January 4 coronavirus pandemic and Omicron variant news

By Rhea Mogul, Adam Renton, Jack Guy and Ed Upright, Meg Wagner, Adrienne Vogt, Aditi Sangal, Melissa Macaya and Melissa Mahtani, CNN

Updated 4:53 a.m. ET, January 5, 2022
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5:38 a.m. ET, January 4, 2022

Delhi imposes weekend curfew amid rising Omicron cases

From CNN's Esha Mitra in New Delhi

A medical worker takes a swab sample from a man for a PCR Covid-19 test at a health center in New Delhi on January 4, 2022.
A medical worker takes a swab sample from a man for a PCR Covid-19 test at a health center in New Delhi on January 4, 2022. (Prakash Singh/AFP/Getty Images)

India’s national capital territory of Delhi has announced a weekend curfew amid rising Covid-19 cases.

“We need to control the spread as much as we can," Manish Sisodia, Delhi’s deputy chief minister said on Tuesday. "I appeal to citizens to not leave their homes on Saturday and Sunday.”

All establishments, except essential services, will be shut on weekends, added Sisodia.

“In India and the world over, the graph of [the] Omicron [variant] is continually rising, cases are constantly rising,” Sisodia said.

Earlier on Monday, Delhi’s health minister Satyendar Jain said that the Omicron variant made up 84% of total cases reported over the last two days.

However Sisodia said that while about 11,000 positive cases were reported in Delhi over the last 8-10 days, only 350 required hospitalization and 124 needed oxygen.

One of those cases was Delhi’s chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, who said he had tested positive for Covid but only had mild symptoms.

On Tuesday India reported 1,892 cases of Omicron, according to the Indian Ministry of Health, with 382 reported in Delhi.

While Delhi imposed new restrictions, Yogi Adityanath, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh state, downplayed the severity of Omicron.

“Omicron is very weak, a simple viral fever but there is need for precaution for any disease,” Adityanath said Monday, the same day he spoke at a gathering with thousands in attendance.

Uttar Pradesh is one of five states set to hold elections in early 2022, and politicians from a number of parties have been holding large gatherings.

No cap on rallies has been imposed by India’s election authority, as the dates for elections are yet to be announced and campaigning has not officially begun.

However the election commission has written to the states of Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Goa, Manipur and Punjab asking them to ramp up vaccination and ensure that polling personnel have received two doses of the vaccine, reported the Press Trust of India, an agency cooperatively owned by multiple Indian newspapers, on Monday.

The country started vaccinating children aged 15-18 on Monday, and from January 10 will issue “precautionary doses,” or booster doses, to those who had their second dose at least nine months ago, which largely includes healthcare workers and those over 60 with comorbidities.

At least 1.46 billion vaccine doses have been administered in India, with 90% of the adult population having received at least one dose.

4:44 a.m. ET, January 4, 2022

Germany softens entry rules for UK travelers

From CNN's Stephanie Halasz

Germany will now allow fully vaccinated travelers from the United Kingdom to enter the country without having to quarantine.

The new travel rules are a result of Germany downgrading the UK to a "high-risk area." For the last few weeks it had been classified as a "virus variant area," with mandatory quarantine even for vaccinated travelers.

Under the new rules, unvaccinated arrivals will still have to isolate and quarantine for at least five days.

4:06 a.m. ET, January 4, 2022

Hong Kong tightens vaccine requirements in wake of first Omicron cluster

From CNN's Wayne Chang and Teele Rebane in Hong Kong

People queue outside a community vaccination center administering the BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine in Hong Kong, China, on Tuesday.
People queue outside a community vaccination center administering the BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine in Hong Kong, China, on Tuesday. (Chan Long Hei/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

Hong Kong's leader on Tuesday announced a further tightening of the city's vaccination rules, days after the city confirmed a first Omicron cluster that has prompted fears of a wider community outbreak.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam said at a news conference that from February 24, unvaccinated people will not be allowed to enter venues including museums, public libraries and schools.

The government will also require school principals and teachers to get inoculated, Lam said. It is not yet decided whether students will be required to be vaccinated, she added.  

