(Bloomberg) -- Hong Kong joined countries across the world in expanding travel restrictions amid the spread of the omicron variant. The long-awaited reopening in Singapore was drawing surprisingly few travelers even before the strain emerged.

China pledged to supply another 1 billion vaccine doses to African nations. U.S. President Joe Biden cautioned Americans against panicking and urged them to instead get vaccinated or get an extra shot. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expanded its recommendation for boosters to all adults. 

The South African doctor who alerted government scientists to the possibility of a new variant said she’s observed mild illness in people infected with omicron. But, the World Health Organization warned omicron could fuel a fresh surge in infections with severe consequences.

Key Developments:

  • Virus Tracker: Cases top 261.9 million; deaths pass 5.2 million
  • Vaccine Tracker: More than 7.94 billion doses given
  • Omicron undetected in U.S. so far, testing Biden sequencing plan
  • Covid gives the world a blunt reminder it won’t go away easily
  • Toddlers make up 10% of hospital cases in omicron epicenter
  • What we know about the omicron variant so far

Pfizer to Seek Booster Approval for Teens (6:45 a.m. HK)

Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE are poised to ask the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to authorize a booster shot of their Covid-19 vaccine for 16- and 17-year-olds, the Washington Post reported, citing two people familiar with the situation. 

Regulators are expected to sign off on the request quickly, the people told the newspaper.

CDC Expands Booster Recommendation (6 a.m. HK)

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now recommending booster shots for all vaccinated people 18 and older as scientists race to study the emerging omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2.

The guidance, which previously said adults “may” get boosters, now says they “should” get a third dose of the Moderna Inc. or Pfizer Inc. shot six months after their second dose. The same recommendation applies to those who received the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine but after only two months.

N.Y. Doesn’t Plan Mask Mandate (4 p.m. NY)

New York Governor Kathy Hochul said there were no reported cases of the omicron variant in the state but she was monitoring infections found nearby in Ontario, Canada. At a briefing Monday, she said she was focused on getting more of the state vaccinated and planned to tap its National Guard to help administer booster shots at nursing homes.

Hochul said she has no plans for a statewide mask mandate, preferring a targeted approach to restrictions that are guided by local officials. She also called out the stark divide in cases between Upstate regions -- which account for most of New York’s recent Covid hospitalizations -- and the rest of the state. Downstate hospitals are sending workers to help upstate, she said, adding guardsmen could provide help too. 

Hospital Workers Rejected at Supreme Court (3:35 p.m. NY)

A U.S. Supreme Court justice turned away a request from eight Mass General Brigham Inc. workers for a religious exemption from the Massachusetts hospital system’s requirement that they be vaccinated against Covid-19.

Justice Stephen Breyer rejected the request without requesting a response from the hospital or referring the matter to the full, nine-member court. Breyer, who is assigned to handle emergency matters from Massachusetts, gave no explanation.

Pfizer Sees 2-3 Weeks to Study Omicron (2:30 p.m. NY)

Pfizer Inc.’s top executive said the company will know within two to three weeks how well its Covid-19 vaccine holds up against the new omicron variant, and even in a worst-case scenario he expects the existing formula will retain some efficacy against the heavily mutated strain.

The company is currently conducting lab tests to see how antibodies generated by the existing vaccine work against the new variant, Chief Executive Albert Bourla said on Bloomberg Television’s “Balance of Power with David Westin.”

N.J. Hospitalizations at Highest in 7 Weeks (1:32 p.m. NY)

New Jersey hospitalizations for Covid-19 reached 950, the highest in seven weeks, Governor Phil Murphy said. The number has surged 35% since Nov. 1. Even so, the total is about a third of the 2,908 hospitalizations a year ago, when vaccinations weren’t available.

More than 78% of New Jersey’s population has received at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, higher than the U.S. total of 69.7%. The unvaccinated continue to make up most of the hospitalizations, Murphy said. New Jersey health officials are on alert for the omicron variant, as delta continues to fuel the recent surge, Murphy said.

Biden Cautions Against ‘Panic’ (12:55 p.m. NY)

President Joe Biden cautioned Americans against panicking over a new variant of the coronavirus recently identified in South Africa, and urged them to instead get vaccinated or obtain booster shots.

