Daily briefing

10 things you need to know today: November 27, 2021

The Omicron strain of COVID-19 is labeled a 'variant of concern,' Biden shuts down travel from 8 African countries, and more


WHO classifies COVID Omicron variant as 'variant of concern'

The World Health Organization on Friday officially classified a new strain of the coronavirus first found in southern Africa as a global "variant of concern," following initial detection reports that sent markets into a tailspin. Preliminary evidence suggests the newly-named Omicron variant presents a higher risk of reinfection, and may also be more transmissible than other strains, the WHO said. Strains are only labeled as "variants of concern" when they have higher rates of transmissibility or virulence or higher levels of resistance to vaccines and other treatments.


Biden to restrict travel from 8 African countries

Staring Monday, President Biden will begin restricting travel to the U.S. from South Africa and seven other countries. The news arrived mere moments after the World Health Organization classified the new Omicron COVID variant, which was first detected in southern Africa, as a "variant of concern." Biden is acting on the advice of White House chief medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In addition to South Africa, the U.S. will restrict travel from Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, and Malawi.


New migrant caravan forms in Mexico

A new caravan, comprising about 1,000 Central American and Haitian migrants, formed in southern Mexico Friday and began walking toward the U.S. border. Many of these migrants told reporters that they are setting out for the U.S. after Mexican authorities failed to present them with the refugee or humanitarian visas they have been requesting. The journey to the U.S. border from the town of Tapachula, the caravan's starting point in the Mexican state of Chiapas near the Guatemalan border, is over 1,000 miles.


New York governor declares state of emergency amid Omicron fears

New York Governor Kathy Hochul (D), who took office in August following the resignation of former Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), has declared a state of emergency in New York following a winter spike in COVID cases and the WHO's designation of the new Omicron variant as a "variant of concern." The emergency allows the state's Health Department to place limits on nonessential and non-urgent care until at least Jan. 15.


France open to discussing autonomy for Caribbean island of Guadeloupe

France has signaled its willingness to discuss granting autonomy to the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, French minister for overseas territories Sebastien Lecornu said Friday. This announcement comes in the wake of violent protests against Guadeloupe's COVID-19 restrictions and requests from local officials. In a video, Lecornu said there are "no bad debates" and that the government is "ready to talk." France first colonized Guadeloupe in 1635, and the island became known for its prosperous sugar plantations and use of slave labor. Guadeloupe became an overseas department in 1946, giving it the same legal status as the departments that make up European France.


Planes from South Africa may have brought Omicron to Amsterdam

At least 15 COVID-19 cases have been confirmed after two planes from South Africa carrying over 600 passengers landed in Amsterdam Friday. It remains unclear whether any of those cases are instances of the new Omicron variant. Infected passengers will be required to quarantine at a hotel for at least five days. The Dutch government re-imposed a partial lockdown earlier this month, sparking riots, and had already planned to tighten those restrictions starting this weekend. Under the new policy, most businesses will have to close at 5 p.m. and remain closed until 5 a.m.


Black Friday spending continues to rise, but shoppers aren’t packing stores like they used to

This year's Black Friday spending could exceed last year's by 6.2 percent, according to one industry analyst, but the Golden Age of stampeding shoppers is likely behind us. Increasingly, Americans prefer to shop online, especially after last year, when COVID-19 restrictions on brick-and-mortar retailers didn't stop spending from increasing by over 8 percent. Retailers have also moved away from massive one-day sales toward spreading deals across the entire holiday season. Labor shortages, expensive gasoline, and supply-chain issues also led to higher prices and put a damper on in-person shopping this Black Friday.


Top House Dems blast Boebert for anti-Muslim comments

In a statement issued Friday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other members of Democratic House leadership characterized comments made by Congresswoman Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) as "Islamophobic" and "deeply offensive and concerning." The statement also urged House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and other members of House Republican leadership "to take real action to confront racism." In a video posted last Saturday, Boebert joked about Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) being mistaken for a terrorist and referred to Omar as a member of the "jihad squad." Omar was born in Somalia and is a Muslim.


Dow drops 900 points on Black Friday

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 905.04 points, or 2.5 percent, Friday following news of the new Omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus. It was the biggest one-day percentage drop since October 2020, as well as the worst Black Friday performance on record. Airline stocks, oil prices, and government bonds all saw significant losses. Meanwhile, companies that benefit from lockdowns, including Netflix and DoorDash, saw stock prices increase. "COVID," one investor said, "is back on the table."


Stephen Sondheim, composer and lyricist, dies at 91

Stephen Sondheim, the iconic Broadway composer and lyricist behind legendary stage hits like West Side Story, Sweeney Todd, and Into the Woods, died early Friday at his home in Connecticut. He was 91. Sondheim's death was announced by his lawyer and friend, F. Richard Pappas, who said he wasn't sure of the cause but noted Sondheim "had not been known to be ill and that the death was sudden."


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