December 30 coronavirus pandemic and Omicron variant news

By Jessie Yeung, Adam Renton, Adrienne Vogt, Melissa Macaya, Melissa Mahtani and Fernando Alfonso III, CNN

Updated 0557 GMT (1357 HKT) December 31, 2021
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4:26 a.m. ET, December 30, 2021

India sees sharp rise in cases as doctors' strike sparks fear of frontline shortages 

From CNN's Esha Mitra in New Delhi

People rush to board a DTC bus after Delhi governments decision to run DTC buses with 50 percent capacity in wake of rising Covid-19 cases on December 29, 2021 in New Delhi, India. Amid a spike in Covid-19 cases following the emergence of the Omicron variant, Delhi govt has declared a 'yellow alert' under which schools, colleges, cinemas and gyms shall be closed.
People rush to board a DTC bus after Delhi governments decision to run DTC buses with 50 percent capacity in wake of rising Covid-19 cases on December 29, 2021 in New Delhi, India. Amid a spike in Covid-19 cases following the emergence of the Omicron variant, Delhi govt has declared a 'yellow alert' under which schools, colleges, cinemas and gyms shall be closed. (Amal KS/Hindustan Times/Getty Images)

India on Thursday reported a second consecutive day of surging Covid-19 cases, with 13,154 new infections — a 43% rise from the previous day.

Earlier this month, India’s Health Ministry noted “initial signs of a surge,” with doctors on the ground warning they were seeing an influx in cases — now reflected in the daily case count.

Political gatherings: On Thursday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will hold a political gathering set to draw thousands in the state of Uttarakhand, where an election looms early next year. Modi has held several such gatherings in other states including multiple events in Uttar Pradesh this month. 

Uttar Pradesh is India’s most populous state, and a critical battleground in the upcoming state elections. Other political parties have also been holding gatherings; Delhi’s chief minister Arvind Kejriwal will hold a “victory march” in Chandigarh, Punjab, where he won local elections on Thursday.

Medical experts have warned that holding such large events without proper Covid precautions could risk further spreading Omicron — though Delta is currently still the prevalent variant in India.

Doctors on strike: The availability of manpower could be a critical factor during a potential third wave, with resident doctors in Delhi striking for 14 consecutive days. The Indian Medical Association has warned of a shortage of 45,000 doctors on the frontline due to a delay in allocating new doctors to hospitals.

4:01 a.m. ET, December 30, 2021

Japan sees jump in Covid-19 cases after months of steady decline

From CNN's Emi Jozuka and Yuki Kurihara in Tokyo

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida addresses the public in a video posted on Twitter and YouTube.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida addresses the public in a video posted on Twitter and YouTube. (Office of the Prime Minister of Japan/YouTube)

Japan reported 501 new Covid-19 cases on Wednesday — the first time the country has exceeded the 500 mark in more than two months.

The rise in cases, after a long stretch of low infection numbers, sparked concern as the public prepared to travel across the country to celebrate the New Year.

In a video message posted on Twitter Wednesday, Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida promised to reinforce measures to prevent the community spread of Omicron infections by preparing for "worst-case scenarios."

"I will do my best to make oral medicine widely available and secure the health care system," Kishida said.

Japan has fully vaccinated close to 80% of its population as of December 27. Cases had nosedived in recent months across the country, with fewer than 100 reported cases a day since October, after previously topping 25,000 daily infections during the summer. 

But Japan reported its first locally transmitted case of Omicron on December 23 — and cases of the highly transmissible variant have been slowly rising nationwide.

Cases on US military bases: In a news release Wednesday, officials at the US Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in Yamaguchi prefecture, western Japan, said 80 personnel had tested positive for Covid.

That's the highest number reported on the base in a single day.

Meanwhile, at the Marine Corps' Camp Hansen in the southern prefecture of Okinawa, nearly 300 people have been confirmed to be infected so far, according to Japan's public broadcaster NHK. Japan's Foreign Ministry believes 47% of the samples are of the Omicron variant.

At a news conference last week, chief cabinet secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said US forces in Japan didn’t test their personnel before they left the United States, in a move that undermines Tokyo’s request to follow its border control measures.

Japan had urged the US military to adhere to coronavirus testing and quarantine rules last Wednesday, as the Camp Hansen cluster grew.

In response, Marine Forces Japan have reinstituted mask mandates for everyone on-base regardless of vaccination status, except for activities like eating or exercising.

4:24 a.m. ET, December 30, 2021

Covid numbers stay high in China's Xi'an, where 13 million people have been on lockdown for a week

From CNN’s Beijing Bureau

Despite having been under strict lockdown for a week, the Chinese city of Xi'an continues to report high numbers of new daily cases.

The city, in Shaanxi province, reported 155 cases on Wednesday — the fifth straight day it has seen more than 150 new infections.

That brings the city's total to 1,117 cases since the outbreak began earlier this month.

All 13 million residents have been under lockdown since December 23, with each household only allowed to send one person to buy groceries every other day.

However, local authorities say the daily case count could begin to decline, now the city has gone through four rounds of mass testing since December 21.

Apart from the Xi'an cases, one other locally transmitted case was reported Thursday in southern Guangxi province, while 51 cases were imported from overseas, according to China's National Health Commission. 

9:24 p.m. ET, December 29, 2021

As Omicron spreads in India, mass gatherings spark fears of another wave

From CNN's Jessie Yeung, Esha Mitra and Arpit Goel

Doctors in India are bracing for a potential third wave driven by the highly contagious Omicron variant, as cases rise and political leaders hold mass gatherings ahead of key elections.

In the past week, India's Omicron case numbers have more than tripled, with 781 infections now recorded, compared to 236 last Tuesday.

It may not seem that many in a nation of 1.3 billion people, but the variant's rapid spread in other countries — several of which are now seeing dramatic surges — is enough to make health experts nervous. And the real number of Omicron cases is likely higher than official figures due to insufficient testing.

"If India observes the same pattern as the United Kingdom, and if we compare the population of both countries, 80,000 daily cases in the UK would mean around 1.4 million daily Covid cases in India," said VK Paul, head of the country's Covid Task Force, at a news conference on December 17.

For the past month, India has been steadily reporting 6,000 to 9,000 total Covid cases a day — but several of the country's biggest cities have seen infections spike in recent weeks.

The financial hub Mumbai, which had been reporting 600 to 800 new daily cases in previous weeks, recorded 2,510 cases on Wednesday. New Delhi, the national capital, also saw more than 900 cases Wednesday — a sharp increase from the start of the month, when daily new cases had hovered in the dozens.

The federal Health Ministry warned last week of "initial signs of a surge in cases of Covid-19," with researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology projecting a third wave could peak between late winter and early spring.

The situation might sound familiar: In some ways, it echoes the past spring, right before the country was ravaged by a second coronavirus wave from March through June. The surge completely overwhelmed India's health care system, with no beds, oxygen supplies, or medicine left. Across the country, patients were turned away by overflowing hospitals and left dying on the streets.

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