The latest on coronavirus pandemic and Omicron variant

By Aditi Sangal, Rhea Mogul, Adam Renton, Lauren Said-Moorhouse, Hannah Strange, Meg Wagner and Adrienne Vogt, CNN

Updated 0121 GMT (0921 HKT) January 8, 2022
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8:27 a.m. ET, January 7, 2022

CDC did not "pivot" isolation recommendations, but provided guidance for how to use tests, head says 

From CNN's Naomi Thomas

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, talks to CBS Mornings on Friday 7 January 2022
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, talks to CBS Mornings on Friday 7 January 2022 (CBS)

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said on CBS Mornings Friday that the CDC didn’t pivot its recommendations around Covid-19 isolationbut instead provided guidance for those who chose to take an antigen test. 

“I remind you, isolation is for people who have had a positive test,” she said, when asked about changes to the isolation guidance. “We have now dozens of papers that are now on our CDC website that we’ve reviewed to update this guidance in the context of the science and the epidemiology of our time.” 

She said that it is known that for the one to two days prior to infection and two to three days after symptoms is the time when a person is maximally infectious. By day five, after symptoms, “most of that infectiousness, that contagiousness is really behind you,” she said. 

“That’s really where we say: Do you have symptoms? If your symptoms are better, you’re safe to go out as long as you’re wearing a mask all the time,” she said. “What we heard over the last week is many people were interested in using an antigen test, they had access to the antigen test.”

“So, we did not pivot our recommendations, what we did is we provided guidance for how you’d use and interpret that antigen test, if you so chose to take the extra step to get one,” she said. “And that is, if it’s positive, stay home. And if it’s negative, please continue to wear your mask, because that does not mean you’re no longer infectious.” 

Asked if tests would be required before leaving isolation if tests were widely available and if access was no object, Walensky said that “we require tests for leaving quarantine — quarantine being this period of time after you’ve been exposed. What I do want to say is that we have to provide guidance that is, you know, grounded in science, that is grounded in the epidemiology of our current moment in time and implementable at the state and local jurisdictional level.” 

“If they can’t get a test, they should wear a mask,” Walensky said, when asked what people who couldn’t get a test after the five days of isolation should do. “And that’s actually really what our guidance says, isolate for those first five days, after those first five days, make sure you’re feeling better, if you’re feeling better then you really can go out, but you need to go out and you need to be wearing your mask all the time.”  

Walensky also addressed criticism around communicating the guidelines, saying “we’re working 24/7, 12,000 people to keep America safe, to update our guidance in the context of really fast moving science and really fast moving epidemiology. We have room, we can improve in our communications of how we convey that science to the American people. We will continue to do so. We’ve gotten some criticism, but we’ve also gotten quite a bit of endorsement of these new guidance.” 

9:01 a.m. ET, January 7, 2022

Australian Border Force: One visa canceled, another individual departs in connection with Australian Open

From CNN’s Aleks Klosok

The Australian Border Force (ABF) told CNN Friday that its investigation into the visa status of two individuals connected to the Australian Open has concluded, amid the furor over the cancelation of tennis superstar Novak Djokovic’s visa.

Separate to the ongoing saga of Djokovic's revoked visa, the ABF said one individual has voluntarily departed Australia following inquiries. The ABF confirmed that the visa of another unnamed individual has been canceled.

This person has been taken into immigration detention pending their removal from Australia,” the ABF said in a statement.

“All travelers who enter Australia must do so in accordance with our strict laws and entry requirements, regardless of their status or their reasons for entering the country,” the ABF added.

Australian media outlets reported on Friday that the second canceled visa is that of Czech women's tennis player Renata Voráčová.

Australian national broadcaster ABC reports that Voráčová was told by ABF officials that she must soon leave the country, although it’s unclear at this stage whether or not she intends to appeal the decision.

According to The Age newspaper, the former Wimbledon doubles semi-finalist entered Australia with a medical exemption on the basis she had been infected with Covid-19 in the last six months.

CNN has not been able to independently verify those reports.

The 38-year-old has already played in a warm-up tournament in Melbourne, having lost in the first round of the women’s doubles competition at the Melbourne Summer Set tournament.

Neither Tennis Australia nor Voráčová’s representatives were immediately available for comment when contacted by CNN.

