Covid-19 Omicron news summary: 23 December 2021
Covid-19 Omicron variant: 23 December
Thousands of people have received notifications that their Christmas flights have been canceled.
Many airlines had been struggling to staff up to their pre-pandemic levels and now Omicron and severe winter weather are straining the fragile system more. But in recent days, more staff have begun to test positive, and some airlines including American, Delta, and United have begun to cancel holiday flights.
Read our full coverage for more information on the cancellations as well as information on how to see if your flight has been imapcted.
CDC cuts quarantine for healthcare workers
The US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) made a controversial change to its covid-19 guidelines allowing healthcare workers who test positive but are asymptomatic to return to work after a seven-day quarantine. This is down from ten days, recommended for everyone else.
The airline industry is pushing for their workers to operate under the same guidelines as they struggle with severe staffing shortages.
The move was criticized by the National Nurses United "called it a dangerous decision to weaken isolation guidance for employers and demanded the CDC maintain its existing guidance."
Where has covid-19 led to flight cancellations?
As of 9:15 p.m. (ET), United Airlines has canceled 136 flights to or within the United States on Christmas Eve. This represents around seven percent of the companies flights.
Delta has canceled 306 flights on Christmas Eve.
Omicron already begins to cause travel disruptions
United Airlines has already canceled 100 flights scheduled for Christmas Eve as their staff becomes infected with the Omicron variant and they suffer debilitating staffing shortages. Delta Airlines made a similar move, canceling over sixty flights. A representative from Delta told Nexstar that “Delta teams have exhausted all options and resources — including rerouting and substitutions of aircraft and crews to cover scheduled flying — before canceling around 90 flights for Friday. We apologize to our customers for the delay in their holiday travel plans. Delta people are working hard to get them to where they need to be as quickly and as safely as possible on the next available flight.”
A lobbying group representing airlines has also called on the CDC to reduce the amount of time those with breakthrough cases must quarantine.
Risk of contagion on flights increases
Bloomberg is reporting that the likelihood of becoming infected with covid-19 on an airplane has increased due to the Omicron variant. Those in the economy may face greater risk as they are surronded by more people. At this point there are no limits on the number of passengers that can fly on a single plane and it does not seem that lawmakers will enact any restrictions before travel picks up in the coming days.
West Australia's hard border policy may be redundant with potential covid-19 outbreak
Western Australian has had in place one of the strictest border policies anywhere and until now it has provided a nearly covid-free bubble. However, an unvaccinated covid-19 positive backpacker will test the state's preparations for living with the virus.
The government had planned to reduce the restrictions in February giving it time to vaccinate 90 percent of the population, currently 83 percent are vaccinated. However, they are now doing extensive contact tracing of all the potential casual interactions the backpacker may have had at a long list of bars and nightclubs.
Administration's response behind the covid-19 curve
Biden announced plans to distribute 500 million at-home coronavirus test kits, unfortunately it may be too litlle, too late. The tests won't arrive until January and represent just one or two kits per American. The Omicron variant is building on top of a early winter Delta surge and health officials are worried about holiday gatherings causing infection rates to rise even higher.
Companies cancel in-person prescence at trade show due to covid-19 fears
The Consumer Electronics Show is due to take place early next month in Las Vegas, but several big name companies have announced that their employees will not attend the event out of an abundance of caution.
GM had planned to give the first showing of its new electric Silverado pickup truck and CEO Mary Barra was scheduled to give the keynote speech. The company announced that she will now do both virtually.
Several other companies said on Thursday they will now do virtual presentations if possible including Google, Waymo and TikTok's ByteDance. They join Amazon, Facebook and Twitter among other who earlier this week announced they will not attend in person.
Slamdance Film Festival goes virtual due to Omicron
The Slamdance Film Festival started in 1995 takes place annually in Park City, Utah to showcase emerging talent. It had been scheduled to begin on 20 January this year.
