they warn that much about the variety, including where it came from, is unclear.

South African health authorities said on Monday that Omicron looked to be the source of a new outbreak in the country. According to statistics from Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Systems Science and Engineering, the daily average of new cases in the nation has surged by more than 1,500 percent in the last two weeks, but the case counts remain considerably below the year’s previous high.

Source: Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE). The daily average is generated using data from the previous seven days.

Officials cautioned the public not to be alarmed by the variety, saying it was too early to determine if it has a greater incidence of transmission or causes more hospitalizations or severe sickness.

Africa has the lowest vaccination rates of any continent, with just 10.3% of the population getting at least one shot, compared to rates of at least 60% to over 80% in Europe, Asia, Latin America, and the United States and Canada.

However, vaccine doses have begun to flow into parts of Africa in recent weeks, and nations such as South Africa — where roughly one-quarter of the population is completely immunized, one of the highest rates on the continent — are now grappling with how to quickly deliver them. “Countries are trying to scale up,” said Shabir Mahdi, a virologist at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, where dosages are accessible.

Mr. Xi’s declaration, delivered via video connection late Monday at the opening of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, seemed to be part of a broader attempt to deflect attention away from Beijing’s early handling of the coronavirus problem.

He said that 600 million vaccine doses will be given, with the remainder coming from other sources such as cooperative manufacturing between Chinese enterprises and African nations. China would also send 1,500 doctors and public health professionals to Africa, he added.

Mr. Xi said that China wants to assist the African Union in reaching its target of vaccinating 60% of the continent’s population by 2022.

Officials from China earlier said that they would make their vaccinations more inexpensive and prioritize Africa, where they have quickly boosted their spending in recent years. The latest offer of one billion doses follows China’s prior commitment to the continent of more than 155 million injections. According to Bridge Beijing, a company that studies China’s effect on global health, around 107 million have been given to 46 African nations so far.

Following the discovery of Omicron, The Global Times, a Communist Party-controlled Chinese newspaper, bragged of China’s achievement in preventing the spread of the coronavirus and said that the West was paying the price for its selfish actions.

The article said that “Western nations hold the majority of the resources required to combat the Covid-19 outbreak.” “However, they have failed to stop the HIV’s spread, exposing the infection to an increasing number of poor nations.”

However, there are concerns regarding the vaccinations developed in China’s effectiveness. Following breakouts this year frightened some nations who had depended largely on them to inoculate substantial portions of their populations.

Scientists throughout the globe are racing to see whether existing vaccinations can protect against Omicron, which adds to the uncertainty. Sinovac Biotech, a major vaccine manufacturer in China, informed The Global Times that it was also testing its vaccine against Omicron.

— Lynsey Chutel and Amy Qin

The new medicines are being hailed by health experts all across the globe as a way to minimize the number of severe cases and save lives. Shutterstock/EPA/EPA/EPA/EPA/EPA/EPA/EPA/EPA/EPA/EPA

A panel of FDA advisors will meet on Tuesday to evaluate an antiviral tablet from Merck, the first in a new class of therapies that might work against a broad variety of variations, as the globe reels from the discovery of the Omicron form of the coronavirus.

The expert group will decide whether or not to propose that the medicine molnupiravir be approved for high-risk patients. If the committee approves the medicine and the government follows the suggestion, the therapy — which has been demonstrated to minimize the risk of hospitalization and mortality in people with the Delta, Mu, and Gamma variations — may be approved and accessible in the United States within days. The meeting of the panel on Tuesday may be seen here.

The FDA may also approve a comparable tablet from Pfizer, which seems to be substantially more successful than Merck’s, in the coming weeks.

The new medicines are being hailed by health experts all across the globe as a way to minimize the number of severe cases and save lives. If Omicron leads to an increase in severe infections, it might exacerbate their importance.

Scientists have yet to conduct tests to evaluate how effective the tablets are at preventing Omicron viruses from multiplying. Even if the variation may occasionally elude immunizations, there are grounds to believe they would remain effective.

The so-called spike protein that hooks on to human cells has more than 30 mutations in Omicron. Some of these alterations may make it difficult for antibodies created by vaccines to target the virus.

The tablets, on the other hand, do not target the spike protein. Instead, they compromise the virus’s reproduction mechanism by weakening two proteins. Omicron has just one mutation in each of those proteins, and none of them seems to prevent the tablets from working.

