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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12:53 p.m. ET, January 4, 2022

UK prime minister recommends that mandatory indoor mask measures be kept in place due to surging cases

From CNN’s Vasco Cotovio

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a virtual press conference in the Downing Street briefing room in London on January 4.
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a virtual press conference in the Downing Street briefing room in London on January 4. (Jack Hill/Pool/AFP/Getty Images)

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says he will recommend to his Cabinet that so-called "Plan B" measures be kept in place for the time being, he said at a news conference on Tuesday.

These measures include mandatory use of face masks in most indoor spaces and the recommendation for people to work from home.

“As our NHS moves to a war footing I will be recommending to Cabinet tomorrow, that we continue to Plan B,” Johnson said, adding that the country’s battle against Covid-19 was not over.

“Carry on observing those measures for now,” Johnson said.

The British prime minister said the UK was seeing the fastest growth in the number of Covid-19 cases since the pandemic started, but thanking evidence suggesting Omicron is milder than other variants and the ongoing vaccination campaign, Johnson said no further restrictions would be introduced.

“We have a chance to ride out this Omicron wave without shutting down our country once again,” he said. “We can keep our schools and businesses open and we can find a way to live with this virus.”

“The weeks ahead are going to be challenging both here in the UK and across the world,” he cautioned nonetheless.

Johnson also announced new measures to keep schools and businesses open, namely the return of teachers who had left the profession and daily lateral flow tests for key workers.

“We’ve identified 100,000 critical workers in areas from food processing to transport, to our border force, and from the 10th of January we will be rolling out lateral flow testing for all these workers, available every working day,” he said.

 

12:15 p.m. ET, January 4, 2022

US is still "woefully undertesting" for Covid-19, CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta says

From CNN's Adrienne Vogt

People get tested at a mobile Covid-19 testing van in Times Square on January 4, in New York City.
People get tested at a mobile Covid-19 testing van in Times Square on January 4, in New York City. (Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images)

CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta said the US still doesn't have enough tests at this point in the Covid-19 pandemic, especially as the Omicron variant spreads.

"I think the original problem still here ... is that we don't have enough tests. I think that is fundamentally what is still driving this. I think it just makes total sense if we had enough tests, people would get tested before they come out of isolation," he told CNN's Kate Bolduan.

The US Centers of Disease Control and Prevention will be clarifying the shortened isolation period guidance and will "speak to the role that testing will play," US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy told CNN this morning.

"As you're listening to these recommendations, keep in mind that at one point we thought we should be doing 20 to 30 million of these tests a day in this country, and obviously we're closer to a million or so. So we're still woefully undertesting here," Gupta said.

Gupta also spoke about the rise in child hospitalizations because of Omicron.

"A highly contagious virus that is causing significant uptick in pediatric hospitalizations and a significant 86% [under age 12] not yet vaccinated, that's a bad mix," he said.  

11:40 a.m. ET, January 4, 2022

No need for further Covid-19 restrictions in England, UK Health Secretary says

From CNN's Amy Cassidy in Glasgow

UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid reiterated “no further restrictions” are needed in England to curb the spread of Covid-19, despite rising hospitalizations.

The numbers are rising among older age groups, he told reporters on Tuesday, but “thankfully” the number of people in intensive care is “broadly flat.”

It is “too early to say” if this pattern will continue, he also said, adding that the sheer number of infections across the country could lead to “severe hospitalizations.”

Despite this, “there is nothing in the data at this point that suggests that we need to move away��� from the current measures in England, which include wearing a mask in public places and working from home where possible.

He spoke ahead of a Downing Street press conference due to be held by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, as at least six National Health Services Trusts have declared critical incidents due to staff absences. A National Health Services Trust covers a geographical area and can be made up of multiple hospitals and specialized services such as an ambulance service.

Despite this, the government is “not looking” to cut England’s self-isolation period from seven days to five, in line with the US, Javid said.

11:16 a.m. ET, January 4, 2022

Omicron now accounts for 95% of new US Covid-19 infections

From CNN’s Ben Tinker

The Omicron variant caused 95.4% of new Covid-19 cases in the US last week – significantly higher than the previous week, according to estimates posted Tuesday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Over the past four weeks, Omicron has risen rapidly in estimates, accounting for:

  • 8.0% of cases the week ending Dec. 11
  • 37.9% of cases the week ending Dec. 18
  • 77.0% of cases the week ending Dec. 25
  • 95.4% of cases the week ending Jan. 1

The Delta variant makes up nearly all of the rest.

Note: Not every Covid-19 test is sent for the extra genetic sequencing needed to detect which variant has infected someone. The CDC works off samples and extrapolates its estimates based on that extra testing.

