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Covid-19 Omicron variant news summary, Saturday 25 December 2021

Travelers move through Delta Airlines check-in at Los Angeles International Airport  in Los Angeles, California, on December 23, 2021. - Over 2,000 flights have been cancelled and thousands delayed around the world as the highly infectious Omicron variant

Covid-19 Omicron variant: live updates


- Omicron variant casts shadow over Christmas celebrations globally

- Pfizer and Merck receive Emergency Use Authorization for their anti-viral pills to fight covid-19

- Omicron starting to be dominant strain in South American nations

- Small businesses close during their busiest season as Omicron sickens their staff and customers

- Bill Gates urges people to get vaccinated and take the booster

- The covid-19 timeline... from Alpha to Omicron

Travel News 

- Delta and United Airlines cancel hundreds of flights as Omicron leads to staffing shortages 

- Risk of infection on airplanes increases with Omicron

Useful information & links:

- Can a PCR test tell me which variant of covid-19 I have?

- What are the Omicron symptoms in children?

- What countries have the highest and lowest covid-19 vaccination rates?

For domestic and international public health information:

- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

- The World Health Organization

- The Lancet

Browse our latest stories on covid-19:

Over 500 Boxing Day flights cancelled in US

According to the flight-tracking website, over 500 Boxing Day flights within, into or from the US have been cancelled so far. As of 3:30am ET, the figure stood at 537. Globally, 1,697 flights scheduled for Sunday have been cancelled.

This follows a Christmas Day on which 996 flights within, into or from the US were scrapped, per, with 2,857 being cancelled worldwide.

Unvaccinated still hesitant even as Omicron spreads rapidly

Omicron is shown to have little impact on the choice of the unvaccinated to get their shots. Over 39 million eligible people in the United States have yet to receive even one dose of a covid-19 vaccine, and are at great risk as the highly contagious Omicron variant spreads rapidly through the country. 

The warning from public health experts is clear, many of the unvaccinated will need to be hospitalized, and as beds fill up, deaths from covid-19 and other illnesses or accidents could increase. 

Where are covid-19 cases increasing?

New data from Florida shows that cases are increasing, rapidly, among every age group. Those over 65+ wereleast impacted, all other age groups saw an increase over 300 percent. 

Omicron could surge after families gather for Christmas

Health official warn that covid-19 could surge after families gather over the holidays.

Omicron has disrupted many travel and holiday plans as it spread so rapidly. In some areas testing became hard to come by and made it more difficult for people to figure out whether they were carrying the virus.

How many flights have been cancelled on Christmas?

Almost 947 flights have been cancelled across the United States due to staffing shortages caused by workers becoming infected with the Omicron variant.

Number Cancelled

United: 240 flights

Delta: 308 flights

American Airlines: 92 flights

What is the best type of mask to wear?

With the more contagious Omicron variant spreading throughout the United States, medical experts are recommending using an N95. While these were initially discouraged due to short supply, officials are saying that it is no longer an issue.

KN95s are also a good option, but CNN reported that "60% of KN95 respirators in the US are counterfeit and don't meet NIOSH requirements."

"Cloth masks are little more than facial decorations. There's no place for them in light of Omicron."

CNN Medical Analyst, Dr. Leana Wen

US airlines scrap hundreds of Christmas Day flights due to Omicron

U.S. airlines canceled more than 900 flights on Saturday, the second straight day of massive cancellations as surging covid-19 infections have sidelined some pilots and other crew members, upending plans for tens of thousands of holiday travelers over the Christmas weekend.

A total of 913 Christmas Day flights, including domestic flights and those into or out of the country, were canceled, up from 690 on Christmas Eve, according to a running tally on flight-tracking website Around 1,110 flights were delayed.

The Christmas holidays are typically a peak time for air travel, but the rapid spread of the highly transmissible Omicron variant has led to a sharp increase in covid-19 infections, forcing airlines to cancel flights as pilots and crew need to be quarantined.


