January 12 coronavirus pandemic and Omicron variant news

By Jack Guy, Hannah Strange, Rhea Mogul and Adam Renton, CNN

Updated 0718 GMT (1518 HKT) January 13, 2022
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7:41 p.m. ET, January 12, 2022

Florida Department of Health extends shelf-life of about a million Covid-19 tests

From CNN's Leyla Santiago and Sara Weisfeldt

(Andrew West/The News-Press/USA Today Network)
(Andrew West/The News-Press/USA Today Network)

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced the expiration date of about a million Covid-19 rapid tests, that expired late last month, has been extended. During a news conference in Bonita Springs Wednesday morning, DeSantis said the tests will be distributed to testing centers and county health departments.

The expiration date has been pushed until March 2022, the Florida Department of Health said in a statement. 

“The end of the summer they had expired. The FDA agreed to extend it for three months. But those three months were almost zero demand in Florida for testing because we had such low COVID,” the governor said.

DeSantis criticized the FDA for taking too long to extend the expiration dates.

Last week, the DeSantis administration acknowledged that the rapid tests, which were not take-home tests, had expired in a warehouse. The Florida Department of Emergency Management Director said that the stockpile sat idle during the fall when cases fell in Florida and demand was low. 

CNN reached out to the FDA for comment and to find out how many months past the original expiration date the Covid-19 test can be extended and still produce accurate results but has not yet heard back.

6:40 p.m. ET, January 12, 2022

Australia’s most populous state reports over 92,000 new Covid-19 cases

From CNN's Hilary Whiteman

The Australian state of New South Wales recorded 92,264 new Covid-19 cases on Thursday after the state started including rapid antigen tests in official figures for the first time.  

Starting Wednesday, residents of New South Wales were able to report the result of their rapid antigen tests by uploading information on an app. 

Thursday's figures include 61,387 positive rapid antigen tests taken since Jan. 1, with 50,729 of those from the last seven days.

Cases detected through PCR tests were down, with 30,877 new cases on Thursday after 34,759 the day before.

New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state, has now reported 628,100 total cases, according to the health ministry.

Cases have also spiked in Victoria state, where the health ministry reported 37,169 new cases on Thursday. 

The Australian national cabinet is set to meet on Thursday to consider issues such as expanding the list of essential workers to address supply chain disruptions.

6:24 p.m. ET, January 12, 2022

Australian deputy prime minister: Djokovic “has to abide by the laws”

From CNN’s Hannah Ritchie

Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce said tennis star Novak Djokovic “has to abide by the laws” in an interview with CNN affiliate Nine News.

“The vast majority of Australians ... don’t like the idea that another individual, whether they’re a tennis player or the king of Spain or the queen of England, can come up here and have a different set of rules to what everybody else has to deal with,” Joyce said, adding that whether people agree with the rules or not, they believe rules should be followed.

“That was the issue with Novak Djokovic,” the deputy prime minister said, “I think that the rules that one person follows is the rules everybody should follow. [Djokovic] is still a child of God like the rest of us, isn’t he? So he has to abide by the laws.”

Australian opposition leader Anthony Albanese said the situation with Djokovic’s visa has been “diabolical” for Australia’s reputation.

“How is it that a ... visa was granted in the first place? This has been diabolical for Australia’s reputation, just in terms of our competence here and it is extraordinary that — as we are speaking — we still don’t know what the decision will be,” he said.

He added: “The decision should have been made before he was granted a visa. Either he was eligible or he wasn’t. Australia has a policy of not allowing unvaccinated people into Australia. It is beyond my comprehension how we have got to this point. … Why is it those checks and balances weren’t in place for ... someone so prominent?”

7:03 p.m. ET, January 12, 2022

Serbian president says he’s "proud" to have helped Djokovic during Australian visa and vaccine dispute

From CNN's Mitchell McCluskey

Novak Djokovic practices on Rod Laver Arena ahead of the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, on January 12.
Novak Djokovic practices on Rod Laver Arena ahead of the Australian Open tennis championship in Melbourne, Australia, on January 12. (Mark Baker/AP)

Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić said he was “proud” to help tennis star Novak Djokovic as he faces a visa and vaccination dispute in Australia.

“Our job is to help the Serbian citizens. I am proud that through our effort we were able to help one of the best athletes of all times,” Vučić in an interview with public broadcaster Radio Television of Serbia.

“I think it is necessary that people are vaccinated," Vučić told RTS, “But I am not one of those who are going to start chasing those who aren't vaccinated, because I find it to be our fault – we have allowed the social networks to impose some nonsense topics that we were unable to deal with.”

Vučić also appeared to indirectly address Djokovic’s admission that he he did not immediately isolate after testing positive for Covid-19 in December.

"If you know you are infected, you shouldn't be going out in public,” Vučić said.

