South Korea reports new record number of Covid patients in critical condition
From CNN’s Gawon Bae in Seoul, South Korea
South Korea has reported a new record of seriously ill Covid-19 patients, according to Korea Disease Control Agency (KDCA) data from Tuesday.
As of 12 a.m. local time Wednesday, 1,063 Covid-19 patients are in critical condition, with 84% of them age 60 and above, KDCA said.
Health Minister Kwon Deok-chul said the government will add 6,944 hospital beds for Covid-19 patients in moderate and critical condition by the end of January 2022.
Other measures to ease the burden on the country's struggling health facilities, according to Kwon, include:
National university hospitals are already providing 308 hospital beds for critically ill Covid-19 patients.
Some public hospitals will convert to solely treat Covid-19 patients by January.
Space in hospitals for Covid-19 patients in need of special treatment, such as dialysis, pregnancy and mental health will also be added.
More public medical workers, including military doctors, will be allocated to treating Covid-19 patients and the government will prepare the national health system to be able to handle 10,000 patients a day, with a worst-case scenario in mind.
The announcement is in line with President Moon Jae-in’s orders Monday to expand medical response capability by securing more hospital beds and medical workers.
South Korea reported 7,456 new Covid-19 cases from Tuesday, increasing the country’s total to 583,065, according to KDCA. The death toll rose to 4,906 after 78 fatalities were added from Tuesday.
10:25 p.m. ET, December 21, 2021
Chinese city advises 13 million residents to stay at home after finding more than 50 new cases
From CNN's Beijing Bureau
China reported 57 locally-transmitted Covid-19 cases across five cities on Tuesday as the country continues to try and stifle coronavirus outbreaks under its zero-Covid policy.
Most of the cases — 52 — were recorded in the historic city of Xi'an in northwestern Shaanxi province, the National Health Commission said.
That brings the Xi'an cluster to 143 infections since the outbreak began on December 9, when a quarantine hotel staffer tested positive, according to the municipal government.
Xi’an on Wednesday closed all cross-city bus stations and more than 1,300 public facilities, and advised nearly 13 million residents not to leave their homes unless necessary.
Overall, 53 cases were reported in Shaanxi province, two in southern Guangdong province, one in the northern city of Tianjin, and one in the southern Guangxi autonomous region.
While China's caseload pales in comparison with that of many countries, the unceasing flareups underscore the growing challenge Beijing faces to keep infections at zero.
One case sparks mass restrictions: Guangxi’s border city of Dongxing, which neighbors Vietnam, reported one case on Tuesday, the local government said — without saying whether the case was linked to travel.
On Wednesday, the city announced compulsory home quarantine for its 300,000 residents except for those going out to participate in a city-wide mass testing drive.
Schools, transport and public facilities were closed, except for essential service providers such as supermarkets, fresh markets, hospitals and pharmacies, the local government said.
10:08 p.m. ET, December 21, 2021
Australia's New South Wales reports record new Covid-19 cases for second straight day
From CNN’s Sophie Jeong
Australia’s most populous state reported a record 3,763 new Covid-19 cases on Wednesday, a day after surpassing 3,000 daily infections for the first time.
New South Wales also reported two Covid-related deaths: a woman in her 80s who had received two doses of a Covid-19 vaccine and had underlying health conditions, and a woman in her 70s who was not vaccinated and had underlying health conditions.
According to NSW Health, there are currently 302 Covid-19 patients in hospital, with 40 people in intensive care, 12 of whom require ventilation.
The total number of cases in the state since the beginning of the pandemic is 106,621, NSW Health said.
As of 11:59 p.m. local time on Monday, 94.9% of people age 16 and older in NSW have received their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine; 93.4% have taken two shots.
8:52 p.m. ET, December 21, 2021
Surround unvaccinated kids with "cocoon" of vaccinated people, says CDC director
From CNN Health's Amanda Sealy
Everyone will need to assess their own personal risk when it comes to holiday activities, but surrounding unvaccinated children with vaccinated people is the best way to keep them safe, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Tuesday.
“As for the children who are under 5, really the best way to keep them protected is to surround them, cocoon them with people who are vaccinated and if eligible, who are boosted,” she told CNN.
Walensky echoed other public health experts by promoting vaccines, boosters, and masks as tools we have right now to protect ourselves.
8:25 p.m. ET, December 21, 2021
Walgreens and CVS limit at-home Covid-19 test purchases as demand surges
From CNN's Melissa Alonso
Major US pharmacy chains will limit the number of at-home Covid-19 tests customers can buy as demand for the products surges.
CVS Health on Tuesday said it will limit test kits to six per purchase "to ensure equitable access to tests both in store and digitally," according to a company statement.
"Due to a recent surge in demand, and to retain community-based access to tests in our stores, there may be temporary out-of-stocks for these products on CVS.com," it said.
