January 6 coronavirus pandemic and Omicron variant news

By Melissa Mahtani, Meg Wagner, Jessie Yeung, Adam Renton, Lauren Said-Moorhouse and Ed Upright, CNN

Updated 1:59 a.m. ET, January 11, 2022
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1:59 a.m. ET, January 11, 2022

Hong Kong official goes into government quarantine after attending birthday party

From Wayne Chang in Hong Kong

Isolation units at the Penny's Bay Quarantine Centre in Hong Kong, China, on Tuesday, December 14, 2021.
Isolation units at the Penny's Bay Quarantine Centre in Hong Kong, China, on Tuesday, December 14, 2021. (Paul Yeung/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

Hong Kong’s Secretary for Home Affairs, Casper Tsui, is being sent to the government quarantine center, Penny's Bay, after being identified as a close contact of a confirmed Covid-19 case at a birthday party held for a local official Monday. 

Eight other senior government officials, including Secretary for Financial Services and the Treasury Hui Ching-Yu and the head of Hong Kong’s Police Force, Raymond Siu, were also present at the party but left before 9:30 p.m., when the positive case reportedly arrived.  

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said during a press conference Thursday that she was disappointed in those city officials, especially Tsui, and announced that there will be an investigation as to whether any pandemic prevention rules were broken at the party.

Officials who left before the confirmed case arrived will have to provide proof they left the premises in time by providing electronic records of their movements. 

Hong Kong's battle against Covid: Hong Kong reported its first Omicron coronavirus infection last week, following nearly three months without any local cases.

Along with mainland China, it is one of the few places in the world still pursuing a zero-Covid policy. That means most non-residents are banned from entering, while almost all overseas arrivals must undergo 21 days of quarantine -- even if they are fully vaccinated.

Local restrictions have also been implemented, with indoor dining banned and entertainment venues such as cinemas, museums and bars and clubs temporarily shutting their doors. Read more:

Correction: This post has been updated to reflect that Tsui was sent to quarantine after attending a birthday party.

5:54 a.m. ET, January 6, 2022

Thousands protest Germany's Covid-19 restrictions in multiple Bavarian cities

From CNN's Nadine Schmidt in Berlin

Police officers stand on the Marienplatz in Munich, Germany on Wednesday. Bavarian police are preparing for unannounced "walks" and gatherings of opponents of the state's pandemic measures in numerous municipalities.
Police officers stand on the Marienplatz in Munich, Germany on Wednesday. Bavarian police are preparing for unannounced "walks" and gatherings of opponents of the state's pandemic measures in numerous municipalities. (Sven Hoppe/picture-alliance/dpa/AP)

Around 3,000 protesters hit the streets of Munich on Wednesday as a show of force against Germany’s Covid-19 restrictions, leaving two police officers and three demonstrators injured, a police statement said.  

Some 1,000 police officers were deployed to the scene to contain the demonstration, as some protesters attempted to break through police barriers, leading officers to use batons and pepper spray to disperse the crowds, the statement added. 

Police also said they arrested one demonstrator, as well as filing over 1,100 charges for violations of protest regulations and at least 35 criminal charges.

Protests against the restrictions also took place in other Bavarian cities, such as Würzburg and Fürth, where police said around 400 and 1,000 people gathered respectively. 

What's the Covid situation in Germany? Daily cases declined in December after the country introduced stricter measures targeting those who have yet to be vaccinated against Covid-19, but infections started rising again a week ago.

On Thursday, Germany recorded 64,340 new cases within 24 hours -- up 50% from the same day a week ago, according to data from the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), the country's disease control agency. 

The country recorded another 443 deaths related to Covid-19, bringing the total number of coronavirus-related fatalities since the pandemic began to a total of 113,368, the latest data also showed.  

Germany has a low rate of vaccination compared with some other western European countries: 71.5% of the population is fully vaccinated and 40.9% have received a booster shot, the RKI data showed Thursday. 

5:18 a.m. ET, January 6, 2022

Mandatory shots are not the best tool to boost vaccination rates, says French PM

From CNN’s Joseph Ataman and Dalal Mawad in Paris

French Prime Minister Jean Castex (left) and Jean-Jacques Bourdin during an interview on RMC/BFMTV in Paris, France on January 6, 2022.
French Prime Minister Jean Castex (left) and Jean-Jacques Bourdin during an interview on RMC/BFMTV in Paris, France on January 6, 2022. (Raphael Lafargue/Abaca/Sipa/AP)

French Prime Minister Jean Castex said Thursday that the country’s proposed vaccine pass would be “much more effective” than mandatory vaccination, in an interview with CNN affiliate BFMTV. 