Reuters Israel orders Pfizer's new covid-19 pill

Israel has ordered 100,000 units of Pfizer Inc's anti-viral covid 19 pill Paxlovid for people aged 12 and older at risk of severe illness, an Israeli official said on Saturday, confirming a television report.

Channel 12 TV said Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett agreed the deal in a phone conversation with Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla. There was no immediate confirmation from the company.

The first oral and at home treatment for covid-19, Paxlovid was nearly 90% effective in preventing hospitalizations and deaths in patients at high risk of severe illness, according to data from Pfizer's clinical trial. Recent lab data suggests the drug retains effectiveness against the Omicron variant, it said.

Covid testing and doing the right thing

Epidemiologist Rachel Widome tweeted earlier about something that many people will be able to relate to, especially over the festive holidays.

In her thread she pointed to the following challenge:

'Every time we do a Covid test I have this ‘I really don’t want to do this,’ feeling because I know a positive result could make things suddenly inconvenient and disappointing for me, people I love…

'I’ve been thinking about this in the context of conflict of interest good practice. Like at work there are decisions I can’t be the one making due to a COI. And that’s a good thing!

'We’re all making A LOT of decisions now where there are serious COIs. That’s not a way to control a pandemic.'

Protect yourself and others

The message from medical professionals continues to stay pretty consistent and points to us all doing tiny things to get through this pandemic together.

"Premature" to talk about fourth vaccine dose in US - Fauci

Dr Anthony Fauci, the US’ top infectious disease expert, says it’s “premature” to start discussing the roll-out of a fourth covid-19 vaccine dose in the country, as Israel prepares to become the first nation in the world to offer a fourth shot.

"I think it's too premature to be talking about a fourth dose," Dr Fauci told WCBS Newsradio 880 on Friday. “One of the things that we're going to be following very carefully is what the durability of the protection is following the third dose of an mRNA vaccine.

"If the protection is much more durable than the two-dose, non-boosted group, then we may go a significant period of time without requiring a fourth dose. So, I do think it's premature - at least on the part of the United States - to be talking about a fourth dose."

BST positive

More members of K-pop group BTS test positive

Two more members of the K-pop group BTS have tested positive for covid-19 following their return to South Korea from the band's first pandemic-era concerts in the US, their management company Big Hit Music said.

Rapper RM, 27, and vocalist Jin, 29, were diagnosed with covid-19 on Saturday, a day after Suga, a songwriter and rapper for the seven-member group, tested positive.

All three had completed second doses of a coronavirus vaccine in August, the company said.

(Photo: REUTERS/Aude Guerrucci/File Photo)

Info screen

An information screen lists cancelled flights at Terminal 7 of John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York City, on Christmas Eve. Thousands of travellers were left stranded across the country after multiple airlines cancelled flights Friday due to rising Omicron variant cases of covid-19, staffing shortages and severe weather.

(Photo: Scott Heins/Getty Images/AFP)

How long is the covid-19 Omicron variant incubation period? How long does it last?


How long is the covid-19 Omicron variant incubation period? How long does it last?

Just over a month since the first case of Omicron was detected, it has been spreading even more rapidly than the Delta variant.

Here's what we know so far

Nearly 5,000 flights cancelled yesterday and today

According to the latest figures, just under 2,500 flights have been cancelled worldwide today as airlines struggle with the Omicron covid-19 variant, taking the total of flights scrapped on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day to nearly 5,000.

As of 9:40am ET, 2,499 flights had been cancelled globally today, the flight-tracking website said. Of these, 871 were within, into or from the United States.

Yesterday, there were 2,379 cancellations around the world, of which 689 concerned flights within, into or from the US were cancelled, per

Fourth stimulus check: Will Congress pass another payment as Omicron sparks an increase in cases? 


Fourth stimulus check: Will Congress pass another payment as Omicron sparks an increase in cases? 