But due to the developing situation with the Omicron covid-19 variant in Park City and around the world, organizers have decided to make the festival 100 percent virtual. In order to make preparation for the completely virtual format, the festival will be postponed with the kickoff now on 27 January.
Omicron surge prompts Spanish authorities to impose curfew in Catalunya
The northeastern Spanish region of Catalunya won court approval for a night curfew on Thursday while Madrid pledged to distribute millions more lateral flow test kits to tackle the Omicron variant that is driving up infections and overshadowing Christmas.
Spain lifted most restrictions over the summer thanks to a high vaccination rate that suppressed infection but Omicron's arrival has sent daily cases soaring to reach a record of over 72,900 on Thursday. The concentration of coronavirus detected in wastewater reached the highest level since a monitoring programme began in June 2020, the Environment Ministry said.
Adopting the hardest line since Spain emerged from a state of emergency in May, Catalunya, which surrounds the city of Barcelona, will ban residents from leaving their homes between 1 a.m. and 6 a.m. from Thursday night, while other regions took a less stringent approach. Southern Murcia told non-essential businesses to shut at 1 a.m., severely curtailing revelry in a country where bars and restaurants routinely stay open until the small hours.
The region of Madrid, whose right-wing regional leader has prioritised the hospitality sector throughout the pandemic, focused on better testing and pledged to distribute 12 million rapid tests over Christmas. A meeting of regional chiefs called by Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez on Wednesday failed to produce any broad agreement on measures beyond a mandate to wear masks outdoors, which garnered a mixed reception from Spaniards.
The infection rate as measured over 14 days reached 911,31 per 100,000 people, surpassing the late January peak of 900, although hospitals are at around a quarter of the level seen then.
Just over a month has passed since the first case of Omicron was detected it has been spreading even more rapidly than the Covid-19 Delta variant, Greg Heilman takes a look at what we know so far about the new variant.
White House "grateful" that Trump received Covid-19 booster shot
The White House is grateful that former US President Donald Trump received and promoted getting the Covid-19 vaccine booster shot, press secretary Jen Psaki said on Thursday.
The Republican former president recently said in an interview that he received a booster shot, and called the Covid-19 vaccines "one of the greatest achievements of mankind."
"The ones that get very sick and go to the hospital are the ones that don't take the vaccine," Trump said in an interview with conservative commentator Candace Owens. "If you take the vaccine, you're protected."
Psaki responded to those remarks today, telling reporters in today's press briefing, "We're grateful that the former president got the booster, and we're also grateful that he made clear in a recent interview that they work and they're safe".
Just 62% of Americans are fully vaccinated, one of the lowest rates among rich nations, thanks in part to a Republican-led pushback against Democratic President Joe Biden's year-long vaccination campaign.
Omicron accounts for 20% of all Covid-19 cases in major US cities
In an interview with the Daily Mail, Dr Pavitra Roychoudhury, professor in vaccines and infectious diseases at the University of Washington, claims that the Omicron Covid-19 variant most likely counts for around a fifth of all cases of the virus in major cities in the US. Dr Roychoudhury bases her claims on the results of studies her team have made in Seattle. "It seems to suggest that up to 20% right now, could be Omicron among our positives and we think that other places should be similar to that proportion. Tt is very likely to be the same in many major cities around the US. I think what this suggests is that this is a variant that is spreading really quickly," she explained.
Omicron patients less likely to be hospitalised
According to data released by the UK Health Security Agency ( UKHSA), an individual with the Omicron variant is estimated to be between 31 and 45% less likely to attend A&E compared to Delta, and 50 to 70% less likely to be admitted to hospital.
Vaccine efficacy analysis continues to show lower effectiveness for symptomatic Omicron disease. There is evidence that protection against symptomatic disease wanes after the second dose of vaccine, and then improves after the booster. But the latest data suggests this extra protection starts to wane more rapidly, being about 15 to 25% lower from 10 weeks after the booster dose. There are insufficient severe cases of Omicron as yet to analyse vaccine effectiveness against hospitalisation, but this is more likely to be sustained, particularly after a booster.