Daria Hazuda, a Merck executive, said molnupiravir’s efficacy is comparable across known variations and that the medicine operates in a manner that makes it likely to be useful against novel variants in a presentation to the committee members.

Virus infections are on the rise in many parts of the country, particularly in the Upper Midwest and Northeast. Since the beginning of November, the number of cases has increased throughout the country, increasing worries of a winter outbreak driven by the Omicron variety, indoor Christmas gatherings, and the unwillingness of tens of millions of Americans to be vaccinated.

Molnupiravir was reported to minimize the risk of hospitalization or death by 30% in a clinical experiment when administered to high-risk, unvaccinated volunteers within five days of onset of symptoms. It looks to be far less successful than Pfizer’s tablet, which reduced risk by 89 percent, and monoclonal antibody therapies, which reduced risk by at least 70 percent.

If molnupiravir gets approved in the US, availability will initially be restricted, albeit it will be more plentiful than Pfizer’s tablet. The Biden administration has ordered enough therapy for 3.1 million patients, at a cost of around $700 per person. Merck is anticipated to provide the tablets by the end of February.

The medication is administered in the form of 40 tablets over five days, starting five days after the onset of symptoms.

The Food and Drug Administration’s advisory council, which consists of antimicrobial drug specialists, will decide whether or not the medication should be approved for persons with Covid who are at high risk of getting very unwell. This would cover tens of millions of Americans over the age of 65 who are overweight, diabetic, or have heart disease.

The panel will also address safety concerns regarding Merck’s pill that have been raised by several experts. The medicine works by making mistakes in the virus’s genes. According to some experts, there is a theoretical possibility that it might cause cell alterations, resulting in reproductive damage or a long-term risk of cancer.

Merck and FDA representatives discussed the findings of safety research in cells, animals, and clinical trials. “The overall risk of mutagenicity in humans is regarded minimal,” Dr. Aimee Hodowanec, a senior medical officer at the Food and Drug Administration, said during the conference, referring to the drug’s ability to cause mutations in individuals who take it.

When rats were given exceptionally high dosages of molnupiravir compared to what humans would get, they had several significant side effects. The fetuses of pregnant rats that received these large dosages occasionally developed abnormalities or perished. The bone development of young rats who were given large dosages of molnupiravir was disrupted.

Children and pregnant women were not allowed to participate in the drug’s clinical studies. Dr. Hodowanec said, “Molnupiravir seemed to be typically safe in people with mild to moderate Covid-19.”

Merck’s senior vice president of clinical development, Dr. Nicholas Kartsonis, said that although the firm does not promote the therapy for pregnant or nursing women, it thinks the FDA should allow for exclusions in circumstances when the medication’s benefits exceed the dangers. He also said that the business will begin a pregnancy monitoring program to track the results of pregnant women who were exposed to molnupiravir.

The United Kingdom, which approved Merck’s pill earlier this month, advised that it not be administered to pregnant or lactating women and that women who could get pregnant use contraception while taking it and for four days thereafter. The FDA panel will consider whether the medicine is suitable for use during pregnancy in specific circumstances.

Dr. Kartsonis spent the majority of his presentation to the panel on the clinical trial’s intermediate findings, which were based on just 775 participants. Molnupiravir decreased hospitalization and mortality by 50% in that study. The study’s safety committee decided to call a stop to the experiment since the advantage was obvious.

The entire data from 1,433 subjects were unblinded in the past 10 days, according to Dr. Kartsonis. When researchers looked at the whole set of data, they discovered that the efficacy had plummeted to 30%.

The decline was caused by a change in the trial’s results. A smaller number of patients who received the placebo ended up in the hospital later in the experiment. Dr. Kartsonis did not provide an explanation when asked to interpret the data. “It doesn’t add up to us,” he said.

The FDA’s examination of the entire study data is “still continuing,” according to Dr. Hodowanec.

“Another spike is on the way as we approach the winter months,” Dr. Kartsonis warned. “New, effective, well-tolerated, and easily given medications to treat Covid-19 in the outpatient environment are still desperately needed.”

— Carl Zimmer and Rebecca Robbins


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Greece’s Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis stated people aged 60 and above who have not had their first vaccination by January 16 would be fined 100 euros ($113) each month. CreditCredit… Reuters/Alexandros Avramidis

In an effort to increase vaccination rates among the elderly, Greece’s prime minister said on Tuesday that Covid injections would be required for anyone aged 60 and over, with those who failed to schedule their first dose by January 16 facing penalties.

