January 3 coronavirus pandemic and Omicron variant news

By Jessie Yeung, Adam Renton, Jack Guy, Ed Upright, Mike Hayes, Melissa Mahtani, Melissa Macaya and Meg Wagner, CNN

Updated 4:52 a.m. ET, January 4, 2022
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5:45 a.m. ET, January 3, 2022

Record-breaking Covid-19 cases in France will continue to rise, says health minister

From CNN's Joseph Ataman in Paris

Nurses tend to a Covid-19 patient at the intensive care unit (ICU) of the Delafontaine AP-HP hospital in Saint-Denis, outside Paris, on December 29, 2021.
Nurses tend to a Covid-19 patient at the intensive care unit (ICU) of the Delafontaine AP-HP hospital in Saint-Denis, outside Paris, on December 29, 2021. (Alain Jocard/AFP/Getty Images)

Covid-19 cases “will continue to rise in the coming days,” health minister Olivier Veran told French radio station FranceInter on Monday.

France has reported record-breaking numbers of new infections as the country grapples with a fifth wave amidst the emergence of the Omicron variant, with daily tallies surpassing the 200,000 mark in recent days.

Minister Olivier Veran said that while these figures reflect officially recorded cases, there are “perhaps 500,000 new infections every day in reality.”

He added that while Omicron may cause less severe respiratory symptoms in patients, there have still been hospital admissions. Those that have caught the Omicron variant are taking up “conventional” (non-ICU) hospital beds while cases of the Delta variant are straining ICU departments.

According to Veran, ICU departments are still under “very strong pressure,” especially in Southern France. In the Marseille region, all Covid-19 patients in ICU beds were unvaccinated, as were 90% of patients in non-ICU beds.

Veran added that Omicron was threatening “dysfunction” in society as infections and contact cases are strangling economic activity.

On Sunday, the French government announced it would shorten the quarantine time for vaccinated people that test positive, while vaccinated people who come into contact with someone who has tested positive will no longer have to quarantine, as long as they test regularly.

11:31 a.m. ET, January 3, 2022

South Korea reports first death linked to Omicron variant

From CNN's Gawon Bae in Seoul

Health workers wearing protective gear prepare for public testing at a temporary screening clinic for the coronavirus in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, Dec. 31, 2021.
Health workers wearing protective gear prepare for public testing at a temporary screening clinic for the coronavirus in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, Dec. 31, 2021. (Lee Jin-man/AP)

South Korea recorded the first death of a Covid-19 patient with the Omicron variant last week, Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) official Park Young-joon said in a briefing Monday.

The patient died on December 27 while staying at a nursing hospital in the southwestern city of Gwangju, Park said.

The patient, who was in their 90s, was fully vaccinated with two doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, but tested positive the day before, according to Park.

The authorities are investigating the Covid-19 variant profile of another patient in the facility who died on Wednesday after testing positive on Christmas, Park said.

The nursing hospital confirmed 21 Covid-19 cases since Christmas Eve, three of which were the Omicron variant, Park said.

The Omicron variant could soon be the dominant variant in the country as it accounted for 8.8% of the total coronavirus variants found during the fifth week of December, said KDCA official Lee Sang-won. 

As of Monday, 1,318 Omicron variant cases have been found in South Korea, 703 of which were imported and 615 were locally transmitted, according to KDCA data.

The country reported 3,129 new Covid-19 cases from Sunday, increasing total confirmed cases to 642,207, according to KDCA data. There were 36 Covid-19 deaths recorded Sunday, raising the total to 5,730, according to the data.

4:09 a.m. ET, January 3, 2022

BTS member Suga has recovered from Covid-19

From CNN's Gawon Bae in Seoul, South Korea

Suga of BTS attends iHeartRadio 102.7 KIIS FM's Jingle Ball 2021 in Los Angeles, on December 3, 2021.
Suga of BTS attends iHeartRadio 102.7 KIIS FM's Jingle Ball 2021 in Los Angeles, on December 3, 2021. (Jeff Kravitz/iHeartRadio/Getty Images)

K-Pop star Suga, a member of South Korean boy band BTS, was released from quarantine on Monday after recovering from Covid-19, BigHit Music said in a statement published on global fan platform Weverse.

Suga tested positive for Covid-19 on December 24, upon returning to South Korea from the United States.

