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The latest on the coronavirus pandemic and the Omicron variant

Covid cases rise in the US as Omicron now in over half of all states
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What we covered here

  • Cases of the Omicron variant are rising quickly around the world, and the strain is on course to become dominant in a number of countries.
  • The EU announced it ordered over 180 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine adapted to protect against the Omicron variant.
  • Experts in the US say that Americans must prepare for difficult times ahead, despite there being more tools such as vaccines available than during last winter’s surge.

Our live coverage has ended for the day.

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Radio City "Christmas Spectacular" has been canceled for the rest of the season due to Covid-19

The “Christmas Spectacular” show starring the Radio City Rockettes has been canceled for the rest of the season “due to increasing challenges from the pandemic,” according to a statement posted Friday on the show’s website.

“We regret that we are unable to continue the Christmas Spectacular this season due to increasing challenges from the pandemic. We had hoped we could make it through the season and are honored to have hosted hundreds of thousands of fans at more than 100 shows over the last seven weeks,” the statement said.

The show said they look forward to “welcoming fans back to Radio City Music Hall in 2022.”

New York state reports highest single-day Covid-19 case count since the beginning of the pandemic

New York state reported its highest single-day Covid-19 case count on Friday with 21,027 positive cases, according to available state data.

Before this new record, the state had reported 19,942 positive Covid-19 cases on Jan. 14, according to the data. 

However, Covid-19-related hospitalizations remain comparatively low.

On Friday, the state reported 3,839 Covid-19 related hospitalizations, as compared to 8,088 Covid-19 related hospitalizations reported on Jan. 14, according to Covid-19 hospitalization data. At its peak in mid-April 2020, New York’s hospitalization rate for Covid-19 nearly reached 19,000. 

New York Covid-19 data also revealed that positive Covid-19 cases in the state jumped 154% in less than a week.

On Friday, the state reported 21,027 positive Covid-19 cases, one and a half times the number of positive Covid-19 cases reported on Tuesday — which was 8,266 positive Covid-19 cases.

“We must not make light of the winter surge that we are facing, and we should continue to encourage everyone we know to get vaccinated, get the booster and wear a mask,” New York Gov. Hochul said Thursday in a news release.

The data revelations come as New York City reported its positivity rate from PCR tests doubled over a four-day period. The NYC health commissioner sid cases have tripled in the past month.

"We can't give in. We will win this war" against the coronavirus, Fauci says

The US can win the war against the coronavirus if people keep fighting and use the weapons at hand, Dr. Anthony Fauci said Friday.

Fauci likened the fight against Covid-19 to World War II, which raged for years.

“You have to do it, Erica. I mean, everybody understands, and we all have been through a two-year ordeal that is really unprecedented in the history of public health in our country. That is for sure, but we can’t give in,” Fauci told CNN’s Erica Hill. “We will win this war with this virus, but we will win it only because we apply the things that we have: the interventions. We are so fortunate that we have a highly effective and safe vaccine. We know what public health mitigations work. We have just got to hang in there. We can’t give up.”

Fauci added: “We’re at war. You know, if you really want to make a metaphor out of it and take an analogy, it’s sort of like in the beginning of World War II, when we were losing all the battles and we were getting pushed back on the Pacific front and on the Europe front. If we had said, ‘oh, my goodness, we’re all fatigued, let’s give up,’ that would not have been a good thing,” said Fauci, who is director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and who has been a senior White House adviser throughout the pandemic.

Report on how Trump administration handled the pandemic is getting "the truth out there," Fauci says

A report from Democrats on the House Oversight Committee that accuses the Trump administration of making “deliberate efforts to undermine” the pandemic response is an effort to get the truth out there, Dr. Anthony Fauci said Friday.

The report said the administration worked to undermine the public health response to the coronavirus pandemic by blocking officials from speaking publicly, watering down testing guidance and attempting to interfere with other public health guidance.

Fauci, who is director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and who has been a senior adviser to the Trump and Biden administrations, agreed that officials were unable to say some of the things they wanted to.

