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
14 Posts
Sort byDropdown arrow
8:27 a.m. ET, December 29, 2021

CDC made the decision to shorten isolation "without the data to actually support this change," expert says

From CNN's Naomi Thomas

A volunteer hands out rapid at-home Covid-19 test kits in Chelsea, Massachusetts, on December 17.
A volunteer hands out rapid at-home Covid-19 test kits in Chelsea, Massachusetts, on December 17. (Joseph Prezioso/AFP/Getty Images)

The decision of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to shorten recommended times for people to isolate after testing positive for Covid-19 has raised eyebrows.

Erin Bromage, professor of biology at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, said he was concerned about isolation periods being cut from 10 days to five if a Covid-19 positive person does not have symptoms. Speaking to New Day, Bromage said there was no data to support it.

There is absolutely no data that I'm aware about with the Omicron variant that supports people coming out of isolation five days after they were first diagnosed with the virus. My own work shows that when we look at people five, seven, eight days after they were first tested positive or first symptoms, they still have enough virus in their nose, in the back of their throat to be able to come up positive on these antigen tests and antigen tests are very good proxy for live virus and the ability to be able to infect others. So it seems that they've made a decision without the data to actually support this change,” he said.

The new CDC guidance does not require a negative test at the end of the isolation period, a move which Bromage said seems to be born from the "fact that it's really hard to get your hands on tests."

He said tests are a good way to reduce anxiety in workplaces, especially in roles where people are unable to socially distance themselves.

"I can tell you with people that work in very, very close proximity to each other, where masks are not worn regularly because of the job function when ... you're returning them to work after being infected and after sickness, the people that are working around them want to know that they're not going to get infected by that person," he said.

The lack of a testing requirement "just seems to be adding risk and anxiety that we don't really need,” he said.

7:46 a.m. ET, December 29, 2021

Vaccination rates are slowly rising in Austria

From CNN's Stephanie Halasz

While Austria has mandated vaccinations from February 2022, figures from the country's health ministry show that its vaccination rate is rising, but only slowly.

Government data shows 71% of the Austrian population is now fully vaccinated. CNN reported on November 22 that just under 66% were completely vaccinated -- one of the lower rates in the European Union at the time as cases surged. 

During the Christmas period, vaccination dropped off significantly, the ministry said, with 61% fewer shots -- or 252,396 doses -- being administered in the last seven days compared to the week before. 

And the majority of the vaccinations are boosters, the ministry added. On December 28, 51,864 doses were administered. Of those, 30,088 were boosters, 16,253 were second shots and only 5,523 were first vaccinations.

7:34 a.m. ET, December 29, 2021

Spain expected to announce whether it will reduce quarantine requirements

From Al Goodman in Madrid

Spanish health authorities are expected to make a decision later Wednesday on whether to reduce the number of days in quarantine for Covid-positive cases.

Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, making his traditional end-of-year-speech in Madrid, said this decision was “very important to many citizens.”

The country's health ministry reported 99,671 new cases on Tuesday, the highest number in a single day since the start of the pandemic.

9:02 a.m. ET, December 29, 2021

Global Covid cases increased by 11% last week, WHO says

From CNN's Naomi Thomas

A crematory in Meissen, Germany last week.
A crematory in Meissen, Germany last week. (Robert Michael/picture alliance/Getty Images)

Global cases of Covid-19 increased 11% during the week of December 20 to 26 compared to the previous week, while death numbers remained similar, according to the weekly epidemiological update from the World Health Organization (WHO), published Tuesday. 

This growth in cases follows “a gradual increase since October,” WHO says, with just under 5 million cases reported. Overall, as of December 26, there have been over 278 million cases reported. 

The Americas region reported the largest new case increase, of 39%, followed by the African region, with a 7% increase. The European, Eastern Mediterranean, and Western Pacific regions all reported similar case numbers to the week before. The South-East Asia Region reported a decrease of 12% compared to the week before. 

The United States reported the highest number of new cases, followed by the United Kingdom, France, Italy and Germany. 

The number of deaths, over 44,000 in the past week, was similar to the number of deaths the week before. There have been just over 5.4 million deaths reported globally, as of December 26.

The highest number of new deaths was reported in the African region, a 72% increase from the week before. It is followed by the South-East Asia region, with a 9% increase, and the Americas region, 7%. The Western Pacific region had a number similar to the week before. There was a 12% decrease in deaths in the European region and a 7% decrease in deaths in the Eastern Mediterranean region.

Looking at the Omicron variant, WHO says that “the overall risk related to the new variant of concern Omicron remains very high.” 

It also notes consistent evidence showing the growth advantage of Omicron over Delta, the two to three days doubling time and “rapid increases in the incidence of cases is seen in a number of countries, including those where the variant has become the dominant SARS-CoV-2 variant, such as the United Kingdom and the United States of America.”