“Due to the incredible demand for at-home rapid testing, we put in effect a four item purchase limit on at-home Covid-19 testing products in our stores and digital properties in an effort to help improve inventory while we continue to work diligently," said the tweet.
Walgreens has recently "seen an increase in demand for rapid OTC Covid-19 tests and are working with our suppliers to ensure customers have access to self-test kits through the holidays," a company news release said.
8:39 p.m. ET, December 21, 2021
California will require all health care workers to get a Covid-19 booster shot
From CNN's Sarah Moon
California will require all health care workers to receive a Covid-19 booster shot, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office announced in a tweet.
“Omicron is spreading rapidly and we must do all we can to keep staff at hospitals and medical facilities healthy and safe to protect Californians during a potential winter surge,” the governor’s office said.
More details are expected tomorrow, according to the governor’s office.
7:40 p.m. ET, December 21, 2021
Canada's British Columbia closes bars and gyms over rising Covid-19 cases
From CNN''s Raja Razek
British Columbia, Canada's westernmost province, announced a series of restrictions to address the rising number of Covid-19 cases in the country.
A news release from the Province said it would ban organized indoor social events and close gyms, bars, and nightclubs starting Wednesday.
Additionally, the Ministry of Health said it's postponing non-urgent scheduled surgeries starting Jan. 4.
"The provincial health officer is implementing additional measures to address rising COVID-19 case counts that could result in increased hospitalizations and critical care admissions and the potential to overstress the health-care system," the release said.
7:15 p.m. ET, December 21, 2021
Concert on South Beach featuring Harry Styles cancelled due to Covid-19
The free concert was scheduled a day before the College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Capital One Orange Bowl, according to an Orange Bowl press release.
"Due to increasing logistical and production challenges related to the pandemic and after consultation with the artists and their production teams, we have jointly made the difficult decision to cancel," said the announcement.
Organizers initially announced they would require attendees to provide proof of Covid-19 vaccine or of a negative test within seventy-two hours of the event, prior to its cancellation, said a press release.
The Georgia Bulldogs are scheduled to play the Michigan Wolverines in front of a sold-out crowd at Hard Rock Stadium for the Orange Bowl on Dec. 31 at 7:30 p.m. ET.
6:44 p.m. ET, December 21, 2021
Israel will now offer a fourth dose of the Covid-19 vaccine to vulnerable groups
From CNN's Andrew Carey and Amir Tal
Israel will begin rolling out a fourth dose of the coronavirus vaccine with immediate effect. The additional dose will be given to people over 60 years-old, medical workers, and people with a suppressed immune system, the prime minister’s office announced, following a recommendation from the country’s panel of coronavirus experts.
“Wonderful news, do not waste time – go get vaccinated,” Israel’s Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said in a statement.
Those eligible for the fourth dose will be given it provided at least four months have passed since their third dose.
“The State of Israel is continuing to stand at the forefront of the global effort to deal with the pandemic. The citizens of Israel were the first in the world to receive the third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and we are continuing to pioneer with the fourth dose as well,” Bennett said.
In a related announcement, the recommended gap between a second and third dose is also being shortened from five months to three months.
One of the members of the expert panel told Israeli radio Tuesday evening that the decision to go for a fourth dose had not been an easy one.
“We don’t really have data yet on the level of immunity, like we did when we decided on the third dose, but on the other hand, there is really scary data out there in the rest of the world, Professor Galia Rahav said.
“In a situation like this, if you don’t act immediately, you miss the train,” she added.
New measures: The government’s ministerial committee tasked with driving policy on the pandemic also met Tuesday, deciding on a number of new measures in the wake of the new wave of infections brought on by the Omicron variant.
In particular, schoolchildren living in areas of low vaccine up-take among under-18s could find themselves back in online schooling as early as this week.
In areas with high Covid-19 case numbers, known as red or orange communities, only classes in which at least 70% of children have received at least one dose of the vaccine will be taught at school. Classes with lower vaccination rates will be taught online. The new policy goes into immediate effect for children age 13 and above; for younger children, it will take effect in three weeks’ time.
There will also be an increased requirement on Israelis to produce a "Green Pass" when out shopping. For instance, it will now be mandatory to show the pass to enter or work at a store larger than 100 square meters.
Earlier in the evening it was announced that public sector workplaces would reduce the number of staff working onsite by half. The measure will go into effect on Sunday and be in place for at least a month.
A few days ago, Prime Minister Bennett asked private sector businesses to encourage staff to work from home as much as possible.
Some context: Latest Omicron data in Israel shows 341 confirmed cases, of which more than two thirds were in people either fully vaccinated or recently recovered from the disease. In addition, there are more than 800 cases in which there is a high suspicion of the Omicron variant.
The total number of new Covid-19 cases in Israel topped 1,300 on Monday, a figure not reached since the middle of October.
The R co-efficient – the number of people infected by each Covid-19 positive person – is at 1.28, its highest figure since the height of the fourth wave at the beginning of August.