“It’s always important, Erica, to get the facts and the truth out there, and that’s what that report is doing,” Fauci told CNN. “It was unfortunate that it was not a situation where we were optimally getting the message across.”

One incident, in particular, was when former President Trump called on states to “liberate” themselves in April 2020 while much of the country remained shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Fauci corroborated some of the accusations during interviews for a documentary with CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta. 

“As I said in that interview with Sanjay, Dr. (Deborah) Birx and I had put a lot of effort into getting a format out where people could address the outbreak in a way that would be optimal from a public health standpoint. And then the day after we did that, when that came out, I’ll say it again as I said to Sanjay: I was floored by that, because that was totally counterproductive,” Fauci said.

Houston mayor tests positive for Covid-19

Mayor Sylvester Turner during a news conference on November 6, in Houston.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner has tested positive for Covid-19, according to a news release from his office. 

“This afternoon, I learned that I tested positive for the virus that causes Covid-19. I was not feeling well overnight and thought I was suffering from allergies or a sinus infection, so I decided to get tested before starting my daily schedule,” Turner said in the release. 

The mayor added: “Before and after getting my test results, I canceled all events for today and the weekend. My symptoms are mild, and I will spend the next several days isolating myself at home and getting some rest.” 

2 more NHL teams shut down due to Covid-19

The NHL’s Colorado Avalanche and Florida Panthers will shut down through Dec. 26 due to “concern with the number of positive cases within the last two days as well concern for continued Covid spread in the coming days,” the league announced Friday.

The Avalanche will have four games postponed during that time, while the Panthers will miss three games.

The NHL also extended the Calgary Flames’ shutdown through Dec. 26. The Flames will have missed six games since its shutdown began on Dec. 13. As of Wednesday, the Flames had 16 players in the NHL’s Covid-19 protocols.

Pfizer will test third Covid-19 vaccine dose in children under 16

A health worker prepares to administer a dose of Pfizer covid-19 vaccine at the Sanford Civic Center in Sanford, Florida, in early December.

Pfizer is including a third dose of its Covid-19 vaccine in trials of the vaccine in children under 16, the company announced Friday.

The company announced in an earnings call that it will be testing a three-microgram third dose in children younger than 5, and in a news release said it plans to test a 10-microgram third dose in children ages 5 to 11.

Pfizer said two doses of vaccine did not produce the hoped-for results in the children ages 2 to 5.

The vaccines protected the youngest group – infants and toddlers up to 2 years – at the same levels seen in teens and young adults, but the three-microgram dose did not produce the same immunity in the 2-to-5-year-olds, the company said in a news release.

“The decision to evaluate a third dose of 3 microgram for children 6 months to under 5 years of age reflects the companies’ commitment to carefully select the right dose to maximize the risk-benefit profile,” the company said.

An additional study, in adolescents 12 to 17 years old, will examine the use of a third dose of either 10 or 30 micrograms, the company said. 

In the United States, a booster dose of Pfizer’s vaccine is currently for fully vaccinated people age 16 and older. 

“The effectiveness data for three doses of the vaccine in general for people 16 years and older and the early laboratory data we have seen with Delta and other variants of concern, including Omicron suggests that people vaccinated with three doses of our Covid vaccine may have a higher degree of protection,” Kathrin Jansen, head of research and development at Pfizer, said in the call.

“Therefore, we have decided to modify each of the pediatric studies to incorporate a third dose to the series and seek licensure for a three dose series rather than a two dose series as originally anticipated.”

Pfizer is currently studying its vaccine in children 6 months to 2 years old and 2 to less than 5 years old. Jansen said in an earlier phase of the trials for the primary series, a 3-microgram dose in the 2- to 5-year-old cohort showed comparable immune response to dosages given to older populations with fewer side effects than a 10-microgram dose. 

Jansen said the change in the trials is not expected to impact the timeline to submit for emergency use authorization for the vaccine in younger populations, which is still targeted at mid-2022. 

“If the three-dose study is successful, Pfizer and BioNTech expect to submit data to regulators to support an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for children 6 months to under 5 years of age in the first half of 2022.”

