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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10:00 a.m. ET, December 30, 2021

Paris makes wearing masks outdoors mandatory starting Friday

From CNN’s Eva Tapiero

People wear face masks to curb the spread of COVID-19 as they walk in the alley of a funfair in Paris, France, Wednesday, Dec. 29, 2021. France's Health Minister Olivier Veran announced that the country recorded a new record high of 208,000 new cases of COVID-19 infection in the past 24 hours.
People wear face masks to curb the spread of COVID-19 as they walk in the alley of a funfair in Paris, France, Wednesday, Dec. 29, 2021. France's Health Minister Olivier Veran announced that the country recorded a new record high of 208,000 new cases of COVID-19 infection in the past 24 hours. (Thibault Camus/AP)

Wearing a mask will be made mandatory in Paris' outdoor public spaces starting Dec. 31, the Paris police prefecture said Wednesday.

The decision was made following “an incidence rate near 2,000 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, a level never reached before, due in particular to the Omicron variant,” according to the prefecture. 

France reported a daily record-breaking 208,099 Covid-19 infections on Wednesday, Health Ministry data shows.

Some context: Spain, Greece and Italy are among a host of countries that mandated masks outdoors again last Friday due to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant.

You can read more about the guidelines in Europe here.

9:54 a.m. ET, December 30, 2021

Study estimates 75% of people experiencing cold symptoms in UK are likely to have Covid-19

From CNN's Niamh Kennedy

Shoppers, some wearing face masks to guard against COVID-19, walk along Oxford Street in London, Monday, December 27, 2021.
Shoppers, some wearing face masks to guard against COVID-19, walk along Oxford Street in London, Monday, December 27, 2021. (David Cliff/AP)

A study from health science company ZOE has estimated that 75% of people in the UK experiencing new cold like symptoms in fact have symptomatic Covid-19.

In a news release Thursday, the ZOE study said their "data is now showing a fall in the number of non-COVID ‘colds’ and a continued rise in symptomatic COVID infections."

The figures for new symptomatic cases are based on reports "from around 840,000 weekly contributors and the proportion of newly symptomatic users who have received positive swab tests," the release added. 

The study which claims to be the world's largest ongoing study on Covid-19 operates using scientific analysis from Kings College London and contributions from four million people globally.

As new cold like symptoms eclipse the traditional symptoms associated with the virus, the study's scientists "want to see symptoms like sore throat, headache, and runny nose added" to the UK government list of symptoms "as soon as possible," remarked ZOE study scientist Dr. Claire Steves.

The study also estimated that daily Covid-19 cases in the UK are set to surpass 200,000 in one to two days. 

“The number of daily new symptomatic COVID cases are more than double what they were this time last year and we are just a day or two away from hitting over 200,000," Steves said.

The study's data estimates that the UK is in fact recording 192,290 new daily symptomatic cases of Covid-19 on average, based on PCR and Lateral Flow Test data from up to three days ago. At least 183,037 cases were recorded on the UK government dashboard Wednesday. 

The UK's "exponential growth in cases appears to have stopped," Steves added, describing the current rise as "more steady."

As cases among 55 to 77 year olds continue to rise, Steves predicted that "this will translate into more hospital admissions in the New Year."

8:57 a.m. ET, December 30, 2021

6 Georgia health systems seeing 100 to 200% increase in Covid-19 hospitalizations

From CNN’s Jennifer Henderson

In the past eight days, six major health systems in the state of Georgia and metro Atlanta have experienced 100% to 200% increases in Covid-19 hospitalizations — with most of them coming from unvaccinated patients, according to a joint statement released by Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, Emory Healthcare, Grady Health System, Northeast Georgia Health System, Piedmont and Wellstar Health System.

The health systems are experiencing “a staggering surge in adults and children with Covid-19 symptoms and diagnoses,” at a time when the health systems are also preparing for an influx of flu patients, the statement says.

