Live updates: US reports first known case of omicron variant

A medical student injects a man at a communally organised vaccination centre in Jena, Germany, Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021. The city of Jena launched the communal vaccination center on December 1, where people can get vaccinated without an appointment against the coronavirus. (Martin Schutt/dpa via AP)

A medical student injects a man at a communally organised vaccination centre in Jena, Germany, Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021. The city of Jena launched the communal vaccination center on December 1, where people can get vaccinated without an appointment against the coronavirus. (Martin Schutt/dpa via AP)


WASHINGTON — The U.S. recorded its first confirmed case of the omicron variant Wednesday — a person in California who had been to South Africa — as scientists around the world raced to establish whether the new, mutant version of the coronavirus is more dangerous than previous ones.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the United States’ top infectious disease expert, made the announcement at the White House.

“We knew it was just a matter of time before the first case of omicron would be detected in the United States,” he said.

The infected person was identified as a traveler who had returned from South Africa on Nov. 22. The person, who was fully vaccinated but had not had a booster shot, tested positive on Monday and had mild symptoms that are improving, officials said. ___


— The world faces weeks of uncertainty as more countries restrict travel

— Spain and Portugal are stepping up efforts to vaccinate residents, despite having inoculation figures that are the envy of the world

— Singapore’s COVID-19 strategy appears to be on track despite the new variant

— U.S. moves to toughen testing requirement for travelers

— More cases linked to the new omicron variant are surfacing, prompting countries to impose restrictions.

Go to for updates throughout the day.



UNITED NATÎONS — The United Nations chief is accusing countries that have restricted air travel from some African nations because of South Africa’s discovery of the COVID-19 omicron variant of “travel apartheid.”

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged countries that have imposed travel restrictions to adopt testing measures instead, saying pre-departure and post-arrival tests have allowed thousands of people to fly in conditions where the transmission of COVID-19 is “highly unlikely.”

What is unacceptable, he said, is to have Africa, “one of the most vulnerable parts of the world economy, condemned to a lockout” for revealing a new variant that already existed in other parts of the world.

Guterres spoke at a news conference following a meeting Wednesday with the African Union Commission chair, Moussa Faki Mahamat, who vigorously condemned “the unfair measures” imposed on Africa by a growing number of mainly Western countries which he called “a form of stigmatization” and “injustice.”

The U.N. chief said he was launching a very strong appeal “to common sense: We have the instruments to have safe travel. Let’s use those instruments to avoid this kind of, allow me to say, travel apartheid, which I think is unacceptable.”

Mahamat echoed Guterres saying: “It’s immoral to condemn Africa in that way.”


BEIRUT— Lebanon has declared a nighttime curfew for the unvaccinated ahead and during the holiday seasons. Its health minister on Wednesday called it one of the measures to stem a recent rise in coronavirus infections and a precaution against the new variant.

Lebanon has not recorded any infections with Omicron, but the small country enduring a severe financial crisis is concerned its health care system won’t be handle a new peak of infections.

Lebanon’s Health Minister Firass Abiad said the COVID committee wants to avoid imposing a full lockdown and hopes to encourage more people to get vaccinated.


GENEVA — The World Health Organization says travel bans by countries are having an impact on global cooperation against the new omicron variant by causing “challenges” to the sharing of laboratory samples from South Africa that can help get better grips on the new variant.

The comments Wednesday came at the first press briefing by the U.N. health agency since it christened omicron as a “variant of concern” after being brought to light by researchers in South Africa last week. Many countries responded by suspending flights from seven southern Africa countries.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called for “tailored” intervention by countries, including testing travelers before and after they arrive in a country, and advised against “blanket travel bans” that “place a heavy burden on lives and livelihoods.”


GENEVA — The head of the World Health Organization says at least 23 countries have reported cases of the new omicron variant of the coronavirus, “and we expect that number to grow.”

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the U.N. health agency “takes this development extremely seriously, and so should every country, but it should not surprise us. This is what viruses do, and it’s what this virus will continue to do as long as we allow it to continue spreading.”

Tedros, citing the early stages of global response to omicron, said efforts were ongoing to determine the severity of disease, transmissibility and the effectiveness of tests, treatments, and vaccines in the face of omicron. He said the delta variant remains by far the most common


RIO DE JANEIRO — Health officials on Wednesday confirmed Brazil’s third known case of the omicron coronavirus variant as the government examined possible new measures to contain the virus, such as suspending some flights and requiring arriving passengers to show proof of vaccination.

A passenger from Ethiopia tested positive for Covid-19 upon landing in Sao Paulo on Nov. 27, the state’s health secretariat said in a statement. The 29 year-old man is vaccinated with two doses of the Pfizer shot and is in good health, officials said.

The news came a day after Brazilian health officials reported confirmed cases of the omicron variant in two travelers arriving from South Africa –– the first such cases in Latin America.


BRATISLAVA, Slovakia — Slovakia’s government has proposed a plan to give people 60 and older a 500-euro ($568) bonus if they get vaccinated against COVID-19, the finance minister said Wednesday.

The measure, announced by Finance Minister Igor Matovic, should boost inoculations in the European Union country with one of the bloc’s lowest vaccination rates. So far, only 46.1% of the nation’s 5.5 million people have been fully vaccinated.

The current four-party ruling coalition in Slovakia has been split over the issue. The pro-business Freedom and Solidarity opposed it, saying it was ready to support a 150-euro ($170) bonus only. But the party didn’t veto it, making the approval possible.

The bill will now go to Parliament. It would need some opposition support to be approved.

The bonus would be a voucher that could be used in restaurants, cafes, hotels or to buy tickets for sports, theater, cinema, exhibitions or concerts. It could be also used to pay hairdressers or fitness centers.


BUENOS AIRES — Fear of the new variant also caused a scene reminiscent of the early days of the pandemic: a cruise liner turned away from port.

Argentina’s Ministry of Health said Tuesday it had isolated the German-based cruise ship Hamburg following two confirmed positive cases of the new coronavirus.

The vessel, whose trip originated in Hamburg, Germany, touched in at Africa’s Cape Verde islands en route to South America and Antarctica.

On Wednesday, it was at sea off Argentina’s Buenos Aires province with 285 passengers and 156 crew aboard. Officials said they were waiting for tests to determine what variant of the virus had been detected.

Officials initially had allowed some passengers off the ship when it arrived, causing a local controversy.

Plantours said Wednesday the ship was continuing its planned journey toward South Georgia Island and Antarctica and was not stranded.


SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea on Wednesday confirmed its first five cases of the new omicron coronavirus variant in people linked to arrivals from Nigeria, prompting the government to tighten the country’s borders.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said Wednesday the cases include a couple who arrived from Nigeria on Nov. 24 and a friend who drove them home from the airport. The two other cases were women who also traveled to Nigeria and returned to South Korea on Nov. 23.

Health workers earlier said they were conducting genetic sequencing tests on a child of the couple and relatives of the man who drove them home to determine whether they were infected.

Following the confirmation of the omicron infections, South Korea announced it will require all passengers arriving from abroad over the next two weeks to quarantine for at least 10 days, regardless of their nationality or vaccination status.


PARIS — A spokesperson says France’s government will allow flights carrying French and European Union citizens back from Southern Africa to resume under very strict conditions starting Saturday.

French government spokesman Gabriel Attal said the move will lift for “very few” travelers a suspension on flights from the region that France imposed last week as a precaution after the identification of the new omicron variant of the coronavirus.

Trips for family visits, professional reasons or tourism still won’t be allowed, Attal said.

Only passengers who are returning home to France or who work as diplomats or for airlines will be permitted into the country, he said.

Under the rules taking effect Saturday, travelers departing from 10 countries, including South Africa and neighboring nations, Zambia and Mauritius, will need to get tested for the virus both before their flights and after arrival.


MIAMI — The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Miami is making face coverings optional for unvaccinated and partially vaccinated students whose parents sign opt-out paperwork.

The archdiocese made the announcement Tuesday, citing community COVID-19 statistics and the advice of physician advisors, the CDC and the Miami-Dade County Department of Health.

The CDC recommends mask-wearing in public indoor settings, including schools, in areas of substantial or high community transmission. As of Wednesday, Florida was the only state in the U.S. where transmission was low in nearly every county, according to the CDC’s COVID-19 data tracker.

Face masks were already optional for fully vaccinated students and teachers.


WARSAW, Poland – Poland’s prime minister got a booster shot against the coronavirus and made an emotional appeal to citizens to get vaccinated as 570 new deaths in one day were reported from COVID-19.

Mateusz Morawiecki’s appeal on Wednesday was made to a nation with a vaccination rate of just 54%. The numbers of those fully vaccinated have risen very slowly in recent weeks, though fears of the new omicron variant have appeared to spur some to finally get vaccinated.

Poland also reported over 29,000 new infections, the highest infection rate since a virus wave in the spring made central Europe a global hot spot.


GENEVA — The World Health Organization says the rate of increase of coronavirus cases held steady over the last week, though its African, Western Pacific and European regions all reported gains.

At the same time, new weekly deaths linked to COVID-19 fell by 10% worldwide.

The U.N. health agency said in its latest weekly epidemiological report on the pandemic that case counts shot up 93% in Africa, though it cautioned about interpreting too much from that high figure because it was largely due to “batch reporting” of antigen tests by South Africa.

