The Omicron variant is now dominant in the US

By Jack Guy, Melissa Mahtani, Melissa Macaya, Meg Wagner and Aditi Sangal

Updated 7:20 a.m. ET, December 21, 2021
18 Posts
Sort byDropdown arrow
8:14 a.m. ET, December 20, 2021

South Africa is "over the curve," says chair of national medical association

From CNN’s Naomi Thomas and Aditi Sangal

A technician uses a multi-channel pipette dropper to dispense material during Covid-19 antibody neutralization testing in a laboratory at the African Health Research Institute (AHRI) in Durban, South Africa, on Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2021. South Africas hospital admission rate as a percentage of new Covid-19 cases identified dropped sharply in the second week of the current infection wave driven by the omicron variant, compared with the same week of the third wave.
A technician uses a multi-channel pipette dropper to dispense material during Covid-19 antibody neutralization testing in a laboratory at the African Health Research Institute (AHRI) in Durban, South Africa, on Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2021. South Africas hospital admission rate as a percentage of new Covid-19 cases identified dropped sharply in the second week of the current infection wave driven by the omicron variant, compared with the same week of the third wave. (Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

Covid-19 case numbers in South Africa have started to decline, said Dr. Angelique Coetzee, national chair of the South African Medical Association, on Monday.

“What we currently see is our cases, sort of, we’re over the curve – it’s sort of coming down. You know, in Gauteng, which was the epicenter, the numbers are much lower,” Coetzee told CNN.

While she did note that Covid-19 is still spreading in other areas of the country because of the holidays, "in total, if you look at our numbers, it’s going down."

The positivity rate is still high at around 30%, she added.

"The reason is that people go and test. There's a lot of testing done. Incidentally, since the 9th of December, it seems there are more people going for tests than going to get their vaccines. It's very interesting to look at the behavior of people," she told CNN.

The Omicron variant has not caused the death rate to spike and the cases are "much, much" less severe than Delta cases, and the Coetzee said.

Watch:

8:58 a.m. ET, December 20, 2021

UK Prime Minister to chair Cabinet meeting over Covid-19 measures 

From CNN’s Sarah Dean

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson walks outside a back entrance to 10 Downing Street, in London, Britain, December 20, 2021.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson walks outside a back entrance to 10 Downing Street, in London, Britain, December 20, 2021. (Hannah McKay/Reuters)

The UK government will hold a Cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Boris Johnson at 2 p.m. local time (9 a.m. ET) to provide an update on the latest Covid-19 situation, his office said Monday.

The meeting comes amid speculation that further restrictions or a lockdown is being considered over the Christmas period due to a surge in cases, and warnings from government scientists that hospitalizations could reach 3,000 per day in England.

"At this point, we're still monitoring the data and keeping a very close eye on it," the PM’s official spokesman said Monday, according to the PA Media news agency. "We'd update if any further decisions are taken."

8:02 a.m. ET, December 20, 2021

Tennis star Rafael Nadal tests positive for Covid-19 following comeback from injury

From CNN’s Aleks Klosok

Spain's Rafael Nadal returns the ball to Canada's Denis Shapovalov (unseen) during the third-place play-off match of the Mubadala World Tennis Championship in the Gulf emirate of Abu Dhabi on December 18, 2021.
Spain's Rafael Nadal returns the ball to Canada's Denis Shapovalov (unseen) during the third-place play-off match of the Mubadala World Tennis Championship in the Gulf emirate of Abu Dhabi on December 18, 2021. (Giuseppe Cacace/AFP/Getty Images)

Rafael Nadal has tested positive for Covid-19 after arriving back in Spain from Abu Dhabi, he announced on Monday.

Spain's 20-time tennis Grand Slam champion made his comeback from injury in the Mubadala World Tennis Championship exhibition event in Abu Dhabi last week. 

It was Nadal’s first tournament appearance since the Citi Open in Washington in August.

In a Twitter thread, the 35-year-old said he had tested positive for the virus following a PCR test taken on arrival back in Spain, but did not confirm the specific variant of Covid-19 he had contracted.

Nadal added that he had tested negative at all times when he was in Kuwait and Abu Dhabi and had last tested negative on Friday.

“I am experiencing some unpleasant moments but I hope that I will improve little by little. I am now confined at home and have informed those people who have been in contact with me of the result,” he wrote.

