January 11 coronavirus pandemic and Omicron variant news

By Rhea Mogul, Adam Renton, Jack Guy and Ed Upright, CNN

Updated 0653 GMT (1453 HKT) January 12, 2022
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8:15 a.m. ET, January 11, 2022

Covid-19 is "still a way off" of being endemic, WHO official says 

From CNN’s Allegra Godwin in London 

Covid-19 cannot yet be referred to as an endemic disease, a senior World Health Organization (WHO) official has said.

Dr. Catherine Smallwood, Covid-19 incident manager at the WHO Health Emergencies Programme, told a virtual WHO Europe news conference Tuesday that Covid-19 is “still a way off” endemicity. 

Smallwood explained endemicity assumes there is “stable circulation of the virus at predictable levels, and potentially known and predictable waves of epidemic transmission.” 

“But what we're seeing at the moment coming into 2022 is nowhere near that, we still have a huge amount of uncertainty, we still have a virus that's evolving quite quickly and posing quite new challenges. So we're certainly not at the point of being able to call it endemic,” she went on. 

“It may become endemic in due course, but pinning that down to 2022 is a little bit difficult at this stage,” Smallwood said, adding “all of this of course depends on how we respond to it and widespread vaccination uptake on an equitable basis will be very, very key in moving towards such a scenario.” 

8:07 a.m. ET, January 11, 2022

Schools should be "last places to close and the first to reopen," says WHO chief

From CNN’s Allegra Goodwin in London 

A student takes a Covid-19 test on the first day of term in Halifax, northern England on January 4, 2022.
A student takes a Covid-19 test on the first day of term in Halifax, northern England on January 4, 2022. (Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images)

Dr. Hans Kluge, the World Health Organization’s (WHO) regional director for Europe, has emphasized the need to do everything to keep children in schools throughout further waves of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Looking ahead, the numbers of infected people are going to be so high in many countries that schools may be unable to keep all classes open all the time, due to a lack of staff,” Kluge said at a virtual news conference Tuesday. 

However, he stressed that: “Keeping schools open has important benefits for children’s mental, social and educational well-being. Schools should be the last places to close and the first to reopen.

“This winter, it is advisable to make arrangements for online learning alongside physical presence, so children can continue with their education when they are unable to attend school in person,” Kluge told the conference. 

He reiterated that the WHO’s recommendations for educational settings -- ventilation, hand hygiene and the use of appropriate face masks -- remained essential.

Kluge also added that “countries may wish to consider reviewing the protocols on testing, isolation and quarantine of classroom contacts to minimize disruption to learning, mitigating these risks as far as possible with good ventilation and mask usage.”

7:00 a.m. ET, January 11, 2022

WHO Europe chief urges countries to mandate “high-quality masks”

From CNN’s Allegra Goodwin in London

Dr. Hans Kluge at the ExpoForum Convention and Exhibition Centre in St. Petersburg, Russia in June 2021.
Dr. Hans Kluge at the ExpoForum Convention and Exhibition Centre in St. Petersburg, Russia in June 2021. (Vladimir Astapkovich/Sputnik/AP)

Countries not yet affected by a surge of the Omicron coronavirus variant should adopt mask mandates, according to Dr. Hans Kluge, the World Health Organization’s regional director for Europe.

“For countries not yet hit by the Omicron surge, there is a closing window of opportunity to act now and plan for contingencies,” Kluge warned at a virtual news conference Tuesday. 

“Omicron moves faster and wider than any such Covid new variant that we have previously seen. We therefore urge these countries to mandate the use of high-quality masks in closed and indoor settings and ensure that vulnerable individuals have access to them,” he said. 

As of January 10, 26 countries in the region reported that more than 1% of their population is catching Covid-19 each week, Kluge said.

He added that he is “deeply concerned that as the variant moves East [across Europe], we have yet to see its full impact in countries where levels of vaccination uptake are lower, and where we will see more severe disease in the unvaccinate.” 

