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More omicron cases pop up; Ghislaine Maxwell's sex-trafficking trial begins; plus other top news

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Today is Monday, Nov. 29, 2021. Let's get caught up.

Wary, weary world slams doors shut in face of new variant

Nations around the world sought Monday to keep the new omicron variant at bay with travel bans and further restrictions, even as it remains unclear what it means for the COVID-19 pandemic.

Japan announced it would suspend entry of all foreign visitors, while new cases of the variant identified days ago by researchers in South Africa appeared as far apart as Hong Kong, Australia and Portugal. Portuguese authorities were investigating whether some of the infections there could be among the first reported cases of local transmission of the variant outside of southern Africa.

The stream of new cases showed the near impossibility of keeping the genie in the bottle in a globalized world of travel and open borders.

Yet, many tried to do just that, even against the urging of the World Health Organization, which noted that border closures often have limited effect but can wreak havoc on lives and livelihoods. Some argued that such restrictions still could provide valuable time to analyze the new variant. Little is known about it, including whether it is more contagious, more likely to cause serious illness or more able to evade the protection of vaccines.

The U.S. is banning travel from South Africa and seven other southern African countries starting Monday. “It’s going to give us a period of time to enhance our preparedness,” the United States’ top infectious diseases expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said of the ban on ABC’s “This Week.”

Fauci says it will take approximately two more weeks to have more definitive information on the transmissibility, severity and other characteristics of omicron, according to a statement from the White House.

Read the full story plus more omicron updates:

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Ghislaine Maxwell's sex-trafficking trial begins Monday

The public will get a glimpse into the life of the late Jeffrey Epstein as the sex-trafficking trial of his longtime companion Ghislaine Maxwell gets underway.

Opening statements are expected to begin Monday after a jury is empaneled.

Federal prosecutors allege the British socialite created a network of underage victims for Epstein to sexually exploit.

Maxwell was first charged in July 2020 with enticement and conspiracy to entice minors to travel to engage in illegal sex acts, transportation and conspiracy to transport minors with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity for allegedly grooming and recruiting underage girls from 1994 through 1997.

Prosecutors later added two sex-trafficking charges, alleging that Maxwell interacted with a 14-year-old girl on multiple occasions in Palm Beach, Florida, and encouraged and enticed her to recruit other girls to perform "sexualized massages" on Epstein despite knowing she was under 18.

Maxwell has vigorously denied any wrongdoing, telling the court at a recent hearing, "I have not committed any crimes."

She faces up to 70 years in prison if convicted on all six counts.

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