"As a result of the situation I have to have complete flexibility with my calendar and will be analysing my options depending on my progress. I will keep you informed of any decision about my future tournaments," Nadal added.

7:41 a.m. ET, December 20, 2021

How to celebrate Christmas safely with your family amid the latest Covid-19 surge

From CNN's Aditi Sangal

With Covid-19 cases spiking around the world right before Christmas, many are trying to decide if they should still go ahead with their plans to gather and celebrate with family.

Dr. Leana Wen, CNN medical analyst and former Baltimore City health commissioner, recommends some safety precautions for those who want to keep their Christmas plans.

Quarantine for at least three days before your visit.

If a person is vaccinated, "ideally they leave three days in between, essentially they quarantine in that period, and get tested again" before visiting an older and/or immunocompromised person.

"We know that breakthrough infections are happening. It doesn't mean the vaccines don't work. It means there is so much virus around us, even vaccinated people are getting the spillover effect," Wen said Monday.

Get tested.

"If somebody who is vaccinated visits unvaccinated family members, ideally everybody should get tested on the day of the visit," she explained.

Observe the "two out of three" rule.

For people who are gathering indoors over the holidays, Dr. Wen recommends that you have two out of the three things — vaccination, testing or masking.

If everyone is fully vaccinated and boosted, "ideally, everybody also gets tested that same day with a rapid test," she said. "If nobody is vaccinated or there's some people there who are unvaccinated, if you are getting together, you should be masked and you should be tested. Basically, you should have two out of three things — vaccination, testing or masking — at this point with that much virus around us."

"The closer your test is to when you're gathering with people the better," she added.

Watch:

7:37 a.m. ET, December 20, 2021

World Economic Forum in Davos deferred due to Omicron outbreak

From CNN's Chris Liakos

A general view taken on January 25, 2018 shows the town of Davos, eastern Switzerland, the venue of the annual World Economic Forum (WEF).
A general view taken on January 25, 2018 shows the town of Davos, eastern Switzerland, the venue of the annual World Economic Forum (WEF). (Miguel Medina/AFP/Getty Images)

The annual World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, due to take place in January, has been deferred due to “continued uncertainty” over the Omicron outbreak.

“Current pandemic conditions make it extremely difficult to deliver a global in-person meeting," said WEF in a statement.

"Preparations have been guided by expert advice and have benefited from the close collaboration of the Swiss government at all levels. Despite the meeting’s stringent health protocols, the transmissibility of Omicron and its impact on travel and mobility have made deferral necessary.”

WEF plans to reschedule the event for summer 2022, with some digital events to be held in January.

It will be the second year in a row that an in-person event has not taken place. Davos was canceled in 2021 and moved online due to the Covid-19 outbreak.

7:03 a.m. ET, December 20, 2021

Israel’s daily caseload tops 1,000 for first time in two months as R rate jumps

From CNN's Elliott Gotkine in Jerusalem 

Passengers pass through a security check in the departures hall at Ben Gurion International airport in Tel Aviv, Israel, on Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021. Israel is focused on rolling out vaccine booster shots and the country will need a few weeks to reconsider lifting a travel ban on incoming foreigners, the chairman of the country's Covid-19 advisory team said.
Passengers pass through a security check in the departures hall at Ben Gurion International airport in Tel Aviv, Israel, on Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021. Israel is focused on rolling out vaccine booster shots and the country will need a few weeks to reconsider lifting a travel ban on incoming foreigners, the chairman of the country's Covid-19 advisory team said. (Kobi Wolf/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

Israel's daily Covid caseload has risen above 1,000 for the first time in two months as the country’s fifth wave of Covid-19 infections begins to take hold.

There were 1,004 new infections recorded on Sunday, according to the Health Ministry, and the country’s R number -- the number of people infected by each Covid sufferer -- jumped to 1.22, its highest level since August. 

Earlier in the day, the office of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said government ministers had approved adding the US, Canada and eight other countries to its “red” no-fly list. Israelis will be banned from flying to these countries from Wednesday unless they have special permission. 

Travelers returning from countries on the list will have to self-isolate for 7 days.

At first, they will have to stay in a designated “quarantine hotel,” before being allowed to return home as long as they return a negative PCR test result and agree to have their movements tracked. 

