December 29 coronavirus pandemic and Omicron variant news

By Rhea Mogul, Adam Renton, Tara John and Ed Upright, CNN

Updated 0601 GMT (1401 HKT) December 30, 2021
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9:52 a.m. ET, December 29, 2021

Greece brings new Covid-19 restrictions forward, bans music at entertainment venues

From CNN’s Chris Liakos

People wearing face masks as a protection against coronavirus (Covid-19) walk at Monastiraki square in the center of Athens, on December 29, 2021
People wearing face masks as a protection against coronavirus (Covid-19) walk at Monastiraki square in the center of Athens, on December 29, 2021 (Photo by Angelos Tzortzinis/AFP/Getty Images)

Greece is bringing forward restrictions that were due to take effect on Jan. 3 in an effort to curb the spread of the Omicron variant which has become dominant across the country.

Greece registered 21,657 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday – its highest daily record since the start of the pandemic.

Health Minister Thanos Plevris announced in a news conference that the new restrictions will instead take effect tomorrow at 6 a.m. local.

The measures include the closure of hospitality and entertainment venues at midnight, a ban on standing customers and a maximum limit of six people per table, reduced sports venue capacity and the reintroduction of 50% remote working for public and private sectors.

Plevris added that music will also be banned in entertainment venues. 

9:44 a.m. ET, December 29, 2021

Omicron cases are doubling every 2 to 3 days, French health minister says

From CNN's Joseph Ataman in Paris

France's Prime Minister Jean Castex (C) and France's Health Minister Olivier Veran (L) speak with health workers as they visit the resuscitation unit of the Intercommunal hospital of Creteil, outside Paris, on December 28, 2021. - France reported on December 25 over 100,000 daily Covid cases, a record since the pandemic erupted nearly two years ago, with many experts warning the number would rapidly increase over the coming weeks.
France's Prime Minister Jean Castex (C) and France's Health Minister Olivier Veran (L) speak with health workers as they visit the resuscitation unit of the Intercommunal hospital of Creteil, outside Paris, on December 28, 2021. - France reported on December 25 over 100,000 daily Covid cases, a record since the pandemic erupted nearly two years ago, with many experts warning the number would rapidly increase over the coming weeks. (Stephane Sakutin/AFP/Getty Images)

Omicron variant cases are doubling every two to three days, French Health Minister Olivier Veran told a parliamentary health commission in Paris Wednesday.

Veran also told French lawmakers that his European colleagues are also seeing a similar trend.

To curb the spread of Omicron, the French government will require a vaccine pass that will to come into force from Jan. 15 in restaurants as well as in some of the country’s public transportation and proof of vaccination will be required.

Hospitals and elderly care homes will just be governed by the current health pass.

Earlier, the French health minister said France has seen 208,000 cases in the last 24 hours. Every second more than two French people test positive, he noted.

“We are seeing numbers that give you vertigo," Veran said.

“Delta has not had its final word,” he said.

The official said about the unvaccinated, there was “very little chance this time you’ll be able to slip through the net,” when it comes to getting infected.

He said at least one million people were infected at this point.

9:26 a.m. ET, December 29, 2021

You can still get infected with the Omicron variant if you've previously had Covid-19

From CNN's Holly Yan

CNN readers from around the world have asked more than 150,000 questions (and counting) about coronavirus. One of those questions was if people who have previously had Covid-19 can still get infected with the Omicron variant. The answer is yes.

In fact, the first confirmed Omicron-related death in the US was a man who previously had Covid-19.

The Texas man, in his 50s, had not been vaccinated, Harris County health officials said.

For months, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said vaccines give stronger protection against Covid-19 than previous infection alone.

“If you have had Covid-19 before, please still get vaccinated,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in August, citing research published during a Delta variant surge. “This study shows you are twice as likely to get infected again if you are unvaccinated.”

With the new Omicron variant, the risk of getting reinfected is 5.4 times higher with Omicron than it was with Delta, according to a team of disease modelers at Imperial College London.

“This suggests relatively low remaining levels of immunity from prior infection,” the team wrote in a December report.

Health experts say the best way to help protect against the Omicron variant is to get vaccinated and boosted.

9:21 a.m. ET, December 29, 2021

Why the CDC revised its Omicron estimates, according to the agency's director 

From CNN's Naomi Thomas

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told CNN’s New Day Wednesday that the rapid speed of Omicron spread meant that early predictive estimates about how prevalent it is can be less stable.

The CDC said Tuesday that the Omicron variant caused 58.6% of new coronavirus cases in the US last week, which is lower than previously thought, but the agency has said it will adjust its estimates based on additional sequencing.

“What we do is we take the genomic surveillance data that we have and we do predictive modeling in order to assess and estimate the prevalence of Omicron,” Walensky said on Wednesday, when asked about the revised CDC estimates of how much of the variant is currently in the US. “Of course, early in Omicron, when we have really rapid speed, those predictive estimates can be less stable and that’s what happened in this period of time. So, we have revised our estimates, we’ve done so transparently.” 

“But, I think the important thing to note here is that there are areas of this country that have 20% Omicron, there are areas of this country that have 90% of cases Omicron, and what we have seen and what our predictions have demonstrated is that this is a rapidly increasing variant in the United States,” she said.

9:20 a.m. ET, December 29, 2021

Here's what to do if you test positive for Covid-19

From CNN's Holly Yan

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated their isolation and quarantine guidelines on Monday for those who test positive with Covid-19.