12:09 p.m. ET, January 4, 2022

Here's what one preliminary Israeli study shows about a fourth Covid-19 shot

From CNN's Elliott Gotkine

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaks during a press conference at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, on January 2, 2022.
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaks during a press conference at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, on January 2, 2022. (Emil Salman/AFP/Getty Images)

A fourth dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine boosts a person’s antibodies fivefold in the space of a week, a preliminary Israeli study shows, supporting the country’s decision to offer a second booster to high-risk groups. 

The study is preliminary and has yet to be peer reviewed or published in a medical journal.

“This is good news,” said Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who embraced the decision to recommend it. “That’s an indicator of a very high likelihood that the fourth dose will protect vaccinated people to a great degree against infection [and] to some degree against severe symptoms.”

Israel began rolling out a fourth shot of the Covid-19 vaccine to people 60 and older, as well as health care workers on Monday. Israel’s immunocompromised residents began receiving their second booster shot on New Year’s Eve. But this study, conducted at the Sheba Medical Center just outside Tel Aviv, used healthy hospital workers as their subjects.

Bennett’s spokesperson said the results increased the likelihood of a fourth shot being rolled out to the general population, though the final decision would lie with the Ministry of Health’s Director-General Nachman Ash.

Israel’s seven-day average of daily cases stands at 5,273, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. The highest seven-day average was 9,426 between August and September last year. 

Earlier in the week, Bennett predicted the country’s current wave could peak at 50,000 cases a day. The R-coefficient, the number of people infected by each person who tests positive, jumped to 1.91, a level not seen since June 2021.

11:14 a.m. ET, January 4, 2022

About 10-15% of Omicron cases in the UK are reinfections, top British scientist says

From CNN's Niamh Kennedy

Volunteers hand out boxes of Covid-19 rapid antigen Lateral Flow Tests (LFT), in north east London on January 3, 2022.
Volunteers hand out boxes of Covid-19 rapid antigen Lateral Flow Tests (LFT), in north east London on January 3, 2022. (Tolga Akmen/AFP/Getty Images)

Data suggests that about to 10 to 15% of Omicron cases in the United Kingdom are reinfections, according to the country's top scientist Dr. Neil Ferguson, who is a member of the UK government's Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies (SAGE).

The fact that the variant is "substantially less severe" has helped the UK "undoubtedly," he told told BBC Radio 4 on Tuesday.

"We would be seeing much higher case numbers in hospital otherwise. And vaccines are holding up against severe disease and against severe outcomes well, but that doesn’t mean it’s not going to be difficult few weeks for the NHS," he said.

Ferguson also said he is "cautiously optimistic" that cases in London may have plateaued.

"I'm cautiously optimistic that infection rates in London in that key 18-50 age group, which has been driving the Omicron epidemic, may possibly have plateaued," he said, adding that it is too early to say fully whether cases are going down. 

It will take one to three weeks for other regions in England to see a drop in their case numbers, Ferguson estimated.

The return of schools and current mixing trends, however, make it too difficult for the scientists to know whether this will be sustained decrease or an initial drop and then high plateau as observed in July. 

Unlike the Delta variant, Omicron has not yet had time to make its way up to older more at-risk age groups, he warned.

As these cohorts are more likely to be hospitalized, this may culminate in a "different pattern in hospitalizations."

10:24 a.m. ET, January 4, 2022

Here's a look at the latest Covid-19 numbers in key Indian cities

From CNN's Swati Gupta

MUMBAI, INDIA - 2021/12/31: A healthcare worker collects a nasal swab sample from a man at Dadar railway station in Mumbai, India on 31 December 2021. Due to rise in Omicron cases in the city, passengers arriving from outstation who are not fully vaccinated or carrying a negative RT PCR report along with them have to undergo nasal swab testing at the railway station before they are allowed to proceed to their respective destination.
MUMBAI, INDIA - 2021/12/31: A healthcare worker collects a nasal swab sample from a man at Dadar railway station in Mumbai, India on 31 December 2021. Due to rise in Omicron cases in the city, passengers arriving from outstation who are not fully vaccinated or carrying a negative RT PCR report along with them have to undergo nasal swab testing at the railway station before they are allowed to proceed to their respective destination. (Ashish Vaishnav/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images)

The cities of Mumbai and New Delhi have collectively recorded at least 16,341 fresh Covid-19 cases in the past 24 hours, according to officials.

Delhi currently has a positivity rate of 8.37% with 5,481 new cases and the government announced further restrictions Tuesday afternoon.

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

All establishments, except essential services, will be shut on weekends in Delhi starting this weekend.

The Mumbai municipal corporation confirmed Tuesday that 10,860 new cases were recorded in the city in the past 24 hours. The city currently has more than 47,000 active cases.