Italy records highest number of daily Covid-19 cases since start of the year

Italy recorded 28,632 new coronavirus cases on Friday, marking the highest number of daily cases since the beginning of the year, according to data from Italy’s health ministry.

“The number of daily Covid positive has steadily increased for the last eight weeks,” the Italian National Institute of Health said in its weekly report. 

The Delta variant is still dominant in Italy, which has confirmed only 55 cases of Omicron variant, health institute President Silvio Brusaferro said in a video address on Friday.

A total of 5,336,795 people in Italy have been infected since the start of the pandemic.

Italy also reported 120 deaths related to coronavirus in the last 24 hours, bringing the death toll to at least 135,421 since the pandemic began. 

Southwest CEO tests positive for Covid-19 after testifying unmasked at Senate hearing

Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly testified before the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation in the Russell Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill on December 15, 2021 in Washington, DC. 

Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly, who testified unmasked at a Senate hearing on Wednesday, has since tested positive for Covid-19, the airline said in a statement.  

“Although testing negative multiple times prior to the Senate Commerce Committee Hearing, Gary tested positive for COVID-19 after returning home, experiencing mild symptoms, and taking a PCR test,” according to Southwest.  
“Gary is doing well and currently resting at home, he has been fully vaccinated and received the booster earlier this year.”  

Kelly testified at the hearing that he believes masks do not add substantial protection to airplane passengers and cited aircraft ventilation systems.  

“I think the case is very strong that masks don’t add much, if anything, in the air cabin environment,” he said. “It is very safe and very high-quality compared to any other indoor setting.” 

The hearing lasted about three hours. Five witnesses were seated in close proximity and went most of the hearing unmasked.  

Kelly was seated between American Airlines CEO Doug Parker and United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby. Kirby tested negative, the airline said. American did not immediately respond to a request for comment.  

Delta Chief of Operations John Laughter tested negative, his airline said, and Association of Flight Attendants President Sara Nelson said she will follow testing protocols. 

College basketball games canceled due to Covid-19

The NCAA men’s basketball calendar has been turned upside-down, with more than a dozen games being canceled or postponed in recent days. 

Most notably, games between No. 2 Duke and Loyola and between No. 4 UCLA and North Carolina scheduled for Saturday have been canceled due to Covid-19 issues within the UCLA and Loyola programs, the schools announced on Friday. 

Duke had already been in jeopardy of not playing on Saturday after having to reschedule when their original opponent, Cleveland State, had to pull out due to Covid-19 issues. According to the Blue Devils, they will seek a replacement opponent to play on Saturday.

This is the second game this week that UCLA has had to cancel due to Covid-19 issues. The Bruins have paused all team-related activities and the status for future games are yet to be determined, according to the school.

Other affected top 25 games scheduled for Saturday that had been previously canceled are No. 15 Ohio State against No. 21 Kentucky and No. 16 Seton Hall versus Iona.

With UCLA and Ohio State dropping out of their games in the CBS Sports Classic in Las Vegas, Kentucky will now play North Carolina on Saturday.

On Friday, Syracuse men’s basketball announced they postponed their next two games because of Covid-19 protocols. The games were scheduled to be played on Saturday, Dec. 18 and Tuesday, Dec. 21. In a statement, the school said they are re-evaluating their schedule to determine if the games could be made up.

“The Covid-19 pandemic continues to present challenges for intercollegiate athletics all over the country,” said Syracuse Director of Athletics John Wildhack. “Our top priority is safeguarding the health and well-being of our student-athletes, athletics staff, fans and the campus and Central New York communities. While it is disappointing to have to postpone any athletic event, this is the right decision given the increasingly difficult public health landscape.”

CNN’s Kevin Dotson contributed to this report

Ohio governor orders National Guard into hospitals following staffing shortages

In the wake of Covid-19 upticks, the Ohio governor deployed more than 1,000 members of the state’s National Guard to hospitals to help assuage staffing issues plaguing Ohio hospitals, many of which have paused elective surgeries.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said the National Guard should begin arriving in hospitals on Monday.