The government currently has no plans to apply the tightened vaccination rules to private workplaces or shopping malls, Lam said.

Lagging vaccination rate: All year, Hong Kong authorities have struggled to encourage higher vaccination rates — particularly among the reluctant elderly.

Just under 70% of Hong Kong's 7.5 million people are fully vaccinated, while nearly 73% have received their first dose, according to the Centre for Health Protection.

Hong Kong is one of the few places, alongside mainland China, to still use a zero-Covid approach, resulting in one of the world's strictest border control and quarantine programs.

Lam said Tuesday that in light of local Omicron cases, resumption of normal travel between Hong Kong and mainland China will “have to wait for another while.”

3:08 a.m. ET, January 4, 2022

Delhi's top official tests positive for Covid-19 following political rally

From CNN's Esha Mitra in New Delhi

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal addresses the crowd at an Aam Aadmi Party Maha Rally, on January 2, in Lucknow, India.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal addresses the crowd at an Aam Aadmi Party Maha Rally, on January 2, in Lucknow, India.  (Deepak Gupta/Hindustan Times/Getty Images)

Arvind Kejriwal, chief minister of India's capital Delhi, has tested positive for Covid-19 — one day after he spoke at a political gathering in the northern state of Uttarakhand with thousands in attendance.

“I have tested positive for Covid. Mild symptoms. Have isolated myself at home,” Kejriwal wrote in a tweet Tuesday morning, urging those who came in contact with him to get tested and self-isolate.

Kejriwal's positive test comes as India continues to see a surge in cases, prompting fears among the medical community of a potential third wave fueled by the highly transmissible Omicron variant.

Upcoming elections: Five states, including India’s most populous, Uttar Pradesh, are heading to the polls for state elections in early 2022.

While campaigning has not officially begun, several politicians, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, have held large political gatherings, speaking without masks as thousands gather in attendance.

Social distancing and preventative measures such as mask-wearing are often absent in the crowds. 

Omicron spread: Delhi reported 4,099 new Covid-19 cases on Monday, according to state health authorities. The Omicron variant was detected in 84% of the city's new cases over the last two days, according to its health minister.

India reported 37,379 new Covid-19 cases on Tuesday, according to the Ministry of Health — the second consecutive day of more than 30,000 cases and the highest daily figure since September last year.

2:08 a.m. ET, January 4, 2022

China locks down city of more than a million people after 3 Covid-19 cases found

From CNN's Beijing Bureau

A city in central China has gone into lockdown to curb the spread of Covid-19, according to local authorities.

The municipal government of Yuzhou, Henan province said all 1.2 million residents will be confined to their homes after just two asymptomatic cases were reported Sunday. A third local asymptomatic infection was identified Monday, the government added.

Barring essential services such as supermarkets, all public facilities including schools, public transport and shopping malls have suspended operations.

Those who work in essentials industries, including supermarkets, medicine production, and energy plants, are allowed to go to work after presenting a negative Covid-19 test, the government said.

China reported 108 new local cases across three provinces on Monday, including 95 in northwestern Shaanxi province, eight in southeastern Zhejiang, and five in Henan, according to the National Health Commission (NHC). 

The country also reported 21 new local asymptomatic cases, including 19 in Henan and two in Shanghai, the NHC said. China counts symptomatic and asymptomatic cases separately.

Lockdowns: The Yuzhou lockdown mirrors the strict restrictions imposed on residents of the northwestern city of Xi'an, capital of Shaanxi.

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

To date, more than 1,700 cases 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.

Xi'an's 13 million residents have been confined to their homes since December 23. Many are growing desperate as they run out of essential supplies, including groceries, and fall short on medical attention.

Zero Covid: Xi'an authorities launched a fifth round of mass testing on Tuesday, vowing to eliminate the outbreak.

But the frustrations of residents underscore 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.

While the stringent measures have largely shielded the majority of the country from the worst aspects of the pandemic, 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.

