The latest on the coronavirus pandemic and the Omicron variant

By Aditi Sangal and Adrienne Vogt, CNN

Updated 1:22 a.m. ET, January 20, 2022
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8:26 a.m. ET, January 19, 2022

Growth in global Covid-19 cases slows compared with previous week, WHO says 

From CNN’s Naomi Thomas

From Jan. 10-16, global Covid-19 cases increased 20% compared to the week before, with over 18 million new cases reported, according to the World Health Organization’s weekly epidemiological update published Tuesday. 

In the previous epidemiological update, published Jan. 11, there was a 55% increase in new cases compared with the week before. 

“Despite a slowdown of the increase in case incidence at the global level, all regions reported an increase in the incidence of weekly cases with the exception of the African Region, which reported a 27% decrease,” according to the current update. 

In the update, the highest increase was reported in the South-East Asia region with 145%, followed by the Eastern Mediterranean region (68%), the Western Pacific region (38%), the region of the Americas (17%) and the European region (10%). 

The US reported the highest number of new cases, followed by France, India, Italy and the United Kingdom. 

As of Jan. 16, there have been over 323 million confirmed cases worldwide.

The number of new deaths remained similar to the previous week, with over 45,000 new deaths reported. 

Two regions, the South-East Asian region and the region of the Americas, reported increases in deaths of 12% and 7% respectively. The other regions reported numbers similar to the previous week. 

As of Jan. 16, over 5.5 million deaths have been reported globally.

8:22 a.m. ET, January 19, 2022

Beijing Winter Olympics village enters "closed loop" management system 

From CNN's Beijing bureau

With just over two weeks to go until the start of the Beijing Winter Olympics, the Olympic Village has begun its "closed loop" management system, which is designed as part of the country's Covid-19 countermeasures.

The Olympic Village officially entered the closed loop system Tuesday ahead of the first groups of athletes moving in on Jan. 23, the village's media manager told state media Global Times.

Staff members, all of whom have received Covid-19 booster shots, had entered the village weeks in advance to the athletes arriving, according to state media.

Since Jan. 4, when China launched a "pre-game" version of the system, thousands of people including staff have entered the closed loop system. Several venues are also already operating under the system ahead of its official launch on Jan. 23, the Global Times reported.

Despite Beijing's recent spread of Covid-19 cases, operations under the system have run smoothly so far, officials from the Beijing Organizing Committee said Monday.

On Monday, the Beijing Winter Olympics Organizing Committee announced tickets for the upcoming Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games would not be sold to the general public in response to Covid-19, but would be distributed by authorities.

So far, Beijing has confirmed four local cases of Covid-19, including the city's first Omicron case and two cases subsequently linked to that case.

8:20 a.m. ET, January 19, 2022

Covid-19 cases in India hit an 8-month high

From CNN's Manveena Suri in New Delhi

India reported its highest daily increase of Covid-19 cases in eight months on Wednesday. 

With levels not seen since May during its brutal second wave, the country registered at least 282,970 new infections, according to the figures released by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

This is the highest 24-hour increase since May 17, when India reported 281,386 cases. 

India has recorded more than 200,000 cases for seven consecutive days.

On Tuesday, India’s health ministry requested state officials to ramp up testing in a strategic manner, keeping in mind rising case positivity rates in specific areas. 

The steady rise in cases comes despite recently revised testing guidelines issued by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR).

The changes mean only contacts of Covid-19 patients identified as high-risk should get tested. Both symptomatic and asymptomatic individuals, patients who have completed home isolation or have been discharged from a Covid-19 facility and those traveling domestically no longer need to be tested.

8:54 a.m. ET, January 19, 2022

Virginia parents sue Gov. Youngkin over executive order ending mask mandates in public schools

From CNN's Tierney Sneed

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin signs executive orders in Richmond, Virginia, after being sworn in as governor on January 15.
Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin signs executive orders in Richmond, Virginia, after being sworn in as governor on January 15. (Steve Helber/AP)

A group of parents of public school students in Chesapeake, Virginia, filed a lawsuit Tuesday asking Virginia's Supreme Court to block a new executive order issued by Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin that makes masks voluntary for children in the state's public schools.

The lawsuit, obtained by CNN affiliate WTKR, points to guidance from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as to a law passed by Virginia's General Assembly last year directing local school boards to adopt in-person schooling policies that reduce the spread of Covid-19 based on CDC recommendations.