Of the 1,050 National Guard members, 150 are highly-trained medical personnel, nurses and EMTs, the governor said.

The medical personnel, the governor said, will be deployed strategically throughout the state — and, subsequently, will be placed within hospitals at administrators’ discretion.

The governor said the Cleveland, Canton, Akron and Wooster areas were the primary recipients of National Guard personnel given the high number of confirmed Covid-19 cases that these cities are currently seeing. DeWine added that he anticipates the 900 non-medical service members will “go anywhere in the state that they’re needed.” 

The governor also emphasized that with 4,723 patients currently hospitalized because of Covid-19, the state is seeing the highest number of Covid-19-related hospitalizations since Dec. 22, 2020. 

Given the stress placed on hospital staff, DeWine noted that “almost all hospitals in Zone 1 — the northern part, right across the northern part of the state of Ohio — have stopped elective surgeries.” He added that some hospitals in the state’s middle tier have already paused elective surgeries and that others in the area will be following suit in the near future. And, in the state’s southern tier, hospitals are currently making plans to halt elective surgeries as necessary, he said. 

The governor did stress that 294,000 Ohioans got the first vaccine dose in November and another 101,000 in the first two weeks of December.

Meanwhile, 945,000 Ohioans received their booster shots in November and 514,000 in the first two weeks of December, bringing the total number of Ohioans boosted in the last six weeks or so to 1.5 million, he said.

Washington health officials update Covid-19 guidance after 200 cases linked to wrestling matches

The Washington State Department of Health issued new Covid-19 guidance for “high contact indoor sports,” following a series of wrestling matches that resulted in about 200 new positive Covid-19 cases, the department said in a news release Friday.  

The new guidance requires all athletes, coaches, trainers and support staff to get tested at least three times a week regardless of vaccination status, the release said. At least one of those three tests must be completed “no sooner than the day before the competition,” the department added.   

“Please get vaccinated, boosted, wear a well-fitting mask, and maintain your distance to help our kids stay healthy, stay in the game, and stay in school,” said Lacy Fehrenbach, deputy secretary for Covid-19 response.  

On Wednesday, the department said dozens of recent Covid-19 outbreaks could be traced to high school wrestling matches. At least 13 counties sent wrestlers to four wrestling tournaments on Dec. 4, according to the department.

CDC director: Studies show "test-to-stay” works to keep students in school safely

New evidence shows that “test-to-stay” works to keep children in school safely, even if they have been exposed to the coronavirus that causes Covid-19, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Friday.

“Test-to-stay is an encouraging public health practice to keep our children in school,” Walensky said during a virtual White House briefing. 

“CDC is updating our materials to help schools and parents know how to best implement this promising and now-proven practice, along with our multilayer prevention strategies that will help keep our children in the classroom safely,” Walensky said, adding that new data on test-to-stay will be released in the agency’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

In the past few months, the CDC has collaborated with certain school districts to evaluate test-to-stay programs, which involve testing — instead of quarantining — students who may have been exposed to the virus at school. Two of the communities that collaborated with the CDC are Lake County, Illinois, and Los Angeles County, California.

“In the test-to-stay protocol, there’s increased testing of close contacts after a Covid-19 exposure, and that testing needs to be at least twice during the seven-day period after exposure. If exposed children meet a certain criteria and continue to test negative, they can stay in school instead of quarantining at home,” Walensky said in the briefing.

“In order for test-to-stay to be implemented safely and correctly, some key prevention measures need to be included,” Walensky said. “In both studies, masks were worn consistently and correctly, close contacts of a positive case were monitored for symptoms and stayed home if they became ill, and those who did not develop symptoms had regular testing.”

Radio City Music Hall cancels 4 holiday performances due to "breakthrough" Covid-19 cases

Radio City Music Hall in early December.

Four shows of the Radio City Christmas Spectacular are canceled Friday “due to breakthrough COVID-19 cases in the production,” MSG Entertainment, which operates Radio City Music Hall in New York City, said in a news release. 