2:45 a.m. ET, January 4, 2022

BTS members RM and Jin have fully recovered from Covid-19

From CNN's Gawon Bae in Seoul, South Korea 

BTS members RM (left) and Jin (right) are seen in this split file photo from the K-pop group's press conference for the release of "Butter" in Seoul on May 21, 2021
BTS members RM (left) and Jin (right) are seen in this split file photo from the K-pop group's press conference for the release of "Butter" in Seoul on May 21, 2021 (The Chosunilbo JNS/Imazins/Getty Images)

Two members of K-pop supergroup BTS have fully recovered from Covid-19, their agency BIGHIT Music said in a statement Tuesday.

Stars RM and Jin had tested positive on Christmas Day and received treatment at home per South Korea's guidelines for Covid-19 patients with mild or no symptoms. 

The agency said Jin had a slight fever when he first began treatment, but has since made a full recovery.

On Monday, another member of the band, Suga, was released from quarantine after fully recovering from Covid-19.

11:34 p.m. ET, January 3, 2022

Australia's New South Wales reports record Covid-19 hospitalizations

From CNN's Hannah Ritchie in Adelaide, Australia

Australia’s most populous state reported record Covid-19 hospitalizations and cases on Tuesday, with 1,344 patients in care and more than 23,000 new infections, according to the NSW health department.

Authorities in New South Wales are scrambling to contain the outbreak, which has caused 105 people to receive treatment in intensive care units (ICU), according to NSW Health. Of the patients in ICU, 27 are on ventilators, the department said.

The Australian Medical Association has warned the significant increase in hospitalizations, combined with the number of health workers exposed to Covid-19 during the holiday period, could strain the hospital system. 

"With both the Christmas period and with hospital workers being furloughed due to their close contact status ... we're finding that it is becoming quite difficult to staff, especially critical areas of hospitals," Michael Bonning, chair of the Australian Medical Association's (AMA) NSW Council, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) on Monday. 

Tuesday’s figures represent the highest level of hospitalizations seen in any Australian state since the start of the pandemic.

The previous record for hospitalizations occurred during NSW’s Delta outbreak on September 21, when 1,268 people were hospitalized with the virus, and 242 people were in intensive care.

Rising cases: On Tuesday, the state of nearly 8.2 million reported a record 23,131 new infections from 83,376 tests, reflecting a positivity rate of almost 28%. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) has deemed a positivity rate of 5% or less a necessary requirement in order to keep the spread of the virus under control.

As a proportion of the population, NSW now has one of the highest infection rates in the world. 

Covid-19 infections have continued to rise rapidly across Australia since December. On Monday, several states and territories including Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, and the Australian Capital Territory all reported record case numbers.

2:02 a.m. ET, January 4, 2022

India started vaccinating children on Monday. More than 4 million of them received a shot

From CNN's Swati Gupta in New Delhi

Teenagers in the 15-18 age group get inoculated against Covid-19 in Mumbai on January 3.
Teenagers in the 15-18 age group get inoculated against Covid-19 in Mumbai on January 3. (Anshuman Poyrekar/Hindustan Times/Getty Images)

India vaccinated more than 4 million children ages 15 to 18 against Covid-19 on Monday after the government approved shots for the group last month in a bid to prevent a potential new wave of infections fueled by the highly transmissible Omicron variant.

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi praised the nation's vaccination drive, calling it an "important step forward" in protecting children against the virus.

"Congrats to all my young friends between the age group of 15-18 who got vaccinated. Congrats to their parents as well. I would urge more youngsters to get vaccinated in the coming days!" Modi wrote on Twitter.

Vaccines and booster shots: India has been slow at issuing approval of vaccines for children, and the rollout of booster shots for adults.

On December 25, Modi announced the start of limited shots of vaccines for children and booster shots for certain citizens.

Booster shots will be available for those age 60 and over with pre-existing medical conditions, health care personnel, and frontline workers, from January 10.

Rising cases: The vaccination drive comes as India continues to record a sharp increase in infections, adding to concerns about the possibility of a third wave.

India reported 37,379 new Covid-19 cases on Tuesday, according to the Ministry of Health — the second consecutive day of more than 30,000 cases and the highest daily figure since September last year.