The report, issued Wednesday, referred for the first time to the new omicron variant that WHO named on Friday. WHO said the variant, which was first detected in South Africa and Botswana, had been reported in a “limited number” of countries in four of health agency’s six regions.

As of Sunday, more than 280 million cases and more than 5.2 million deaths have been tallied due to the pandemic, WHO said.


BERLIN — Germany’s intensive care association is calling for nationally uniform restrictions to be imposed immediately and warning that the number of COVID-19 patients requiring intensive care will hit a new high before Christmas.

German federal and state leaders are expected to decide Thursday on new measures to curb a sharp recent rise in coronavirus infections. Chancellor-designate Olaf Scholz says he will back a proposal to mandate coronavirus vaccinations for everybody next year.

The DIVI association said Wednesday that more than 6,000 patients with COVID-19 will need intensive care treatment before Christmas and the all-time high from last year will be exceeded. It said that more than 2,300 new patients were admitted to ICUs in the last week alone, and that transferring patients within Germany isn’t a long-term solution.


GENEVA — The head of the World Health Organization is hailing steps by its member states to launch work toward an international agreement to help prevent and prepare for future pandemics in the wake of the coronavirus.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the consensus decision during a long-planned special session of the U.N. health agency’s members was “cause for celebration.” It sets off work toward creating an “intergovernmental negotiating body” to draft an agreement, which is likely to take months if not years to be finalized.

“Of course, there is still a long road ahead. There are still differences of opinion about what a new accord could or should contain,” he said.


LISBON, Portugal — Portugal is entering a so-called state of calamity — the second this year — to curve an upward trend in coronavirus infections despite having one of the strongest vaccination records in Europe.

The state of calamity is one step below the country’s top level of alert.

The country is tightening passenger control in airports, seaports and land borders, requiring negative coronavirus tests for most incoming visitors as part of the new set of rules that kick in Wednesday.

Face masks are again required in enclosed spaces and coronavirus vaccination or COVID-19 recovery tests are required to enter restaurants, cinemas, gyms and hotels.


DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Saudi Arabia said it detected its first case of the new coronavirus variant omicron.

The kingdom’s state-run Saudi Press Agency said the case came from a citizen coming from what it described as a “North African country.”

The report said the infected individual and his close contacts had been quarantined.

The case marks the first-known instance of omicron being detected among Gulf Arab nations.


COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Health officials say a concertgoer who attended a gig in northern Denmark with a local DJ has tested positive for the new coronavirus variant omicron.

The concert was attended by nearly 2,000 people on Saturday in Aalborg. The Danish Patient Safety Authority has urged all those who attended the event to be tested, Danish broadcaster DR said Wednesday.

Statens Serum Institut, another government agency that maps the spread of COVID-19 in Denmark, said Tuesday that four cases of omicron had been reported in the Scandinavian country. It was not immediately clear if the concertgoer was included or if it was a new case.

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Omicron Variant and Covid-19: Case Updates and Global Response

ImageA laboratory at the Center for the AIDS Program of Research in Durban, South Africa.
Credit…Joao Silva/The New York Times

In the rush to understand the threat posed by the Omicron variant, the worrisome new version of the coronavirus, some experts are pointing hopefully to early signs that it may cause only mild illness, without some of the trademark symptoms of Covid.

But it is far too early to assume that the variant will not cause severe illness, too, warned Dr. Richard Lessells, who coordinates clinical and epidemiological data for the South African Covid Variant Research Consortium.

Many of the early infections in South Africa were spotted among younger people more likely to experience mild illness, he said. The picture may change as the virus spreads through the larger population.

At the moment, the variant has been spotted in at least a dozen countries, including Britain and the Netherlands. Many others are closely monitoring cases. Omicron has not yet surfaced in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Omicron has dozens of new mutations, including many that may enable the virus to be more contagious and to sidestep immune defenses. But Dr. Angelique Coetzee, who chairs the South African Medical Association, noted on Saturday that the nation’s hospitals were not overrun by patients infected with the new variant, and that most were not fully immunized.

Moreover, most patients she had seen did not lose their sense of taste and smell, and had only a slight cough, she told reporters.

But that may not be as reassuring as it sounds. Most of South Africa’s cases were initially found in the Gauteng province, mostly among younger people at universities and higher education institutions, said Dr. Lessells, who is also an infectious disease physician at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

“We would of course expect the vast majority of those to be mild cases anyway, regardless of vaccination status,” he said.

In addition, cases overall have also been rising only in the last two weeks, Dr. Lessells noted: “There’s even barely enough time for infections to have had time to progress to severe disease and hospitalization.”

Should Omicron cause severe illness, that will become apparent if there is a significant rise in hospitalizations over the next week or two, he added.

Scientists have not yet analyzed infections in fully immunized people, but they are already seeing some cases of reinfection that suggest the variant can overcome natural immunity, Dr. Lessells said.

He and his colleagues plan to review the latest data on Monday to spot trends and to plan for Omicron’s spread.


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Dutch health officials reported at least 13 cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant among 61 infected passengers who arrived in the Netherlands on two flights from South Africa on Friday.CreditCredit…Sem van der Wal/EPA, via Shutterstock

Dutch health officials said on Sunday that they had found at least 13 cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant among 61 infected passengers who had arrived in the Netherlands from South Africa on Friday. The new cases were a clear sign that the virus was crossing borders even as governments imposed new travel restrictions and flight bans.

Additional cases could emerge, as health officials were still examining test samples, said Hugo de Jonge, the country’s health minister, adding that the people who tested positive were isolating. The passengers who had tested positive were among more than 500 who arrived on two separate flights.

A growing list of countries is scrambling to respond to the new, highly mutated version of the virus, which was first detected in Botswana and South Africa and which has sent ripples of panic through governments and markets. Health officials in Australia and Denmark on Sunday both confirmed cases of the Omicron variant in travelers recently arriving from southern Africa. Morocco said Sunday it would ban all incoming flights for at least two weeks beginning Monday, according to a government statement on state-run news media. The flight ban prevents both foreign nationals and Moroccan citizens from entering.

And British health officials said Sunday a third case had been detected in an individual who had spent time in central London. They said the case was linked to travel to southern Africa.

In South Africa, President Cyril Ramaphosa said in a televised address on Sunday that the country was bracing for a fourth wave of infections ahead of the holiday season as new virus cases in general across the country jumped.

He also said his cabinet was considering making vaccines mandatory for specific locations and activities. Before the enforcing the new rules though, a task team will investigate “a fair and sustainable approach.”

Nationally, new infections of the virus overall have more than tripled in a week, he said. . According to the National Institute of Communicable Diseases on Sunday, South Africa recorded a total of 2,858 new virus infections in the last 24 hours, 80 percent of them in Gauteng, the nation’s wealthiest province and home to Johannesburg, the nation’s most densely populated city.

Mr. Ramaphosa did not detail what share of new cases might be of the Omicron variant, but said, without specifics, that the variant appeared to be “responsible” for driving new cases in the Gauteng province.

The variant “is now showing up in all other provinces in our country,” Mr. Ramaphosa said.

Botswana, a country of 2.3 million people, recorded a daily total of 257 new cases of the virus in general, according to the World Health Organization.

The W.H.O. warned on Friday that Omicron was a “variant of concern,” the most serious category the agency uses for such tracking, and said that its numerous genetic mutations could help it spread more quickly, even among vaccinated people.

In an update on Sunday, the W.H.O. said that Omicron may pose an increased risk of reinfection, but it was not yet clear if it causes more severe disease or transmits more easily than other variants. The agency said that numourous studies are underway.

Scientists cautioned that relatively little is known about the variant, and that only a small number of confirmed cases have surfaced globally. Still, there are worries that Omicron could have spread more widely before scientists in South Africa discovered it last week, and the memories of the rampaging spread this year of the Delta variant have prompted new waves of travel restrictions, aimed primarily at southern African countries.

Britain, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Israel are among the countries that have identified Omicron cases in recent days and imposed new travel restrictions. In a sign of how seriously the authorities in Europe, which is already battling a surge of coronavirus cases, are taking the new threat, officials in France on Friday also suspended arrivals from seven southern African countries even though the new variant had not yet been detected in France.

“It’s probably a question of hours, let’s be honest,” Olivier Véran, the health minister, told reporters on Sunday at a vaccination center in Paris. But he added that “new variant doesn’t necessarily mean new wave, or that the variant is more dangerous.”

“To be safe, we are acting as though this variant is potentially dangerous,” he said.

The European Union is restricting travel to and from seven countries in southern Africa — Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe — while the United States and South Korea have targeted those countries and Malawi. Britain has restricted travel with those eight nations and Angola and Zambia.

Israel announced it was sealing its borders to all foreigners for 14 days after one case was confirmed in the country.

Scientists were careful to note that the extent of the threat from Omicron remained unclear, and that existing vaccines were likely to protect against it. Although some variants of concern, like Delta, have lived up to initial worries, others have had a more limited impact.

Some experts, including the W.H.O., said that the rush to reintroduce travel bans and border closures was premature and would unfairly punish African countries that have already suffered from delayed and insufficient vaccine supplies caused in large part by Western countries hoarding doses.

The latest cases include:

  • Australia placed two people in quarantine after they tested positive for the variant on arrival on a Qatar Airways flight on Saturday from Doha.