The lawsuit alleges that the order, which Youngkin issued Saturday, is in "direct conflict" with that statute and therefore runs afoul of a separation of powers provision of Virginia's Constitution. The lawsuit also names as defendants the acting state health commissioner, the acting superintendent for Virginia's public schools and local school officials in Chesapeake.

Asked for comment on the lawsuit, Youngkin spokesperson Macaulay Porter said, "We will continue to protect parents' fundamental right to make decisions with regard to their child's upbringing, education and care."

The CDC recommends "universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of their vaccination status or the area's transmission rates," adding that "the benefits of mask-wearing are well-established."

Read the full story here.

-Dan Merica and Eva McKend contributed to this report.

1:22 a.m. ET, January 20, 2022

WHO won't be sending international aid teams into Tonga to avoid risk of bringing in Covid-19 

From CNN's Teele Rebane

The World Health Organization will not send international aid teams into Tonga due to the risk of bringing Covid-19 into the community, WHO Pacific Covid-19 Incident Manager Sean Casey told CNN on Wednesday. 

Casey, who is based in Fiji, told CNN that the runway of Tonga's main international airport has been cleared of volcanic ash after a massive underwater volcanic eruption near the island nation on Saturday, according to his counterpart in Tonga, Dr. Yutaro Setoya. 

Tonga is one of the few Covid-free countries in the world. It reported its first case — the only one of the pandemic, according to WHO and Johns Hopkins University data — in October 2021, spurring a lockdown.

"Some of the last countries in the world that don't have Covid are in the Pacific, and they've used the time that they've had Covid-free to vaccinate their population and to prepare their health systems," said Casey, adding that currently all incoming travelers, including aid workers, are required to quarantine for three weeks. 
"We have lots of natural disasters in this part of the world, and you don't want to have to deal with multiple emergencies at the same time if that can be avoided," he added.

According to WHO assessments, supplies needed most include telecommunication tools such as satellite phones, water sanitation equipment and materials to repair and build shelters.

According to Casey, the communication challenges in Tonga are some of the worst he's seen. Internet remains down and cell service on islands outside of the capital of Tongatapu remain severely disrupted, he said. 

"Everybody in Tonga, every family in town, is affected by this. That's always the case in the Pacific. The numbers look very small, but the impact proportionately on a very small country is massive," Casey said.

Tonga’s government has not requested aid from WHO, according to the UN health agency.

Update: This post has been updated with additional information from WHO. 

8:49 a.m. ET, January 19, 2022

Many Brazilian parents want their kids vaccinated against Covid. Bolsonaro has tried to stop it

From CNN's Camilo Rocha and Rodrigo Pedroso

A child receives a Covid-19 vaccine dose in Volta Redonda, Brazil, on Monday.
A child receives a Covid-19 vaccine dose in Volta Redonda, Brazil, on Monday. (Ernesto Carriço/NurPhoto/Shutterstock)

Last June, as Covid-19 cases were surging across Brazil, Camila Basto waited at a São Paulo hospital to find out what was wrong with her 9-year-old daughter, Manuela.

Manuela had a fever that reached 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit), spots all over her skin and a lump growing out of her neck. Her kidneys didn't function for nearly two days. "Her heart almost stopped," Basto said.

After three days, Manuela was diagnosed with multisystem inflammatory syndrome, a rare condition that affects children who have been infected by Covid-19.

Manuela recovered from Covid, but its side effects have left a lasting impression on her heart: She now has arrhythmia, an irregular heartbeat.

"It is so horrible. She was a healthy child, with no underlying conditions," Basto said.

Manuela survived Covid. But hundreds of other children in Brazil haven't.

Between March 2020 and November 2021, 308 children aged between 5 and 11 years old have died from Covid-19, according to data from the Ministry of Health.

Now, as a nationwide Covid-19 vaccination campaign for children aged 5-11 is underway, it's providing relief to many Brazilian parents like Basto, who says that it will give her "peace of mind."

But the vaccine couldn't come fast enough for some parents, who have been waiting nearly a month to take their kids to get the shot.

The reason? Mainly Brazil's own President Jair Bolsonaro.

Bolsonaro, who says he is unvaccinated, has been widely criticized at home and abroad for playing down the severity of the virus, including discouraging others to get vaccinated, despite Brazil battling one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in the world.

The president's opposition to child vaccination is the latest installment in this crusade.

On Dec. 16, 2021, Brazil's regulatory agency Anvisa greenlit the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for children. That same day, Bolsonaro called the decision "unbelievable" and threatened to release the names of Anvisa staff involved in the decision.