Kluge used the example of Denmark, where he said Omicron cases had “exploded” in recent weeks, and the Covid-19 hospitalization rate for unvaccinated patients was six-fold higher than for those who were fully vaccinated in the week over Christmas.

6:44 a.m. ET, January 11, 2022

96 of top 100 female tennis players fully vaccinated, says Women's Tennis Association

From CNN’s Aleks Klosok in London

From left to right, tennis players Anett Kontaveit, Garbiñe Muguruza, Maria Sakkari, Aryna Sabalenka, Barbora Krejcikova, Karolina Pliskova, Iga Swiatek and Paula Badosa pose with the Billie Jean King trophy ahead of the 2021 Akron WTA Finals in Zapopan, Mexico.
From left to right, tennis players Anett Kontaveit, Garbiñe Muguruza, Maria Sakkari, Aryna Sabalenka, Barbora Krejcikova, Karolina Pliskova, Iga Swiatek and Paula Badosa pose with the Billie Jean King trophy ahead of the 2021 Akron WTA Finals in Zapopan, Mexico. (Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

A spokesperson for the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) has told CNN that 96% of the WTA’s top 100 players are now fully vaccinated.

Full vaccination equated to two doses where appropriate, added the spokesperson. The figure was previously 85%.

The issue of vaccinations in professional tennis has shot to prominence amid controversy surrounding men's world number one Novak Djokovic.

The Serb had his Australian visa canceled last week after authorities determined he did not qualify for a medical exemption from the rule that all arrivals to Australia must be vaccinated against Covid-19.

6:08 a.m. ET, January 11, 2022

Omicron to infect more than 50% of Europe region’s population in 6-8 weeks, says WHO chief

From CNN’s Allegra Goodwin in London

World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for Europe Dr. Hans Kluge at a meeting in Ankara, Turkey, in July 2020.
World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for Europe Dr. Hans Kluge at a meeting in Ankara, Turkey, in July 2020. (Aytug Can Sencar/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

The Omicron coronavirus variant is forecast to infect more than half of the European region’s population in the next six to eight weeks, according to Dr. Hans Kluge, the World Health Organization’s Regional Director for Europe.

“We have entered 2022 with the countries of Europe and Central Asia still under intense pressure from Covid-19,” Kluge told a virtual news conference on Tuesday.

“Today, the Omicron variant represents a new west to east tidal wave sweeping across the region on top of the Delta surge that all countries were managing until late 2021,” he added. 

“At this rate the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation forecasts that more than 50% of the population in the region will be infected with Omicron in the next 6 to 8 weeks,” Kluge said. 

5:57 a.m. ET, January 11, 2022

Australian Border Force investigating whether Djokovic lied on entry form

From CNN’s Angus Watson in Sydney, Australia 

Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic stands at an Australian Border Force booth at the airport in Melbourne on January 5, 2022.
Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic stands at an Australian Border Force booth at the airport in Melbourne on January 5, 2022. (Reuters)

The Australian Border Force (ABF) is investigating whether Novak Djokovic submitted a false travel declaration ahead of arrival in Australia, a source with knowledge of the investigation told CNN.

Djokovic declared he had not traveled and would not do so in the 14 days leading to his arrival in Australia on Wednesday January 5, according to a travel declaration submitted as evidence to the court determining whether he would be allowed to remain in Australia.  

Various pictures taken during that two-week period appear to show Djokovic in both Spain and Serbia.

While court documents show that Tennis Australia filled out the travel declaration on Djokovic’s behalf, the information used was provided by Djokovic, an ABF officer at Melbourne airport on January 5 determined.  

The penalty for submitting a false travel declaration carries a maximum penalty of 12 months prison, according to the Australian Department of Home Affairs website. 

Djokovic’s media team has not responded to CNN’s requests for comment. 

The ABF investigation comes as Australian Immigration Minister Alex Hawke considers whether to exert his personal power to cancel Djokovic’s reinstated visa. 