  • Two travelers from South Africa are in isolation after testing positive, Denmark officials said in a statement.

Carl Zimmer, Stephen Castle and Aida Alami contributed reporting.

Credit…Amir Cohen/Reuters

JERUSALEM — Israel over the weekend became the first country to seal its borders to all foreign travelers in response to the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, taking a step that appeared more severe but less discriminatory than other countries’ travel bans.

Only four weeks ago, Israel fully re-opened its skies to vaccinated tourists after it had barred foreign visitors early in the pandemic. But by midnight between Sunday and Monday, its borders are expected to again be closed to foreigners.

The rapid reversal came after a late-night meeting on Saturday of Israel’s coronavirus cabinet and constituted a broader ban than those imposed by most countries so far. The United States, Britain, Canada, the European Union and other nations have all announced bans on travelers from southern Africa, where the variant was first detected.

Those bans have triggered a wave of resentment among Africans who believed that the continent was yet again bearing the brunt of panicked policies from Western countries, which had failed to deliver vaccines and the resources needed to administer them.

Hours after Israel announced its blanket ban, Morocco said on Sunday it would deny entry to all travelers, even Moroccan citizens, for two weeks beginning Monday. The country is banning all incoming and outgoing flights over the two-week period.

In Israel, all foreign nationals will be banned from entering for at least 14 days, except for urgent humanitarian cases to be approved by a special exceptions committee. Returning vaccinated Israelis will be tested upon landing and will have to self-quarantine for three days, pending results of another P.C.R. test. Unvaccinated Israelis will have to self-quarantine for seven days.

Israelis returning from countries classified as “red,” with high risk of infection, including most African countries, will have to enter a quarantine hotel until they receive a negative result from the airport test, then transfer to home quarantine (until they get a 7-day PCR test result).

Ran Balicer, the chairman of an expert panel that advises the Israeli government on Covid-19 response, said the decision was temporary and was taken out of prudence because most nations likely are not yet capable of detecting the variant yet.

Israel has identified at least one confirmed case of Omicron so far — a woman who arrived from Malawi — and testing has provided indications of several more likely cases in the country.

On Sunday, the Israeli Ministry of Health called for all passengers who rode a bus from Tel Aviv to the southern Red Sea resort city of Eilat on Nov. 22 to get a P.C.R. test and self-isolate, after it was revealed that the woman from Malawi was on that bus.

Israel only recently emerged from a fourth wave of the virus that saw one of the world’s highest rates of daily infections from the Delta strain. Officials attributed the containment of that outbreak to a rapid rollout of booster shots that began in August, after Israeli scientists detected waning immunity in people five or six months after they had received their second Pfizer shot.

In an effort to get ahead of the next crisis, the Israeli government held a drill code-named “Omega” this month to test nationwide preparations for the outbreak of a new, lethal Covid variant.

At least 80 percent of people living in Israel over the age of 16 have been vaccinated, but the numbers are lower in younger age groups.

Israel’s Covid policy now revolves around trying to keep the economy fully open and avoid internal lockdowns, while strictly controlling the borders.

But the reimposed entry restrictions have abruptly upended holiday plans for tourists from abroad. Esther Block, from London, has been waiting for the good part of two years to visit lifelong friends in Israel, one of whom is now 87. “We were due to come when Israel first locked down,” said Ms. Block, 57, “and we have been postponing ever since.”

Ms. Block is double vaccinated, was scheduled to get a booster shot next week and also recovered from Covid about four weeks ago. Her teenage son planned to get a second shot next week, so the family had started planning a trip to Israel over the December holidays.

“Now I don’t know when I’ll be able to come,” Ms. Block said. “I feel pretty gutted. But I actually think we should all be doing what Israel is doing,” she added. “It seems sensible to be cautious, in spite of it being incredibly frustrating.”

Aida Alami contributed reporting from Morocco.

Credit…Sarahbeth Maney/The New York Times

Top federal health officials in the United States urged unvaccinated Americans on Sunday to get their shots and for eligible adults to seek out boosters, amid the discovery of a new variant.

Appearing on several morning talk shows on Sunday, Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, cautioned Americans that the emergence of Omicron and the uncertainty that surrounds it is a reminder that pandemic is far from over. While the variant has yet to be detected in the United States, maintaining vigilance and safeguarding public health through inoculations, masking indoors and distancing, remains critical, he said.

“I know, America, you’re really tired about hearing those things, but the virus is not tired of us,” Dr. Collins said. “And it’s shape-shifting itself.”

Currently, much remains unknown about the Omicron variant, which has a concerning number of mutations not seen before. It is unclear whether it causes severe illness or is more transmissible than previous variants. There are also questions around whether Omicron limits vaccine’s effectiveness.

Still, Dr. Collins stressed that inoculation remain the first line of defense, saying that there are “good reasons” to believe, based on previous variants, that current vaccines will provide sufficient protection.

“Please, Americans, if you’re one of those folks who’s sort of waiting to see, this would be a great time to sign up, get your booster,” Dr. Collins said on Fox. “Or if you haven’t been vaccinated already, get started.”

He also underlined other critical mitigation efforts, including indoor masking when around unvaccinated individuals and maintaining social distance, in slowing the spread.

Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, delivered a similar message, sending a “clarion call” for vaccinations and boosters. It is inevitable that the variant, which has already been detected in several countries, will surface in the United States, Dr. Fauci said.

“The question is, will we be prepared for it?” Dr. Fauci said on ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday morning. “And the preparation that we have ongoing for what we’re doing now with the Delta variant just needs to be revved up.”

The discovery of the Omicron variant stoked widespread fear and alarm, and governments around the world announced border closures to travelers from South Africa and several neighboring countries.

President Biden, upon returning to Washington on Sunday from spending the Thanksgiving holiday in Nantucket, Mass., was asked if he was considering imposing new travel restrictions and replied, “I’ll have more to say.”

Credit…Ahmad Gharabli/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The discovery the Omicron variant comes at a delicate moment for an airline industry that was just starting to see a rebound.

The question is whether the new coronavirus variant will deter travelers, as the Delta variant did this summer.

Several nations, including the United States, have banned visitors from South Africa and a handful of neighboring countries. Morocco has banned all incoming flights for two weeks, the Philippines has banned visitors from southern Africa and several European countries, and Israel has closed its borders to all foreign visitors for 14 days.

The international travel recovery has been slower than it has been in the United States. President Biden’s decision to ease longstanding restrictions on foreign travelers this month promised to stimulate that rebound. It isn’t yet clear how or whether the Omicron variant will affect travel demand, but if travel bans proliferate and concerns over the variant continue to spread, hopes for an accelerated international rebound could be dashed once again.

Only two U.S. carriers, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines, fly out of southern Africa. Both have said that they are not yet planning to adjust their schedules in response to the administration’s ban, which takes effect on Monday and does not apply to American citizens or lawful permanent residents. Delta operates three weekly flights between Atlanta and Johannesburg. United operates five flights a week between Newark and Johannesburg, and it has not changed its plans to restart flights between Newark and Cape Town on Wednesday. None of the countries that have announced the new travel restrictions are major sources of business for U.S. carriers.

No major American airline has announced any substantive changes to procedures because of the variant. And all passengers flying into the United States must provide proof of a negative coronavirus test, with noncitizens also required to be fully vaccinated.

Within the United States, air travel has nearly recovered, even with many businesses still wary of sending employees on work trips. The number of people screened at airport security checkpoints over the past week was down only 10 percent from the same week in 2019, according to the Transportation Security Administration. And the industry successfully weathered the crush of travelers, avoiding the disruptions that at some airlines lasted for days in recent months.

Credit…Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters

On the face of it, the emergence of the Omicron variant is the unhappy fulfillment of expert predictions that the failure to prioritize vaccinations for African countries would allow the coronavirus to continue to circulate and mutate there, imperiling the world’s ability to move beyond the pandemic.

As Western nations kept most of the global vaccine supply for themselves, African countries were denied access to doses or could not afford them. Around 10 percent of people in Africa have received one dose of a vaccine, compared with 64 percent in North America and 62 percent in Europe.

But the problem is changing shape. In recent weeks, vaccines have started to flow into Africa, and the new challenge is how to rapidly scale up vaccinations — as South Africa demonstrates.

“We haven’t completely overcome the problem of vaccine supply to lower-income countries,” said Shabir Madhi, a virologist at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. “But where they are available, countries are struggling to scale up.”

Scientists in South Africa, which has the most sophisticated genomic sequencing facilities on the continent, were the first to announce the detection of the new variant, after it was found in four people in Botswana.

South Africa has a better vaccination rate than most countries on the continent: Just under one-quarter of the population has been fully vaccinated, and the government said it has over five months’ worth of doses in its stores. But they are not being administered fast enough.

Vaccinations in South Africa are running at about half the target rate, officials said last week. To prevent vaccines from expiring, the government has even deferred some deliveries scheduled for early next year.

In a briefing on Sunday to announce the country’s response to the new variant, President Cyril Ramaphosa said his cabinet was considering making vaccines mandatory for specific locations and activities. Before enforcing the new rules, though, a task team will investigate “a fair and sustainable approach.”

In a country where vaccines are free, this was a more desirable approach than imposing additional lockdown restrictions as he said that new virus infections in general more than tripled in a week. Masks remain mandatory in public, and a curfew is in place from midnight to 4 a.m.