The decision comes as Greek health officials struggle to contain a rise in coronavirus infections and fatalities, while also anticipating the impact of the Omicron type.

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis informed a cabinet meeting that some 500,000 Greeks aged 60 and above had yet to be vaccinated against Covid-19. Those who do not reach the deadline will be fined 100 euros ($113) every month, with the proceeds going toward financing public hospitals that have been overburdened by the epidemic, he added.

Mr. Mitsotakis described the program as “an act of justice for the vaccinated,” saying he was concerned about punishing individuals but hoped they would perceive it as “encouragement, not repression.”

“I felt an obligation to stand by the most vulnerable, even if it displeased them briefly,” he stated.

According to the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University, Greece is averaging more than 6,400 new cases per day, one of the highest rates since the outbreak began. Mr. Mitsotakis stated that additional free testing kits will be made available over the next two months due to worries that the virus might spread over the winter vacations.

Source: Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE). The daily average is generated using data from the previous seven days.

More over 60% of Greece’s population has received all of their vaccinations. Unvaccinated persons are no longer permitted to enter cinemas, theaters, museums, or gymnasiums in Greece, which has joined a rising number of European countries in putting additional restrictions on those who have not had Covid vaccinations.

Austria, the first Western democracy to do so, declared this month that immunizations would be required for all adults beginning in February.

The spread of the Omicron variety has alarmed Greek officials, who banned tourists from nine African nations last week after researchers in southern Africa revealed the discovery of a new version. Even though they tested negative for the virus, five Greek citizens returning from Africa were kept in isolation on Saturday.

The European Union’s public health agency said that 42 instances of the variation have been documented throughout the EU, all of which were mild or asymptomatic.

The origins of the variation, as well as the danger it presents, are unknown.

In September, a vial of Regeneron was seen at the Sarasota Memorial Urgent Care Center in Sarasota, Fla. Credit… Reuters/Shannon Stapleton

On Tuesday, Regeneron said that their Covid-19 antibody therapy may be less effective against the Omicron coronavirus variation, implying that the popular and generally helpful monoclonal antibody medications may need to be upgraded if the new variety spreads quickly.

Previous laboratory tests and computer modeling of specific changes in the Omicron version show that they may reduce the treatment’s effectiveness, according to the firm. However, tests employing the variant’s whole sequences have yet to be conducted, according to the report.

According to the business, it has already begun testing new antibody medication candidates, with early results indicating that some of them “may have the potential to maintain efficacy against the Omicron version.” More information is due in the following month, according to the report.

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Regeneron’s president and chief scientific officer, Dr. George Yancopoulos, said, “What we have to say is, our urgency has intensified in the last six days.” “What began as a back-up plan has suddenly become far more critical.”

Scientists are concerned about the Omicron variety because it has mutations in the spike protein, which is the target of Regeneron and Eli Lilly’s government-supplied monoclonal antibody therapy.

Scientists have also been trying to acquire information on how effective existing Omicron vaccinations will be. Antiviral medications, such as those from Merck and Pfizer that federal authorities are contemplating approving shortly, should be effective against the variation because they target a different part of the virus than where Omicron’s mutations are grouped.

Monoclonal antibody therapies employ lab-made copies of the antibodies that individuals naturally produce while battling an infection and are administered in a single infusion. They have been demonstrated to drastically reduce the length of time that patients experience symptoms. Regeneron’s combination lowers the likelihood of hospitalization by 70%.

The medication proved successful against the Delta type of the virus, which is still the most common in the United States, according to the firm.

On Monday, a health care worker at New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport tested for the coronavirus. Credit… Reuters/Anushree Fadnavis

The Omicron form has caused concern in India, which was struck hard by a deadly Covid outbreak this year, which was driven in part by another strain.

The new variation has compelled India’s government to reconsider its intention to restart scheduled foreign flights on December 15th. When Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared a statewide lockdown in March 2020, the flights were halted, but some were reinstated when the country created air travel arrangements with numerous countries.

While researchers predict it may be weeks before additional information regarding Omicron’s transmissibility and the severity of the sickness it causes becomes available, governments have hurried to enact new travel restrictions in an attempt to limit the disease’s spread.