Those performances include the 11 a.m. ET, 2 p.m. ET, 5 p.m. ET and 8 p.m. ET shows.

Plans for future shows are “currently being assessed” and tickets will be refunded “at the original point of purchase,” they said.

CDC director: We expect Omicron to become dominant variant in the coming weeks

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at a hearing of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee on July 20, 2021 in Washington, DC, United States.

While the Delta variant continues to circulate widely in the United States, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said the Omicron coronavirus variant is “increasing rapidly” and expected “to become the dominant strain in the United States as it has in other countries in the coming weeks.” 

“We’ve seen cases of Omicron among those who are both vaccinated and boosted, and we believe these cases are milder or asymptomatic because of vaccine protection. What we do know is we have the tools to protect ourselves against Covid-19. We have vaccines. We have boosters,” Walensky said during a White House Covid-19 response team meeting.

“And we know multilayer prevention strategies — masks in public indoor settings, practicing physical distancing, frequent hand washing, improving ventilation and testing to slow transmission — are vitally important, especially as we prepare for more Omicron and even if you are vaccinated and boosted,” she continued.

Walensky said the seven-day average of hospital admissions has increased about 4% over the prior week, while the seven-day average of daily deaths was up over 8% from the prior week.

Jeff Zients, White House coronavirus response coordinator, said “this is not a moment to panic” and again urged people to get vaccinated.

“We know how to protect people, and we have the tools to do it. But we need the American people to do their part, to protect themselves, their children and their communities. The more people get vaccinated, the less severe this Omicron outbreak will be,” he said.

UK breaks Covid-19 daily case record for third day

The UK reported a record high of Covid-19 cases for the third consecutive day on Friday, recording 93,045 infections — the highest number of daily cases since the pandemic began.

That is up from 88,376 new cases on Thursday and 78,610 new cases on Wednesday.

The UK also recorded 3,201 additional confirmed cases of the Omicron variant on Friday, bringing the total confirmed Omicron cases to 14,909.

The country reported a further 111 coronavirus deaths on Friday. 

France reports "very high" Covid-19 infection rate in children

Laboratory operator handles positive Covid-19 samples to be sequenced in the virology laboratory of the AP-HP Henri Mondor Hospital in Creteil, on the outskirt of Paris on December 7, 2021. 

French health authorities have reported a “very high” Covid-19 infection rate in children aged 6-10, they said in a weekly report on Friday. 

Adherence to vaccination and social distancing guidelines is “more indispensable than ever” to slow infections, according to the country’s national health agency. Only the most vulnerable children aged 6-10 are currently eligible for vaccination, although the government has announced preparations to vaccinate this age group if scientific advisers recommend it. 

The national weekly incidence rate rose 13% this week to 508 cases per 100,000 people, the highest it’s been since the first wave of Covid-19 — although the rate of increase is less than the week before, according to the report. On average, 48,700 new Covid-19 cases were diagnosed daily this week, according to Public Health France. 

The agency also reported the number of Omicron cases in the country has risen to 301.

At the national level, hospitalizations and intensive care admissions saw double-digit percentage rises this week (12% and 15% respectively) but figures remain below those of the first three waves. 

The health agency attributed to relatively low levels of Covid-related hospitalizations and deaths in this fifth wave to the efficacy of vaccines in avoiding severe forms of the illness and the circulation of Covid-19, primarily in the youngest of the population, who have less risk of hospitalization. 

Here are some key statistics about Covid-19 in the US right now

Respiratory therapist, back center, works with a team of critical care nurses and assistants to supine a critically-ill COVID patient in the South Seven Intensive Care Unit on Wednesday, December 8th, at North Memorial Health Hospital in Robbinsdale, Minn.