He was treated at home for the past 10 days in accordance with the country’s health guidelines regarding cases with no “particular symptoms.”

Two other BTS members, Jin and RM, tested positive for Covid-19 on December 25.

5:25 a.m. ET, January 3, 2022

Outcry over Xi'an lockdown tests limits of China's zero-Covid policy

From CNN's Nectar Gan and Steve George in Hong Kong

Staff members in protective suits conduct COVID-19 nuclei acid tests at a residential area on January 2, 2021 in Xi'an, Shaanxi Province of China.
Staff members in protective suits conduct COVID-19 nuclei acid tests at a residential area on January 2, 2021 in Xi'an, Shaanxi Province of China. (VCG/Getty Images)

Editor's note: A version of this post appeared in CNN's Meanwhile in China newsletter, a three-times-a-week update exploring what you need to know about the country's rise and how it impacts the world. Sign up here.

For residents in China's northwestern city of Xi'an, the start of 2022 is looking a lot like 2020 — only worse.

Since December, the ancient city known as the home of the Terracotta Warriors has been grappling with China's largest community coronavirus outbreak since Wuhan, the original epicenter of the pandemic.

To date, more than 1,600 symptomatic infections have been reported in the city. While the number pales in comparison to those in many other countries, the outbreak pushed China's caseload in the final week of 2021 to the highest level since March 2020.

For 12 days and counting, Xi'an's 13 million residents have been confined to their homes. The city, formerly a tourist hotspot, welcomed the new year with deserted streets, shuttered stores, sealed-off residential compounds and an empty airport.

The lockdown is the strictest and largest since Wuhan, which sealed off 11 million people in early 2020. But it is also among the most chaotic, leaving residents short of food and other essential supplies and affecting access to medical services.

A groundswell of anger and frustration at the local government has ensued, underscoring the growing challenge facing China's zero-Covid policy, which relies on a playbook of mass testing, extensive quarantines and snap lockdowns to stamp out any resurgence of the virus.

For almost two years, these stringent measures have shielded the majority of the country from the worst aspects of the pandemic, winning overwhelming public support. But as local outbreaks continue to flare up, the outcry in Xi'an raises the question of just how long zero-Covid can be sustained before public support begins to taper off, with millions of residents trapped in an seemingly endless cycle of lockdowns.

Heavy-handed approach: On Friday, footage emerged on Weibo of a man being beaten by Covid prevention workers at the gates of a residential compound when he tried to enter with a bag of steamed buns. The video, which immediately went viral, showed the buns scattered on the ground as the man tumbled. The ensuing outcry prompted a statement from police, which said the two attackers were punished with a seven-day detention and a fine of 200 yuan (about $30).

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1:45 a.m. ET, January 3, 2022

Indian health minister urges states to use $3.1 billion Covid emergency fund as cases spike

From CNN’s Esha Mitra in New Delhi

A health worker collects a swab sample for a Covid-19 test in New Delhi, on Jan. 2.
A health worker collects a swab sample for a Covid-19 test in New Delhi, on Jan. 2. (Sanchit Khanna/Hindustan Times/Getty Images)

India’s health minister Mansukh Mandaviya on Sunday urged states to tap into a $3.1 billion Covid-19 emergency fund set aside by the central government last July — of which just 17% has been spent.

The threat of a new wave fueled by the Delta and Omicron variants was underlined Monday as India reported 33,750 new Covid-19 cases — more than four times the 7,031 daily cases reported just one week ago, according to the Health Ministry.

Of the new cases Monday, 1,700 were of the Omicron strain, a month since India reported its first case of the variant on December 2.

“The Omicron variant being highly transmissible, a high surge in cases can overwhelm the medical system,” Mandaviya said Sunday.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said last month that oxygen supplies have increased and there are more ICU beds available in the country. However, Mandivya said Sunday more must be spent on tele-medicine, ICU beds, human resources, oxygen and ambulances.

Cases spike: The country's two biggest cities, New Delhi and Mumbai, have seen an exponential rise in cases.

On Sunday, the national capital territory of Delhi reported 3,194 new infections, a more than 10-fold rise since the 290 cases it reported the same day last week. Mumbai reported 8,063 new cases Sunday evening, nearly nine times the 922 infections it reported last Sunday. 

According to Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, only 82 oxygen beds were occupied as of Sunday, with 37,000 available. In Mumbai, local administration chief Iqbal Chahal said 90% of hospital beds in the city were vacant. 