“We know enough about the variant to know what we need to do to reduce transmission and to protect ourselves against severe disease and death,” said Mr. Ramaphosa. “The first, the most powerful, tool we have is vaccination.”

But the problem is not just a product of the misinformation-driven hesitancy that has plagued vaccination efforts in the West. In fact, some studies suggest it’s a small part of the problem in South Africa.

Instead, the inoculation campaign has been slowed by a complex range of logistical, financial and even political issues. And Western actions are partly to blame.

Many African countries lack the cold storage facilities or logistics chains for a large-scale vaccination campaign. Dilapidated health systems mean a lack of clinics or qualified personnel to administer vaccines.

With Western countries hogging vaccine supplies for most of this year, and doses from India halted as cases surged in there, many African countries have relied on donations. But some of those vaccines have landed close to their expiration date, giving countries a narrow window in which to safely deliver them.

And many Africans are constrained by time and money. They may lack the bus fare to reach a distant vaccination center — or be reluctant to stand in line for hours if there’s a risk of missing work, or losing a job.

Misinformation and cultural factors matter, too. Africa has a long history of vaccinating young children against diseases like polio, but a mass vaccination drive among adults is “very, very unusual” Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, the World Health Organization’s Africa director, told reporters last week.

Even nurses and doctors are prone to believing false tales of dangerous side effects: Recent studies in Ghana and Ethiopia found that fewer than 50 percent of health workers intend to get vaccinated, Dr. Moeti said.

In South Africa, race is a factor: Researchers at the University of Johannesburg found that white people were more vaccine hesitant than Black people — but were more likely to have been inoculated because they had access to better health care.

The race to vaccinate Africans is progressing. In the past eight weeks, 30 African countries have administered 80 percent of doses received, according to the World Health Organization. Only Djibouti and the Democratic Republic of Congo administered fewer than 20 percent of doses received.

Still, there is a long way to go. So far, wealthy countries have delivered just 14 percent of the 1.7 billion doses promised to low- and middle-income countries by next September, according to data collated by Our World in Data, a project at Oxford University.

And no matter how quickly those doses arrive, experts say African countries need support to help get them into people’s arms.

In Kenya this month, the Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken outlined measures to help Kenyans overcome such “last mile” obstacles through the Global Covid Corps, a new public-private partnership aimed at overcoming logistical and delivery hurdles. As fear of the new variant spreads, the sense of urgency around such programs is likely to grow.

Credit…Peter Klaunzer/EPA, via Shutterstock

A majority of Swiss voters backed the government’s Covid-19 response policy in a referendum held on Sunday, following weeks of vitriolic public debate and protests.

Official government results show 62 percent of voters agreed to keep the amendments parliament made to the nation’s existing Covid law, which includes the introduction of a Covid certificate that shows either proof of vaccination or recovery from the illness and is required to enter public spaces like restaurants or museums.

It is the second time this year that opponents have tried to overturn legislature introduced by the government in response to the pandemic, by collecting enough signatures to bring the matter to a referendum.

This time opposition focused on getting rid of contact tracing and an internationally recognized Covid certificate. Opponents, who organized many protests in the lead up to Sunday, argued they are trying to prevent a split in society between the vaccinated and unvaccinated, with different rules applying to each group.

Josef Ender, the spokesman for the committee opposing the legislation said they acknowledge the result, but “will continue to advocate for freedom in Switzerland.”

In response to the outcome, which saw one of the highest voter turnouts in decades, the Interior Minister Alain Berset commented on the tone of the opposition and its demonstrations that sometimes turned violent. “What does not belong to Switzerland is anger, hatred, intimidation and threats,” he said.

“We all want to end the pandemic as quickly as possible and that can only be done together,” he said.

On Sunday, Swiss voters also approved a proposed constitutional amendment that aims to improve compensation and working conditions for nurses, and meet the growing demand for health care workers.

Although the initiative was launched by the country’s nursing association before the pandemic, it took on a new significance because of the increased reliance on nurses.

“It is an incredible sign of appreciation from the Swiss electorate towards caregivers,” Yvonne Ribi, the director of the country’s nursing association, said to Switzerland’s national broadcaster after the proposal was approved by a 61 percent majority vote.

The results come amid a recent surge in Covid cases in Switzerland, which despite being one of the wealthiest countries in the world, has one of the continent’s lowest vaccination rates.

The Alpine nation has received criticism throughout the pandemic for maintaining looser regulations than much of Europe. It has also been slow to make booster jabs available.

In light of the new Omicron variant, Swiss authorities on Friday decided to ban all direct flights from South Africa and the surrounding region. The country has so far not reported any confirmed cases of the new variant.

Visitors from several countries where cases of Omicron have been detected, including Hong Kong, Israel and the United Kingdom, are now required to quarantine for 10 days upon arrival in Switzerland.

Credit…Mary Altaffer/Associated Press

On Friday, Gov. Kathy Hochul of New York declared a state of emergency partly in response to the emerging Omicron variant of the coronavirus. Most governors did not comment publicly on the threat over the weekend, but some said they were monitoring developments without taking any new steps.

Gov. Ned Lamont of Connecticut issued a statement on Sunday saying local health officials were paying close attention to the Omicron variant.

“Our team at the Connecticut Department of Public Health, led by Commissioner Manisha Juthani, is following these developments closely,” he said in the statement. “While there have been no cases of the Omicron variant reported here in Connecticut or the United States to date, we still must be vigilant. Given the number of countries where Omicron has already been detected, it may already be present in the U.S.”

Other state leaders took the same tone, urging caution as well as highlighting the resources they had already put in place through the pandemic.

Mr. Lamont pointed to the network of labs sequencing genomes in his state and reminded residents to wear masks in indoor public spaces.

Gov. Gavin Newsom of California said on Twitter on Sunday that the state was “monitoring the new variant from Southern Africa closely.” He did not announce any new steps but said that the coronavirus vaccine and booster shot were essential.

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health echoed that message and said in a statement, “More studies are needed to determine whether the Omicron variant is more contagious, more deadly or resistant to vaccine and treatments than other Covid-19 strains.” The department added that people in Los Angeles should adhere to existing mask requirements.

“While we are still learning much about Omicron, we know enough about Covid to take steps now that can reduce transmission as we prepare to better understand the additional strategies that may needed to mitigate this new variant of concerns,” the statement said.

Health leaders in the United States have said that it is all but inevitable that the variant will reach the country and called this a time for caution but not panic.

“We’re going to get better information about this,” Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, said on the CNN program “State of the Union.” “But there’s no reason to panic. But it is a great reason to go get boosted.”

Some leaders sought to reassure residents. Gov. Dan McKee of Rhode Island said that its health department was not aware of any cases in the state linked to the variant, although he said that the state would continue to be on the lookout.

“The best way to keep RI safe: Get vaccinated. Get your booster,” he said on Twitter.

On Sunday, his office issued a statement saying that the state’s health laboratories already perform genomic surveillance on samples, “which would identify the Omicron variant.”

In New York, under Ms. Hochul’s executive order, all state agencies are authorized “to take appropriate action to assist local governments and individuals” in containing and responding to cases. Although the measures are a far cry from early pandemic rules, they were the nation’s first attempt to accelerate preparation for the arrival of Omicron.

“We continue to see warning signs of spikes this upcoming winter, and while the new Omicron variant has yet to be detected in New York State, it’s coming,” Ms. Hochul said in a release.

Two governors of more conservative-leaning states addressed concerns about the variant, too, but maintained their position that vaccine mandates were off the table for now.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas said on “State of the Union” that while a new variant “is a great concern,” encouraging vaccinations would work better than forcing them.

Gov. Tate Reeves of Mississippi made similar statements on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “We’re certainly monitoring this new variant,” he said. “We don’t have all the data that we need to make decisions at this time.”

Credit…Denis Farrell/Associated Press

The cascade of travel closures sparked by the emergence of the Omicron variant has triggered resentment among Africans who believed that the continent was yet again bearing the brunt of panicked policies from Western countries, which had failed to deliver vaccines and the resources needed to administer them.

Richer countries, having already hoarded vaccines for much of 2021, were now penalizing parts of the world that they had starved of shots in the first place, scientists said.

“Told you so,” said Francois Venter, a researcher at University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, referring to warnings from African researchers that delaying vaccinations there risked the emergence of new variants. “It feels like these rich countries have learned absolutely nothing in terms of support.”

The sense of outrage was most visceral in South Africa, where business leaders predicted that travel bans by Western nations would inflict a dire economic toll, especially on tourism. In the arrivals halls of Johannesburg’s O.R. Tambo International airport, Ronald Masiwa, a tour operator, watched with dread as the information board flipped to red, displaying cancellation notices. Three clients had already canceled trips overnight, and he feared that many more would follow.

In South Africa, December is traditionally the high season for tourism, one of the country’s biggest industries, and operators had been banking on a surge in visitors from Britain, which had removed South Africa from its “red list” only last month.

“This is devastating,” said David Frost, chief executive officer of the Southern Africa Tourism Services Association. “Many companies have been hanging on by their fingernails, and this is going to wipe them out. It’s going to be dire for conservation, and it’s going to be dire for people in rural areas where tourism is the only economic generator.”