Because of significantly increased emergency room activity, the systems are asking people to seek Covid-19 testing elsewhere to keep emergency rooms available to those who have the most critical needs.

8:44 a.m. ET, December 30, 2021

Airlines cancel more than 1,000 flights on Thursday

From CNN's Greg Wallace and Jordan Valinsky

Travellers make their way through Miami International Airport on December 28, 2021 in Miami, Florida.
Travellers make their way through Miami International Airport on December 28, 2021 in Miami, Florida. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Airline cancellations are surging Thursday for a seventh straight day and threaten to throw off weekend flights home for holiday travelers.  

Carriers canceled more than 1,000 US flights on Thursday and have already canceled 500 from Friday’s schedule, according to the aviation tracking website FlightAware.  

In total, FlightAware recorded more than 8,500 US flight cancelations since Christmas Eve, when heavy holiday travel collided with a spike in coronavirus cases among industry workers and weather issues.  

Alaska Airlines said winter weather in the Pacific Northwest are causing it to cancel one out of every five flights at Seattle, its headquarters, to “allow for the additional time it takes to deice aircraft.” It canceled 14% of Thursday flights and asked passengers who do not need to travel this week to reschedule for a later date.  

“We strongly urge flyers with non-essential travel scheduled before January 2, 2022, to consider changing their travel to a later date using our flexible travel policy,” the airline said.  

JetBlue Airways told CNN it has “seen a surge in the number of sick calls from Omicron” and will cut its schedule for the next two weeks to “give our customers give as much notice possible to make alternate plans and reaccommodate them on other flights.”  It told Reuters the cuts amount to about 1,280 flights, or 10% of its schedule. JetBlue canceled about 17% of flights on Thursday, FlightAware said.  

Budget leisure carrier Allegiant Air canceled 17% of its flights, according to FlightAware, and warned customers telephone hold times were “unusually long.”   

United Airlines canceled 8% of its Thursday schedule, which FlightAware data show is about its average since Christmas Eve, and told CNN it is “managing this day by day.”  

Delta Air Lines canceled 3% of its Thursday schedule but warned that it expects storms headed for its hubs in Salt Lake City and Detroit to complicate travel “in the coming days.”  

The weather impacts aren’t limited to snow and ice. The Federal Aviation Administration acknowledged the jet stream weather pattern over the US was “stronger than usual” on Tuesday, reaching 170 knots in the air above the Great Lakes. A strong jet stream can slow west-bound travel and speed up east-bound flights at the high altitudes where aircraft operate. 

Meanwhile, Southwest Airlines told CNN it has “yet to see any impact on our operation” from coronavirus illnesses but is “closely monitoring this.” President and Chief Operating Officer Mike Van de Ven told employees in a memo shared with CNN that Southwest carried 3 million passengers last week and canceled less than 1% of flights. 

8:25 a.m. ET, December 30, 2021

More US states are at or near all-time peak Covid-19 hospitalization levels

From CNN's Matthew Hilk

Maryland and the District of Columbia are the latest to see all-time high hospitalization levels from Covid-19 — at a time when about 10 states are experiencing some of the highest hospitalization numbers of the pandemic.

According to data from the US Department of Health and Human Services, Maryland currently has 2,197 Covid-19 patients in the hospital, up 32% from just a week ago, topping the record previously set in January.

Washington, DC, has 514 Covid-19 cases in the hospital, more than double the number a week ago, and a far higher number than during any previous pandemic peak. 

Ohio hospitalizations, 5,609, are nearly tied with the state's all-time record of 5,759 in December 2020.

Four other states — Connecticut, Indiana, Missouri and Delaware — are all seeing hospital numbers at least 80% as high as their all-time records last winter, according to a CNN analysis of HHS data.

And four states — Michigan, Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire — hit their all-time pandemic peak hospitalization numbers this month, according to a CNN review of the data, though all four have seen hospitalizations decline in the last few days.