6:01 p.m. ET, January 12, 2022

Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is 94% effective against Covid-19 hospitalization in adolescents, data shows

From CNN's Jacqueline Howard

A medical worker prepares a Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine booster dose at Hartford Hospital in Hartford, Connecticut, on January 6.
A medical worker prepares a Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine booster dose at Hartford Hospital in Hartford, Connecticut, on January 6. (Joseph Prezioso/AFP/Getty Images)

The Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine appears to be 94% effective against Covid-19 hospitalization among adolescents in the United States, according to a new study of real-world hospital data.

The findings, published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine, are consistent with clinical trial results that showed the vaccine's efficacy was 100% against Covid-19 illness among young people. 

In the new study, "vaccination averted nearly all life-threatening Covid-19 illness in this age group," wrote the researchers from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and various hospitals and universities across the United States.

The study included data on adolescents ages 12 to 18 who had been admitted to 31 hospitals across 23 states between July 1 and Oct. 25. Within the data, there were 445 adolescents hospitalized with Covid-19 and 777 hospitalized without Covid-19.

The researchers, including CDC epidemiologist Samantha Olson, found that far more adolescents hospitalized with Covid-19 were unvaccinated compared with those who were hospitalized for other reasons. The data showed that among the hospitalized adolescents with Covid-19, 4% were fully vaccinated, less than 1% were partially vaccinated, and 96% were unvaccinated. In comparison, among the hospitalized adolescents who did not have Covid-19, 36% were fully vaccinated, 7% were partially vaccinated, and 57% were unvaccinated. 

"Despite eligibility for Covid-19 vaccination, 96% of the patients who were hospitalized with Covid-19 and 99% of those who received life support had not been fully vaccinated. We found that vaccination with two doses of the BNT162b2 mRNA vaccine reduced the risk of hospitalization from Covid-19 by 94% among adolescents between 12 and 18 years of age in the United States," the researchers wrote, using the official name of Pfizer/BioNTech's vaccine, BNT162b2.

The study did not include information on which coronavirus variants caused the Covid-19 cases in the data, but the researchers noted that the research was conducted at a time when Delta was the dominant circulating coronavirus variant.

Dr. Kathryn Edwards of Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville called the study's findings "impressive evidence" regarding the vaccine's effectiveness in adolescents.

"These extremely encouraging data indicate that nearly all hospitalizations and deaths in this population could have been prevented by vaccination," Edwards wrote in an editorial published alongside the new study.

"However, it is distressing that less than 39% of the adolescents in the control group had been immunized against Covid-19, despite uniform eligibility and widespread vaccine access," Edwards wrote. "Vigorous efforts must be expended to improve vaccination coverage among all children and especially among those at highest risk for severe Covid-19."

CDC data shows that currently, about 13.7 million of the about 25 million 12- to 17-year-olds in the United States are fully vaccinated against Covid-19, representing about 55% of adolescents.

5:08 p.m. ET, January 12, 2022

Early signs that Omicron is peaking in some places offer hope

From CNN's Deidre McPhillips

The Omicron surge has driven Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations to record highs in the United States. This week, however, officials have started to call out very early signs that the wave is peaking – or at least plateauing – in the Northeast. But rates are still higher in this region than any other and it will be weeks before any change can be declared a trend.

On Tuesday, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said that recent case trends are “a glimmer of hope.” She specifically noted an apparent plateau in average daily case rates in New York City.

The New York City health department’s data tracker indicates that while the test positivity rate is “stable,” case trends are “increasing,” as are hospitalizations and deaths. Also, data for the most recent 10 days is considered incomplete.

"We remain squarely within our Omicron wave in New York City, whether looking at cases, hospitalizations, or deaths due to COVID-19,” according to a statement from the city’s health department. “Although there are preliminary signs that the level of cases may be plateauing, we need to continue following the data closely in the coming days to discern the trend.”

In a briefing Tuesday, Philadelphia Health Commissioner Dr. Cheryl Bettigole said that judging from a collection of metrics, the city “may be at peak right now.” Data from the city shows that the test positivity rate dropped for the first time in months, from 45% positive in the last week of December to 36% in the first week of January.

But she noted that the trends remain in flux.

“The thing about watching things like this is you’re watching a graph, you’re doing your best to project, and there’s no certainty to any of this,” she said. “I think we’re going to see it wiggle over the next few days, and then it’s just a question of whether we can hold it together and manage not to expose ourselves.” 

In New Jersey, average daily cases have dropped slightly in recent days, but weekly tallies are still up about 6% compared to a week ago, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

“We’ve had two days of a slight downturn, so we’re looking at a silver lining,” New Jersey Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said on Monday. “That’s why I keep telling everybody it’s a prediction. Omicron is a funny variant that shoots way up and then, for example in South Africa came down just as quickly. We can only hope that that occurs.” 

New Jersey state epidemiologist Dr. Christina Tan said that the Northeast region may see cases peak before other parts of the US.

In addition to New Jersey, only four other states – Maryland, Ohio, Delaware and Georgia – as well as Washington, DC, have seen case rates hold relatively steady compared to last week, changing less than 10% in either direction, according to data from JHU. But only in DC has this plateau held for more than week.