South Africa’s number of daily infections — 2,828 on Friday — was a small fraction of case counts in countries with similarly sized populations, like Germany and Britain, not to mention the United States. For Mr. Frost, the hurried measures were the mark of a blatant double standard.

In South Africa, most of the 22 cases of the Omicron variant detected as of Saturday were in Pretoria, the capital city north of Johannesburg. With fears growing that the government would announce a new lockdown, a sense of foreboding hung over one shopping mall, festooned with Christmas decorations, where Mary Njuguna sells beaded jewelry and woven handbags.

The pandemic had already caused the price of imports to soar, and goods from Kenya and Malawi that once arrived in one week now took months, she said. Talk of a new lockdown made her fear what might come next.

“It’s a big, big mess,” Ms. Njuguna said.

The travel bans resonated widely in a continent where they were seen as a mark of Western double standards. Nanjala Nyabola, a Kenyan writer, said that border closures appeared to be dictated by politics and not public health concerns.

“If you look at the way the numbers are going, we should be thinking about bans on Europe and United States,” she said. “But the border closures are not tied to the public health crisis in front of us.”




Flights Canceled at Johannesburg Airport Amid Travel Bans

Travelers at O.R. Tambo International Airport expressed concerns as flights were canceled, after many nations banned travel from southern Africa in an effort to curb the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant.

[loud speaker announcement] So I was originally planned to go to Mauritius. Got canceled. Tried again. Got canceled. So now I’m trying to get back to Europe or across to the U.S. After being stranded for two years because of Covid, not seeing your family, my parents were deathly ill, you know. So I had to come back when the borders were open to come and see them. And now, you know, only to realize, well, it’s happening all over again. [group chatter] Wear your mask.

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Travelers at O.R. Tambo International Airport expressed concerns as flights were canceled, after many nations banned travel from southern Africa in an effort to curb the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant.CreditCredit…Sumaya Hisham/Reuters
Credit…Aaron Chown/Press Association, via Associated Press

British health officials said Sunday that a third case of the new Omicron coronavirus variant had been discovered in the country, in an individual who had spent time in central London. The announcement came just hours after the health secretary, Sajid Javid, rejected calls for tougher restrictions on daily life.

The health security agency said the individual had spent time in the Westminster section of London, but was no longer in the country, and that contact tracing was being performed. It said the case was linked to travel in southern Africa.

Dr. Jenny Harries, chief executive of the agency, said it was “very likely’’ there would be more cases in the coming days.

On Saturday, a day after the government learned of the first two cases, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that masks would be mandatory on public transportation and in shops in England starting on Tuesday. Tighter testing rules for travelers arriving from abroad would also go into effect that day.

But the government has rejected the idea of ordering people to work from home where possible, introducing vaccine passports in England or requiring masks in restaurants. “This is about taking proportionate action against the risks we face,” Mr. Javid told the BBC on Sunday, speaking before the third case was confirmed.

Source: Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University. The daily average is calculated with data that was reported in the last seven days.

Britain began suspending flights from six southern African nations on Friday, but some travelers had already arrived in London by the time the measure took effect.

Mr. Javid acknowledged that passengers landing on Friday were not tested at the airport and were able to leave as usual, including by public transport. He said that all travelers who had arrived from southern Africa within the past 10 days were being contacted and asked to take tests.

“We could not have acted more swiftly,” he said.

By contrast, in Amsterdam, Dutch health officials tested more than 500 passengers who arrived on Friday on two flights from South Africa. Those who were negative were allowed to leave the airport and quarantine at home, or to continue their journeys.

Mr. Javid also urged Britons to quickly get booster shots and said he expected advice “imminently” from scientific experts on expanding the scope of the country’s vaccine program, especially with regard to boosters.

Such measures would, he added, help to “protect the progress we have made so we can continue to look forward to Christmas with family and friends.”

Credit…Sascha Steinbach/EPA, via Shutterstock

Scientific experts at the World Health Organization warned on Friday that a new coronavirus variant discovered in southern Africa was a “variant of concern,” the most serious category the agency uses for such tracking.

The designation, announced after an emergency meeting of the health body, is reserved for dangerous variants that may spread quickly, cause severe disease or decrease the effectiveness of vaccines or treatments. The last coronavirus variant to receive this label was Delta, which took off this summer and now accounts for virtually all Covid cases in the United States.

The W.H.O. said the new version, named Omicron, carries a number of genetic mutations that may allow it to spread quickly, perhaps even among the vaccinated.

Independent scientists agreed that Omicron warranted urgent attention, but also pointed out that it would take more research to determine the extent of the threat. Although some variants of concern, like Delta, have lived up to initial worries, others have had a limited impact.

William Hanage, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and other researchers said that vaccines will most likely protect against Omicron, but further studies are needed to determine how much of the shots’ effectiveness may be reduced.

As the coronavirus replicates inside people, new mutations constantly arise. Most provide the virus with no new advantage. When worrisome mutations do emerge, the World Health Organization uses Greek letters to name the variants. The first “variant of concern,” Alpha, appeared in Britain in late 2020, soon followed by Beta in South Africa.

Omicron first came to light in Botswana, where researchers at the Botswana Harvard H.I.V. Reference Laboratory in Gaborone sequenced the genes of coronaviruses from positive test samples. They found some samples sharing about 50 mutations not found in such a combination before. So far, six people have tested positive for Omicron in Botswana, according to an international database of variants.

Around the same time, researchers in South Africa stumbled across Omicron in a cluster of cases in the province of Gauteng. As of Friday, they have listed 58 Omicron samples on the variant database. But at a news conference on Thursday, Tulio de Oliveira, the director of the Centre for Epidemic Response & Innovation in South Africa, said that “close to two or three hundred” genetic sequences of Omicron cases would be released in the next few days.

Credit…Sumaya Hisham/Reuters

When the World Health Organization began to name the emerging variants of the coronavirus, officials turned to the Greek alphabet to make it easier for the public to understand the evolution: Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta and so on.

Now the alphabet has created its own political headache. When it came time to name the potentially dangerous new variant that has emerged in southern Africa, the next letter in alphabetical order was Nu, which officials thought would be too easily confused with “new.”

The letter after that was even more complicated: Xi, a name that in its transliteration, though not its pronunciation, happens to belong to the leader of China, Xi Jinping. So they skipped both and named the new variant Omicron.

“‘Nu’ is too easily confounded with ‘new,’ and ‘Xi’ was not used because it is a common last name,” a spokesman, Tarik Jasarevic, said on Saturday in an emailed response to questions about skipping the two letters.

The organization’s policy, he went on, requires “avoiding causing offense to any cultural, social, national, regional, professional, or ethnic groups.”

The organization did not initially explain why it jumped from Mu, a lesser variant first documented in Colombia, to Omicron. The omission resulted in speculation over the reasons. For some, it rekindled criticism that the organization has been far too deferential in its dealings with the Chinese government.

“If the WHO is this scared of the Chinese Communist Party, how can they be trusted to call them out the next time they’re trying to cover up a catastrophic global pandemic?” Senator Ted Cruz, the Republican from Texas, wrote on Twitter.

There is no evidence that the Chinese had any say in naming the new variant, known scientifically as the SARS-CoV-2 variant B.1.1.529. Some variants have proved less transmissible, but Omicron could be the most worrisome new version since Delta.

Throughout the pandemic, the W.H.O. has sought to avoid the once common practice of referring to health threats with geographic terms: Spanish flu, West Nile virus, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, Zika and Ebola.

That reflected concerns among scientists about the risk of stigmatizing places or peoples, but it was also seen in the early months of the pandemic as deferential to China, which has an influential role in global health affairs.

Chinese officials have reacted angrily to efforts to associate the pandemic with the country or Wuhan, the central city where it first spread in the fall of 2019. China’s fiercest critics in the United States, including then President Donald J. Trump and his aides, persisted anyway, at times using sophomoric and racist slurs.

“The novel coronavirus affects everyone and needs to be tackled with joint efforts, instead of fear-mongering in a xenophobic way,” Geng Shuang, a spokesman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said at the time.

Credit…Ahn Young-Joon/Associated Press

At the first BTS concert of the coronavirus era on Saturday, Maggie Larin, 25, and her three friends were surrounded by a roaring crowd of 70,000 other fans in SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Calif.

But when Lee Hye Su, 23, and her two friends go to see the K-pop group The Boyz in Seoul Olympic Park next weekend, she will be seated silently, masked and socially distanced, alongside only 2,100 other fans, according to the venue’s rules.

As K-pop bands start touring the world and performing for live audiences again, fans in their home country, South Korea, are flocking to stadiums. But they must abide by the government’s strict rules: no shouting, chanting or singing along at concerts with 500 or more attendees.

“We’ll only be able to clap when we enter the hall,” said Ms. Lee, who has followed the band since 2018. She said it was unfortunate that the atmosphere on Saturday would be different from that of past concerts, where she could yell all she wanted.

“But I knew I had to go as soon as I found out about it,” she said.

Live K-pop concerts are returning to South Korea as hospitalizations are rising across the country and the spread of a new variant alarms the world. The health minister, Kwon Deok-cheol, said on Friday that the government was considering tightening some restrictions because the number of available beds for critically ill patients in and around Seoul was “reaching a limit.”

Source: Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University. The daily average is calculated with data that was reported in the last seven days.