Mr. Modi convened an emergency meeting on Monday to examine India’s travel laws. The government has just lately begun granting tourist permits, despite having the lowest daily case count since the outbreak began. India has also resumed exporting of locally produced vaccinations.

Source: Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE). The daily average is generated using data from the previous seven days.

Hospitals in New Delhi, the capital, have been urged to be on high alert after a previous wave rattled the health care system, which was triggered in part by the Delta variety. Arvind Kejriwal, the mayor of New Delhi, has demanded Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration to ban all flights from nations where the new variety has been discovered.

Instead, India’s government published advice for tourists traveling from countries where the Omicron strain has been identified on Monday. Passengers travelling from Europe, South Africa, and other concerned countries will now be subjected to pre-departure testing. After testing negative, they must quarantine at home for seven days before taking another test on the eighth day.

Passengers will be required to present their travel history for the past 14 days, as well as the findings of a negative P.C.R. test, beginning on Wednesday, according to the authorities. Officials from the government stated a hospital had been set up to treat and isolate anybody who tested positive for Omicron.

At least 1,000 passengers from African nations where Omicron has been found have arrived in Mumbai, India’s financial center, in the last 15 days, according to officials.

This month, pedestrians in Pyongyang, North Korea. Credit… Getty Images/Agence France-Presse/Kim Won Jin

On Tuesday, Covax, the worldwide vaccine-sharing program, said that it has distributed more over 4.7 million doses of Covid-19 vaccinations to North Korea, which is yet to deliver any injections.

The statement elicited no instant response from North Korean authorities.

The secretive government has not acknowledged any coronavirus cases and has previously rejected down offers of doses from Covax, China, and Russia. According to state media, North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, declared in June that failings in his country’s anti-pandemic effort had generated a “major disaster” with “grave implications.” He didn’t say if he was talking to a countrywide epidemic.

North Korea has taken steps to react to the coronavirus problem, including locking its borders in January 2020 and boycotting the Tokyo Olympics this year, although claiming to be Covid-free.

When Pyongyang blocked its borders, medical supplies and other foreign supplies planned for North Korea were trapped in China, according to the World Health Organization. Last month, the agency said that it had restarted delivery of medical supplies to North Korea, signaling an easing of Pyongyang’s closed-border rules early in the epidemic.

Europe has become the epicenter of the epidemic once again. Each day, more cases are recorded than at any other time throughout the outbreak. And governments have been compelled to reintroduce the sorts of stringent controls that most Europeans believed were in place to begin with.

The discovery of the Omicron variety has heightened the urgency with which European authorities are attempting to stem the tide. The novel version has been found in tourists from more than ten European nations, including Denmark, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom.

In reaction to the new danger, European leaders have attempted to find a balance between increasing prudence and avoiding panic. The winter increase, on the other hand, has brought to light the differences in vaccination rates throughout the continent. Despite the fact that infections are on the rise in several countries, only those with the lowest vaccination rates are seeing Covid-19 mortality approach the levels seen following comparable spikes last winter.

Here’s a deeper look at the areas of Europe where cases are on the rise:

The probability that the Federal Reserve would speed the withdrawal of its economic stimulus just as a frightening new form of the coronavirus has started to spread sent stocks down on Wall Street on Tuesday.

Jerome H. Powell, the chairman of the Federal Reserve, told a Senate committee on Tuesday that inflation was expected to linger far into next year, and that the Fed would consider reducing its bond-buying program more swiftly as a result.

During a hearing before the Senate Banking Committee, Mr. Powell said, “At this moment, the economy is quite robust, and inflationary pressures are high.” “As a result, I believe it is acceptable to consider winding up the taper of our asset acquisitions, which we actually announced at our November meeting, possibly a few months sooner.”

The Fed’s actions have been a key element in the stock market’s rapid increase since the outbreak began. Following Mr. Powell’s remarks, the S&P 500, which had been down approximately 0.5 percent for most of the morning, plummeted. At lunchtime, the index was down 1.7 percent, giving up all of Monday’s gains.

Short-term bond rates, which are highly impacted by Fed rate increase forecasts, have risen sharply. Investors read Mr. Powell’s remarks as an admission that inflation — which the central bank has long viewed as “transitory” — will compel the Fed to adopt higher interest rates sooner than many had anticipated.

