December 23 Omicron variant and coronavirus news

By Helen Regan, Amy Woodyatt and Adam Renton, CNN

Updated 0615 GMT (1415 HKT) December 24, 2021
13 Posts
Sort byDropdown arrow
6:48 a.m. ET, December 23, 2021

Do not "extrapolate" South Africa’s experience of Omicron across the world, warns Africa CDC

From CNN’s Allegra Goodwin

John Nkengasong, director of African Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, holds a press conference on coronavirus in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on January 28, 2020.
John Nkengasong, director of African Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, holds a press conference on coronavirus in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on January 28, 2020. (Minasse Wondimu Hailu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

The director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has warned that the world should not “extrapolate” South Africa’s experiences with the Omicron coronavirus variant.

“It seems like we are seeing less severity of the Omicron variant amongst people infected in terms of a level of hospitalization in South Africa,” John Nkengasong told a regular media briefing Thursday.

Let’s be careful not to extrapolate what we are seeing in South Africa across the continent or across the world. We still have to gather more data from countries that are seeing more of the Omicron variant before we can come out with a definitive position,” he continued.

Nkengasong also emphasized the importance of getting vaccinated and highlighted how vaccine inequality has hampered Africa's immunization rate.

“Let’s not talk about boosters…[Africa] just barely crossed the 10 percent line, in terms of those who have received their two doses,” he told reporters.

8:19 a.m. ET, December 23, 2021

Greece cancels Christmas and New Year festivities and reintroduces mask mandate

From CNN’s Chris Liakos in Athens

Greece has announced new Covid-19 measures in light of the spread of the Omicron variant.

Starting at 6 a.m. local time Friday, masks will become mandatory again in both indoor and outdoor spaces, Health Minister Thanos Plevris said during a press briefing Thursday.

A double mask or a high protection mask will be required for supermarkets and public transport.

Holiday festivities canceled: All public Christmas and New Year celebrations planned by municipalities are canceled, Plevris added.

All travelers arriving in Greece will be strongly advised to take Covid tests on the 2nd and 4th day after their arrival, on top of the existing requirement to provide a negative pre-departure test upon entry.

The measures will last until January 3, when, according to the Health Minister, more restrictions concerning sport and entertainment venues and remote working could be introduced. Any further measures will be announced early next week.

“The data we have for Omicron indicate that transmissibility is very high, there are some optimistic signs when it comes to morbidity but we will have a more clear picture in the next 10-15 days,” said Plevris, adding that as a result it has been deemed essential to take action.

5:24 a.m. ET, December 23, 2021

India’s major metropolitan cities curb mass gatherings amid rising Covid-19 cases

From CNN's Esha Mitra in New Delhi

Healthcare worker collects swab samples for Covid-19 test of passengers arriving on outstation trains at Bandra Terminus, on December 16, 2021 in Mumbai, India.
Healthcare worker collects swab samples for Covid-19 test of passengers arriving on outstation trains at Bandra Terminus, on December 16, 2021 in Mumbai, India. (Pratik Chorge/Hindustan Times/Getty Images)

Two major metropolitan cities and a union territory in India have issued restrictions on mass gatherings ahead of Christmas and New Year amid rising Covid-19 cases.

Mumbai, Bengaluru, along with the union territory of Delhi which encompasses the national capital of New Delhi, have taken steps to limit social gatherings.

In Mumbai, the capital of India’s western state of Maharashtra, functions, gatherings, weddings, parties, meetings or activities of a “social, religious or political” nature are allowed only in enclosed spaces with 50% capacity, and in open spaces with 25% capacity, all while maintaining six-feet distance and Covid-19 appropriate behavior, according to an order issued by the city’s municipal body on December 20, until further notice.

In the state of Karnataka, including its capital Bengaluru city, all mass gatherings will be banned between December 30 and January 2, the Chief Minister, Basavaraj Bommai told reporters Tuesday.

On Wednesday, the union territory of Delhi banned all social, cultural, political and festival gatherings until further notice due to a rise in Covid-19 cases.

Also on Wednesday, the state of Haryana limited entry to public places like markets, shopping malls, cinema halls, bars, restaurants, hotels and bus and railway stations to fully vaccinated individuals only, from January 1.

Omicron warning: On Tuesday, the Indian government issued a warning of “initial signs of a surge in cases of Covid-19” and “increased detection” of the Omicron variant across the country, asking states to impose containment measures in districts where the Covid-19 positivity is 10% or more or hospital bed occupancy is 40% or more.

India has at least 236 cases of Omicron, with Maharashtra and Delhi reporting the majority of cases with 65 and 64 cases respectively and India has reported a total of 34,765,976 including 478,759 deaths according to the Indian ministry of health on Thursday.

4:17 a.m. ET, December 23, 2021

For the second Christmas in a row, hospital workers will face the trauma of Covid-19 patient deaths

From CNN's Travis Caldwell

With the potentially more transmissible Omicron now the most widely detected variant in the US, hospitals are preparing for additional Covid-19 cases as millions of Americans face infection.

And for the second year in a row, many doctors and nurses on the frontlines of the pandemic will be treating these patients over the Christmas holiday.

Haleigh Seizys, a Covid-19 ICU nurse at Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, told CNN's Ana Cabrera on Wednesday that staff are "very worried about what's to come after the holidays," urging people to get vaccinated to protect themselves and others against severe illness.

Day to day, things are tough," Seizys said. "I have a patient who is not doing well. It takes a lot of time and effort from several different people to try and help these patients improve.

"I truly am exhausted," she said, although she remains motivated to "help whoever I can."

Co-workers are trying to "rally around each other" in the face of rising hospitalizations. She said those who are against mask mandates, including elected leaders, should see what she and others do daily.

"I genuinely wish that they could come and follow me for just an hour so they could see how much their feet hurt, and see how many people are trying to hold back tears day to day, and they can see the trauma these patients are going through," Seizys said.

These people are dying very traumatic deaths, and it's so hard to watch."

Read the full story:

4:28 a.m. ET, December 23, 2021

Fourth Covid-19 shot needed, according to German Health Minister

From CNN's Nadine Schmidt in Berlin

Karl Lauterbach (SPD), Federal Minister of Health, speaks during a press conference on the current Corona situation on 22 December, 2021 in Berlin, Germany.
Karl Lauterbach (SPD), Federal Minister of Health, speaks during a press conference on the current Corona situation on 22 December, 2021 in Berlin, Germany. (Kay Nietfeld/picture alliance/Getty Images)

Germany's health minister Karl Lauterbach said Germans will need a fourth dose of the Covid-19 vaccine to maintain protection from the Omicron variant.

"We will need a fourth vaccination," Lauterbach told public broadcaster ZDF on Wednesday night, adding that "We know this already -- we need a specific variant vaccination against Omicron."

The protection of the booster vaccination administered so far "is not too durable --- and we are prepared for that," Lauterbach went on to say.

Germany has ordered vaccine doses from Pfizer/BioNTech specifically targeting Omicron "80 million doses in total, which we expect in April or May", Lauterbach said.

Omicron could soon be dominant: On Wednesday, the head of Germany's public health institute, the Robert Koch Insitute (RKI), said that the Omicron variant could be dominant in the country in two to three weeks.

Vaccination drive in full force: Lauterbach said that vaccination centers will be kept open over the Christmas holidays to keep Germany's booster campaign up to speed and administer 30 million booster vaccinations by the end of the year.

In addition, Germany aims to get another 30 million vaccine shots administered by the end of January. Lauterbach said this strategy could ''dramatically'' slow the spread of the virus.

In Germany, 70.5% of the population is fully vaccinated and 33.8% have received a booster shot, data from the RKI showed Thursday.

Germany's new chancellor Olaf Scholz wants to achieve a first-time vaccination rate of 80% in Germany by January 7, Scholz' spokesperson Steffen Hebestreit announced Wednesday.

3:56 a.m. ET, December 23, 2021

Beijing Winter Olympic officials "regret" NHL player pull-out

From CNN's Beijing Bureau

Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics officials expressed “regret” Thursday that no National Hockey League (NHL) players will attend the Games in February.

The NHL said Wednesday it will opt out because of the "regular-season schedule having been materially disrupted as a result of increasing COVID cases and a rising number of postponed games."

Speaking at a State Council news conference Thursday, Huang Chun, deputy director of epidemic prevention and control office of the Beijing Winter Olympic Organizing Committee, said organizers regretted the NHL decision.

Covid-19 prevention and control measures for the Games were "reassuring" and will "certainly reduce the risk of the spread of the infections" and "protect the health and safety of athletes and other personnel," Huang added.

Read more:

4:29 a.m. ET, December 23, 2021

China admits Beijing Winter Olympics could bring Covid-19 cases 

From CNN's Beijing Bureau

Deputy Head of virus prevention and control department of the Beijing 2022 Olympic Games Organising Committee Huang Chun speaks during a press conference at the State Council Information Office (SCIO) building in Beijing on December 23, 2021.
Deputy Head of virus prevention and control department of the Beijing 2022 Olympic Games Organising Committee Huang Chun speaks during a press conference at the State Council Information Office (SCIO) building in Beijing on December 23, 2021. (Noel Celis/AFP/Getty Images)

China has acknowledged the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics could bring “Covid-19 cases or small clusters of infections,” an official said during a State Council news conference on Thursday.

“A large number of overseas personnel will gather, causing a very high risk of transmission,” the official said.

Despite the risk, China said it is fully prepared for the possible Covid-19 infections inside the Olympic bubble.

Deputy director of epidemic prevention and control office of the Beijing Winter Olympic Organizing Committee, Huang Chun, said any infected staff and athletes will not be able to compete or work, and will be sent to a designated hospital or isolation facility depending on whether the patient has symptoms or not.

Symptomatic patients would be discharged after their body temperature returns to normal, respiratory symptoms disappear and present two consecutive Covid-19 tests within 24 hours. They will then be able to choose whether to participate in the next stage of the competition or return to work, Huang said.

As for asymptomatic patients, Huang said they will be tested every 24 hours in isolation and will be released if they present negative results twice within 24 hours, including one within six hours ahead of the competition.

Huang said the committee and Chinese people were “very concerned” about the possible impact of potential Covid-19 cases inside the Olympic bubble on China’s wider society. 

“Our line of defense will prevent infections from spreading to the city, and we should hold this line especially regarding the highly contagious Omicron,” Huang said.
3:20 a.m. ET, December 23, 2021

This Chinese city found a Covid cluster. All 13 million residents are now under lockdown

From CNN's Jessie Yeung in Hong Kong

On Tuesday, the central Chinese city of Xi'an recorded 52 new Covid-19 cases. By Wednesday, authorities had imposed strict lockdown measures on its estimated 13 million residents.

The sweeping restrictions, which prevent people from leaving their homes, come as the country braces for the Lunar New Year travel rush, followed swiftly by the 2022 Winter Olympics, due to begin in the capital Beijing on February 4.

Xi'an, an ancient city known internationally as the home of the 2,000-year-old Terracotta warriors sculptures, detected its first case connected to the latest outbreak at a quarantine hotel on December 9. The virus is believed to have then spread into the community via an infected hotel worker.

Officials believe the cluster is linked to an inbound flight from Pakistan on December 4, where at least six passengers were found to have the Delta variant. So far, there have been no reported cases of the Omicron variant in Xi'an.

Authorities moved swiftly, suspending schools and conducting mass testing for the entire city. Cases have continued to climb, however. Since December 9, the city has recorded a total of 206 cases. On Wednesday, authorities recorded 63 new locally transmitted cases, Xi'an's highest daily figure this month.

Lockdown rules: By noon on Wednesday, more than 30,000 people who were believed to have come into contact with a confirmed case were placed in quarantine, according to state-run newspaper China Daily. That same day, the city imposed a strict lockdown until further notice for all residents.

Xi'an is now designated a "controlled area," China's second-highest category of lockdown -- meaning residents are banned from leaving their homes except for urgent cases like medical emergencies. Each household is only allowed to send one designated person out of the house to buy groceries every two days.

Read more:

4:23 a.m. ET, December 23, 2021

Japan records first locally transmitted Omicron cases

From CNN’s Junko Ogura in Tokyo

Japan recorded its first locally transmitted cases of the Omicron variant on Wednesday, according to officials in Osaka prefecture.

Of the four people who tested positive for Omicron in Osaka, three did not have any travel history or any close contact with people who had traveled abroad, authorities said.

Osaka Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura said at a news conference, “it is seen to be the first community spread in the country.”

The three people with no travel history are members of the same family — a man and a women in their 30s, and a girl under age 10. They developed mild symptoms on Saturday and Sunday and have been hospitalized.