The government has already had “difficulties checking the pass,” he said. “We would have even more of them in checking mandatory vaccinations,” Castex added.

Differentiating the two, Castex said mandatory vaccination could constitute “a fine” but the country’s “objective is to get people vaccinated, it’s not to fill the state coffers.”

The PM said countries like Italy that were introducing mandatory vaccinations had “very, very low” levels of vaccination compared to France. 

The objective is the most vaccinated people possible. Mandatory vaccination is a means, a tool, a final tool,” Castex said. 

Castex raised the example of some people in low-income neighborhoods who may choose to avoid medical care in general and who were not ideologically opposed to vaccination. 

“Fining people like that will not help us to achieve our [vaccination] objectives,” he said. 

Some context: His comments come after lawmakers in France’s lower house approved a bill earlier Thursday that aims to make it mandatory for people to show proof of being vaccinated to access many public venues and inter-regional public transport. The bill, once passed by the Senate, would remove the option of being able to show a negative test result instead.

A tense debate in France has emerged over how to deal with the unvaccinated minority of the population. The country has inoculated around 74% of its total population, one of the higher rates in the European Union. But it has been heavily hit by the more transmissible Omicron variant, and has reported record infections in recent days.

French health authorities reported 332,252 new Covid-19 cases on Wednesday, representing a new record since the beginning of the pandemic for the second day running.

Infections have been rising for several weeks with an average of 200,000 cases a day, according to the health ministry. While hospitalizations have reached their highest rate since May, they are not rising as quickly as infections so far. 

But the majority of intensive care unit (ICU) patients are unvaccinated individuals, according to the French government. Health minister Olivier Veran has said that for each vaccinated person in the ICU, there were 20 people that were unvaccinated.

 

5:12 a.m. ET, January 6, 2022

Chinese city of Yuzhou sees spike in Covid-19 cases

From CNN’s Beijing bureau

China reported 132 locally-transmitted coronavirus cases on Wednesday, with 50 infections in central Henan province’s Yuzhou city, according to the National Health Commission (NHC).

Yuzhou’s Covid-19 numbers are fast approaching those of the city of Xi’an, the latest epicenter of China’s recent outbreak, which is under a strict lockdown

Yuzhou launched a third round of mass testing for its 1.2 million residents on Thursday, the municipal government announced. The city was also placed under lockdown after two asymptomatic cases were reported on Sunday. 

Rules under lockdown: The municipal government banned residents in neighborhoods with confirmed cases from leaving their homes. Whereas in neighborhoods without cases, each household was allowed to designate one person to pick up groceries. 

All schools, public transport, public facilities and shopping malls have closed with the exception of essential services such as supermarkets.

Beyond Yuzhou: Henan province’s capital city of Zhengzhou reported five symptomatic cases and eight asymptomatic cases on Wednesday, according to NHC.

The city also locked down 10 neighborhoods where residents were banned from leaving their homes. Its 12 million residents are not allowed to leave the city except for essential travel, the municipal government announced on Wednesday. 

Southeastern Zhejiang province’s city of Ningbo reported five cases on Wednesday believed to be linked to a cluster which originated from a maritime trade route with Vietnam. 

Northwestern Shaanxi province reported 63 cases in Xi’an. Harrowing stories of loss and despair have emerged from Xi'an, where residents have been pushed to their limits under the stringent lockdown. Read our latest coverage here:

5:05 a.m. ET, January 6, 2022

France's vaccine pass bill passes first stage of legislation

From CNN’s Joseph Ataman in Paris

French Prime Minister Jean Castex (center) speaks during a session at the French National Assembly in Paris, on January 5, 2022.
French Prime Minister Jean Castex (center) speaks during a session at the French National Assembly in Paris, on January 5, 2022. (Bertrand Guay/AFP/Getty Images)

France’s National Assembly voted to approve a vaccine pass bill early Thursday morning. 

The bill passed its first reading with 214 votes for, 93 against and 27 abstentions. 

This is the first major step in getting French parliament approval. The bill is set to be reviewed by a Senate commission Monday before its first public debate in the upper house the following day. If the Senate makes any changes, it will need to go back to a mixed committee of both houses for approval before being signed off by an executive council.  

The proposed legislation would replace France's health pass with a vaccine pass, meaning proof of vaccination is necessary for access to a range of everyday activities, from entering restaurants and bars to use of inter-regional public transport. Proof of a negative test or recent recovery from Covid would no be longer accepted.

