The latest on the coronavirus pandemic and the Omicron variant

By Aditi Sangal, Adrienne Vogt, Melissa Macaya, Meg Wagner and Mike Hayes, CNN

Updated 0116 GMT (0916 HKT) January 26, 2022
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8:14 a.m. ET, January 25, 2022

Covid-19 outbreak on Australian ship complicates Tonga relief effort

From CNN's Angus Watson

Members of the Australian Defence Force board the HMAS Adelaide at the Port of Brisbane in Australia as they prepare to depart for an aid mission in Tonga on January 20.
Members of the Australian Defence Force board the HMAS Adelaide at the Port of Brisbane in Australia as they prepare to depart for an aid mission in Tonga on January 20. (CPL Robert Whitmore/Australian Defence Force via Getty Images)

A Covid-19 outbreak aboard an Australian navy ship on its way to Tonga has complicated getting crucial aid to the disaster-struck Pacific island, according to Australia's Defense Minister Peter Dutton.

Speaking to CNN affiliate Sky News Australia Tuesday, Dutton said 23 cases of Covid-19 have been detected on the HMAS Adelaide since it left Brisbane on Jan. 21. There are over 600 people aboard the ship.

The Australian ship was due to arrive in Tonga this week following the massive volcanic eruption on Jan. 15, which left much of the country covered in volcanic ash and triggered tsunami waves that flooded islands. 

All aid coming into the country so far has been contactless to prevent the risk of Covid-19 spreading in the nation — which has only seen a single case since the start of the pandemic. 

“We’ll work with the Tongan authorities to keep that vessel at sea to make sure that there is no threat,” Dutton said. “Obviously, they need the aid desperately but they don't want the risk of Covid, so we'll work through all of that as quickly as we can."

"There can be contactless delivery of much of this equipment as well, so it might mean HMAS Adelaide is able to dock and provide the support and then we move on from there," Dutton said. 

The ship is transporting a 40-bed field hospital, four helicopters, small boats and other vehicles, in addition to water desalination equipment, communications gear and temporary shelters. 

Australia has already sent some humanitarian supplies that arrived last week in Tonga on air force planes. 

8:16 a.m. ET, January 25, 2022

UK PM will cooperate with police investigation into parties held in his office during Covid-19 lockdown

From CNN’s Luke McGee in London

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street in London on January 19.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street in London on January 19. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will cooperate with the police investigation into parties held at Downing Street while Covid-19 restrictions were in place.

"Anyone asked to will cooperate fully, as you would expect,” the Johnson’s official spokesman told journalists on Tuesday, adding that prime minister does not think he broke the law. “I need to be cautious about what I say, but I think that's fair to say that he does not.”

The spokesman went on to say Johnson believes it is right for police to investigate the parties that took place at Downing Street. 

“The PM fully acknowledges the public's anger and concern about what has been reported, he has taken responsibility for his judgments made and it is right the Met should be now given the time and space to undertake their investigations,” the spokesman said. “It will provide the public with welcome clarity and help draw a line under these events and everyone required will fully co-operate in any way they are asked.”
8:03 a.m. ET, January 25, 2022

All monoclonal antibody treatment sites in Florida closed until further notice due to FDA decision

From CNN’s Chris Boyette 

Florida is closing its monoclonal antibody treatment sites, health officials announced late Monday, citing the US Food and Drug Administration's decision to limit the use of certain versions of the treatments that were found less effective against the now-dominant Omicron variant of coronavirus.

"Unfortunately, as a result of this abrupt decision made by the federal government, all monoclonal antibody state sites will be closed until further notice," the Florida Department of Health said in a statement.

More than 2,000 appointments for the treatment were canceled in the state on Tuesday alone, according to a statement from Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Earlier Monday, the FDA said it was revising the authorizations for monoclonal antibody treatments made by Eli Lilly (bamlanivimab and etesevimab, administered together) and Regeneron (REGEN-COV, or casirivimab and imdevimab), because data showed they are "highly unlikely to be active against the omicron variant."

Omicron accounted for more than 99% of Covid-19 cases in the US as of Jan. 15, the FDA said, noting restricting the authorization for treatments that aren't effective against the variant "avoids exposing patients to side effects ... which can be potentially serious."