“The Fed is the final owner of the ‘transitory’ label, and the chair’s choice to go beyond it is a highly hawkish step,” Ian Lyngen, head of U.S. rates strategy at BMO Capital Markets in New York, said in a note to clients soon after Mr. Powell’s remarks.

Before Mr. Powell’s speech, stock prices were tumbling throughout the globe as investors sought to comprehend the risk presented by the Omicron variety. The Stoxx Europe 600 index lost 0.4%. The Nikkei 225 in Japan and the Hang Seng in Hong Kong both fell more than 1% in Asia.

Since last week, investors have been paying careful attention to information on the Omicron variety, and are especially interested in the efficacy of vaccinations against it.

In an interview on Tuesday, the CEO of Moderna, a vaccine company, claimed there may be a “substantial decline” in the efficiency of existing vaccinations when compared to the new variety. The CEO, Stéphane Bancel, told The Financial Times that an Omicron-specific vaccine may take months to develop at scale, but that shifting the company’s whole vaccine manufacturing while other variations are still widespread would be dangerous.

Since the discovery of the new variety in southern Africa late last week, financial markets have been shaky. On Friday, the S&P 500 had its worst day since February, falling 2.3 percent. It started to rebound on Monday, as governments across the globe warned against panic, even as some imposed travel limits. The Omicron variation is a little-known variety. Scientists have mapped all its changes, but it will take a few weeks before they know how it reacts to current vaccinations or whether it causes serious illness.

Nonetheless, investors believe the Omicron model will not elicit the same level of interest from governments, businesses, or people as Covid did when it originally appeared in early 2020. Even though Omicron poses a larger danger than the Delta variation before it, investors believe the virus’s latest edition will have considerably less financial ramifications than the approximately 34% drop in stock prices between February 2020 and the following month.

“The worst case scenario is not March 2020,” said Jeb Breece, principal of Spears Abacus, a Manhattan-based independent money management business. “Fear and the unknown were such a major part of it.” “I don’t think we’ll do it again.”

This article was co-written by Coral Murphy Marcos.

— Eshe Nelson and Matt Phillips

Last week, protesters in Kathmandu, Nepal, requested Cholendra Shumsher Rana’s resignation as chief judge of Nepal’s Supreme Court due to allegations of corruption. Credit… Getty Images/Prakash Mathema/Agence France-Presse

Covid-19 has further thrown Nepal’s already tumultuous political environment into chaos, with the beleaguered chief judge of the country’s highest court being hospitalized for treatment of an infection.

According to Dr. Prabin Nepal, a spokesperson for the Armed Police Force Hospital outside of Kathmandu, Cholendra Shumsher Rana, the top judge of Nepal’s Supreme Court, tested positive for the coronavirus on Monday evening. According to Dr. Nepal, the chief justice also had pneumonia but was in stable condition.

Mr. Rana has been hospitalized at a time when he is under increasing pressure to quit due to allegations of wrongdoing. He has denied any misconduct and said that he would not resign from his position.

In Nepal, a Himalayan nation struck severely by the coronavirus, the chief justice has been a prominent role in the political upheaval inside the highest government echelons. Lockdowns and other restrictions have reduced remittances from Nepalis working abroad, while tourist money from climbers attempting to summit Mount Everest and other peaks has been sluggish to return.

Covid-19 has killed around 11,520 individuals in Nepal, according to official figures.

Former Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli believed Mr. Rana to be an ally. Mr. Rana’s Supreme Court rejected Mr. Oli’s attempts to dissolve Parliament and schedule early elections twice this year, in February and July. The court appointed opposition leader Sher Bahadur Deuba as prime minister for the second time.

Since then, Mr. Rana’s links to the new leadership have been called into question. Lawyers for the court and other judges have accused him of scheming to nominate loyalists to important constitutional organizations and the government. Gajendra Hamal, one of his relatives, resigned as a minister only days after being appointed, citing a public outrage, but denying any wrongdoing.

Mr. Rana’s detractors also accused him of directing some cases to judges who were more likely to rule in his favor. Members of Nepal’s bar association boycotted the court, and Mr. Rana decided to endorse a lottery method to assign judges to cases after being pressured by angry members of Nepal’s governing coalition.

According to Nepalese court observers, Mr. Rana is unlikely to return to the bench.

“Given the circumstances, I don’t believe he’ll be back in court,” said Dinesh Tripathi, a veteran Supreme Court counsel. “Instead, corona might be a graceful departure for him.”