These developments come just days after French President Emmanuel Macron waded into intensifying political debate over vaccines and restrictions in the country.

In an interview with Le Parisien newspaper on Tuesday, Macron said he "really wants to piss off" unvaccinated people with the strict new rules for those who have refused the shot.

4:33 a.m. ET, January 6, 2022

India reports another sharp spike in cases driven by Omicron

From CNN's Esha Mitra in New Delhi 

Member of Health NTI Aayog Dr. Vinod Kumar Paul (c), Director-General at the Indian Council of Medical Research Dr. Balram Bhargava (R) and Joint Secretary of Health Ministry Dr. Luv Agarwal during a press briefing on the COVID-19 situation and vaccination update, at National Media Centre on January 5, 2022 in New Delhi, India. India is seeing an exponential rise in Covid-19 cases, which is believed to be driven by Omicron, the Centre said on Wednesday as the country recorded 58,097 fresh Covid cases.
Member of Health NTI Aayog Dr. Vinod Kumar Paul (c), Director-General at the Indian Council of Medical Research Dr. Balram Bhargava (R) and Joint Secretary of Health Ministry Dr. Luv Agarwal during a press briefing on the COVID-19 situation and vaccination update, at National Media Centre on January 5, 2022 in New Delhi, India. India is seeing an exponential rise in Covid-19 cases, which is believed to be driven by Omicron, the Centre said on Wednesday as the country recorded 58,097 fresh Covid cases. (Sanjeev Verma/Hindustan Times/Getty Images)

India reported 90,928 new Covid-19 cases on Thursday — the highest since June 7, and a 56.5% increase on the 58,097 infections it reported Wednesday. 

This is the second consecutive day that cases have risen by more than 55%, according to a CNN tally of figures from the Indian Ministry of Health.

Of these new cases, more than 25,000 were reported in Delhi and Mumbai.

V. K. Paul, head of India’s Covid task force, said at a news conference Wednesday that “the acceleration of cases is steeper than ever," and the spike was driven by the highly transmissible Omicron variant — particularly in larger cities and the western part of the country.

India is now seeing an even higher infection rate than it had during the peak of its devastating second wave last year, he added.

The positivity rate of tests is also rising, at 5% on Wednesday — compared to just 1.15% on December 30.

Since the pandemic began, India has reported 35.1 million cases and more than 482,000 deaths, according to the Health Ministry. Of those cases, at least 2,630 are of the Omicron variant.

4:27 a.m. ET, January 6, 2022

Xi'an lockdown brings heartbreak and dysfunction as political pressure to contain outbreak grows

From CNN's Jessie Yeung, Nectar Gan, Yong Xiong and the Beijing Bureau

In this photo released by China's Xinhua News Agency, volunteers wearing protective suits package meals for delivery to people under lockdown in Xi'an in northwestern China's Shaanxi Province, Tuesday, January. 4, 2022. Hospital officials in the northern Chinese city of Xi'an have been punished after a pregnant woman miscarried after being refused entry, reportedly for not having current COVID-19 test results.
In this photo released by China's Xinhua News Agency, volunteers wearing protective suits package meals for delivery to people under lockdown in Xi'an in northwestern China's Shaanxi Province, Tuesday, January. 4, 2022. Hospital officials in the northern Chinese city of Xi'an have been punished after a pregnant woman miscarried after being refused entry, reportedly for not having current COVID-19 test results. (Zhang Bowen/Xinhua/AP)

As the locked down Chinese city of Xi'an claimed victory this week in its fight to contain the community spread of Covid-19, harrowing tales of loss and despair have emerged on social media — highlighting the immense human cost of China's zero-Covid policy.

The city of 13 million has been under strict lockdown since December 23, as it grapples with the country's worst coronavirus outbreak since Wuhan, the original epicenter of the pandemic. But local authorities have faced a public outcry over perceived incompetence, and disproportionately harsh measures that critics say harm the lives of those they are supposed to protect.

Over the past two weeks, Chinese social media has been flooded with posts from residents who say they have not received food, basic supplies, even medical care.

One heavily pregnant woman was allegedly turned away from a hospital on New Year's Day because she didn't have a valid Covid-19 test, according to a post from a user who said she was the woman's niece. A video posted on January 3 shows the woman sitting outside with a pool of blood around her feet. She was finally admitted two hours later — but suffered a miscarriage, said the post, shared widely on Chinese micro-blogging platform Weibo before it was deleted.

A staff member from Xi'an Gaoxin Hospital, where the woman sought care, told CNN they were investigating the incident, and that the hospital had initially turned away the woman in accordance with the government's Covid-19 regulations, but declined to comment further.