Some more context: Overall, the US is reporting an average of more than 747,000 Covid-19 cases each day, about triple the peak from last winter, according to JHU data. Cases are up 34% compared to a week earlier. A record number of people are hospitalized with Covid-19 – more than 151,000, which has about doubled in two weeks, according to data from the US Department of Health and Human Services. And deaths are now starting to trend up, too, jumping 40% over the past week, according to JHU data.

 

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

US military Covid-19 cases more than doubled in one week

From CNN's Barbara Starr and Oren Liebermann

The number of Covid-19 cases in the US military more than doubled in one week, according to the latest data from the Defense Department, continuing a trend that began during the holiday season.

On Wednesday, the department reported 32,912 cases of Covid-19 in service members around the world, marking a dramatic increase from one week earlier, when there were 13,940 cases across the military. Just before Christmas, the number was a far lower 5,285 cases.

Despite the increase in cases, hospitalizations have not jumped at the same rate, increasing only slightly from 2,333 members of the military in the hospital last week to 2,378 this week.

The Defense Department does not test specifically for the Omicron variant rapidly spreading around the world, but officials say there is every reason to believe the highly contagious variant is responsible for the soaring case numbers.

As of mid-December, more than 97% of the active-duty military had received at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine mandated by the military. Approximately 90% of the total force, including Guard and Reserves, had received at least one dose, while nearly 75% was fully vaccinated. 

The rise in case numbers comes as the military is increasing health restrictions in several places. The Pentagon moved to Health Protection Condition (HPCON) Charlie, limiting occupancy of office space to 25% or less.  

Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio has moved to the highest level of health protection measures – HPCON Delta – which includes allowing only 15% of the staff in the workplace at a time. The move comes as positivity rates have increased in the region, the Air Force said. It is currently the only major US military installation rated as Delta.

In Japan, US forces are now largely confined to base except for mandatory travel circumstances. And at the Pentagon, stronger health protection measures have also been put into place.

Some background: The military also saw a rise in deaths due to Covid-19 in September and October as the Delta variant surged, according to Defense Department statistics. As of Sept. 1, there were 40 military member deaths due to Covid-19. By Jan. 5, the total was 86. 

Defense officials note that most of the deaths occurred in September and October: 18 and 13 respectively. The assessment is that the numbers were influenced not only by the Delta variant but by the fact that the services had not yet reached the final requirement for mandatory vaccination. By November, there were only four military member deaths, seven in December, and four so far in January, according to a defense official. 

One base that has seen a post-holiday surge is Fort Bragg in North Carolina, which currently has an estimated 50% test positivity rate. The base hospital, Womack Army Medical Center, was at 100% capacity at the end of last week, a military official there told CNN.  

Fort Bragg is headquarters for much of the Army’s rapid response capability in a crisis. So far, those units have not been impacted to the point where they cannot deploy, but commanders are prepared to supplement with other troops if needed.

2:41 p.m. ET, January 12, 2022

Last week had "by far" the most Covid-19 cases reported in a single week, WHO director-general says

From CNN’s Naomi Thomas

The most Covid-19 cases reported in a single week of the pandemic occurred last week – an increase that is being driven by Omicron, World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Wednesday.

“Last week, more than 15 million new cases of Covid-19 were reported to WHO from around the world – by far the most cases reported in a single week – and we know this is an underestimate,” Tedros said during a news briefing in Geneva. “This huge spike in infections is being driven by the Omicron variant, which is rapidly replacing Delta in almost all countries.”

Tedros noted that the number of weekly reported deaths has remained stable since October, and while the level of hospitalizations is increasing, it has not reached previously seen levels in most countries.

“This is possibly due to the reduced severity of Omicron, as well as widespread immunity from vaccination or previous infection. But let’s be clear: While Omicron causes less severe disease than Delta, it remains a dangerous virus, particularly for those who are unvaccinated,” Tedros said.

“Almost 50,000 deaths a week is 50,000 deaths too many,” he continued. “Learning to live with this virus does not mean we can, or should, accept this number of deaths. We must not allow this virus a free ride or wave the white flag, especially when so many people around the world remain unvaccinated.”

Tedros pointed to Africa, where 85% of people haven’t received a single vaccine dose, saying, “We cannot end the acute phase of the pandemic unless we close this gap.”

1:56 p.m. ET, January 12, 2022

Omicron has reached almost every country in the world, according to health experts

From CNN's Hande Atay Alam 

The Omicron coronavirus variant has reached nearly every country across the world, according to Pan American Health Organization Director Carissa Etienne.

Forty-two countries and territories in all subregions of the Americas — North America, Central America, South America and the Caribbean — have already detected the Omicron variant, she added during a PAHO briefing on Wednesday.

PAHO Health Emergencies Director Dr. Ciro Ugarte said during the same briefing that the Delta variant is still predominant in the Americas, but Omicron is probably going to become predominant in the coming weeks.

Etienne also urged continued vaccination and testing against Omicron. 

"Prioritizing symptomatic individuals for testing and making rational use of these resources is critical to catch infections quickly and early. Maintaining and reinforcing the public health measures is paramount to slow transmission," Etienne added.