Overall Covid-19 case rates are holding at a high plateau in the US, but rising rapidly in some states. These are some of the latest stats:

  • The US is now averaging 121,707 new Covid-19 cases each day, according to Johns Hopkins University. New case rates have been holding steady over the past week (up 3%), but at levels last seen in September at the end of the summer surge.
  • Cases are increasing at a much faster clip in parts of the Northeast, Midwest and South. Cases are up more than 10% week over week in 13 states, including Texas, Connecticut and Hawaii, where they grew more than 50% from last week. New York accounted for 10% of new cases over the past week. 
  • The US is now averaging 1,286 deaths each day, according to JHU. That’s 8% higher than last week. 
  • There are 68,847 people currently hospitalized with Covid-19, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services. Hospitalizations have been trending upward for more than two months, and this is about 40% higher than a month ago. Intensive care beds are nearly 80% full — and one in five (20%) are Covid-19 patients. 

About 1.8 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines have been administered each day over the past week, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than half of those doses have been boosters, and about 407,000 people are initiating vaccination each day.

Changing definition of fully vaccinated is "on the table and open for discussion," Fauci says

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention redefining what it means to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 is “on the table and open for discussion,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Friday.

“That’s certainly on the table. Right now, it is a bit of semantics,” Fauci told CNBC. He was referring to the definition of “fully vaccinated” for the purpose of regulations or businesses that may require vaccination.

“Whether or not the CDC is going to change that? It certainly is on the table and open for discussion. I’m not sure exactly when that will happen,” Fauci said. “But I think people should not lose sight of the message that there’s no doubt that if you want to be optimally protected, you should get your booster.”

Germany expecting fifth Covid-19 wave to be "massive challenge," health minister says

Karl Lauterbach (SPD), Federal Minister of Health, gives a press statement after visiting the vaccination centre in the former Rainforest Panorama at Hannover Adventure Zoo on 17 December 2021, Lower Saxony, Germany.

Germany’s new health minister Karl Lauterbach said he expects the fifth wave of the pandemic to be a “massive challenge” for the country.

“We have to assume that the Omicron wave we are facing — which I believe we cannot prevent — will be a massive challenge for our hospitals, for our intensive care units, but also for society as a whole,” Lauterbach told journalists in Hannover on Friday, while visiting a new vaccination center.

Lauterbach said that he believes the Omicron Covid-19 variant “cannot be brought under control” with a double vaccination alone, adding that “we must not lull ourselves into a false sense of security.”

“The situation is unfortunately still underestimated,” he added. “The only thing that reliably protects against a severe course with the Omicron infection is a booster vaccination.”

CNN poll: Nearly 4 in 10 Americans think Covid-19 precautions are here to stay

Most of the public continues to take precautions to guard against the risks of Covid-19 and nearly 4 in 10 Americans think they’ll continue doing so for the foreseeable future, according to a new CNN Poll conducted by SSRS.

More than half, 55%, say the risk of coronavirus remains high enough that they think it is still necessary to take extra precautions in their everyday lives. Thirty-eight percent anticipate they’ll continue taking these extra precautions going forward, with just 17% believing they’ll eventually feel safe enough to return to their pre-pandemic habits. Another 45% say they already feel safe enough to carry out everyday life largely the way it was before the pandemic, up from 36% in a survey conducted in August and early September.

This divide in Americans’ approaches to Covid mirrors a broader rift in views of how the nation should be handling the pandemic, the poll finds. Those still taking precautions also largely favor mitigation policies put in place by the government or other institutions: 72% believe the government has a role to play in limiting the spread of Covid-19, 70% consider vaccination requirements an acceptable way of raising vaccination rates and 74% favor mask requirements in public indoor spaces.

Among the smaller share who’ve returned to their pre-pandemic normal, 66% consider vaccination requirements an infringement on personal rights, 82% believe mask-wearing should be optional and 65% believe that the government cannot effectively limit the spread of the virus.

The dwindling minority who remain unvaccinated are the least likely to say they’re factoring the pandemic into their lives in other ways. Two-thirds of unvaccinated adults say that they’re not currently taking any precautions against coronavirus, compared with 39% of those who’ve been vaccinated.

The results come amid widespread but ebbing concerns about the virus. A 62% majority of Americans still say they’re at least somewhat worried about the coronavirus pandemic in their communities — 22% say they’re very worried, down from 41% in a poll taken in August and early September. Roughly 62% of Americans say the pandemic was a factor for them in making holiday plans this year, but only 30% call it a major factor. Even among those who say they’re currently taking Covid precautions, fewer than half say that the pandemic was a major factor in their plans.

