Nikkei Asia is tracking the spread of the coronavirus that was first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.
Cumulative global cases have reached 261,629,689, according to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. The worldwide death toll has hit 5,202,472.
For more information about the spread of COVID-19 and vaccination progress around the world, please see our interactive charts and maps.
Tuesday, Nov. 30 (Tokyo time)
4:00 a.m. Two travelers from South Africa who flew to Sydney via Singapore tested positive for the omicron variant of the coronavirus, Singapore’s Health Ministry says. The travelers tested negative for COVID-19 before their departure from South Africa.
Most of the travelers on the same flight from Johannesburg remained in the transit area at Changi Airport until their departure, according to the ministry.
2:38 a.m. Health ministers from the Group of Seven nations hold an urgent meeting to discuss the omicron variant. In a joint statement, they say they will continue to work closely together with the WHO and international partners to share information and monitor omicron. They also praise the exemplary work of South Africa in both detecting the variant and alerting others to it.
12:37 a.m. Sweden confirms its first case of the omicron coronavirus variant, the country’s Public Health Agency says, citing a test taken just over a week ago by a person who traveled from South Africa.
Spain also detects its first case of the omicron variant, in a traveler coming from South Africa, El Pais newspaper reports.
12:30 a.m. Pfizer has begun work on a new vaccine targeting the omicron variant of the coronavirus, and it could be shipped in less than 100 days if necessary, CEO Albert Bourla says.
“We have made multiple times clear that we would be able to have [this] vaccine in less than 100 days,” Bourla told CNBC. He noted that the company created vaccines for the beta and delta variants quickly, though they ultimately weren’t used because the original shots remained effective.
Bourla also says the company’s treatment pill against COVID-19 will be effective against the new variant.
“The good news when it comes to our treatment, it was designed with that in mind. It was designed with the fact that most mutations are coming in the spikes,” he said.
Monday, Nov. 29
11:45 p.m. Chinese President Xi Jinping has said his country will supply another 1 billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines to African countries in addition to the 200 million that it has already provided.
Xi’s pledge comes amid rising global concerns over the new omicron variant, which was first identified in southern Africa.
11:30 p.m. South Korea will set a six-month limit on its vaccination certificates, the government says, hoping to encourage the public to obtain booster shots. At a meeting of infection control policymakers, President Moon Jae-in says the public needs to realize “that vaccination isn’t complete unless you receive a third shot.”
The expiration feature will begin Dec. 20. People with expired vaccination certificates will face restrictions on eating at restaurants and other activities.
New COVID-19 infections, serious cases and deaths are reaching all-time highs in South Korea amid a rise in so-called breakthrough infections in vaccinated people. The Kospi was among the Asian stock indexes falling Monday as worries over the new omicron variant swept the region.
8:00 p.m. The Philippines and Indonesia have imposed travel bans and other restrictions in response to concerns over the spread of the new COVID-19 omicron variant, joining other countries in the region. Read more here.
5:54 p.m. Hong Kong has found its third case of the omicron variant, but officials stress the virus has been contained and will not affect the resumption of quarantine-free travel to mainland China. The city’s latest case involves a man who arrived from Nigeria. The government said it would reclassify countries with omicron cases as high-risk. An entry ban on non-Hong Kong residents from South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Malawi, Namibia, and Zimbabwe came into effect Sunday. Hong Kong residents arriving in the city from those countries will have to quarantine in a government facility for seven days where they will undergo daily tests, before transferring to a designated hotel for another 14.
5:40 p.m. Portugal has detected 13 cases of the new omicron coronavirus variant — all related to players and staff members of Lisbon soccer team Belenenses, says health authority DGS.
5:23: p.m. The omicron variant is likely to spread internationally, posing a “very high” global risk where COVID-19 surges could have “severe consequences” in some areas, the World Health Organization says. The U.N. agency, in technical advice to its 194 member states, urged them to accelerate vaccination of high-priority groups and to “ensure mitigation plans are in place” to maintain essential health services.
4:03 p.m. Indonesia is prioritizing COVID-19 control over tourism in the short term by continuing with tougher quarantine rules than many of its neighbors, a senior minister told Nikkei Asia, especially as the country gears up to chair the Group of 20 nations and host a series of meetings starting in December — mainly in Bali.
2:30 p.m. Japan says a person that stayed in Namibia has tested positive for COVID-19 but it is not known whether the infection is of the omicron variant. The person tested positive upon entering Japan on Sunday. The health ministry says it is looking into the case closely and it would take four to five days to determine the type of the variant. Japan is curbing entrants from Namibia and other southern African countries as it steps up measures against the new coronavirus variant.
2:00 p.m. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says the country will try to live with the coronavirus despite the new omicron variant posing a fresh health threat to the world. There were no cases of the variant in New Zealand, but the developing global situation showed why a cautious approach was needed at the borders, she said. “Omicron is a reminder of the risk that still exists at our borders.”