Israel has been steadily adding countries to its red list, including the UK and Italy. Many African countries are also on it. Most of Israel’s 175 confirmed cases, and 380 suspected ones, recently returned from overseas. 

On Sunday evening, Bennett held a televised news conference imploring Israelis to take the new wave seriously, and encouraging those employed in the private sector to work from home. Public sector workers are expected to follow suit next week. 

He also sought to reinvigorate Israel’s stalling vaccination campaign, especially among children, where takeup has been especially weak. 

“The time we bought is running out,” said Bennett, but “with God’s help we will safely overcome this wave."

6:49 a.m. ET, December 20, 2021

Moderna says preliminary data suggests a larger dose of booster increases antibody levels against Omicron

From CNN Health's Jacqueline Howard

Biotechnology company Moderna announced Monday that preliminary data suggests its half-dose booster shot increased antibody levels against Omicron compared with the levels seen when a fully vaccinated person does not receive a booster -- but a larger-sized dose of the booster increases antibody levels even more.

Currently, Moderna's booster is administered as a 50-microgram dose, which the company said increased antibody levels 37-fold, but a 100-microgram booster dose increased antibody levels 83-fold compared with levels seen before a booster.

It remains unclear what these increases mean as far as how well the booster doses clinically work against Omicron.

"The dramatic increase in COVID-19 cases from the Omicron variant is concerning to all. However, these data showing that the currently authorized Moderna COVID-19 booster can boost neutralizing antibody levels 37-fold higher than pre-boost levels are reassuring," Stéphane Bancel, Moderna chief executive officer, said in the company announcement.

"To respond to this highly transmissible variant, Moderna will continue to rapidly advance an Omicron-specific booster candidate into clinical testing in case it becomes necessary in the future. We will also continue to generate and share data across our booster strategies with public health authorities to help them make evidence-based decisions on the best vaccination strategies against SARS-CoV-2."

SARS-CoV-2 is the name of the coronavirus that causes Covid-19.

Separately, Moderna and other vaccine makers have said that they are working on variant-specific boosters as well. 

6:34 a.m. ET, December 20, 2021

Stricter measures to contain Omicron variant come into force across Europe

From CNN’s Hannah Ritchie

The Covid Certificate Check vaccination checking app on an Apple Inc. iPhone arranged in Bern, Switzerland, on Thursday, Sept. 16, 2021.
The Covid Certificate Check vaccination checking app on an Apple Inc. iPhone arranged in Bern, Switzerland, on Thursday, Sept. 16, 2021. (Stefan Wermuth/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

Stricter Covid-19 measures have come into effect across Europe, as several nations rush to curb the spread of the Omicron variant.

Here's a look at some of them:

  • In Switzerland, only those with vaccine passports or proof of recovery will be permitted inside restaurants and indoor event spaces starting Monday, and masks must be worn at all times unless consuming food or drink. 

  • Sweden will tighten its border restrictions from Tuesday, requiring all visitors from Nordic nations to show a vaccine passport to cross into the country. Previously, Nordic countries were exempt from Sweden’s border rules, which include an entry ban on all non-essential travelers from outside the EU, and proof of vaccination from all other arrivals.  

  • As of midnight Sunday, Germany became the latest in a string of nations to limit the arrival of British travelers, adding the United Kingdom to its list of areas with "variants of concern.” As of Monday, only German citizens and residents can enter the country from the UK. 

  • On Friday, Denmark announced the closure of cinemas, theatres, and museums, while also prohibiting the sale of alcohol after 10 p.m. and asking hospitality venues to shut earlier. Those restrictions are now in effect.

 

6:14 a.m. ET, December 20, 2021

Unvaccinated people face 20 times greater risk of dying from Covid-19 than those who have been boosted, according to US data

From CNN Health’s Deidre McPhillips

Unvaccinated people face a 10 times greater risk of testing positive and 20 times greater risk of dying from Covid-19 than fully vaccinated people who have also received a booster, according to data published recently by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

The CDC data -- which assesses data through October -- suggests the gap in risk between unvaccinated people and those with a booster is even larger than it is between unvaccinated people and those who are fully vaccinated with their initial series.

Unvaccinated people face a five times greater risk of testing positive for Covid-19 and 14 times greater risk of dying from Covid-19 than fully vaccinated people do, according to the CDC data.