Lufthansa cancels 33,000 flights due to Omicron concerns
German national carrier Lufthansa is expected to trim back its winter flight plan by 10% due tpo concerns over the rapid spread of the Omicron variant, CEO Carsten Spohr said in an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung (FAS). He added that Lufthansa is currently operative at 60% compared to 2019 before the pandemic, and carrying roughly half the number of passengers of two years ago.
France report around 88,000 new Covid-19 cases
France is expected report around 88,000 new confirmed Covid-19 cases later on Thursday, Health Minister Olivier Veran said, adding these figures would be the worst the country has seen since the pandemic began in 2020. "Today's figures are not good," Veran told reporters, adding that Covid-19 rules in the country are likely to change in the coming days.
Britain reports record daily case tally
Britain reported a record 119,789 new daily covid19 cases on Thursday, compared with 106,122 a day earlier.
There were 147 deaths within 28 days of a positive case, versus 140 on Wednesday, according to government data.
US regulators approve use of a second COVID-19 pill by Merck
U.S. health regulators on Thursday authorized the second pill against covid19, providing another easy-to-use medication to battle the rising tide of omicron infections.
Full story via AP here
China expects covid-19 cases due to Games arrivals
Organisers of the Beijing Winter Olympics said on Thursday they expect a "certain number" of covid-19 cases in China due to foreigners arriving for the Games, and strongly urged participants to get vaccination boosters due to the spread of the Omicron variant.
The Games, set to run from 4-20 Feb, will take place in a "closed loop" in order to contain the spread of the virus in China, which has among the strictest COVID curbs in the world and has largely managed to contain local outbreaks.
"A large number of people from different countries and regions will come to China and the flow of people will increase. Consequently, a certain number of positive cases will become a high probability event," Han Zirong, vice president and secretary-general of the Beijing organising committee, told a press briefing.
China, which has all but shut its borders during the pandemic and will not allow overseas spectators at the Games, has reported five cases of the Omicron variant, including four from people coming from overseas.
US testing struggles to keep up with Omicron
A surge in US covid-19 cases from the Omicron variant is overwhelming testing capacity in high-infection areas like New York City due in part to staffing shortages among healthcare workers and the limited number of open test sites, according to interviews with more than a dozen officials, health providers, and testmakers.
Some testing centers, such as the New York area's CityMD, have had to shut sites due to a lack of workers, causing long lines in others, they say. The demand is exacerbated by a months-long shortage of at-home rapid tests in pharmacies that has worsened in hardest-hit regions.
India's Modi calls meeting of state chiefs on fighting Omicron
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to hold discussions with state chiefs on Thursday on containing the possible surge of Omicron cases ahead of the festive season, as gatherings in public spaces and markets gain momentum.
India has recorded 236 Omicron coronavirus cases across 16 states over the last 24 hours, the federal health ministry said, more than double from last week.
While more than half of India's adult population is fully vaccinated, hundreds of millions are still at risk. Doctors warn that if an Omicron-fuelled third wave of infections hits the country, medical facilities could be over-run very quickly.
New cases in South Africa, once at forefront of omicron wave, rapidly decline
South Africa’s noticeable drop in new covid-19 cases in recent days may signal that the country’s dramatic omicron-driven surge has passed its peak, medical experts say.
Daily virus case counts are notoriously unreliable, as they can be affected by uneven testing, reporting delays and other fluctuations. But they are offering one tantalizing hint – far from conclusive yet – that omicron infections may recede quickly after a ferocious spike.
More via News BHT
Biden speaks out again on Omicron
The US President has, once again reminded citizens about the importance of getting vaccinated with the vaccine a powerful tool against severe illness.
Positive cases see two English Premier League soccer games postponed
The Premier League Board met this morning and given the high number of positive cases in both the Leeds and Watford squads, was forced to postpone the traditional Boxing Day fixtures involving both teams.