India is expected to start administering booster shots on Jan. 10 to health care workers, frontline workers and people above the age of 60 with pre-existing medical conditions.  

At least 1.4 billion vaccine doses have been administered in India according to the Indian Ministry of Health. 

9:54 a.m. ET, January 4, 2022

CDC backs FDA decision to offer Covid-19 booster shots after 5 months

From CNN's Deidre McPhillips

A child receives a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at an elementary school vaccination site for children ages 5 to 11-year-old in Miami, Florida, U.S., on Monday, November 22, 2021.
A child receives a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at an elementary school vaccination site for children ages 5 to 11-year-old in Miami, Florida, U.S., on Monday, November 22, 2021. (Eva Marie Uzcategui/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday backed the US Food and Drug Administration’s decision to shorten the time needed between completing an initial series of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 and a booster shot from six months to five months.

The CDC also agreed with the FDA’s call to authorize a third dose of the primary vaccine series for some immunocompromised children ages 5 to 11, consistent with their recommendation for adults who are moderately or severely immunocompromised.

In the same announcement Monday, the FDA also authorized expanding booster eligibility to adolescents ages 12 to 15. The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices is scheduled to meet on Wednesday to discuss this issue.

“As we have done throughout the pandemic, we will continue to update our recommendations to ensure the best possible protection for the American people. Following the FDA’s authorizations, today’s recommendations ensure people are able to get a boost of protection in the face of Omicron and increasing cases across the country, and ensure that the most vulnerable children can get an additional dose to optimize protection against COVID-19,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in a statement.

“If you or your children are eligible for a third dose or a booster, please go out and get one as soon as you can. Additionally, FDA took action this week to authorize boosters for 12-15 year olds – and I look forward to ACIP meeting on Wednesday to discuss this issue.”

9:45 a.m. ET, January 4, 2022

NYC mayor triples down on idea kids must be in school

From CNN's Kristina Sgueglia

Mayor Eric Adams speaks at Concourse Village Elementary School in Bronx of New York City, United States on January 3, 2021. NYC schools are opened today for in-person learning despite an omicron surge in COVID-19. 2 million at-home test kits provided by the state will be used to increase testing following the break, the mayor announced this week.
Mayor Eric Adams speaks at Concourse Village Elementary School in Bronx of New York City, United States on January 3, 2021. NYC schools are opened today for in-person learning despite an omicron surge in COVID-19. 2 million at-home test kits provided by the state will be used to increase testing following the break, the mayor announced this week. (Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

New York City Mayor Eric Adams tripled down on the idea that kids should be in schools despite the Omicron surge, and he insisted he is not in a battle with one of the city’s largest teachers’ unions over in-person learning in schools, saying instead he and the union president are on the “same page” and in “lock step.”

Adams told CNN’s Brianna Keilar on Tuesday that the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) president “understands that poor Black and brown children that are homeless, over 100,000 in the city, did not have access to high speed broadband. He understands that hundreds of thousands of children don’t have food at home to eat, the stabilizing diet for them comes from school, he understands the increase in attempted suicides when we closed down our schools before.”

Adams acknowledged that while he and the UFT President Michael Mulgrew may have a difference of opinion, he said he won’t feed into “hysteria.”

“It’s very clear, the safest place for children right now, is in a school building,” the mayor said.

Ahead of the return to school, the union sent in an email to its members saying they advised the mayor it would be “safest” to go to remote learning temporarily to mitigate staffing challenges upon the return, but ultimately the mayor felt “strongly” schools needed to remain open.

“It’s a luxury to say 'stay at home' when you have all the tools that you needed, but for Black, brown children that you don’t have access to some of the basic things, school is the best place for you, and I am going to continue to have my children be in a safe environment that all science is saying is the best place for him,” Adams told CNN.

When asked how he would advise parents to send their kids to school in the backdrop of pediatric hospitalizations at a record high, he said, “I'm saying to them your children are safer in schools than any other place based on the facts.” Earlier he said Covid-19 is a formidable opponent that pivots and shifts adding, “I'm going to do that” as well.

Adams, a parent himself, said “strand after strand, we can’t continue to stop our children from developing socially and academically ... So we have to learn how to live with Covid, and live with Covid in a safe way.”

Asked about businesses scaling back their in-person employees, Adams said, “We have to open."

“I know what we’re going through but what we must understand is that the resiliency of returning back to a normal life – if we don’t open our cities, we have almost 1 million people who are behind in their rent right here in this city, we have low-skilled employees who can’t do remote employment from home or telecommuting – that’s not a reality in a city like New York and across America, I need my cities to open and we have to be safe, we have to double down on vaccinations and booster shots, we have to double down on testing, but we have to reshape our thinking of how do we live with Covid," he said.