In April, Keidy Ventura, 17, of West New York, New Jersey, got her first dosage of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Credit… Associated Press/Seth Wenig

According to persons familiar with the company’s intentions, Pfizer and BioNTech are set to submit for regulatory permission for a booster dose of their coronavirus vaccine for 16- and 17-year-olds this week. The injection would be the first booster offered to individuals under the age of 18 if it is authorized.

Extra injections might be approved by the Food and Drug Administration in as little as a week, according to the sources.

The action would coincide with President Biden’s efforts to reassure the public about Omicron, a new coronavirus type. He described the mutation as “a matter for caution, not panic” on Monday.

Mr. Biden said at the White House, “I’m sparing no effort, eliminating all impediments to keep the American people safe.”

The Washington Post was the first to report on Pfizer’s ambitions.

The new type has not yet been discovered in the United States, and experts are unsure how serious of a danger it poses. Manufacturers of vaccinations are rushing to see whether their current products will function against it or if new vaccines will be necessary.

Federal health regulators approved booster injections of both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines for everyone 18 and older around ten days ago. This made tens of millions more fully vaccinated people eligible for further shots. Adults who had received a single injection of Johnson & Johnson vaccination were already eligible for a booster.

The regulatory changes made last month streamlined eligibility and formalized a practice that has been used in a number of states. Several governors have previously granted boosters to everyone above the age of 18 in the run-up to the holidays.

When asked about the intention to pursue expanded access, a Pfizer spokesperson said the firm would release further information as soon as it became available.

On Sunday, at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv. Credit… Shutterstock, Abir Sultan/EPA

Officials said a government-wide “war scenario” staged earlier in November affected Israel’s quick reaction to the discovery of the Omicron strain, which included shutting its borders to nonresident foreigners.

Senior officials simulated how they would react to a fictitious situation that was very comparable to what is occurring today in that exercise.

On Nov. 11, Israeli authorities participated in a day-long scenario in which they had to react to a hypothetical new “Omega” virus strain that was more resistant to immunizations and spread to Israel from two other countries in the second half of November.

Officials in the simulation, including Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, chose to leave Israel’s borders open to visitors until December, only to discover that at the end of the game, the country’s hospitals were overburdened with patients. According to Yaacov Ayish, a former general who assisted in the planning of the practice, the right approach would have been to block Israel’s borders to most foreigners immediately.

Mr. Ayish said, “It was one of the teachings.” “All government departments and the military were forced to look at it as a possibility.”

According to Keren Hajioff, a spokesman for Mr. Bennett, the conclusion was one of the elements that prompted Israel’s real-life decision on Saturday night to ban all foreign visitors, a step it took before any other nation.

Participants were provided fake television news broadcasts throughout the exercise to help establish the scene for the next round of the simulation. At least one further conclusion emerged from the practice, which is reflected in Israel’s response: Officials concluded that the current supply of P.C.R. tests may not be sophisticated enough to identify future viral types.

According to Ms. Hajioff, this prompted the Israeli government to acquire millions of higher-quality P.C.R. tests, which are currently used to screen for Omicron.

On Sunday, Israel’s cabinet gave Shin Bet, the country’s internal spy agency, temporary authorization to inspect the phone records of persons with proven cases of Omicron in order to find out who they recently met. During previous pandemic waves, the agency was granted comparable powers.

On Tuesday, passengers arriving from South Africa were tested for the Coronavirus Omicron subtype in a specially developed test lane at Schiphol airport in the Netherlands. Credit… EPA/Remko De Waal/Shutterstock

The Omicron variety made headlines a week ago when researchers in southern Africa discovered a coronavirus strain with 50 mutations.

Thirty of the changes are on the spike protein, which is perhaps the most critical portion of the virus, and 26 of them are new alterations. The Delta variation, on the other hand, contained ten distinct alterations, while Beta had six.

When it comes to coronavirus mutations, scientists are concerned about three things: Is the new variety more infectious than the old one? Is this going to make people sicker? And how will vaccinations counteract it?

This edition of “The Daily” looks at when answers to these three questions will be available, as well as the finding of the variation and worldwide reaction to it. Listen to the following:


What Is the Omicron Variant, as heard on ‘The Daily’?

According to the World Health Organization, this coronavirus mutation presents a very high danger to public health. What led them to this conclusion?

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