8:19 a.m. ET, January 7, 2022

Airlines cancel more than 2,200 US flights on Friday

From CNN's Gregory Wallace

People wait in line to check in at the George Bush Intercontinental Airport on January 06, 2022 in Houston, Texas. Airlines across the country have cancelled more than 1,000 flights for the 11th straight day, marking the airline industry's worst stretch since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Airlines have also reported struggling with staff shortages amidst the surge of the COVID-19 Omicron Variant.
People wait in line to check in at the George Bush Intercontinental Airport on January 06, 2022 in Houston, Texas. Airlines across the country have cancelled more than 1,000 flights for the 11th straight day, marking the airline industry's worst stretch since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Airlines have also reported struggling with staff shortages amidst the surge of the COVID-19 Omicron Variant. (Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

Airlines canceled more than 2,200 US flights on Friday amid the continued impact of the Omicron coronavirus variant, including many on the East coast where another winter storm has compounded difficulties.  

The cancelations, as reported by the aviation tracking website FlightAware, included more than 500 by Southwest Airlines, with a heavy presence in Baltimore, and more than 150 by Northeast-focused JetBlue Airways.  

The latest wave pushed the total cancelations by all airlines since Christmas Eve to over 27,000 US flights. Friday was the fifth day in that period to top 2,000 cancelations.  

The chaos stretched from Boston, where FlightAware said 31% of flights were canceled, to New York -- 35% at LaGuardia, 20% at JFK, and 20% at Newark -- and south to the DC area, where FlightAware reported 20% at Reagan National and 17% at BWI Marshall were canceled.  

LaGuardia told passengers in a social media post “to only go to the airport if your airline has confirmed your flight.” Reagan National reported that its “snow team worked through the night to clear the main runway, which is open for flights.”  

9:53 a.m. ET, January 7, 2022

The US needs variant-specific coronavirus vaccines, former Biden health adviser says

From CNN Health’s Naomi Thomas

Rick Bright, a former health adviser to President Joe Biden, talks to CNN
Rick Bright, a former health adviser to President Joe Biden, talks to CNN (CNN)

Rick Bright, a former health adviser to President Joe Biden, said on CNN’s New Day Friday that using all the tools available in the United States will help the country control the coronavirus in the same way as flu, but that updated versions of vaccines to match variants are needed. 

Bright, the former director of the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, was a co-author of one of three editorials published Thursday in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) that discussed a strategy to help the US face a “new normal” when it comes to Covid-19. 

“We’re entering year three of this pandemic and we’re becoming increasingly convinced that this virus -- the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes Covid -- is going to be with us for a very, very long time,” Bright said, when asked what "the new normal" would look like. It would be similar to what was seen with influenza after the 1918 and 2009 H1N1 pandemics, he added.

He said the world has learned to live with influenza as a result of the tools we have to control it and "that's what we anticipate is going to happen with SARS-CoV-2."

“So our new normal will look like a future where we have SARS-CoV-2 but it’s not a panic, it’s not a crisis, it’s not devastating our public health infrastructure and our economy the way we see it today," he added.

Bright said that the US has “amazingly sharp tools” and if they are used appropriately, as is laid out in the JAMA articles, then the coronavirus can be controlled in the same way as influenza. 

Asked what the Biden administration needs to do on vaccines, Bright said “we’re continuing to use a vaccine that is over two years old, and the virus has continually changed.” 

“We need to harness the full power of those tools that we used to make the Johnson & Johnson and the Pfizer, Moderna vaccines, we need to sharpen those tools against the virus as it changes,” he said. “Right now, we’re seeing one arm of our immunity become weakened because the virus has changed. If we update our vaccines to match the Omicron variant, not only can we reestablish both arms of powerful immunity, but we can also be better prepared for the next change of the virus.”

He continued: “That’s what we do with influenza and that’s what we should be doing with SARS-CoV-2."

Bright also said that the reason this hasn’t happened is largely because people are learning as they go. 

“I don’t think many people anticipated the virus would change as rapidly and as much as it has,” he said. “So it’s a new virus, and we’re learning about it, but it has shown us that capability now, when it changed from the original strain to Alpha to Beta to Delta and now Omicron, so now we need to, with humility, respect this virus, understand its capability and use what we know about vaccines and stop the virus.” 

When asked if the Biden administration response has been insufficient, Bright said its sole focus has been on making sure that people get vaccinated, which he said was a really important goal.