But there is pent-up demand for live performances. K-pop fan groups have remained active throughout the pandemic, said Kim Hong Ki, chief executive of Space Oddity, a South Korean music collective. Record sales for K-pop groups have even spiked, he said.

“In K-pop, fans aren’t ordinary consumers, but active, evangelistic and dedicated to their fandom, almost religiously,” said Mr. Kim, who has worked in the South Korean music industry for decades. “When the rules are relaxed to some extent, fans will be chasing after live shows.”

Several other bands, like NCT 127 and Twice, have scheduled their first pandemic-era concerts in South Korea for next month. And thousands of K-pop fans in the country are dashing for tickets, even if they know those shows could get canceled.

Pandemic rules in the United States require fans to wear masks in concert halls, and provide proof of full vaccination, negative virus test results and photo identification upon entry. Still, the BTS concert in California this weekend was sold out months in advance.

To catch the show, Ms. Larin took a weekend away from law school in Michigan.

“I’ve been spending a lot of time preparing for the actual concert, listening to a lot of their music and learning their fan chants,” she said before the event on Saturday. “It’s going to be a very emotional experience.”

Credit…Pedro Nunes/Reuters

A top-flight soccer game in Portugal produced instead farcical drama on Saturday evening, after one of the teams was forced to field only nine players, including two goalkeepers, because the rest of its squad had been depleted by a Covid-19 outbreak.

In the match between Benfica and Belenenses in Portugal’s top professional league, Benfica’s full-size complement of 11 players dominated, scoring seven goals by halftime. The game was called off during the second half, after one of seven remaining Belenenses players sat down, saying he was unable to continue, reducing his side to six. The rules of the sport require a team to field at least seven players.

Ahead of the game, the virus swept through the Belenenses club, infecting as many as 17 of its players and staff members. One of the players who had tested positive had recently returned from playing in South Africa, where researchers were the first to identify the new Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

Source: Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University. The daily average is calculated with data that was reported in the last seven days.

The World Health Organization has labeled Omicron a “variant of concern,” saying it could spread more easily than other forms of the virus. It was unclear if the player had been infected with the variant.

The Belenenses players sought to have the game canceled, warning in a joint statement before the match that soccer would have “lost its heart” if they were forced to play such an uncompetitive matchup amid a public health crisis. Officials reportedly told the players that the game must go on.

Players from several other clubs criticized Portugal’s sports authorities for tainting the country’s reputation and that of one of its favorite sports.

Credit…Merck & Co Inc/Via Reuters

The pharmaceutical company Merck said on Friday that in a final analysis of a clinical trial, its antiviral pill reduced the risk of hospitalization and death among high-risk Covid patients by 30 percent, down from an earlier estimate of 50 percent.

The lower efficacy is a disappointment for the drug, known as molnupiravir, which health officials around the world are counting on as a critical tool to save lives and reduce the burden on hospitals. It increases the importance of a similar, apparently more effective, offering from Pfizer that is also under review by the Food and Drug Administration.

A panel of advisers to the F.D.A. is set to meet on Tuesday to discuss Merck’s treatment and vote on whether to recommend authorizing it to treat high-risk Covid patients.

In briefing documents posted to the F.D.A.’s website on Friday, agency reviewers did not take a position on whether the drug should be authorized, though they found that the clinical trial data did not show any major safety concerns and that the drug was effective in preventing severe disease.

The reviewers said they had only become aware of the updated efficacy estimate earlier this week and were still reviewing the data. They said they could update their assessment when the panel meets on Tuesday.

Merck’s initial estimate that the drug reduced hospitalization and death by 50 percent came from an early look at results from 775 study participants. The updated figure announced on Friday came from more than 1,400. In the final analysis, the participants who received molnupiravir had a 6.8 percent risk of being hospitalized, and one patient died. Those who received a placebo had a 9.7 percent risk of being hospitalized, and nine died.

Dr. David Boulware, an infectious disease researcher at the University of Minnesota, said he expected the drug would still receive emergency authorization. If the expert committee endorses it and the F.D.A. heeds the recommendation, the treatment could be authorized in the United States as soon as next week.

“The reduction in hospitalization is a little bit less, but there is still a big mortality benefit if you start early,” he said.

Still, he said, molnupiravir will probably be deemed a lower-tier treatment, an alternative choice for people who can’t get or don’t want more effective treatments.

Monoclonal antibody drugs, which are typically administered intravenously in the United States, have been found to reduce hospitalizations and deaths by at least 70 percent. Pfizer’s antiviral pill, Paxlovid, which was found in a clinical trial to cut the risk of hospitalization and death by 89 percent, could become available within weeks. Fluvoxamine, a common and inexpensive antidepressant, appears to be about as effective as molnupiravir.

Meant to be dispensed at pharmacies and taken at home, Merck’s drug is the first in a new class of antiviral treatments for Covid that are expected to reach many more people than other treatments have. Public health experts say that while the pills are no substitute for vaccination, they have the potential to prevent severe illness and save lives.

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Husband admits killing travel-agent wife; New Dorp kidnap case: S.I.’s top crime stories of the week

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Here’s a look at the top criminal-justice-related headlines across the borough this week:


122nd Precinct

The 122nd Precinct stationhouse in New Dorp is shown in this file photo. (Staten Island Advance/Jin Lee)STATEN ISLAND ADVANCE

A group of people armed with what appeared to be a gun kidnapped, burned, slashed and beat a man for hours in a horrific ordeal in a New Dorp apartment building, authorities allege.

Abel Walters, 21, and Omarie Gomez, 20, were arrested on Tuesday and four to seven additional suspects remain at large in the brutal attack that lasted about 11 hours beginning around 3:30 p.m. on Nov. 9 inside an apartment in the building where both suspects live on the 600 block of Tysens Lane, according to the criminal complaint and police.

A laceration to the abdomen that required 28 staples to close and burns on his face were among the severe injuries suffered by the 20-year-old victim, the complaint states.


Police on Staten Island arrested a 16-year-old boy and a 15-year-old girl traveling in an SUV that crashed on Staten Island after the vehicle allegedly was carjacked at gunpoint in the Bronx.

A loaded firearm and ammunition were recovered from the suspects, according to a spokeswoman for the NYPD’s Deputy Commissioner of Public Information.

Cops then saw the SUV traveling in the vicinity of Targee Street and Vanderbilt Avenue in Stapleton.

When officers attempted to stop the SUV, the driver drove away at a high rate of speed and the BMW crashed into two parked, unoccupied cars, according to the police spokeswoman.

Click here for more story details.


Husband charged in murder

Police charged Kevin Smith, 40, right, with the alleged murder of his wife, Nikia Webster at their Mariners Harbor home. (Facebook)

A Mariners Harbor man who two years ago fatally shot his wife inside their home during an argument has pleaded guilty to first-degree manslaughter.

Kevin Smith, 43, was charged with murder, assault and other crimes stemming from the Oct. 23, 2019 killing of Nikia Webster, 38.

Smith admitted guilt on Wednesday during a proceeding in state Supreme Court, St. George.

In exchange, he’ll be sentenced on Dec. 14 to 22 years in prison and five years’ post-release supervision.

Click here for more story details.


Man found dead in vacant lot in Stapleton

A man was found dead on Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2021, in an undeveloped lot on the 300 block of Front Street. (Staten Island Advance/Jan Somma-Hammel)

An unidentified man was found dead with a head injury in a lot on Front Street in Stapleton.

The city’s medical examiner will determine his cause of death.

The man, who was possibly in his 50s and did not have identification on him, was found lying on his back in an undeveloped lot.

He had an abrasion on his head and what appeared to be dried blood around his nose and mouth, but there was no clear indication of what caused his death, according to a source with knowledge of the investigation.

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‘We need justice her family needs justice’: Police plead for information in tragic Clifton homicide

An NYPD CrimeStoppers flyer at the corner of Park Hill Avenue and Sobel Court in Clifton. (Staten Island Advance/Joseph Ostapiuk)

One year after the tragic killing of Sue Doe, a beloved mother and community leader who was shot in the lobby of a Clifton apartment building as an innocent bystander, police are seeking tips from the public to help solve the case.

Doe was pronounced dead on Nov. 26, 10 days after suffering a gunshot wound to the head from a stray bullet while standing in the lobby of 225 Park Hill Ave. on Nov. 16.

Her sister, Mariah Bility, said Doe’s death was “a shock to everybody” in the community, most especially at New Life Church in West Brighton, where she served as a children’s choir director.

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Two years ago, a Concord man who fatally kicked his roommate’s dog avoided jail after successfully completing a treatment program.

However, Michael McNicholas won’t be as lucky this time after admitting to his latest offense: Possessing kiddie porn.

McNicholas faces a sentence of six months in jail and 10 years’ probation under a plea agreement reached on Monday.

The defendant, then 28, was arrested on March 18.

Click here for more story details.


Police allege they found 15 small bags of heroin in the jacket of a man accused of selling drugs in Tompkinsville.

Ralph Esposito, 58, of Forest Green, was arrested on Nov. 4 at about 5:20 p.m. in the vicinity of Bay Street and Victory Boulevard, according to the criminal complaint.

Inside the suspect’s jacket pocket, officers found 15 glassine envelopes of heroin and 13 paper strips of the addiction-treatment medication suboxone, the complaint alleges.

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Authorities allege that a 41-year-old man was armed with a knife when he robbed two stores two Saturdays in a row in Port Richmond.