Read more here:

A Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine is seen kept on a table at a Covid-19 vaccination mobile unit setup by the Miami Dade County Homeless Trust in Miami, on May 13, 2021. (Photo by CHANDAN KHANNA / AFP) (Photo by CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP via Getty Images)

CNN Poll: Nearly 4 in 10 Americans think Covid-19 precautions are here to stay, but others have already returned to their pre-pandemic normal

South African president "making good progress" in recovery from Covid-19

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa is “making good progress” as he continues treatment for Covid-19, the presidency said in a statement on Friday.

“The President is in good spirits and comfortable in his recovery,” the statement read. Ramaphosa tested positive for Covid-19 on December 12 and was exhibiting mild symptoms.

The South African presidency called on citizens to get vaccinated, wear masks, wash their hands frequently and adhere to social distancing rules.

“This will help save lives, reduce the need for hospital admissions, allow businesses to remain open and enable people to work and earn an income,” the presidency said.

It added: “Risky or careless behaviour will endanger the public health and economic activity, neither of which the country can afford during this important period for the retail and tourism sectors.”

EU to order 180 million doses of Pfizer vaccine adapted to Omicron

A photo shows empty bottles of Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at the Emile Muller hospital in Mulhouse, eastern France, on January 8, 2021

European Union member states have agreed to order over 180 million doses of a Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine adapted to protect against the Omicron variant.

“Member states have agreed to trigger a first tranche of over 180 million extra doses of adapted vaccines, in our third contract with BioNTech Group and Pfizer,” head of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen said Thursday.

The head of the European Commission stressed that “Omicron is really threatening us,” while “spreading at a ferocious pace.” She said that the “answer can only be to increase vaccination,” along with other protective measures to fight the pandemic.

Von der Leyen predicts that “companies will develop adapted vaccines, if requested, within 100 days.”

UK PM's office dismisses reports that Boris Johnson attended a pizza party during lockdown

The office of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has denied reports that he attended a pizza party at Downing Street during the UK’s first lockdown, dismissing the gathering as a “series of meetings.”

The reports come amid growing controversy over claims that a number of social events were held inside 10 Downing Street during the 2020 lockdowns, in violation of strict Covid-19 restrictions.

The scandal has also limited the government’s ability to roll out new rules to tackle the Omicron variant, with opponents of the measures accusing the government of employing double standards.

“On 15 May 2020, the Prime Minister held a series of meetings throughout the afternoon, including briefly with the then Health and Care Secretary [Matt Hancock] and his team in the garden following a press conference,” a Downing Street spokesperson told CNN when asked about reports that Johnson had spent 15 minutes with staff who shared pizza and drank wine at Downing Street offices and garden until late in the evening.

The spokesperson went on to say that “in the summer months Downing Street staff regularly use the garden for some meetings.”

At the time the alleged May 2020 gathering took place, coronavirus restrictions only allowed people in England to meet one person from a different household outdoors.

Germany reports increase in Omicron variant

Lothar Wieler, President of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), is pictured before a press conference about the current Corona situation in Germany on December 16, 2021 in Berlin, Germany. 

Germany reported an increase in the number of Omicron infections, according to a weekly report from the country’s national disease and control center, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) on Thursday.

A total of 325 suspected cases were reported to the RKI by Tuesday, including 112 confirmed Omicron cases and 213 suspected cases of the variant. In the previous week, Germany only had 28 confirmed cases of the variant.

In the last 24 hours, Germany reported 50,968 new infections and 437 deaths. The country’s seven-day incidence rate dropped but remains high at 332 per 100,000 inhabitants.

Germany has reported 107,639 deaths from Covid-19 since the outbreak of the pandemic.

Hospitalization rates still 'much lower' in South Africa despite Omicron wave

Despite record-breaking confirmed cases of Covid-19 in South Africa, hospital admissions rates continue to be much lower than previous waves, South Africa’s Health Minister Joe Phaahla said Friday.