Here's what to know:

“Given what we currently know about COVID-19 and the Omicron variant, CDC is shortening the recommended time for isolation from 10 days for people with COVID-19 to 5 days, if asymptomatic, followed by 5 days of wearing a mask when around others,” the CDC said.

The update did not explicitly say how long infected people who still had symptoms need to isolate. The CDC has previously said people with symptomatic Covid-19 should isolate for 10 days.

“To calculate your 10 full day isolation period, day 0 is your first day of symptoms,” the CDC said Dec. 9. “Day 1 is the first full day after your symptoms developed.”

The decision to reduce isolation times for those who are asymptomatic after five days was motivated by research showing the majority of Covid-19 spread “occurs early in the course of illness, generally in the 1-2 days prior to onset of symptoms and the 2-3 days after,” the CDC said on Dec. 27.

“Therefore, people who test positive should isolate for 5 days and, if asymptomatic at that time, they may leave isolation if they can continue to mask for 5 days to minimize the risk of infecting others.”

Have more coronavirus questions? We're answering them here.

9:17 a.m. ET, December 29, 2021

Here's a look at how Covid-19 is spreading in communities across the US

The US hit a seven-day average of 265,427 new Covid-19 cases on Tuesday, blowing past the country's previous record of about 252,000 daily cases, reported nearly a year ago on Jan. 11.

The new peak, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, comes as rapid acceleration of infections continues in the United States.

Here's a look at how Covid-19 is spreading in communities across the country:

Track Covid-19 cases in the US here.

CNN's Holly Yan and Amir Vera contributed reporting to this post. 

9:09 a.m. ET, December 29, 2021

CDC director explains why agency is not recommending rapid tests after 5 days of isolation

From CNN's Naomi Thomas

US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky explained the agency's stance on rapid tests on CNN’s New Day Wednesday. Walensky said the CDC does not recommend rapid tests for ending Covid-19 isolation because they don’t know how they perform or predict how transmissible people are at the end of infection. 

“We do, just to be clear, recommend having a rapid test during your period of quarantine after you’ve been exposed,” Walensky said when asked why the CDC didn’t recommend taking a rapid test after the five days of isolation. “We opted not to have the rapid test for isolation because we actually don’t know how our rapid tests perform and how well they predict whether you’re transmissible during the end of disease.” 

The US Food and Drug Administration has not authorized them for that use, she said, and it is not known how they perform. 

“So what we said was, well, if you got a rapid test at five days and it was negative, we weren’t convinced that you weren’t still transmissible,” she said. “We didn’t want to leave a false sense of security, we still wanted you to wear the mask. And if it was positive, we still know the maximum amount of transmission was behind you, we still wanted you to wear a mask and given that we were not going to change our recommendations based on the result of that rapid test, we opted not to include it.” 

Asked why health care workers need a negative test just a few days ago, according to CDC guidance, but the general public doesn’t, Walensky said that infection control recommendations in health care workplaces are “always more stringent” than for the general population. 

She also said that the decision had nothing to do with shortages of rapid tests, saying “this decision really from an isolation standpoint had everything to do with the fact that we wouldn’t change our guidance based on the result of that rapid test. And you know that it didn’t have anything to do with any shortage at all, because we recommend rapid tests for those in quarantine.” 

You can read more about the CDC's updated isolation guidelines here.

9:08 a.m. ET, December 29, 2021

CDC director hopes boosters for 12- to 15-year-olds are authorized in days to weeks ahead

From CNN's Naomi Thomas

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, speaks to CNN’s New Day on 29 December 2021
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, speaks to CNN’s New Day on 29 December 2021 (CNN)

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said on CNN’s New Day Wednesday that she hopes for coronavirus vaccine boosters for 12- to 15-years-olds in the days to weeks ahead, but vaccines for children younger than 5 will take longer.

“The first thing to note is to get your children vaccinated,” Walensky said, noting that vaccines are available for people as young as 5.

“The FDA is currently looking at the issue of booster shots for those 12 to 15, and I know that the companies and manufacturers are working towards data for children under five. That will not be in the month ahead, but we’re working hard to get there soon,” she said.

Asked about the timeline for boosters for younger people, Walensky said “the FDA is looking at that right now. Of course, the CDC will swiftly follow as soon as we hear from them and I’m hoping to have that in, you know, the days to weeks ahead.” 

 

8:34 a.m. ET, December 29, 2021

New CDC isolation guidelines were issued considering more cases of Omicron are expected, director says

After the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidance this week that shortens its recommended isolation period from 10 to five days for people who have tested positive for Covid-19 but don't have symptoms, experts are split.

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky defended the changes, saying she is "seeing and expecting even more cases of this Omicron variant" and that was a factor in the agency's decision-making.

"Our guidance was conservative before. It had said 10 days of isolation. But in the context of the fact that we were going to have so many more cases, many of those would be asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic, people would feel well enough to be at work. They would not necessarily tolerate being home and they may not comply with being home," she told CNN this morning.

The CDC also looked at the data around transmission, Walensky added.

"We know that the most amount of transmission occurs in the one to two days before you develop symptoms, those two to three days after you develop symptoms. If you map that out, those five days account for somewhere between 85% to 90% of all transmission that occurs. We really wanted to make sure that ... the first five days were spent in isolation," she said. "Of course there is this tail end period of time in the last five days where we are asking you to mask."

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