“I do think that they have been overwhelmed and they’ve been caught off guard by the virus as it changes,” he said. “I think there’s a lot for the administration to try to tackle in handling a pandemic, and they need to acknowledge that there are other things that need to happen in parallel. They need to broaden their approach, use all the tools that we have together, and together we can stop this virus.” 

10:10 a.m. ET, January 7, 2022

At least 10 Covid-19 positive passengers escape quarantine rules at Indian airport

From Swati Gupta in New Delhi

At least 10 passengers escaped from an airport in the northern Indian state of Amritsar after testing positive for coronavirus Thusrday, according to senior district official Ruhee Dugg. 

The passengers arrived in India aboard a chartered flight from Italy, with 125 travelers from the flight testing positive on arrival. 

The flight was scheduled to land at 11:20 am from Rome. On arrival, according to Indian procedure, 160 of the passengers on the plane were tested, while 19 were exempted since they were under five years old, said Amritsar Airport Director V.K. Seth. 

The passengers were in transit to a local hospital when a few of them separated from the main group and were able to evade authorities. 

“They were supposed to go to the hospital but they went home … The police are now working on tracking these people down and will take the required action,” said Dugg. 

7:06 a.m. ET, January 7, 2022

Top Delhi hospital suspends non-essential services as hundreds of doctors are infected 

From Esha Mitra in New Delhi

A health worker wearing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) suit interacts with patients inside a ward at the Commonwealth games (CWG) village sports complex, temporarily converted into Covid-19 coronavirus care centre, in New Delhi on January 5, 2022.
A health worker wearing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) suit interacts with patients inside a ward at the Commonwealth games (CWG) village sports complex, temporarily converted into Covid-19 coronavirus care centre, in New Delhi on January 5, 2022. (Money Sharma/AFP/Getty Images)

A top hospital in the national capital territory of Delhi, the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), has suspended all routine inpatient admissions, routine procedures and non-essential surgeries as a result of a “continuing increase in Covid-19 patients requiring hospitalization,” a circular issued by the hospital Friday said. 

During the second wave when hospitals were overrun with Covid-19 patients, several hospitals in Delhi were forced to stop treating non-Covid patients. 

More than 300 doctors have tested positive for Covid-19 at AIIMS Delhi, Dr Jaswant Jangra, secretary of the hospitals Resident Doctors’ Association told CNN Friday, adding that he too was infected.

“Definitely we are very short staffed…we get ourselves tested when we experience symptoms or if we are exposed to anyone,” Jangra said, adding that they have seen a rise in admissions of Covid-19 patients.

According to Jangra, at least 115 patients were admitted at AIIMS Delhi, though many of these were also employees at the hospital. 

Health care under pressure: Delhi reported 15,097 cases Thursday evening, with a positivity rate of 15.34%. At least 1,551 Covid-19 patients, and patients suspected to have Covid were admitted in hospitals and Covid-19 care centers, according to a health bulletin. 

In Mumbai, where more than 20,000 cases were reported Thursday evening, more than 300 doctors have been infected across four hospitals in the city.

10:11 a.m. ET, January 7, 2022

Over 40% of German Covid-19 cases are now Omicron variant 

From CNN's Nadine Schmidt

Hendrik W'st (CDU, r), Minister President of North Rhine-Westphalia and Chairman of the Conference of Minister Presidents (MPK), takes part in the video conference of the heads of government of the federal states in the representation of North Rhine-Westphalia in Berlin on 7 January 2022. Franziska Giffey (SPD), governing mayor of Berlin, is connected on the large screen. Following the MPK, the heads of state will discuss new Corona measures with the German government to contain the spread of the Omikron wave.
Hendrik W'st (CDU, r), Minister President of North Rhine-Westphalia and Chairman of the Conference of Minister Presidents (MPK), takes part in the video conference of the heads of government of the federal states in the representation of North Rhine-Westphalia in Berlin on 7 January 2022. Franziska Giffey (SPD), governing mayor of Berlin, is connected on the large screen. Following the MPK, the heads of state will discuss new Corona measures with the German government to contain the spread of the Omikron wave. (Bernd von Jutrczenka/picture-alliance/dpa/AP)

A total of 44.3% of Covid-19 infections in Germany are now attributed to the Omicron variant -- compared to just 15.8% a week ago, according to a weekly report from the country's national disease and control centre, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), the country's disease control agency. 