Here's a look at how 2021 US Covid-19 hospitalizations compare to 2020:

8:14 a.m. ET, December 30, 2021

NYC mayor: No plans to further scale back or cancel New Year’s Eve celebration  

From CNN's Taylor Romine

People wearing 2022 hats and masks gather before confetti is released from the Hard Rock Cafe marquee during a ‘confetti test’ ahead of New Year’s Eve in Times Square on December 29, 2021 in New York City. On New Year’s Eve 3000 pounds of confetti will be released. Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that New Year's Eve in Times Square will be limited to 15,000 socially distanced visitors that will be required to be fully vaccinated due to a rise in COVID-19 cases.
People wearing 2022 hats and masks gather before confetti is released from the Hard Rock Cafe marquee during a ‘confetti test’ ahead of New Year’s Eve in Times Square on December 29, 2021 in New York City. On New Year’s Eve 3000 pounds of confetti will be released. Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that New Year's Eve in Times Square will be limited to 15,000 socially distanced visitors that will be required to be fully vaccinated due to a rise in COVID-19 cases. (Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images)

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said there are no plans to further scale back or cancel the city's big New Years' Eve celebration, as the current precautions were approved by the city's health leadership. He also emphasized that it's crucial to hold the event "to send a message to the world, New York City is open."

The mayor previously announced that the size of the event will be reduced, and the city will require masks on top of a previous requirement that everyone be vaccinated. 

"Our schools are coming back Monday, full strength, and the way to deal with Covid is not shutdowns," de Blasio told the "Today" show on NBC. "It's even more in terms of vaccination, doubling down on vaccinations."

As the celebration is quickly approaching, de Blasio also attempted to assuage concerns over emergency services staffing, saying that while workers are calling out sick, most are experiencing mild illness.

"We have the ability to weather this for sure," de Blasio said.

He lauded the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's guidance to shorten the recommended isolation time for people who've tested positive for Covid-19 from 10 days to five days if they don't have symptoms.

"We want everyone to be healthy, but what we are seeing is very mild illnesses, thank God, [and] after five days, people coming right back on," de Blasio said.  

Currently, 30% of EMS workers and 17% of firefighters are on medical leave – compared to the 25% of EMS workers on medical leave in March and April of 2020, according to the FDNY. 

Some members are out sick with Covid-19, there are others who have symptoms but have not yet confirmed diagnosis, and others who are just sick in general, they said.

The new year also brings the end of de Blasio's administration.

CNN's Laura Ly contributed to this post.

8:02 a.m. ET, December 30, 2021

JetBlue is canceling 1,280 flights through Jan. 13 as Omicron cases surge

From CNN's Jordan Valinsky

JetBlue planes at John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) in New York, U.S., on Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2021.
JetBlue planes at John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) in New York, U.S., on Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2021. (Angus Mordant/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

JetBlue Airways is reducing its schedule by about 1,280 flights starting today through Jan. 13 because a growing number of crew members are getting infected with Covid-19.

"We expect the number of Covid cases in the Northeast — where most of our crewmembers are based — to continue to surge for the next week or two," a JetBlue spokesperson said in an email statement to Reuters. "This means there is a high likelihood of additional cancellations until case counts start to come down."

The 1,280 flights amount to about 10% of JetBlue's schedule.

Airlines have canceled hundreds of flights every day in the United States since Christmas Eve as they grapple with staff shortages due to Covid-19 infections and bad weather in parts of the country. JetBlue is based in New York, which reported a new record high of 67,000 positive cases on Tuesday.

More than 1,000 flights have been canceled within, into or out of the US as of Thursday, according to FlightAware. JetBlue canceled 17% of its flights Thursday with another 4% flights delayed.

7:57 a.m. ET, December 30, 2021

Spanish police seize 300,000 antigen tests suspected of non-compliance

From CNN’s Al Goodman in Madrid  

Spanish National Police have seized about 300,000 Covid-19 antigen tests from warehouses near Madrid on suspicion that they may not comply with established health procedures, the police said in a statement Thursday. 

