On Monday, U.S. health authorities issued a "level 4" recommendation against travel to France, Portugal, Jordan, Cyprus, Andorra, Liechtenstein, Tanzania, Germany, and Denmark.
The total number of reported COVID-19 cases in the United States is to hit 50 million, while the Omicron variant had been found in 19 states as of Monday, five days after the first known case in the country was reported in California, a sign of its potentially heightened transmissibility.
Johns Hopkins University tallied the country's coronavirus cases as nearly 49.3 million as of Tuesday noon, while "public health experts nationwide are stressing that the overwhelming majority of the nation's coronavirus cases are still caused by the highly transmissible Delta variant, which has led to some of the worst spikes of the pandemic," reported The Washington Post.
Early reports from South Africa seem to indicate the Omicron variant is much more contagious than previous variants while causing milder disease, though experts there warn definitive data won't be available for weeks. Omicron is causing large-margin rise of COVID-19 cases in South Africa, but not of deaths.
"This virus comes with both barrels loaded -- high infectivity and potentially the ability for immune evasion. But maybe what it's lacking is pathogenicity," Warner Greene, director of the Center for HIV Cure Research at the Gladstone Institutes in San Francisco, was quoted as saying.
On Monday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a "level 4" recommendation against travel to France, Portugal, Jordan, Cyprus, Andorra, Liechtenstein, Tanzania, Germany, and Denmark.
Excess mortality data @OurWorldInData just updated— Charlie Giattino (@charliegiattino) December 7, 2021
Here's a global snapshot of weekly excess deaths as % above projection based on previous years.
Latest data is shown, which for some countries is several weeks old. Data >60 days old isn't shown.
Chart: https://t.co/hkk868xcwA pic.twitter.com/m7vB75wj6M
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is expected to soon authorize a pill made by Merck and Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, called molnupiravir, which reduces the risk of hospitalization and death from COVID-19 by 30 percent if taken within five days of the onset of symptoms, reported The New York Times on Tuesday.
Another antiviral pill, developed by Pfizer, may perform even better. An interim analysis showed that the drug was 85 percent effective when taken within five days of the start of symptoms. The FDA could authorize it by year's end. The two pills "are expected to work against all versions of the virus," said the report.
Since the start of the pandemic, scientists have hoped for convenient options like these: pills that could be prescribed by any doctor and picked up at a local drugstore. "These two pills may be just the beginning," and an arsenal of drugs needs to be deployed, "especially if those variants erode the protection of existing vaccines," it added.