The most recent incident occurred around 5:30 p.m. on Nov. 6 at the Subway at 786A Port Richmond Ave., according to the criminal complaint and police.

The criminal complaint alleges that Isaac Quintano of Van Buren Street in New Brighton entered the Subway and brandished a knife. He allegedly snatched a tip jar filled with cash off the counter, according to the criminal complaint.

“You know what this is,” the criminal complaint quoted Quintano as saying while he pointed the knife at a 38-year-old man.

Click here for more story details.

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Covid-19: positive case in Hawke’s Bay, case given permission to travel from Auckland

A person has tested positive for Covid-19 in Hawke’s Bay.

That person has been in the region since Wednesday, it’s understood, and a local MP is questioning why the district health board was not informed.

The Hawke’s Bay District Health Board [DHB] confirmed to Stuff on Saturday evening it had been told a traveller from Auckland was isolating in Hawke’s Bay.

That person, who was permitted to travel out of Auckland, tested positive after arriving in Hawke’s Bay.

While the DHB did not say in its statement when the person arrived or tested positive, Stuff understands they arrived on Wednesday and the DHB was not given prior notice the person was travelling there.

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The DHB said in its statement any further updates would be reported by the Ministry of Health.

The ministry told Stuff the next update on cases and locations would come at 1pm on Sunday.

There is a case of Covid-19 in Hawke’s Bay.


There is a case of Covid-19 in Hawke’s Bay.

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Tukituki MP Anna Lorck​ said it was extremely concerning if the ministry had not informed the DHB about the person being in the region since Wednesday.

“People of Hawke’s Bay deserve to know, as does our DHB [district health board].

“Our two cities are close and thousands of people travel to work between Hastings and Napier every day.”

People can get vaccinated at Hastings’ Splash Planet on Sunday. (File pic)


People can get vaccinated at Hastings’ Splash Planet on Sunday. (File pic)

Having a case in the area reinforced the need to get vaccinated, she said.

People can book tests by calling The Doctors in Napier between 9am and 5pm on 0800 837819 or Hastings Health Centre between 8am and 8pm on (06) 281 2644.

Wairoa people needing a test should call Healthline on 0800 358 5453.

Drive-in and walk-in vaccination clinics are operating on Sunday too:

*Whitmore Park in Napier from 9.30am until 3.30pm

*LDS Church in Flaxmere from 10am until 4pm

*Splash Planet in Hastings from 9am until 3pm

A limited number of $20 vouchers would be given to people who got vaccinated on Sunday.

The virus is now present in more than half of New Zealand’s 20 District Health Board (DHB) areas.

Before this week it was confined to Auckland, Northland and Waikato, but has since spread to Tauranga, Mount Maunganui, Taupō, Manawatū, Tararua, Wellington and Wairarapa

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Hong Kong Disneyland Temporarily Shuts Down After COVID-19 Case

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Lakewood Police Need Help Solving Case Of Gail Wilson, Missing Under Suspicious Circumstances – CBS Denver

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With Lower Case Counts, Travel Open To Vaccinated

(BIVN) – There were 80 newly reported cases of COVID-19 in the State of Hawaiʻi on Tuesday, down from the 117 reported on Monday. There were only 6 new cases identified on Hawaiʻi island, down from the 29 identified the day before.

Health officials are currently monitoring 443 active cases on Hawaiʻi island. The test positivity rate in Hawaiʻi County over the last 14 days is 3.4%. There has been a 14-day average of 29 new cases per day on the Big Island.

Hawaiʻi Open To Fully Vaccinated Travelers

On Tuesday, Governor David gave the greenlight to non-essential travel for fully vaccinated residents and visitors. From the State of Hawaiʻi:

Gov. David Ige today announced the State of Hawaiʻi is safely open to vaccinated residents and visitors who are traveling domestically and between islands for business or pleasure, starting Nov. 1.

The governor made the announcement in Kona today, at the opening of the permanent Federal Inspection Services (FIS) facility at the Ellison Onizuka Kona International Airport (KOA).

“I think we are all encouraged by what we’ve seen over the last several weeks with the continuing trend of lower case counts,” said Gov. Ige. “Our hospitals are doing better, and we have fewer COVID patients in them. Most importantly, our health care system has responded, and we have the ability to move forward with economic recovery. Because of this, it is now safe for fully vaccinated residents and visitors to resume non-essential travel to and within the State of Hawaiʻi.”

On Aug. 23, Gov. Ige said it was not a good time to travel to Hawaiʻi. “I’m asking all residents and visitors alike to restrict travel, curtail travel to Hawaiʻi to essential activities only,” Gov. Ige said.

The state continues to seek information from the federal government about its plans for international travel and will have an appropriate plan in place prior to Nov. 8.

“We’re excited to welcome back visitors from around the world under a newly established framework that aims to build tourism around our communities and not the other way around,” said Hawaiʻi County Mayor Mitch Roth in response to the Governor’s announcement. “The pandemic has given us the pause we needed to reassess and reimagine tourism on our island. As a result, we have worked tirelessly with the Hawaiʻi Tourism Authority, the Hawaiʻi Island Visitors Bureau, and vested members of our community to create a Destination Management Action Plan that finally puts our community, its culture and values, and its wellbeing at the forefront of our redefined tourism industry. Together we will uphold the aloha spirit that welcomes, with open arms, visitors from all walks of life while protecting in perpetuity the people, places, and resources that make Hawaiʻi Island so special.”

On the Health Department’s zip code area map showing reported COVID-19 cases with onset dates in the past 14 days, there are nine (9) zip code areas on the Big Island showing over 10 cases. Three (3) of those zip code areas are showing over 50 cases. Zip code areas not listed below have recorded less than 10 cases in 14 days.

  • 96720 (Hilo) – 97 cases
  • 96740 (Kona) – 104 cases
  • 96743 (Kohala) – 18 cases
  • 96738 (S. Kohala) – 17 cases
  • 96749 (Puna) – 43 cases
  • 96771 (Puna mauka) – 12 cases
  • 96778 (Puna makai) – 68 cases
  • 96750 (Kona) – 19 cases
  • 96704* (South Kona) – 16 cases

* The 96704 zip code area includes the zip code area of 96726.

To date, the State of Hawaiʻi says 2,117,727 cumulative doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered. Health officials say 70.4% percent of the State population has been fully vaccinated. 78.8% of the population has initiated vaccination. On Hawaiʻi island, 66% has completed vaccination.

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Swan family begs for tips in double murder case

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Three years ago, someone killed a Clearwater couple in their 80s and the crime is still puzzling detectives who have tracked down hundreds of leads.

David and Mina Swan’s family members tell ABC Action News they’re not giving up hope.

“We cannot move on. We’re just stuck in limbo,” Steve Swan explained, adding that there isn’t a moment he doesn’t wonder why his 88-year-old father and 80-year-old stepmother were targeted in a violent crime.

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Swan family

Clearwater couple killed in their 80s

“It soaks up a good chunk of my life just wondering and wondering is it someone you knew, someone you didn’t know. Why?” he added.

The couple lived in the quiet Clearwater Morningside neighborhood next to neighbors who adored them. They loved to travel, laugh and dance.

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Swan family

Clearwater couple killed in their 80s

Detectives say the Swans were shot multiple times, but investigators say there’s no evidence anyone broke in or stole anything from their home.

Sgt. Dan Loder says detectives have now followed up on more than 300 leads and interviewed dozens of people.

“We don’t believe in cold cases. Every case is open,” Sgt. Loder added.

Steve Swan says the past three years have been agonizing for his family and they’re hoping time will encourage someone who knows something to come forward.

There’s a $53,000 reward for anyone who gives a tip that leads to an arrest in this case. $50,000 was raised by the family alone. The other $3,000 comes from Crimestoppers.

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Steve Swan travels every year from Illinois to Florida to talk to detectives in person and to drum up attention to the case. His family is determined to make this the year they get answers.

“Justice needs to be done,” he said with determination.

If you have a tip in the case, you’re urged to call the Clearwater Police Department.

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Gabby Petito case becomes point of interest for internet sleuths on social media

Young people are sharing their reactions to the investigation online.

The extensive reach of social media has become a focal point in the disappearance of travel blogger Gabby Petito.

Petito had been traveling cross-country with her boyfriend, Brian Laundrie, in a white van and had frequently documented their adventures on YouTube and Instagram.

Since she was reported missing nine days ago, Petito’s case has captured the nation’s attention — particularly young people online who are sharing their reactions and actively trying to solve the case themselves.

ABC News’ Trevor Ault, who is reporting on the case from Florida, spoke with ABC News podcast “Start Here” about the influence of social media and the blurry line between solving a tragic situation and getting entertainment from it.

“It’s like you’re taking part in the true crime podcast before there’s a true crime podcast,” Ault told “Start Here” on Monday. “[Infatuation with a case] isn’t a new experience in America, but it is definitely a new look at how it is evolving … and how it impacts law enforcement too.”

TikTok user Miranda Bajer claimed that she and her boyfriend gave Laundrie a ride on Aug. 29 in Grand Teton National Park a couple days after Petito was last seen.

“In the past, if a person thought that they had a tip and they wanted to share it, they could share it to law enforcement and it would be that until law enforcement investigated it,” Ault said. “Now a person can post about it or whatever their theories are and it can catch on.”

