A child who is too young to be vaccinated is among the people recovering from Omicron in New South Wales where authorities have now confirmed eight cases of the new variant.
Genomic testing is underway to confirm whether the young patient’s fully vaccinated parents were also infected with Omicron.
Overseas, the big news is that Germany has decided to lock out unvaccinated people from much of public life as leaders agree on a plan to make vaccines mandatory.
Speaking of vaccines, Pfizer bosses say the company expects annual vaccines to tackle COVID-19 will be needed to boost population immunity.
Omicron is spreading, with more countries announcing new cases overnight including in the US and in Norway where at least 50 people caught the new variant at a Christmas party.
Christmas parties were not something British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was particularly keen to be questioned about. You’ll see why, below.
Here’s a wrap of the latest coronavirus news – including what we know about the spread of Omicron – to inform you on Friday morning.
Child may have caught Omicron on flight
NSW Health confirmed on Thursday night an eighth Omicron case in a traveller who flew into NSW after being in southern Africa.
That traveller has been in quarantine since arriving on Singapore Airlines flight SQ231 on Sunday night.
The child who became the state’s seventh case on Thursday sparked a number of new location alerts in the Chatswood area in Sydney’s north between November 23 and Wednesday. Full details can be found on the NSW Health website.
Casual contacts need to get tested and isolate while they wait for a negative result, and get tested again if they develop symptoms.
The family is in special health accommodation, but were in the community before rules were changed on Saturday in response to the detection of Omicron cases.
NSW Health is concerned they may have caught the virus while flying into Sydney on Qatar Airways flight QR908 from Doha on Tuesday last week.
The three family members had not been in southern Africa.
The department is contacting other travellers on that flight to get them tested and into isolation.
Eight countries in southern Africa are of particular concern to health authorities.
A sixth case confirmed on Wednesday had been in Nigeria, which is not a country of concern.
They arrived on the same flight on Thursday last week as a woman who had been in southern Africa and visited a number of stores and restaurants in NSW before the rules changed.
The first four cases, and the eighth case confirmed in NSW were placed into special health accommodation before they were found to have Omicron, having arrived after the rules for entry were changed.
On Thursday, NSW reported 271 cases recorded in the 24 hours until 8pm on Wednesday from 81,877 tests.
COVID-19 vaccines will be mandatory in Germany
Germany has imposed restrictions on the unvaccinated as it seeks to break a dramatic surge in daily coronavirus infections exacerbated by the discovery of the Omicron strain.
Outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel and her successor Olaf Scholz agreed with leaders of Germany’s 16 states to bar the unvaccinated from access to all but the most essential businesses such as grocery stores, pharmacies and bakeries.
They also agreed to pass legislation in the parliament to make vaccination mandatory.
Eager to avoid lockdowns that could derail a fragile recovery of Europe’s biggest economy, they kept businesses open to the almost 69 per cent of the population that is fully vaccinated as well as those with proof of having recovered from COVID-19.
“The situation is very serious,” Ms Merkel said during a news conference with Mr Scholz, who is expected to be elected as chancellor by the Bundestag – the German lower house – next week.
“The number of infections has stabilised but on a far too high a level.”
Ms Merkel said an ethics committee will be asked to draft legislation to make vaccination mandatory and the Bundestag would debate and vote on the disputed measure in February at the latest.
Authorities fear the fourth wave of COVID-19 risks overwhelming intensive care units. On Thursday, it resulted in more than 73,000 new infections and 388 deaths.
Virologists blame the renewed outbreak on resistance to vaccination by a significant section of society and have criticised politicians for acting too late to rein in contagion.
Germany’s vaccination rate of just under 70 per cent is around the EU average but lower than countries like Portugal and Ireland.
There have been signs that the curve showing new infections is starting to flatten.
The seven-day incidence among 100,000 residents fell for the third consecutive day to 439.2.