“The weekly average hospital admissions are definitely much lower than during the third wave,” Phaala said, adding that there were signs that the peak in cases was passing in Gauteng Province, the first hit by the Omicron surge which started in November.

A lower proportion of admitted patients are on oxygen and ventilators and they are staying in hospital for less time on average, according to early research by the National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD).

Researchers said that it is too early to definitively assess Omicron’s relative severity, adding that immunity from prior infection, as well as vaccination, could be playing a significant role.

Phaahla also said he was disappointed that vaccination rates had tailed off in the country as it heads into the holiday period. “Jab before you job,” he said, using a slang term for partying.

Wales to close nightclubs after Boxing Day

Mark Drakeford, the Welsh First Minister talks at a Welsh government Covid-19 briefing on December 10, 2021 in Cardiff, Wales. 

Nightclubs in Wales will close the day after Boxing Day in response to the threat posed by the Omicron variant, First Minister Mark Drakeford announced Thursday.

A two-meter social distancing rule will be reinstated across businesses and services, with one-way systems and physical barriers.

A 'viral blizzard' about to hit the US, expert says

With Covid-19 hospitalizations rising as the holiday season gets into full swing, experts are urging people to take precautionary measures against a new variant that may quickly sweep the nation.

While the Delta variant is still a worrying presence, there could be millions of more Americans infected within weeks due to the high transmissibility of the Omicron variant, said Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.

With so many possible cases from Omicron – which scientists believe to be more contagious though most cases so far appear to be mild – there will be a serious strain on the health care system as more workers will likely get sick, Osterholm said.

 “What you have here right now is a potential perfect storm,” Osterholm said. “I’ve been very concerned about the fact that we could easily see a quarter or a third of our health care workers quickly becoming cases themselves.”

Andy Slavitt, a former senior pandemic adviser to President Joe Biden, said that while tools such as vaccines are now available rather than during last winter’s surge, “a very rough January” lies ahead due to Omicron. 

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Photo by: NDZ/STAR MAX/IPx 2021 12/16/21 People wait in line to receive a COVID-19 test at a mobile COVID-19 testing site in the Financial District of Manhattan on December 8, 2021 in New York.

A Covid-19 'viral blizzard' is about to hit the US, expert says

Australia's New South Wales hits another daily Covid-19 record

NSW Minister for Health and Medical Research Brad Hazzard attends a press conference and COVID-19 briefing on June 25, 2021 in Sydney, Australia. 

Australia’s New South Wales has set another daily record of 2,313 Covid-19 cases as infections surge across the state. The state has broken its own record for news for the second day in a row, with infections jumping from Thursday’s total of 1,742.

NSW Health also reported one death while 215 people are in hospital, with 24 in Intensive Care Units (ICU).

Superspreading events at large venues – including a Taylor Swift listening party in Sydney last Friday – are driving up the numbers. The spread has been made worse by the highly transmissible Omicron variant.

NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard warned on Wednesday that numbers could reach 25,000 a day by January.

A raft of restrictions have been eased across the state this week: masks are now only required on public transport, at airports, planes and for unvaccinated indoor hospitality staff. QR codes are no longer needed in supermarkets, shopping centers and other businesses.

NSW State Premier Dominic Perrottet has said he does not want to go back to a lockdown or reintroduce restrictions.

Over 93% of people over the age of 16 are fully vaccinated in New South Wales.

READ MORE

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German health minister says there are not enough vaccines for start of 2022
Cornell University reports more than 900 Covid-19 cases this week. Many are Omicron variant cases in fully vaccinated students
Is it worth gathering for the holidays if not everyone is vaccinated? Experts weigh in

READ MORE

Omicron is spreading faster than any other coronavirus variant
Princeton, other colleges shifting classes and holding finals online due to Covid-19 increase
German health minister says there are not enough vaccines for start of 2022
Cornell University reports more than 900 Covid-19 cases this week. Many are Omicron variant cases in fully vaccinated students
Is it worth gathering for the holidays if not everyone is vaccinated? Experts weigh in