News·4 min read

Daily Skimm: Omicron, Ahmaud Arbery, and "Encanto"

A passenger holds his mobile phone while looking at an electronic flight notice board displaying cancelled flights at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg after several countries banned flights from South Africa following the discovery of Omicron
Getty Images
November 29, 2021

Oh My, Omicron

The Story

A new variant is causing concern.

Tell me more. 

COVID-19 was detected nearly two years ago. But its contagious variants – like alpha and delta – have caused alarm. Now, health officials are monitoring a new variant that could be putting up a big fight. And we're sure you have plenty of questions about it, so let's get right to it...

The deets...The variant's named Omicron (nothing to do with the French President). And was first detected in South Africa earlier this month. It’s helped drive a jump in cases there. And has now been detected in several places around the world (like Botswana, the Netherlands, Denmark, the UK, Australia, and Hong Kong).

Is it more dangerous? This is the WHO's fifth “variant of concern.” But experts say it's acting differently than other variants. And that it has an unusually high number of mutations, which could make it more transmissible. Early evidence also suggests Omicron can increase the “risk of reinfection.”

So, do vaccines protect against it? It's unclear. Some experts say the current vaccines should be effective at preventing hospitalization or death. But others say Omicron's erratic nature (given its many mutations) could be resistant to vaccines. Moderna is already looking into boosting its boosters to kick Omicron to the curb.

What does this mean for travel? The US and the EU are restricting travel from South Africa (and several other southern African countries) – with some exceptions. Other countries like Japan and India have announced new measures, including stricter testing and screening of travelers. And Israel is banning all foreigners in an effort to curb the spread.

What are people saying? US health officials are urging for calm as they get “better information” on the new variant. New York has declared a state of emergency in preparation for a potential spike in cases. And the EU is encouraging social distancing, vaccinations, boosters, and other measures as scientists monitor Omicron.

And what about South Africa? An African Union official said the variant could have been prevented had it not been for “the world's failure” to provide equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines. And the South African gov said they’re basically being “punished with travel restrictions for discovering the new variant...and warning the world.


Health officials have been ringing the alarm about a potential fifth wave in the US. Now, they worry that Omicron could already be in the US – serving as a reminder to keep protecting yourself.

And Also...This

Whose family is seeing accountability…

Ahmaud Arbery’s. Last week, a jury found three men guilty of murdering Arbery in Georgia. In February 2020, former police officer Gregory McMichael and his son, Travis, chased and shot Arbery down, killing the 25-year-old Black man while he was on a jog. A third man, William “Roddie” Bryan, helped corner Arbery and recorded the shooting. Arbery’s family called his murder a “modern-day lynching.” And his killing fueled protests for racial justice. Throughout the trial, lawyers for the McMichaels and Bryan argued that the men – who are white – acted in self-defense. And that they suspected Arbery was a burglar. But prosecutors said the men provoked the murder and that there’s zero evidence Arbery had committed any crimes. After about 11 hours of deliberations, a nearly all-white jury found the three men guilty. Arbery’s mother, Wanda Cooper-Jones, said her son could now rest in peace after a “long fight.”

  • What’s next: Attorneys for the McMichaels and Bryan say they plan to appeal. For now, they each face life in prison. And a judge will determine if that’s with or without parole. 

Who people will miss...

Virgil Abloh. Yesterday, the legendary designer died after a two-year private battle with cancer. He was 41. Abloh was born in Illinois and earned degrees in engineering and architecture before pivoting to fashion. Throughout his career, he worked with several brands and artists – including Nike, Evian, Kanye West, and Kid Cudi. In 2012, Abloh launched his own luxury streetwear line, Off-White. And six years later, he became Louis Vuitton’s first Black artistic director. In 2019, Abloh was diagnosed with cardiac angiosarcoma – a rare cancer that affects the heart. He had undergone several treatments all while overseeing his brands. Tributes on social media honored the trailblazing fashion pioneer and "thoughtful creative genius." LVMH’s chairman called him “a visionary.”

Stephen Sondheim. On Friday, the Broadway titan died in his Connecticut home. He was 91. Born in New York, Sondheim’s career as a composer and lyricist spanned more than six decades. His work included “West Side Story,” “Gypsy,” “Into the Woods,” and many other Broadway faves. Throughout his career, he won eight Grammys, eight Tonys, one Oscar, a Pulitzer Prize, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Outside of musical theatre, he also composed tunes for films – including “Stavisky” and “Dick Tracy.” Tributes on social media remembered Sondheim as a giant. And yesterday, Broadway honored Sondheim with a musical tribute.

What’s entering a new chapter… 

Barbados. Tonight, the Caribbean island nation’s saying ‘bye’ to the British Commonwealth and removing Queen Elizabeth II as its head of state. The former British colony will officially be a republic. And chose a woman as its first-ever president. Meet: Sandra Mason, who believes "the time has come to fully leave our colonial past behind."

When you didn't travel for the holidays...

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