Dozens of police officers converged on Wednesday on five warehouses in the southern Madrid suburb of Fuenlabrada and inspected 1 million packaged antigen tests, seizing 300,000 of them, according to the statement and the national police press office for Madrid.

The police suspect the tests may lack proper documentation or authorization to be distributed, the statement said. 

The move comes amid shortages of home-use antigen tests as Covid-19 cases surge in Spain, spurred by the Omicron variant. To increase supply, the government has authorized six companies which make professional-use antigen tests to send them to pharmacies, for sale to the public, Spanish Health Minister Carolina Darias said Wednesday. 

The antigen tests were seized from four companies that operate in five warehouses. The police did not immediately name the companies, which face an investigation. 

Police became aware of the suspect tests on Tuesday, and moved quickly, within a day, to inspect them and make the seizures, the statement said. 

The police acted to ensure “the tests don’t give false information” to users trying to find out if they are positive for Covid-19, the national police press office for Madrid told CNN. 

7:20 a.m. ET, December 30, 2021

Reports indicate J&J Covid-19 vaccine booster protects people against severe illness from Omicron variant

From CNN Health’s Maggie Fox

A healthcare prepares a dose of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine from a vial outside a polling station in Laudium, Pretoria, on November 1, 2021, during South Africa's local elections.
A healthcare prepares a dose of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine from a vial outside a polling station in Laudium, Pretoria, on November 1, 2021, during South Africa's local elections. (Phill Magakoe/AFP/Getty Images)

Two reports released Thursday show that people who get booster doses of Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccine are well protected against severe disease and hospitalization from the Omicron variant of coronavirus, the company said.

Data from one real-life study from South Africa showed vaccine effectiveness against hospitalization from Covid-19 rose to 85% after a booster dose of the J&J vaccine, even after the Omicron variant was circulating. And data from a lab-based study in the US indicated the vaccine stimulates a strong immune response from cells known as T-cells, which protect people against severe disease even if they don’t block the virus entirely from infecting the body.

Results from both studies were released by the company in a statement but are being submitted to a pre-print server and a peer-reviewed journal, the company said.

A team at the South African Medical Research Council helped examine the results of an ongoing study of the J&J vaccine there. They looked at results from 69,000 health care workers. “When a booster shot was administered six to nine months after a primary single dose, vaccine effectiveness increased over time from 63 percent at 0-13 days, to 84 percent at 14-27 days and 85 percent at 1-2 months post-boost,” J&J said in a statement.

“Even before you factor in the increased infectiousness of Omicron, we have to remember that healthcare workers on the frontlines are at a greatly increased risk of being affected by COVID-19 in the first place,” Dr. Glenda Gray, president and CEO of the SAMRC, said in a statement. “We are therefore encouraged to see that boosting with the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine regimen provides strong protection in a challenging real-world setting where there is an elevated risk of exposure – not just to COVID-19, but to the highly transmissible Omicron variant.”

Separately, Dr. Dan Barouch and colleagues at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston looked at blood taken from 65 vaccinated volunteers and tested it against the Omicron variant. They looked at both antibodies – the first line of defense against infection – and T-cells. 

Using the J&J vaccine as a booster for people who originally got two doses of Pfizer/BioNTech’s vaccine generated a 41-fold increase in neutralizing antibodies and a five-fold increase in the CD8 killer T cells that destroy cells infected by the virus. That stops the virus from replicating and spreading. Boosting with the Pfizer vaccine generated a 17-fold increase in neutralizing antibodies and a 1.4-fold increase in CD8 T cells four weeks later, they found.

“These data are important and these data are hopeful,” Barouch told CNN. They indicate that all Covid-19 vaccines can protect people from severe disease and death, even from the Omicron variant with all its mutations, he said.