And just days before the rollout got underway, Bolsonaro falsely claimed in an interview to TV Nova Nordeste that no children have died of Covid, before later saying in the same interview that "some children must have died, but they must have some comorbidity."

Perhaps those words come as no surprise: Last June, while speaking at an event, an unmasked Bolsonaro asked a child to remove her mask and also took off another child's mask.

Bolsonaro has also said that he will not vaccinate his 11-year-old daughter, saying that "children have not been dying in a way that justifies a vaccine."

However, "these vaccines offer really good protection, with even greater protection to children than to adults, and with excellent safety," pediatrician and infectious disease expert Dr. Marcelo Otsuka told CNN.

"All studies suggest that vaccines are safe and have very good efficiency for the 5-11 age group," he said.

But Bolsonaro and his administration are largely undeterred by scientific evidence, with their rhetoric instead delaying the rollout.

Bolsonaro's anti-vaccine rhetoric is not necessarily aimed to stop Brazilian kids from getting the shot, but rather part of his longstanding campaign to recruit and play up to his far-right base ahead of the October 2022 elections, according to Esther Solano, professor of international relations at São Paulo University.

"Bolsonaro is mobilizing his radical supporters in thinking about the next elections," Solano said.

Read the full story here.

8:45 a.m. ET, January 19, 2022

French education minister criticized for announcing stringent Covid-19 measures from Ibiza

From CNN's Joseph Ataman

French Education, Youth and Sports Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer speaks at the National Assembly in Paris on January 18.
French Education, Youth and Sports Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer speaks at the National Assembly in Paris on January 18. (Jacques Witt/Sipa via AP Images)

France's education minister has come under fire after confirming reports that he announced stringent new Covid-19 measures for schools while on vacation on the Spanish party island Ibiza.

"I regret the symbolism" of Ibiza, Jean-Michel Blanquer told lawmakers on Tuesday.

Speaking before the National Assembly, Blanquer said that his presence in Ibiza did not affect his decision about schools' Covid-19 protocols or his ability to perform his functions as minister of education. Blanquer did not break French travel restrictions by holidaying in Spain.

Blanquer announced the measures in a telephone interview with French newspaper Le Parisien published on Jan. 2, the magazine's editor said on Twitter, although reporters did not know he was in Spain at the time.

The measures include increased testing for school-age children following a classmate testing positive to avoid closing classes.

France reported a record high of 464,769 new Covid-19 cases in a day on Tuesday, surpassing its previous daily record registered last week by nearly 100,000 cases, according to French health ministry data. There were 375 more fatalities, bringing the country's death toll to 128,629, according to Johns Hopkins University.

7:06 a.m. ET, January 19, 2022

Here's what you should know about the website for Americans to order free at-home Covid-19 tests

From CNN's Kaitlan Collins, Maegan Vazquez and Tami Luhby

The US federal government quietly launched its website to sign up for free Covid-19 tests, allowing people to order a maximum of four tests shipped directly to their household.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki confirmed Tuesday that the government website to order free Covid-19 tests is up and running as part of a "beta phase" ahead of the government website's formal rollout Wednesday morning.

" is in the beta phase right now, which is a standard part of the process typically as it's being kind of tested in the early stages of being rolled out," Psaki told reporters at the White House. "It will officially launch tomorrow morning."

Given the formal launch wasn't expected until Wednesday, a White House official said this is only the beta phase to ensure the site works seamlessly.

"In alignment with website launch best practices, is currently in its beta phase, which means that the website is operating at limited capacity ahead of its official launch," a White House official told CNN. "This is standard practice to address troubleshooting and ensure as smooth of an official launch tomorrow as possible. We expect the website to officially launch mid-morning tomorrow."

Though the official said the site was only operating at a limited capacity, it's unclear how the initial phase of the site is limited. Once shipping information was entered online, the site instructed people that tests would begin shipping in "late January" and the United States Postal Service, which is handling the deliveries, "will only send one set of 4 free at-home COVID-19 tests to valid residential addresses."

Late last week, administration officials said that once a request is made through the website, the tests are expected to ship within seven to 12 days. Requests are limited to four tests per household, regardless of household size.

In addition to the website, the federal government is setting up a hotline to request the tests. It's not clear when the hotline will launch.

Have you tried to get a free home test from the federal site? Did it work smoothly or was there an issue? Tell us about it here.