Gauteng sees falling Omicron cases
FT statistician John Burn-Murdoch, who carved a niche for himself during the pandemic as one of the leading providers of clear, informative and reliable stats. brings some positive news from South Africa's Guateng province where local cases have now started to slip along with hospital admissions.
US authorizes Pfizer oral covid-19 treatment
The United States has authorized Pfizer Inc's antiviral covid-19 pill for people ages 12 and older at risk of severe illness, the first oral and at-home treatment as well as a new tool against the fast-spreading Omicron variant.
Pfizer's antiviral regimen, Paxlovid, was nearly 90% effective in preventing hospitalizations and deaths in patients at high risk of severe illness, according to data from the company's clinical trial. Recent lab data suggests the drug retains its effectiveness against Omicron, Pfizer said.
Novavax says covid vaccine triggers immune response to Omicron variant
Novavax Inc's covid-19 vaccine is effective in generating an immune response against the Omicron variant, and an additional booster dose produces further immune resistance to the new variant, according to early data published on Wednesday.
Novavax said the data was taken from its ongoing studies of its vaccine's effectiveness in adolescents and as a booster.
Novavax's two-dose, protein-based vaccine was authorized for use this week by European Union regulators and the World Health Organization. It has previously been approved by countries including Indonesia and the Philippines but not the United States.
Novavax is working on developing an Omicron-specific vaccine and said it expects to begin manufacturing doses of the variant-specific shot in January.
Biden reiterates importance of booster jab
US President Joe Biden took to Twitter to remind all adults that a booster jab is a vital element of protection in the battle against the new Omicron variant.
Scotland reports fewer covid-19 hospitalizations with Omicron
In Scotland, the Omicron variant of the coronavirus appears less likely to result in covid-19 hospitalization than Delta, according to an analysis of early data that was posted ahead of peer review on Wednesday.
The updated statistics agree with data released earlier on Wednesday from South Africa and from England also in advance of peer review.
At the University of Edinburgh, researchers tracked nearly 152,500 patients diagnosed with covid-19, including 22,205 infected with the Omicron variant.
Half of the Omicron-infected patients were under age 40. The number of Omicron patients who needed to be hospitalized was 68% lower than what the researchers would have expected, based on the rate in patients infected with Delta.
Dollar droops as optimism as Omicron impact felt
The safe-haven dollar languished near an almost one-week low against its major peers on Thursday as investors adopted a more optimistic stance about the global economic outlook, despite the rapid spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant.
The dollar index, which measures the currency against six rivals, stood at 96.111, not far from the overnight low of 96.020, touched for the first time since Dec. 17.
The risk-sensitive Australian dollar was steady at $0.72125 following Wednesday's 0.86% surge. Sterling was little changed at $1.33515 after a 0.63% rally.
Risk appetite has improved since Monday, when markets were rattled by government restrictions relating to the spread of Omicron.
No change to Japan restrictions despite Omicron transmission
Japan's government is not considering an immediate change to current covid-19 restrictions, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said on Thursday, a day after community transmission of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus was discovered.
The government confirmed on Wednesday that a family of three based in the western city of Osaka had the Omicron variant and the origin of how they had caught the virus could not be traced.
AstraZeneca shot third dose works against Omicron in study
AstraZeneca said on Thursday its covid-19 vaccine was effective against the Omicron coronavirus variant following a third dose in a study, with neutralising levels similar to those against the Delta variant after a regular two-dose course.
Covid-19 blog: welcome
Good morning and welcome to our daily live blog for Thursday 23 December 2021, in which we’ll be bringing you the latest news on the impact of the Omicron covid-19 variant and its knock-on effect on daily life.
If you were following our coverage over the past few days, you will have seen President Biden's address to the nation on the current situation and we'll continue to look at the measure and restrictions that are being implemented in the US and other parts of the world as nations look to confront the havoc being created by the latest strain.
We'll also provide you with the latest information on vaccines and booster jabs as a means to counter the impact of infection along with the latest news from South Africa, where the variant was first discovered, and elsewhere with testing and understanding of Omicron at a more advanced stage.