Thousands of Americans, and many others around the world, are seeing their holiday travel plans disrupted at the last minute in what has become a good ol’ fashioned sh*tshow as the number of flights canceled worldwide has hit 3,000.
And as thousands are left stranded in airports, the biggest COVID-related news out of the US on an otherwise quiet Friday Christmas Eve is this: the White House has decided to end the travel ban between the US and 8 southern African nations as of midnight on Dec. 31, just in time for the new year.
According to the NYT, President Biden made the decision to end the travel ban this week based on the advice of his medical team, which argued that existing COVID vaccines are effective enough against severe disease caused by the omicron variant, especially among people who have received a booster shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine.
Earlier in the week, the Brits beat the US to the punch by announcing the lifting of its travel restrictions on 11 African countries.
The CDC also advised Biden to drop the ban on travel from South Africa, Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique and Namibia. The travel ban was heavily criticized by both African leaders and the WHO for discriminating against the countries that helped to alert the world to the presence of omicron.
Across the pond in London, UK health authorities reported that one in ten people in the city are presently infected with COVID, with many suffering from the new omicron variant.
As the White House works to confront the latest wave of infections in the US, a cluster of infections at a US military base in Okinawa is raising tensions with Japan, where the Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said this week that more than 200 people are part of an outbreak at the US Marine’s Camp Hansen.
It’s unclear how many, if any, of the infections are caused by the omicron variant because the military hasn’t done any genetic sequencing of the cases. Still, several non-military workers from Camp Hansen and Camp Schwab, another Marine base on Okinawa, have been found to carry the omicron strain, so it’s fair to assume that the ultra-infectious new strain is likely at the root of the spread.
In an effort to try and keep omicron out, Japan is asking the US to ban Camp Hansen’s military personnel from leaving the base and to strictly enforce Japanese COVID rules, especially after a soldier from the camp was caught drunk driving by the local police on Monday. The incident caused “great anxiety” to the locals as they try to prevent the spread, Matsuno said. Japan has gone from reporting thousands of new cases a day to less than 100 on good days.
Over in Israel, plans to launch a fourth booster jab are in peril as the small Mediterranean country’s top public health official continues to deliberate on the matter, and has not yet made a decision. The plan was unveiled earlier this week by PM Naftali Bennett, according to a report from Bloomberg.
“The director-general of the Health Ministry is weighing the matter and has not yet made a decision,” a spokesman told BBG’s reporters via text.
As Israel debates scrapping its plans for a fourth jab, Germany has started considering plans for a fourth shot. German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach told public broadcaster ZDF during an interview earlier this week that “we will need a fourth vaccination”, preferably one that has been developed to specifically target new variants.