“This variant is a cause for concern. Not a cause for panic,” Biden said in remarks at the White House after a private briefing from his health advisers.

He said the administration doesn’t yet believe new formulations of coronavirus vaccines will be necessary but that it is already working with Pfizer Inc. and Moderna Inc. on contingency plans. He said he’ll issue a new strategy to combat a winter surge of coronavirus on Thursday, adding that the U.S. will not have to practice further lockdowns or shutdowns.

Madrid Region Confirms First Omicron Case (12:50 p.m. NY)

The Madrid region has confirmed its first case of a patient with the omicron coronavirus variant. A 51-year-old man who arrived in the capital on Nov. 28 after traveling from South Africa with a stopover in Amsterdam, has tested positive, the health department for the Madrid region said in an emailed statement. The patient has mild symptoms and is isolated in quarantine.

Sweden IDs First Case of Omicron Variant (11:40 a.m. NY)

Sweden has identified its first case of the omicron variant of Covid-19, the nation’s Public Health Authority said on its website. The person had recently visited southern Africa and lives in southern Sweden.

NYC ‘Strongly Recommending’ Indoor Masks (10:45 a.m. NY)

New York City issued a new mask advisory on Monday, “strongly recommending” residents wear masks in all indoor locations regardless of vaccination.

The health advisory stops short of a mandate but signifies officials’ trepidation of a new Covid-19 wave as the omicron variant spreads around the world and New York sees an increase in post-Thanksgiving Covid cases.

U.K. Urges Boosters for All Adults (10:30 a.m. NY)

The U.K. is poised to offer Covid booster shots to all adults and second shots to more children amid worries that the new omicron variant could spread even more easily and fuel another surge in cases.

A committee that advises the U.K. government said all adults should be eligible for a third dose, with availability expanded to those under 40. Children ages 12 to 15 should get second shots, the group said. 

An expansion of the booster program comes with tougher pandemic rules set to take effect this week in the U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government is seeking to buy scientists time to determine the risks posed by the new strain. The announcement also follows a World Health Organization warning that 

Merkel, Scholz to Meet With State Leaders (9:55 a.m. NY)

Chancellor Angela Merkel and her incoming successor, Olaf Scholz, will hold talks with Germany’s 16 state premiers on Tuesday to discuss the next steps in the fight against Covid-19.

The discussions will follow a decision by the Constitutional Court due in the morning, according to an official familiar with their plans. Germany’s top court is expected to lay out parameters for what restrictions are admissible to tackle the nation’s worst outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. 

German authorities are under pressure to introduce new curbs as case numbers climb and the new omicron variant has been discovered in the country. 

EU Discussing Emergency Virtual Summit  (9:30 a.m. NY)

European Union leaders are discussing whether to hold an emergency virtual summit on Friday on how to tackle the new omicron coronavirus variant, even as the bloc was already battling sharply rising case numbers.

The timing of the possible video call has yet to be decided, according to an EU official who declined to be named discussing a confidential issue.

Norway to Increase Isolation Times (7:18 a.m. NY)

Norway is extending isolation times for those testing positive to the coronavirus and where there’s reason to believe the infection is the omicron variant, the Health and Care Services Ministry said in a statement.

Other household members will be required to quarantine for 10 days and close contacts to those infected must undergo testing under the new measures, which will apply regardless of vaccination status.

Italy to Consider Infant Vaccination Units (7:14 a.m. NY)

Italy may start Covid vaccinations on children in the 5-11 age group as soon as December 23, should the Italian Medicines Agency, Aifa, give the proposal the green light this week, Franco Locatelli, head of the National Health Institute, said in an interview on SkyTg24.

Italy’s medical authorities are considering setting up dedicated children units within the vaccination hubs, Locatelli said.

Doctor Who Saw Omicron Says Symptoms Milder (7:04 a.m. NY)

People infected by omicron in South Africa are showing very different symptoms to those suffering from the delta strain, said the doctor who alerted government scientists to the possibility of a new variant. 

Patients who contracted it complain of fatigue, head and body aches and occasional sore throats and coughs, said Angelique Coetzee, who is also chairwoman of the South African Medical Association. Delta infections, by comparison, caused elevated pulse rates, resulted in low oxygen levels and a loss of smell and taste, she said.

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