12:38 p.m. The Japanese government has decided to halt allowing foreign business travelers and students to enter the country because of the emergence of the new COVID-19 variant omicron. After new infection numbers plummeted, the government in early November lifted its entry ban for these travelers. The country still remains closed to tourists.
11:30 a.m. Australia will review plans to reopen borders to skilled migrants and students from Dec. 1, Prime Minister Scott Morrison says, after the country reported its first cases of the omicron variant. Two people who arrived in Sydney from southern Africa tested positive on Sunday for the new variant as officials ordered a 14-day quarantine for citizens returning from nine African countries. Morrison said “it is a bit too early” to reinstate a two-week mandatory hotel quarantine for foreign travelers, urging people to remain calm as data had not yet fully determined the severity, transmissibility and vaccine resistance of the new strain.
11:00 a.m. Top U.S. infectious disease official, Dr. Anthony Fauci, told President Joe Biden on Sunday it will take about two weeks to have definitive information on the omicron variant that has sparked new travel curbs. Biden was briefed in person by his coronavirus response team on Sunday as officials expect the new variant to reach the U.S. despite an impending ban on travelers from southern Africa. Fauci said he believes existing vaccines are likely to provide “a degree of protection against severe cases of COVID.”
10:10 a.m. Singapore and Malaysia reopen one of the world’s busiest land borders, allowing vaccinated travelers to cross after nearly two years of a pandemic-related closure. The sudden closing in March 2020 left tens of thousands of people stranded on both sides, separated from families and fearing for their jobs. Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob is due to make his first official visit as premier to Singapore on Monday.
10:00 a.m. China reports 41 cases for Sunday, up from 23 a day earlier. Of these, 21 were locally transmitted, compared with three a day earlier. Almost all the locally transmitted cases were in Inner Mongolia, with one in Yunnan.
9:50 a.m. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida says his country will consider further tightening borders as the newly discovered omicron variant spreads around the world. “We are [taking measures] with a strong sense of crisis,” Kishida said, noting that Japan closed its borders to foreigners traveling from nine countries including South Africa as of Sunday. “As we’re seeing a spread around the world, we continue to consider further measures to tighten border controls and will announce a decision at the appropriate time.”
9:40 a.m. Australian shares fall more than 1% to hit a near two-month low, extending losses to a second straight day, as concerns over the omicron variant hitting economic recovery sparked a broad sell-off. The S&P/ASX 200 index fell as much as 1.36% to 7,180.3 — its lowest level since Oct. 1 — after a 1.73% drop on Friday. Australia on Sunday confirmed two cases of the omicron variant, jeopardizing the country’s reopening plans.
8:01 a.m. Canada has confirmed its first two cases of the omicron variant, both in Ontario. “This development demonstrates that our monitoring system is working,” Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos says. The country had already stepped up measures for inbound travelers who had been in southern Africa within the last 14 days.
6:39 a.m. France has detected eight possible cases of the omicron variant, the Ministry for Solidarity and Health says. All flights had already been suspended from the southern African countries of South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia and Zimbabwe, it says.
5:16 a.m. The U.K. says it will convene an urgent meeting of G-7 health ministers on Monday to discuss developments on the new omicron variant. The meeting is expected to be held online.
4:21 a.m. It is not yet clear whether omicron is more transmissible or causes more severe disease than other variants, including the now-dominant delta, the World Health Organization says in an update. Research is underway to gauge whether rising COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in South Africa are due to omicron or other factors, the WHO says. “Initial reported infections were among university students — younger individuals who tend to have more mild disease — but understanding the level of severity … will take days to several weeks” for omicron, the update says.
Sunday, Nov. 28
11:00 p.m. Vietnam’s health ministry asks the government to temporarily stop flights to and from some African countries, including South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Eswatini, Lesotho and Mozambique, as well as pause issuing visas or travel permission related to these countries. The ministry said it has not detected any omicron cases within its borders.
4:16 p.m. Two people who traveled to Sydney from southern Africa have been found to be infected with the omicron variant.
“The two positive cases, who were asymptomatic, are in isolation in the Special Health Accommodation,” the Ministry of Health for the Australian state of New South Wales says. “Both people are fully vaccinated.”
The Qatar Airways flight’s remaining 12 passengers from southern Africa are undergoing 14 days of hotel quarantine, while around 260 passengers and air crew members “are considered close contacts and have been directed to isolate,” the Health Ministry says.
3:11 p.m. China could suffer hundreds of thousands of new infections a day if it abandons zero tolerance and adopts Western-style strategies of living with COVID-19 or opening up the country, creating “the real possibility of a colossal outbreak which would almost certainly induce an unaffordable burden to the medical system,” Peking University researchers argue in a new paper.