In the past 24 hours, Germany has reported 56,335 new infections -- 35% more than a week ago -- and 264 people with Covid-19 died, according to the RKI. 

The country's seven-day incidence rate remains high at 303 per 100,000 population. 

Lawmakers to gather: As the country braces for the impact of Omicron, Chancellor Olaf Scholz and the country's 16 regional state premiers are meeting Friday to discuss further measures to tackle the highly infectious variant. 

Proposals include shorter quarantine periods for employees in critical infrastructure jobs such as medical, emergency, power supply workers and police. Germany is also mulling further contact restrictions and making a third booster shot mandatory to maintain a ‘fully-vaccinated’ status. 

The country is also discussing making the so-called "2G+" rule mandatory for restaurants and cafes, meaning people must provide proof of vaccination or recovery as well as a negative Covid-19 test upon entering these facilities. 

6:49 a.m. ET, January 7, 2022

British military personnel deployed to support London hospitals 

From Amy Cassidy in Glasgow

A paramedic gets out of an ambulance outside the Royal London Hospital in the Whitechapel area of east London, Thursday, January 6, 2022. A string of National Health Service local organizations have declared "critical incidents" in recent days amid staff shortages.
A paramedic gets out of an ambulance outside the Royal London Hospital in the Whitechapel area of east London, Thursday, January 6, 2022. A string of National Health Service local organizations have declared "critical incidents" in recent days amid staff shortages. (Matt Dunham/AP)

The UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) has deployed 200 personnel to support London’s hospitals as they grapple with staff shortages from coronavirus, it announced Friday.

More than 4,000 people are currently in hospital with Covid-19 in London compared to 1,134 one month ago, according to the government’s latest data. 

At the same time, “several thousand” staff are absent with Covid-19 as infections soar, Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, told the BBC on Friday. 

To ease the pressure, 40 defense medics will assist staff with patient care, while 160 general duty personnel will maintain stocks, check in patients and conduct basic checks, according to the MOD's statement.

Having 200 extra people is going to help, but it's only a very small part of what can lead to be a very difficult situation,” Taylor told the BBC. 

The troops will also assist with transport and patients could see a soldier arrive with an ambulance, he added.

It comes as Prime Minister Boris Johnson hopes the country can “ride out” the Omicron wave, he told reporters on Tuesday. 

But the NHS (National Health Service) cannot just “integrate” with the military, who have supported the UK’s Covid-19 response since March 2020, Taylor said.

“The problem is not that we're not going to ride it out, it's the consequences that are involved in the way we have to deal with it […]. People are having operations cancelled until we get through this. 

“And it is going to mean that the NHS can't provide the level of service – whether it's how long it takes an ambulance to get you, how long you have to wait in emergency departments or whatever – that we're wanting to provide. 

“We will get through this but there will be a price to be paid.”

The bigger picture: On Thursday, the UK’s Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced the number of England's hospital trusts that have declared "critical incidents" over staff shortages as a result of the Omicron spread had increased to 24.

There are 137 NHS trusts in England, each of which covers a geographical area and can be made up of multiple hospitals and specialized services, such as an ambulance service. 

9:05 a.m. ET, January 7, 2022

Kyrgios urges Australian officials to "do better" in Djokovic's Australian Open debacle

From CNN's Jill Martin

Nick Kyrgios of Australia reacts during a match against Kevin Anderson of South Africa at the Truist Atlanta Open at Atlantic Station on July 27, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia.
Nick Kyrgios of Australia reacts during a match against Kevin Anderson of South Africa at the Truist Atlanta Open at Atlantic Station on July 27, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Casey Sykes/Getty Images)

Tennis stars are reacting to Novak Djokovic's Australian Open saga, with the nine-time tournament champion possibly unable to defend his 2021 title after his visa to enter the country was revoked.

Australian tennis star Nick Kyrgios weighed in on Twitter, saying "at the end of the day, he is human."

Meanwhile, American tennis player John Isner offered his support to the men's tennis world no.1.

Australia's home affairs minister said on Friday that Djokovic was "not being held captive."

"He is free to leave at anytime that he chooses to do so and Border Force will actually facilitate that,” Karen Andrews told public broadcaster ABC. “It is the individual traveler’s responsibility to make sure that they have in place all the necessary documentation that is needed to enter Australia."