WHO notes there has been a decline in cases in South Africa, where the variant was first identified.

It also says that although early data suggests a reduced risk of hospitalization, more data is needed to understand the clinical markers of severity and how severity may be impacted by previous infection and vaccination.

For tests, WHO says preliminary data suggests that PCR and antigen-based rapid tests do not appear to be impacted by Omicron. For treatments, it says that corticosteroids and interleukin 6 receptor blockers are expected to remain effective, however, monoclonal antibodies may be less able to neutralize Omicron. 

6:43 a.m. ET, December 29, 2021

Thousands of flights have been canceled worldwide

From CNN's Robert North

More than 2,000 flights have been canceled globally on Wednesday so far as the Omicron surge continues to disrupt travel.

According to the tracking website FlightAware, 2,221 flights have been canceled as of 5 a.m. ET Wednesday with 721 of them flying within, into, or out of the United States. Nearly 3,000 flights have been delayed.

Globally, airlines have canceled thousands of flights over the holiday period as staff and crew call in sick. More than 6,000 flights on Christmas Eve, Christmas, and the day after Christmas were canceled.

In the US, more than 1,200 flights were canceled and more than 5,000 were delayed on Sunday alone. More than 3,000 flights were canceled on Monday, with a similar amount stopped on Tuesday as well, according to FlightAware.

6:26 a.m. ET, December 29, 2021

US and European countries report another day of record-breaking Covid-19 cases

From CNN's Tara John, Niamh Kennedy, Salma Abdelaziz, Duarte Mendonca, Vasco Cotovio, Nicola Ruotolo and Xiaofei Xu

A nurse cares for a patient in the intensive care unit of a hospital in Palma, Spain on Monday.
A nurse cares for a patient in the intensive care unit of a hospital in Palma, Spain on Monday. (Clara Margais/picture alliance/Getty Images)

The United States and a number of European countries smashed their Covid-19 case records Tuesday as the highly-transmissible Omicron variant spreads across the world.

The US: The nation reached a seven-day average of 254,496 new cases on Tuesday -- the highest this number has ever been over the course of the pandemic -- according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The figure beat the previous record of 251,989 new infections, set on January 11, 2021. Hospitalizations and deaths have not seen a similar increase in pace but these are lagging indicators that may drag weeks behind case increases.

Nationwide pediatric Covid-19 hospitalizations are nearing the record high set in September, however. On average, roughly 305 children were admitted to the hospital with Covid-19 on any given day over the week that ended December 26, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the US Department of Health and Human Services.

France: Authorities reported a record high of 179,807 new confirmed cases in a 24-hour period on Tuesday. Despite a rise in hospitalizations and ICU occupancy, French data is showing fewer deaths. In the last 24 hours, France recorded 290 Covid-19 related deaths, 484 people hospitalized and 83 people in ICU beds. A year ago, the country recorded 363 deaths, 25 hospitalizations and 44 people in intensive care.

United Kingdom: On Tuesday, the country again broke its Covid-19 case records with 129,471 new infections, according to official data. Covid-19 hospitalizations in England have risen by 25% over the course of one week but the government has said there will be no further restrictions there before the new year.

On Wednesday, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the Omicron variant is milder than the Delta strain but "continues to cause real problems," and urged the public to get vaccinated or boosted if eligible to avoid hospitalizations.

Spain: The country's health ministry reported 99,671 new cases on Tuesday, the highest number in a single day since the start of the pandemic. It’s double the previous record, set just last week.

Italy: Italy is also reporting its highest daily new cases since the start of the pandemic, with 78,313 infections recorded Tuesday. It also has lower figures in hospitalizations and deaths when compared with data from 2020. In the same period last year, Italy recorded 8,585 new infections, 445 Covid-19 related deaths, and 2,565 intensive care beds occupied. On Tuesday it reported 202 deaths, and 1,145 ICU occupancy.

Portugal: Portugal has also recorded its highest-ever number of new daily cases, with a total of 17,172 new coronavirus infections, its health ministry said Tuesday.  

Despite rising cases, authorities have seen a 70% reduction in the number of deaths, hospitalizations, and ICU admissions over the Christmas period compared to the previous year. Between December 20 to 27, 2021, there have been 14 deaths and 151 ICU admissions, according to health authority data. There were 68 deaths and 506 ICU admissions in the same period in 2020.

5:11 a.m. ET, December 29, 2021

Nearly all of China’s new locally transmitted cases are reported in city of Xi’an

From CNN's Beijing Bureau

Mainland China reported 152 locally transmitted Covid-19 infections on Wednesday, including 151 reported from the city of Xi'an in the northwestern Shaanxi province, health authorities announced Wednesday.

Since December 9, Shaanxi Province has reported a total of 982 locally transmitted cases, of which 962 were confirmed from the capital city Xi'an.