Another user appealed for help online on Sunday after a local hospital refused to admit her father, who had just had a heart attack, because they lived in a "medium-risk area" of the city.

She later updated the post on Xiaohongshu, China's Instagram-like platform, saying her father was allowed an emergency operation when his situation worsened significantly after several hours. "The delay was too long and rescue failed. I don't have a father anymore," she wrote.

The poignant accounts have sparked an outpouring of sympathy and anger online, with many questioning sacrifice in the name of epidemic control.

Read more:

4:24 a.m. ET, January 6, 2022

Japan asks US to impose restrictions on American military bases over Covid-19 concerns 

From CNN's Emiko Jozuka in Tokyo

Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi meets the press in Tokyo on Jan. 6, 2022, after asking U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in phone talks to impose curfews on U.S. bases in Japan due to a recent surge of coronavirus infections among American military personnel.
Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi meets the press in Tokyo on Jan. 6, 2022, after asking U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in phone talks to impose curfews on U.S. bases in Japan due to a recent surge of coronavirus infections among American military personnel. (Kyodo News/Getty Images)

Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi has asked US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to impose restrictions on American military bases in Japan due to a rise in Covid-19 infections among US military personnel.

In a phone call Thursday, Hayashi urged Blinken to introduce stricter coronavirus measures to "alleviate local anxiety among the Japanese public," the Japanese government said in a statement.

Earlier this week, the governor of Okinawa blasted the US military for failing to contain the spread of coronavirus in Japan’s southernmost prefecture. 

According to Okinawan government data, on Wednesday there were more than 800 US military personnel in isolation after recently testing positive in the prefecture.

Rising cases: On Wednesday, Okinawa reported 623 new infections, a significant jump from the previous day's 225. That brings the total number of active cases in the prefecture's local population to more than 1,200.

Meanwhile, new Covid-19 cases nationwide topped 2,000 for the first time in three months on Wednesday — the most since September 26, according to a tally by Japanese public broadcaster NHK. 

Considering restrictions: Okinawa's prefectural government said it will consider implementing a quasi-state of emergency to contain the virus, which requires bars and restaurants to shut early. The government will make a final decision at a task-force meeting Thursday. 

On Tuesday, Okinawa raised its alert level to 2 on its five-stage scale across the prefecture, requesting people avoid crowded areas and limit private gatherings to four people for no longer than two hours, a prefectural official told CNN.

According to the Japanese government, Blinken asserted that both the health and safety of the US Forces in Japan and the local population are very important to the US. He pledged to do as much as possible to curb the spread of infections.

4:21 a.m. ET, January 6, 2022

Hong Kong allows more than 3,000 passengers and staff to leave cruise ship after Covid testing

From Teele Rebane in Hong Kong

The cruise ship "Spectrum of the Seas" is seen docked at a terminal in Hong Kong on January 5, 2022, after it was ordered to return to the city for coronavirus testing after nine people were found to be close contacts with a recent Omicron variant outbreak.
The cruise ship "Spectrum of the Seas" is seen docked at a terminal in Hong Kong on January 5, 2022, after it was ordered to return to the city for coronavirus testing after nine people were found to be close contacts with a recent Omicron variant outbreak. (Peter Parks/AFP/Getty Images)

More than 3,000 cruise ship passengers and staff were allowed to disembark in Hong Kong after being tested for Covid-19, a representative for the vessel's owners, Royal Caribbean, told CNN.

“Spectrum of the Seas” was ordered to return to port on Wednesday after nine passengers were identified as close contacts of a preliminarily positive case. The nine were isolated, while all 2,500 cruise passengers and 1,200 crew members were held on board for compulsory testing.

The nine close contacts, who have tested negative so far, were sent to compulsory government quarantine.

Royal Caribbean’s “cruise to nowhere” trips, which sail around the South China Sea before returning to Hong Kong, have been popular in the city — which enforces some of the strictest border control measures in the world. 

In a Facebook post, Royal Caribbean said all precautions had been taken, including requiring all eligible passengers and crew to be fully vaccinated, to file a health declaration and to test negative within 48 hours of boarding. Children ineligible for the vaccine also had to show a negative test and fill out a health declaration, it added.

Hong Kong reported its first local Omicron last week after going nearly three months without any local infection.

In an effort to break any local chains of Omicron transmission, the city will ban flights from eight countries on Friday and enact new social distancing restrictions, including closing gyms and bars.

Read more about Hong Kong's zero-Covid policy: