December 27 coronavirus pandemic and Omicron variant news

By Helen Regan, Adam Renton, Tara John, Aditi Sangal, Mike Hayes, Melissa Macaya and Melissa Mahtani, CNN

Updated 0601 GMT (1401 HKT) December 28, 2021
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2:57 a.m. ET, December 27, 2021

South Korea approves emergency use of Pfizer's oral Covid-19 pill

From CNN's Gawon Bae in Seoul, South Korea

This image provided by Pfizer in October 2021 shows the company's COVID-19 Paxlovid pills.
This image provided by Pfizer in October 2021 shows the company's COVID-19 Paxlovid pills. (Pfizer/AP)

South Korea approved emergency use of Pfizer’s oral Covid-19 pill, Paxlovid, on Monday, as the country continues to record high numbers of critically ill coronavirus patients.

Experts concluded after reviewing Pfizer’s clinical trial result that the drug can be given to patients over 12 with mild to moderate Covid-19 symptoms, according to Food and Drug Safety Minister Kim Gang-lip.

Paxlovid should be taken within five days of symptoms presenting, Kim said.

South Korea reported 4,207 new Covid-19 cases on Sunday and 55 deaths, bringing the country’s total caseload to 611,670, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).

As of Monday, 1,078 critically ill patients are in intensive care units.

1:00 a.m. ET, December 27, 2021

Covid positive strangers forced to share rooms in Singapore quarantine 

From CNN’s Teele Rebane

A rise in Covid-19 cases in Singapore is forcing strangers to share isolation rooms during the 10-day mandatory isolation period after testing positive.

According to the Singaporean Ministry of Health, patients over the age of 15 can be placed in isolation alongside a Covid-positive person of the same gender, even if they do not know one another. 

The Ministry of Health said private rooms were available on request and where possible. 

A spokesperson said the measure was necessary to “optimize capacity,” as Singapore records increasing Covid-19 numbers, with 209 new infections reported Sunday.

Positive cases are placed in one of three tiers of accommodation based on the severity of their symptoms, according to the Ministry of Health.

Room-sharing is implemented across community care centers, Covid treatment centers and hospitals, which make up the three tiers. Covid-19 patients are also able to quarantine at home where possible. 

But while positive cases may have to share rooms, Singapore will no longer mandate that close contacts isolate. Instead, they will be issued with a week-long health risk warning and tested daily.

9:20 a.m. ET, December 27, 2021

Nearly 1,500 flights canceled in US Sunday due to Omicron surge

From CNN’s Andy Rose

Passengers wait in line for alternative airlines at St. Louis-Lambert International Airport in St. Louis on Sunday, December 26, 2021. 
Passengers wait in line for alternative airlines at St. Louis-Lambert International Airport in St. Louis on Sunday, December 26, 2021.  (Bill Greenblatt/UPI/Shutterstock)

Nearly 1,500 flights in the US were canceled on Sunday, marking the third day in a row of mass cancellations over the Christmas weekend.

The disruption is caused by staff and crew being out sick due to the continued surge of the Omicron variant. 

As of 11:30 p.m. ET on Sunday, airlines had canceled 1,448 flights within, into or out of the country. Another 6,169 flights were delayed, according to the tracking website FlightAware.

However, those staffing problems appear to be slowly getting better. As of late Sunday night, 384 US flights had been canceled, FlightAware said.

1:24 a.m. ET, December 27, 2021

Chinese officials are disinfecting an entire city as Covid cases rise

From CNN’s Beijing bureau

Staff members in protective suits disinfect around Xi'an Bell Tower on December 26, 2021 in Xi'an, Shaanxi Province, China.
Staff members in protective suits disinfect around Xi'an Bell Tower on December 26, 2021 in Xi'an, Shaanxi Province, China. (Shang Hongtao/VCG/Getty Images)

Local authorities in the Chinese city of Xi'an are disinfecting the entire city of 13 million people as Covid-19 cases continue to rise. 

The task of disinfecting Xi'an began on Sunday. Residents were told by the local council to close their windows and doors and not touch outdoor surfaces and plants.

The order came despite current guidelines from China’s CDC and State Council preventing “excessive disinfection,” including “mass disinfection of the outdoor environment.”

Xi'an, the capital of northwestern Shaanxi Province, recorded 150 of China’s 162 locally transmitted symptomatic Covid-19 cases on Sunday, according to the National Health Commission.

China's Covid epicenter: The outbreak in Xi'an, now at 637 cases since December 9, is one of the largest city outbreaks since Wuhan became the epicenter of the global pandemic in 2019.

Growing frustration: Residents criticized the disinfection measures online as the program added to already increasing restrictions in the city. Citizens accused the local government of mishandling and oversimplifying its response to the outbreak, according to state-run newspaper Global Times.

Global Times also reported a foreign teacher was fired at an international school after calling health workers “insane” and spitting on the ground on Friday.

Lockdown measures: Xi'an woke to a fourth mass testing campaign on Monday. Local officials told residents there was “no need to panic” at increasing Covid-19 infections -- an upward trend that may continue through the coming days. 

Xi'an has been under strict lockdown since December 23, despite 95.5% of the population being vaccinated. Public venues and transportation routes have been closed, with only essential public services and businesses remaining open. 

10:23 p.m. ET, December 26, 2021

The pandemic pushed nearly 100 million people into poverty. They're struggling to escape

From CNN's Michelle Toh

Dipali Roy couldn't afford to eat.

She and her husband, Pradip Roy, were garment workers in Bangladesh when the Covid-19 pandemic hit last spring, leading to mass layoffs at their factory.

Like millions of people around the world, both lost their jobs in the capital city of Dhaka, where they had worked for years making pants, shirts and jackets. And like countless other migrants, they were forced to move home to the countryside to cut down on expenses.

The World Bank estimates that 97 million people across the globe fell into poverty due to the pandemic in 2020, living on less than $2 a day.

There has been little improvement since.

"Globally, the increase in poverty that occurred in 2020 due to Covid still lingers, and the Covid-induced poor in 2021 continues to be 97 million people," economists at the World Bank said in a blog post earlier this year. They noted, however, that overall poverty should go down this year.

"We barely had enough to return home," Dipali Roy said in an interview in Bengali from the family's home, a corrugated metal shack in a village in northern Bangladesh.

As the couple looked for new ways to earn a living, they struggled to adjust. They tried to find a loan to start a small business, but at first no one was able or willing to help. Some local nonprofit organizations asked for collateral, which they didn't have.

Hoping to land a job in agriculture, Pradip Roy approached some farmers. But he was dismissed as a "Dhaka man," who wouldn't be able to cope in harsh weather conditions, recounted his wife.

Above all, "food was the biggest problem," said 20-year-old Dipali Roy, who was pregnant at the time and sometimes could only have one meal a day through a public rationing program. "I didn't know what to do ... We would just have to sit and wait when they would bring food."

2020 led to a historic setback in the fight against global poverty, with the number of the world's poorest rising for the first time in over 20 years, according to the World Bank.

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9:20 a.m. ET, December 27, 2021

Flying home after the holidays? Getting vaccinated or boosted is the first step toward safe travel, expert says

From CNN's Aya Elamroussi

For Americans traveling after Christmas and New Year's, getting their Covid-19 vaccinations or booster doses as soon as possible is critical to safely avoid serious illness, one health expert told CNN on Saturday.

Amid a surge of cases nationwide fueled by the Omicron coronavirus variant before the holiday season, parts of the country are reporting increased hospitalizations and deaths. And people need to be prepared for a heightened risk of infection during travel by taking preventative measures, according to Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the school of tropical medicine at Baylor College of Medicine.

"If you've only gotten two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, even though that officially counts as fully vaccinated, we know that its impact on breakthrough symptomatic illness is close to zero," Hotez told CNN's Amara Walker.

The initial two-dose regiment will still protect "better for serious illness," he said, "but you still need to get boosted, I think, if you want to travel safely."

Booster shots may take two weeks to provide peak immunity, doctors have said, meaning the sooner one gets vaccinated, the better. Other steps, including wearing a quality mask, can help lower risk of infection.

Millions of Americans who are immunocompromised should delay future travel plans for a few weeks if possible in the hope that the current surge won't span as long as previous ones, Hotez said.

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