4:56 a.m. ET, January 11, 2022

UK minister refuses to comment on leaked invitation to staff party during lockdown

From CNN's Nina Avramova

Edward Argar in Westminster, London, on November 1, 2021
Edward Argar in Westminster, London, on November 1, 2021 (Amer Ghazzal/Shutterstock)

A UK minister has said he doesn't "think it would be appropriate" for him to comment on a leaked email from one of Prime Minister Boris Johnson's top officials inviting Downing Street staff to “socially distanced drinks” in May 2020 -- when the rest of the country was in lockdown.

Johnson has faced controversy and anger over a string of allegations about government staff parties while strict Covid-19 restrictions were in place in the United Kingdom. 

Edward Argar, minister of state for health, refused to comment on the latest reports of this invitation, which was sent to more than 100 employees.

“I don't know what did or didn't happen. All I've seen are the reports -- the email that was reported yesterday -- and various sources quoted by various media and journalistic outlets,” Argar told British broadcaster Sky News.

“That's why it's right that this is looked into independently by Sue Gray, and therefore it'd be wrong for me to comment while she's doing that and, equally, while we’ve heard, I think overnight, that the Metropolitan Police have said they're in communication with the Cabinet Office," he said.

"So, given those circumstances, I don't think it would be appropriate for me to comment on what she may or may not conclude, but let her get on with her job,” Argar added. 

5:47 a.m. ET, January 11, 2022

Tennis star Novak Djokovic may still miss out on Australian Open over visa controversy

From CNN's Jack Guy

Serbia's Novak Djokovic takes part in a training session in Melbourne ahead of the Australian Open tennis tournament on January 11, 2022, a day after a court overturned the Australian government's decision to cancel his visa on Covid-19 vaccination grounds.
Serbia's Novak Djokovic takes part in a training session in Melbourne ahead of the Australian Open tennis tournament on January 11, 2022, a day after a court overturned the Australian government's decision to cancel his visa on Covid-19 vaccination grounds. (Kelly Defina/AFP/Getty Images)

Tennis star Novak Djokovic could still have his Australian visa canceled, despite a judge reinstating his permission to enter the country.

Djokovic's visa was canceled last week after authorities determined he did not qualify for a medical exemption from the rule that all arrivals to Australia must be vaccinated against Covid-19.

On Monday, a judge in Melbourne ruled that tennis star Novak Djokovic should be released from detention, and the government's cancellation of his visa overruled.

But now Immigration Minister Alex Hawke is considering whether to exert his personal power to once again cancel Djokovic’s reinstated visa.

"As noted yesterday in the Federal Circuit and Family Court, Minister Hawke is considering whether to cancel Mr. Djokovic’s visa under section 133C(3) of the Migration Act," a spokesperson for Hawke told CNN.

"In line with due process, Minister Hawke will thoroughly consider the matter. As the issue is ongoing, for legal reasons it is inappropriate to comment further," added the spokesperson.

The men's world number one returned to training on Monday night, according to his brother, and wants to compete in the Australian Open.

4:37 a.m. ET, January 11, 2022

4,000 students sent to quarantine in locked down Chinese city

From CNN's Yong Xiong

Residents in the sealed off area of Hua county lined up in the rain for the second round of nucleic acid detection, Anyang, China on 10 January 2022
Residents in the sealed off area of Hua county lined up in the rain for the second round of nucleic acid detection, Anyang, China on 10 January 2022 (Sipa Asia/Shutterstock)

More than 4,000 students in central China were sent to quarantine facilities on Sunday after a cluster of Covid-19 cases was found at their school, according to local authorities.

Officials in Anyang city, Henan province said a total of 4,040 children from Tangyin Yucai School, from elementary to high school students, were transferred to three centralized quarantine facilities.

Videos from Chinese state media and social media showed the students wearing full hazmat suits while boarding buses.

Anyang officials said Tuesday they had imposed a strict lockdown on all 5.5 million of the city's residents after confirming a total of 84 cases in a local Covid cluster.

Residents are banned from leaving their homes unless to undergo mass testing for Covid-19 and all factories and non-essential businesses have been shut.

The Anyang outbreak is believed to be linked to a college student who traveled to the city from Tianjin on December 28 while infected with the Omicron variant, according to the local health commission.