Looking at the U.S., the U.K., Israel, Spain and France, the authors find that the American strategy would be the worst for China, with an estimated lower bound of 637,155 daily new cases and 22,364 daily severe cases.
“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,” the researchers conclude. “More efficient vaccinations or more specific treatment, preferably the combination of both, are needed before entry-exit quarantine measures and other COVID-19 response strategies in China can be safely lifted.”
The statistical study was funded by the National Natural Science Foundation of China and the U.S.-headquartered Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. It appears in China CDC Weekly, a publication of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
2:50 p.m. The omicron variant has spread to multiple European countries, among them the U.K., Germany, Italy and the Netherlands.
1:08 p.m. Indonesia will bar international travelers arriving from South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Mozambique, Eswatini and Nigeria, effective Monday local time.
“If there are foreign nationals who have visited any of these countries within the past 14 days, they will be denied entry to Indonesia at the Immigration Border Control,” Directorate General of Immigration spokesperson Arya Pradhana Anggakara says. The DGI says it has also temporarily suspended the granting of visitor visas and temporary stay visa applications.
Indonesians entering from the eight countries and Hong Kong will also now have to quarantine in designated facilities for 14 days, but the ban will not affect delegates to Group of 20 meetings, Reuters reports. Indonesia will soon take over the G-20’s rotating presidency.
6:59 a.m. Israel will ban the entry of all foreigners into the country and reintroduce counterterrorism phone-tracking technology to contain the spread of the new and potentially more contagious omicron variant first detected in South Africa. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett says in a statement that the ban, pending government approval, would last 14 days. Israel, the first country to shut its borders completely over the variant, has so far confirmed one omicron case and seven other suspected cases.
5:45 a.m. Saudi Arabia will allow entry to travelers “from all countries” as long as they have received one dose of a vaccine inside the kingdom, authorities say, a day after suspending flights from seven African countries due to the omicron variant. Travelers would be allowed in from next Saturday and would need to quarantine for three days.
3:05 a.m. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and State Department advise against travel to eight southern African countries after the White House announced new travel restrictions in response to a new COVID-19 variant.
The CDC raises its travel recommendation to “Level Four: Very High” for South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Mozambique, Malawi, Lesotho, Eswatini and Botswana, while the State Department issues parallel “Do Not Travel” advisories. On Monday, the CDC had lowered its COVID-19 travel advisory for South Africa to “Level 1: Low.”
2:27 a.m. There is a reasonable chance that the newly identified omicron coronavirus variant has some degree of resistance to vaccines, England’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty says. “There is a reasonable chance that at least there will be some degree of vaccine escape with this variant,” Whitty tells a news conference, speaking alongside British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
12:45 a.m. The U.S. will continue to push for World Trade Organization members to agree on an intellectual property framework for COVID-19 vaccines after a major WTO ministerial meeting set for this week was postponed on Friday, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai says.
In two tweets, Tai says the postponement “is a reminder that we still have much work to do to end the pandemic.”
“The United States will continue working with @WTO members to achieve a multifaceted outcome on trade and health, including an international IP framework, that supports the global pandemic response and puts the WTO in a stronger position to meet the needs of regular people,” she says.
12:20 a.m. Singapore detects 1,761 new cases compared with 1,090 infections the day before as well as six new deaths. Of the new cases, 1,689 are in the community, 63 in the migrant worker dormitories and nine are imported cases, according to the Ministry of Health. The weekly infection growth rate is 0.75.
Saturday, Nov. 27
7:35 p.m. The Czech Republic is examining a suspected case of the omicron variant detected in a person who spent time in Namibia, the National Institute of Public Health says.
7:15 p.m. A minister in the German state of Hesse says the recently discovered omicron coronavirus variant had probably arrived in Germany, Reuters reports.
“Last night several omicron-typical mutations were found in a traveller returning from South Africa,” tweets Kai Klose, social affairs minister in the western German state.
5:35 p.m. Japan will add Mozambique, Malawi and Zambia to its list of nations subject to tighter entry rules from Sunday, following the discovery of a new coronavirus variant in South Africa, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida says.
The addition comes one day after Tokyo started requiring travelers who have recently been to Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa or Zimbabwe to spend 10 days in a government-designated facility upon arrival.
4:50 p.m. Sri Lanka bars travelers from six southern African countries over concerns about the new omicron variant.
3:40 p.m. A senior Thai health official says the nation will ban entry of people traveling from eight African countries it designated as high-risk for the new omicron variant. Starting in December, travel from Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe, will be prohibited, according to Reuters.
11:26 a.m. Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt says the country will introduce 14-day quarantine for citizens and their dependents traveling from nine countries in southern Africa due to the new coronavirus variant omicron, according to Reuters.
To catch up on earlier developments, see last week’s latest updates.