Read more here:

7:52 a.m. ET, January 25, 2022

15 new Covid-19 cases reported connected to Beijing Olympics 

From CNN's Beijing Bureau 

Fifteen new Covid-19 cases have been confirmed among personnel related to the Beijing Winter Olympics, according to a statement issued Tuesday from the Beijing Olympics Committee.

Of the cases, 12 were recent arrivals who tested positive at Chinese customs and three were already inside the closed-loop system. The cases found inside the system were in one athlete or official and two Olympics-related personnel, the statement added. It was not specified if these cases were recent arrivals.

Since Jan. 4, a total of 38 people have tested positive inside the closed loop, according to the Olympics committee.

So far, 347 international athletes and officials and 3,014 Olympics-related personnel have arrived in Beijing, according to the official My 2022 app for accredited staff. Health authorities have conducted 41,810 tests on those inside the closed loop, including Chinese and foreign personnel, according to the committee. 

On Saturday, Dr. Brian McCloskey, chairman of the Beijing 2022 medical expert panel, said the numbers seen inside the closed loop so far are "relatively small" and were expected in line with or lower than the Tokyo Olympics. 

“We have never set a target of zero cases inside the closed loop, the target is zero spread inside the closed loop,” McCloskey said.  

Separately, the city of Beijing reported six new Covid-19 cases on Monday, including five symptomatic and one asymptomatic case, health authorities announced Tuesday. The total number of cases reported in the city has reached 52 since Jan. 15.

7:37 a.m. ET, January 25, 2022

France will reach Omicron peak “in a few days,” health minister says

From CNN’s Joseph Ataman in Paris

France will reach the peak of its Omicron variant wave in the coming days, French Health Minister Olivier Véran said Tuesday.  

"Nationally, we will reach the Omicron peak or high plateau in a few days,” he told broadcaster LCI, adding that some regions had already passed the peak.

However, the worst of Omicron is still plaguing some regions, he said.

“We still have a very active wave, with around 300,000 cases daily in our country, which is carried by two age groups, the under-15s and the 30-40s,” he added. “In some regions, this variant continues to increase quite strongly. In other regions, notably the Île-de-France, where the peak has passed and we are witnessing a decline."

The health minister said that France was dealing with two peaks, those of the Delta and Omicron variants. He added France had passed the Delta peak already, saying, “we’re crushing the Delta variant."

7:40 a.m. ET, January 25, 2022

New York judge strikes down state mask mandate 

From CNN’s Artemis Moshtaghian

A New York Supreme Court judge struck down the state’s mask mandate Monday, ruling that the governor and New York State Department of Health did not have the authority to enact such a mandate without the sign-off from the state legislature. 

In an opinion released Monday, Nassau County Supreme Court Judge Thomas Rademaker argued that because New York was no longer under a state of emergency at the time the mask mandate was announced, the governor and health commissioner did not have the additional authority to order such a mandate, adding the mandate is now unenforceable.

In March 2021, New York’s state legislature passed a bill limiting the governor’s ability to issues emergency orders. New York State Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett issued a regulation on Nov. 24 requiring New Yorkers to wear face coverings for Covid-19 prevention.

“While the intentions of Commissioner Bassett and Governor Hochul appear to be well aimed squarely at doing what they believe is right to protect the citizens of New York State, they must take their case to the State Legislature,” Rademaker wrote in his ruling.
“Should the State Legislature, representative of and voted into office by the citizens of New York, after publicly informed debate, decide to enact laws requiring face coverings in schools and other public places then the Commissioner would likely be well grounded in properly promulgated and enacted rules to supplement such laws.” 

Gov. Kathy Hochul said she was working to reverse the decision immediately. 

"My responsibility as Governor is to protect New Yorkers throughout this public health crisis, and these measures help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and save lives,” Hochul said in a statement Monday. “We strongly disagree with this ruling, and we are pursuing every option to reverse this immediately.” 

Rademaker said his decision was only about whether the mandate was properly enacted. 