Ms Merkel, who hailed the restrictions as a necessary “national act of solidarity,” said that in regions where the seven-day incidence hits 350, steps such as closing nightclubs and music venues and limiting indoor events to 50 people would kick in.
Community transmission in US
The United States has reported its first case of community transmission of Omicron and President Joe Biden prepared to lay out his strategy to fight the coronavirus over the northern hemisphere winter as the variant spread across the globe.
As the world scrambled to contain the spread of Omicron, health authorities in the northern US state of Minnesota said the infected resident was a fully vaccinated adult male who had recently travelled to New York City.
The person told state health investigators he attended the Anime NYC 2021 convention at the Javits Center from November 19 to 21 and developed mild symptoms on November 22.
“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.
“We are working closely with the State and the CDC, as well as the Javits Center’s event organisers, and our Test and Trace Corps will be contacting conference attendees.”
Omicron detected in India
Two cases with the Omicron variant of the coronavirus have been detected in India, health officials say.
The two cases are two men, aged 66 and 44, who live in southern Karnataka state.
“We need not panic, awareness is the need of the moment,” Balram Bhargava, director of the Indian Council Of Medical Research, said.
Partygoers spread Omicron in Norway
Officials in Norway say at least 50 people in Oslo have been infected with the Omicron variant.
The cases are connected to a company’s recent Christmas party in a restaurant in the capital, officials said on Friday morning.
The Oslo Municipality said in a statement that more cases are expected.
Officials are trying to trace transmission routes from the party.
Boris Johnson wants to talk about this Christmas – but don’t ask about 2020 parties
This year’s Christmas parties were what UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson wanted to talk about when he faced the press on Friday morning.
But they had questions about previous festivities, namely a party that was hosted at 10 Downing Street London.
The BBC reports that families of coronavirus victims have been outraged by news “several dozen” people attended a party at the PM’s official residence on December 18 last year while restrictions banned such events.
Mr Johnson, who who was not at the party, said no COVID-19 rules were broken, but Number 10 has refused to explain how party-goers complied.
Asked by reporters why he would not tell the public what happened at the party, the PM replied: “Because I have told you.”
He tried to move the focus to this Christmas, saying the government was taking a “balanced and proportionate approach to the risk” and “people shouldn’t be cancelling” Christmas events despite concerns about the Omicron variant.
The Daily Mirror newspaper first revealed details about the party on Tuesday.
The COVID-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group have called for an apology from Mr Johnson.
One of its spokespeople, Safiah Ngah, told the BBC: “My Dad died in February from Covid-19, despite being in good health. The last Christmas period is sadly one I will never forget.
“One in 20 people in my borough had Covid-19 and my family were desperately trying to do what we could to keep each other safe.
“To think that just a few miles away, Number 10 was throwing a ‘Christmas Party’, with no care for the rules they had set, is sickening.”
Pfizer working on jab for Omicron variant
Annual vaccines to tackle COVID-19 will likely be needed to boost population immunity, the boss of pharmaceutical giant Pfizer says.
Albert Bourla says the company is already working on a new jab for the Omicron variant.
“Based on everything I have seen so far, I would say that annual vaccinations … are likely to be needed to maintain a very robust and very high level of protection,” he told the BBC on Thursday.
It is not yet clear whether the vaccines will need to be tweaked every year for new variants, as happens with the annual flu jab.
In October, the United States Food and Drug Administration approved the Pfizer jab for five to 11-year-olds.
Dr Bourla said immunising that age group in the UK and Europe would be a very good idea.
“COVID in schools is thriving,” he said.
“This is disturbing, significantly, the educational system, and there are kids that will have severe symptoms.
“So there is no doubt in my mind that the benefits, completely, are in favour of doing it.”
In the UK all adults will be offered a booster shot before the end of January amid growing concerns about the Omicron variant.
Trial data suggests booster doses are generally well tolerated and provide a substantial increase in vaccine-induced immune responses, in particular, and that mRNA vaccines such as Pfizer and Moderna provide a strong booster effect.