Baker’s video has since gained 8 million views on TikTok.

Police in Florida confirmed to ABC News on Sunday that they have spoken to Baker, but federal authorities have not yet confirmed her statement.

While on one hand, the extra tips and leads are helpful, law enforcement said that they have run into trouble corroborating facts and disproving false narratives about the case before they are published widely online.

“In every instance, law enforcement has expressed gratitude to the people who are opening up about what they’re seeing or what they think they might know or have experienced,” said Ault. “[But] It can clog the machine.”

This report was featured in the Monday, Sept. 20, 2021, episode of “Start Here,” ABC News’ daily news podcast.

“Start Here” offers a straightforward look at the day’s top stories in 20 minutes. Listen for free every weekday on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, the ABC News app or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Gabby Petito case: Timeline of travel blogger’s disappearance

Nine days into the search for missing travel blogger Gabrielle “Gabby” Petito, police reported Sunday that they had uncovered human remains that matched Petito’s description at a national park in Wyoming.

Petito had been traveling with her boyfriend, Brian Laundrie, in a white van, and the two were documenting their cross-country road trip on a YouTube channel and on Instagram.

“There is nothing else that matters to me,” said Petito’s father, Joe Petito, during a press conference on Thursday. “This girl is what matters, anything else comes to second to this.”

Police named Laundrie a person of interest last week, though federal and state authorities continue to work to piece together evidence from the last three months.

Here’s a timeline of events in the ongoing case:

June 2021

Petito and Laundrie left Laundrie’s family home in North Port, Florida, where the two had been living together with Laundrie’s parents for over a year. North Port Police Chief Todd Garrison said the couple had planned on traveling west in Petito’s van to visit state and national parks.

July 2021

The couple traveled through Colorado and into Utah.

Petito posted on Instagram on July 10 that they were at Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve in Duncan, Colorado. A little over two weeks later, Petito posted a photo from Mystic Hot Springs in Monroe, Utah.


Police in Moab, Utah, reported responding to an “incident” that involved a domestic dispute between Petito and Laundrie.

The Grand County, Utah, Sheriff’s Office released a 911 recording in which a caller claimed he witnessed Brian Laundrie allegedly “slapping” Gabby Petito and chasing her up and down a sidewalk in Moab, hitting her.

In the recording of the 911 call, the caller, whose name was not released, claimed he saw the apparent domestic dispute unfold on Main Street in Moab between a young couple driving a white van with Florida license plates.

“We drove by and the gentleman was slapping the girl,” the caller told a 911 dispatcher. “And then we stopped. They ran up and down the sidewalk. He proceeded to hit her, hopped in the car, and drove off.”

Moab Police Department Chief Bret Edge said his officers responded to the incident, located the van and pulled the couple over. Moab police released body-camera footage of the traffic stop and wrote in a report that the couple, identified as Laundrie and Petito, admitted to arguing and that Petito had slapped Laundrie.

The couple also stated to police that Laundrie did not hit Petito, according to the report.

After speaking to Petito and Laundrie separately, the police allowed the couple to continue on their way. Edge said, “Insufficient evidence existed to justify criminal charges.”

Aug. 19

Petito and Laundrie’s YouTube channel, “Nomadic Statik,” uploaded its first video titled “VAN LIFE: Beginning Our Van Life Journey.” In the video, Petito blogs about the couple’s adventures while living in their white van and the two are seen as very affectionate on camera.

Aug. 24

Petito was spotted checking out of a hotel in Salt Lake City, Utah, police said. That was the last time Petito was reportedly seen alive.

Aug. 25

Petito’s mother, Nicole Schmidt, said she last spoke to her daughter on Aug. 25 and said Petito told her that she and Laundrie were leaving Utah and headed to Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks in Wyoming.

“She sounded good and excited to continue her trip and excited to start her YouTube channel,” Schmidt told ABC News in tears. “She seemed OK.”

Petito, whose family said maintained regular contact, “abruptly stopped” communication toward the end of August, according to police.

Schmidt said she received two text messages from Petito’s phone since Aug. 25, but there were no photos or details from the trip, so it is unclear whether Petito actually sent those messages.

The last photograph uploaded to Peitito’s Instagram was posted on Aug. 25, without a geotagged location.

Aug. 27 – 30

Federal and state authorities said that investigators believe Petito disappeared near the Spread Creek Dispersed Camping area in Bridger-Teton National Forest in Wyoming.

The Denver FBI asked the public for help via Twitter.

“The FBI seeks assistance from anyone who utilized the Spread Creek Dispersed Camping Area between the dates of August 27-30, 2021 who may have had contact with Gabrielle ‘Gabby’ Petito or her boyfriend, or who may have seen their vehicle,” said the release.

Aug. 29

Potential witness Miranda Baker claimed in a TikTok post that she and her boyfriend gave Laundrie a ride in Grand Teton National Park on Aug. 29.

Police in Florida confirmed to ABC News that they have spoken to Baker, but federal authorities have yet to confirm her statement.

Baker claimed Laundrie told her and her boyfriend that he had been camping alone for days while Petito worked on their social media page from their van.

In an interview with ABC News, Baker said that when she told Laundrie that they were headed to Jackson, “He got out and he was thankful and he was kind of in a hurry. So he said he was going to go across the street into the parking lot and find someone else to give him a ride. But when we look back 10 or 15 seconds after he got out of the vehicle, he was gone.”

Sept. 1

Police said that Laundrie returned by himself to Florida in Petito’s white van.

“Two people went on a trip, one person returned, and that person isn’t cooperating,” Garrison said during a press conference.

Sept. 11

Petito was reported missing by her family to the Suffolk County Police Department in New York.

The family, who lives in Long Island, New York, said in the report that Petito had stopped communicating with her friends and family and that she was believed to be near Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.

“Every day the search for Gabby continues the Schmidt and Petito family becomes more desperate,” according to a statement released by the Petito family’s attorney, Richard Stafford. “They are frantically searching for answers and information in their daughter’s disappearance while Brian sits in the comfort of his home.”

Sept. 14

Laundrie and his family released a statement that he will remain silent under the advice of his counsel.

“This is understandably an extremely difficult time for both the Petito family and the Laundrie family. It is our understanding that a search has been organized for Miss Petito in or near Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. On behalf of the Laundrie family it is our hope that the search for Miss Petito is successful and that Miss Petito is reunited with her family. On the advice of counsel the Laundrie family is remaining in the background at this juncture and will have no further comment,” Laundrie’s attorney said in a statement.

Sept. 15

The North Port Police named Laundrie a “person of interest.”

“As of now, Brian has not made himself available to be interviewed by investigators or has provided any helpful details,” the police report states.

The Laundrie family lawyer, Steven Bertolino, said he advised Laundrie not to speak with law enforcement.

Bertolino said that in his experience, intimate partners are often the first person suspected in a case like this and “The warning that ‘any statement made will be used against you’ is true.”

Sept. 16

The Petito family released a letter to the Laundrie family pleading for their cooperation.

“We understand you are going through a difficult time and your instinct to protect your son is strong,” the letter stated. “We ask you to put yourselves in our shoes. We haven’t been able to sleep or eat and our lives are falling apart.”

“Please, if you or your family has any decency left, please tell us where Gabby is located. Tell us if we are even looking in the right place,” the letter continued. “All we want is Gabby to come home. Please help us make that happen.”

In an exclusive interview with ABC News, Laundrie’s sister, Cassie Laundrie, said that she hopes Petito returns home safely.

“Obviously, me and my family want Gabby to be found safe,” she told Good Morning America. “She’s like a sister and my children love her and all I want is for her to come home safe and sound and this to be just a big misunderstanding.”

Sept. 17

Laundrie was reported missing by his family. According to both the attorney for the family and the North Port Police Department, Laundrie’s family said they hadn’t seen him in days.

His family told police they last saw the 23-year-old on Sept. 14, when he left with a backpack and told them he was going to the Carlton Reserve near their home in North Port, Florida.

Bertolino said that night that Laundrie’s whereabouts “are currently unknown.”

“All of Gabby’s family want the world to know that Brian is not missing, he is hiding. Gabby is missing,” the Petito family’s lawyer responded in a statement.

Authorities had been investigating a double homicide around Moab, Utah, near where Petito disappeared, but determined this was not connected to the Petito case, according to the Grand County Sheriff’s Department.

Sept. 18

More than 50 police officers accompanied by FBI agents, drones, K-9 and bloodhounds started to search for Laundrie in over 25,000 acres of a nature preserve, law enforcement said.

North Port police spokesperson Josh Taylor said at a news conference that a tip from the family drove law enforcement to the Carlton Reserve.

“Our goal is to locate him and bring him to North Port,” Taylor said.

According to Taylor, the Carlton Reserve is an area where Laundrie frequently goes for hikes. He said that Laundrie’s knowledge of the area paired with his “living off the grid” skills could enable him to “be out here for months if [he] wanted.”

Sept. 19

The Teton County coroner confirmed that a body was recovered in the Bridger-Teton National Park. The FBI released a statement that said that the human remains found were “consistent with the description” of Petito, but a full forensic ID has not yet been completed.

The cause of death has not been determined.

Petito’s parents were notified of the discovery and have since declined any media requests at this time, according to their lawyer.

Investigators are still searching for Laundrie, who was last seen in Florida.

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