Large gatherings: As many as 14 states and union territories have Covid restrictions in place, however large political gatherings with lax mask-wearing continue. 

On Sunday, Kejriwal held a public meeting in Uttar Pradesh state with thousands in attendance, where he critiqued the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government’s Covid management during India's devastating second wave last year. The BJP, including Prime Minister Modi, have also held several such large public gatherings with lax social distancing.

Total cases: India has recorded a total of 34,922,882 Covid cases and 481,893 deaths, according to the Health Ministry. At least 90% of the country’s adult population has received one dose of a vaccine while 65% have taken both doses. 

On Monday India began vaccinations for children aged 15-18.

12:38 a.m. ET, January 3, 2022

Cases fall in locked down Chinese city

From CNN’s Beijing Bureau

Sunday saw a drop in the number of Covid-19 cases registered in the Chinese city of Xi’an, which has been locked down since December 23.

The metropolis of 13 million registered 91 new cases, according to China’s National Health Commission on Monday, bringing the total to 1,663 infections in an outbreak that began December 9.

It is the first day in over a week the city has recorded fewer than 100 new cases.

China recorded a total of 101 new locally transmitted cases Sunday with a further 60 cases imported. 

1:45 a.m. ET, January 3, 2022

UK students urged to get tested for Covid-19 before returning to school

From CNN's Arnaud Siad and Sharon Braithwaite

People queue outside a private Covid-19 testing facility, in central London on Sunday.
People queue outside a private Covid-19 testing facility, in central London on Sunday. (Henry Nicholls/Reuters)

British students should take a rapid Covid-19 test before returning to school after the holiday break, the UK Health Security Agency and government ministers urged in a statement Monday.

According to the statement, “all students attending secondary settings, further or higher education and all education staff are strongly encouraged to do one rapid test before their return to their educational setting for the first time.”

“The Omicron variant of Covid-19 is spreading quickly among the population, and Covid-19 case numbers are currently very high in young people aged 10-19,” the statement read.
“Identifying positive cases through rapid lateral flow tests will mean that we can ensure those with infection do not return to school where they could pass the virus on to others,” it added.

Following this, the British government then recommends pupils and staff return to twice-weekly testing.

In the statement, UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid said, “Vaccines remain our greatest line of defense so I urge all 12-15-year-olds who have not come forward yet to get vaccinated, and all teachers to Get Boosted Now to protect yourself and those around you.”

Dr. Jenny Harries, Chief Executive of the UK Health Security Agency, added, “testing remains a vital part of our defenses against Covid-19 and is critical in breaking chains of transmission.” 
“It really makes sense to get tested before going back to the classroom so that as many students as possible can keep attending school,” she said.

Under current guidance, UK schools are expected to offer “face-to-face” teaching to all age groups this term, with online alternatives for pupils who are isolating.

Most schools in the UK are expected to reopen on Tuesday and Wednesday.

10:40 p.m. ET, January 2, 2022

France cuts isolation times and plans crackdown on unvaccinated amid record surge in Covid cases

From CNN's Tara John and Sandrine Amiel

The Omicron variant's rapid spread across France has prompted the government to slash Covid-19 isolation times for vaccinated people and move to further isolate the unvaccinated from public venues in a bid to ease the financial and social burdens of the outbreak.

Self-isolation times for fully vaccinated people who test positive will drop from 10 days to seven on Monday — and can be cut to five days with a negative test result, Health Minister Olivier Véran told the weekly Le Journal du Dimanche on Saturday.

"Unvaccinated people will have to isolate themselves for 10 days, with a possible exit after seven days under the same conditions," Véran said.

France reported 219,126 new infections on Saturday and became the sixth country to surpass 10 million total recorded cases of Covid-19.

The rule change also means contacts of positive cases will not be required to self-isolate as long as they are fully vaccinated, but they will have to test regularly, Véran said.

Changes have also been made to the time period in which people should receive their booster shot. From February 15, a booster dose will need to be taken four months, instead of the current seven months, after a second dose in order to be considered fully vaccinated.

France will also see mask mandates extend to children age 6 and above at public venues, like train stations, airports, markets, and movie theaters.

The new rules come into place on Monday, when French lawmakers will also examine a bill that would limit the unvaccinated from accessing restaurants, bars and other public venues, according to the proposed legislation published on the National Assembly's website.

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