Wednesday marked the sixth day of lockdown for the city's 13 million residents that started last Thursday. It is China's largest lockdown since the restrictions in Wuhan, which sealed off 11 million people in 2020.

New rules: Public venues and transportation have been closed except for essential services like supermarkets and hospitals. Travel to and from the city is suspended except for special circumstances requiring official approval.

Before Monday, only one member of each household was allowed to leave to buy groceries and other necessities every other day. The city tightened measures to the highest level on Monday as cases continued to rise, banning all residents from leaving home unless permitted for mass testing. Groceries are instead supposed to be delivered to people's doors. 

Under the current policy, people in communities that don't have cases or close contacts of cases can only have one person per household leave their home for groceries every other day. This can only happen after the entire community tests negative for Covid-19 in the latest round of mass testing that started Wednesday.

Users on the Chinese social media site Weibo have complained they can't get enough food since the government tightened measures. Over 52,000 posts were published on Weibo with the hashtag “Difficult to buy groceries in Xi’an,” which has got more than 260 million views.

I can't go out and things are expensive and I can't buy them," one Weibo user commented. "We can eat dry rice for a few days. But the baby needs milk powder."

"The night before lockdown, we laughed at the citizens who went to the supermarket panic buying. The municipal government said that the food supply was sufficient. As a result, we found we were really stupid and believed this kind of nonsense," another Weibo user said.

As a result of the backlash, some districts in Xi'an have stepped up efforts to provide basic necessities, Chinese media People's Daily reported.

Read more here

4:20 a.m. ET, December 29, 2021

Hong Kong orders compulsory testing after flight crew members test positive for Covid-19

In this file photo, residents and workers of Discovery Bay subject to compulsory testing form a queue near the Discovery Bay Fire Station on Lantau Island, Hong Kong, on Nov. 2021
In this file photo, residents and workers of Discovery Bay subject to compulsory testing form a queue near the Discovery Bay Fire Station on Lantau Island, Hong Kong, on Nov. 2021 (Nora Tam/SCMP/Reuters)

Hong Kong authorities conducted compulsory Covid-19 testing in two neighborhoods on Tuesday after they identified two coronavirus cases, according to a government news release.

Residents at a building in Tuen Mun district and in Discovery Bay on Lantau Island were forced to remain under lockdown overnight as authorities carried out tests, the release said.

A 46-year-old air crew member living in Discovery Bay was confirmed to have the virus and a 44-year-old crew member who lives in Tuen Mun tested preliminary positive on Tuesday, according to the government. Preliminary positive cases require further testing.

Both air crew returned to Hong Kong from the United States on Christmas Day, the release said.

Authorities finished the testing order on Wednesday morning, the release said. No further cases have been found so far, public broadcaster RTHK reported, citing health officials.

Strict measures: Hong Kong, along with mainland China, is one of the last places in Asia to maintain a zero-Covid strategy. 

Its strict anti-epidemic measures include a border largely sealed to non-residents, lengthy quarantine for almost all arrivals, limits on public gatherings and mandatory mask-wearing.

When a suspected cases arises, contacts are traced and often entire buildings are locked down for mandatory testing. In some cases, close contacts are ordered to undergo quarantine at a government facility.  

Hong Kong, which has a population of more than 7 million, has reported 12,605 Covid-19 cases and 213 related deaths, according to the government.

4:20 a.m. ET, December 29, 2021

China's Covid-19 cases continue to rise as authorities battle Xi'an outbreak

From CNN's Beijing Bureau

A health worker tests a resident for Covid-19 in Xi 'an, Shaanxi Province, China, Dec. 29.
A health worker tests a resident for Covid-19 in Xi 'an, Shaanxi Province, China, Dec. 29. (Cang Hai/Costfoto/Future Publishing/Getty Images)

China recorded 197 new Covid-19 cases on Tuesday, the National Health Commission (NHC) said, as the nation battles an outbreak in the city of Xi'an that forced its 13 million residents into a strict lockdown last week.

Of the new cases, 152 are locally transmitted and 45 imported, according to the NHC. 

All but one of the locally transmitted cases were reported in Xi’an in the northwest Shaanxi province, the NHC said. One case was reported in the eastern province of Jiangsu, it added. 

Since December 9, Shaanxi province has reported a total of 982 local cases, of which 962 were found in Xi'an, 10 in Xianyang, nine in Yan'an, and one in Weinan.

Authorities in Xi'an further tightened lockdown measures and rolled out the fifth round of mass testing on Monday, in line with China's rigid zero-Covid strategy. All residents must stay at home unless permitted to go outside for mass testing. Previously, each household was allowed to send one designated person out to buy groceries every two days.

China has reported a total of 101,683 Covid-19 cases and 4,636 deaths, according to state-run People’s Daily.