"To be clear, this Court does not intend this decision in any way to question or otherwise opine on the efficacy, need, or requirement of masks as a means or tool in dealing with the COVID-19 virus,” Rademaker wrote. “This Court decides only the issues of whether the subject rule was properly enacted and if so whether same can be enforced.” 

Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman, who took office earlier this month, signed an executive order the week he took office allowing school boards to determine if school children should be required wear masks.

“This is a major win for students & parents,” Blakeman said in a tweet responding to the ruling Monday evening. 

CNN has reached out to the New York State Education Department for comment but has not heard back yet. 

7:07 a.m. ET, January 25, 2022

JUST IN: Pfizer and BioNTech begin clinical trial for Omicron-specific vaccine

From CNN's Amanda Sealy

Pfizer and BioNTech have begun a clinical trial for their Omicron-specific Covid-19 vaccine candidate, they announced in a news release on Tuesday.

The study will evaluate the vaccine for safety, tolerability and the level of immune response, as both a primary series and a booster dose, in up to 1,420 healthy adults ages 18 to 55.

The study is broken up into three groups:

  • Participants in the first cohort have received two doses of the current Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine at least 90 to 180 days before the study. They will receive one or two doses of the Omicron-specific vaccine.
  • Participants in the second cohort have received three doses of the current Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine at least 90 to 180 days prior to the study. They will receive one dose of the current Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine or the Omicron-specific vaccine.
  • Participants in the third cohort have not received any Covid-19 vaccine. They will receive three doses of the Omicron-specific vaccine.

The Omicron-specific vaccine will be administered as a 30-microgram dose, the same as the current vaccine.

"In the wake of Omicron, we are proactively investigating and manufacturing at risk an Omicron-based vaccine should it be needed, but we of course need to have results and discussions with health authorities as well as approvals before it would be deployed," a spokesperson told CNN.

Read the full story here.

8:12 a.m. ET, January 25, 2022

Police is investigating gatherings attended by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson during Covid lockdowns

From CNN's Sharon Braithwaite, Tara John and Luke McGee 

London's Metropolitan Police say they are investigating a "number of events" at Downing Street and Whitehall over the pandemic amid claims of Covid rule-breaking at the heart of the UK government.

Officers were looking into potential offenses after being given information by the team investigating a number of alleged parties, Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick said Tuesday.

"As a result firstly of information provided by the Cabinet Office inquiry team and secondly my officers' own assessment, I can confirm that the Met is now investigating a number of events that took place at Downing Street and Whitehall in the last two years in relation to potential breaches of Covid-19 regulations," she told the London Assembly's Police and Crime Committee.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been under immense pressure over alleged summer garden parties and Christmas gatherings held in Downing Street when the rest of the country was under strict Covid restrictions.

The latest revelation came to light Monday when a Downing Street spokesperson said Johnson celebrated his birthday with a gathering at his official residence in June 2020 while the UK was in its first Covid-19 lockdown.

Under Covid-19 restrictions at the time, indoor gatherings were not allowed, with people permitted only to meet outside in groups of up to six people.

Dick's announcement of an investigation is the latest twist in the weeks-long scandal, which has seen Johnson's approval ratings plunge and growing discontent among some in his ruling Conservative Party, who believe the Prime Minister is becoming a liability.

Read the full story here:

8:22 a.m. ET, January 25, 2022

India imposes Covid-19 guidelines for Republic Day parade amid recent surge 

From CNN's Esha Mitra and Manveena Suri in New Delhi

nia has announced a number of Covid-19 restrictions for its annual Republic Day parade to be held in Delhi on Wednesday after days of reporting Covid-19 cases in excess of 300,000. 

Only those fully vaccinated will be allowed to attend the parade, which celebrates the day that the Indian constitution came into effect. Children under the age of 15 or unvaccinated people will not be allowed to attend, Delhi police announced late Sunday.

Last week, defense ministry officials said that only 5,000 to 8,000 people will be allowed to attend the parade, a fraction of the 25,000 people that were allowed to attend last year, according to Press Trust of India, a news agency cooperatively owned by multiple Indian newspapers.

On Tuesday, India reported 255,874 new Covid-19 cases, a decline after five consecutive days reporting more the 300,000 cases, according to figures from Johns Hopkins University and the Indian health ministry.