The Omicron variant is leading to a surge in cases, leading some businesses to shut their doors voluntarily. Will Congress pass more stimulus?

Full story

China reports 140 new covid-19 cases

China reported 140 new confirmed coronavirus cases for 24 December, up from 87 a day earlier, its health authority said on Saturday.

Of the new infections, 87 were locally transmitted, according to a statement by the National Health Commission, compared with 55 a day earlier. Most of the new local cases were in the northwestern province of Shaanxi.

China reported 24 new asymptomatic cases, which it classifies separately from confirmed cases, down from 26 a day earlier.

There were no new deaths, leaving the death toll at 4,636. Mainland China had 100,871 confirmed cases as of 24 December.


What disease does WHO say is causing deaths in South Sudan?


What disease does WHO say is causing deaths in South Sudan?

A mysterious disease is spreading in a South Sudan which is claiming the elderly and young, causing almost 100 fatalities so far. Cholera has been ruled out.

Read more


Pope Francis references pandemic in annual Christmas message

In his "Urbi et Orbi" (to the city and the world) message,the Pope called on individuals and world leaders to talk to each other rather than dig in their heels, a distancing he said has been worsened by the covid-19 pandemic.

"Our capacity for social relationships is sorely tried; there is a growing tendency to withdraw, to do it all by ourselves, to stop making an effort to encounter others and do things together," he said from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica on a wet and windy Christmas in Rome.

"On the international level too, there is the risk of avoiding dialogue, the risk that this complex crisis will lead to taking shortcuts rather than setting out on the longer paths of dialogue. Yet only those paths can lead to the resolution of conflicts and to lasting benefits for all," he said.

Omicron symptoms

New York City to scale down New Year's Eve celebrations at Times Square

New York will sharply limit the number of people it allows in Times Square for its New Year's Eve celebration, Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Thursday, in response to a surge of new coronavirus cases fueled by the highly contagious Omicron variant.

For a second year in a row, the virus that causes covid-19 is casting a shadow over the festivities, which typically draws huge crowds to the famed intersection in midtown Manhattan.

After hours of live entertainment, the evening culminates with the dropping of a giant crystal ball at midnight, signaling the start of the new year. Millions of others around the world watch on television.

This year, the city will allow only about a third of the usual number of partygoers inside the dozens of fenced-out viewing areas set up in the square, allowing for greater social distancing. Partygoers will have to show proof of full vaccination and wear masks.


Investors look to Omicron for direction

Investors are closely watching the latest news on the rapidly spreading Omicron for signs of how much the virus could impact the U.S. economy and earnings as the market heads into what has historically been a strong time of year for equities.

Overall, the S&P 500 is slightly ahead since Nov. 24, prior to news of the variant hitting markets. It marked a record-high close on Thursday, as encouraging developments gave investors more ease about the economic impact of the variant.

"The market is extremely reactionary now and every little bit of news has a huge impact," said George Young, a portfolio manager at Villere & Co. Young is planning on taking advantage of any Omicron-induced volatility to add to stocks that rely on tourism and travel such as bank company First Hawaiian Inc . Shares of the company are up 14.4% for the year to date.

The Omicron variant is causing infections to double in 1.5 to 3 days, according to the World Health Organization. The variant now accounts for 73% of all new U.S. cases, up from less than 1% at the beginning of the month.


Thousands of flights scrapped globally as Omicron mars Christmas weekend

Global airline carriers canceled more than 3,000 flights over the Christmas weekend, the FlightAware website said, as a spike in covid-19 cases due to the Omicron variant piled on misery for travelers.

The website showed that 2,175 flights around the world had been scrapped on Friday, which is Christmas Eve and a typically heavy day for travel. Around a quarter of those flights were in the United States.

Another 1,259 Christmas Day flights were called off globally, the website said amid a surge in covid-19 infections driven by Omicron.

Despite covid problems, five NBA games to take place today

South Africa scraps isolation for those without covid symptoms

South Africans without symptoms of covid-19 will no longer need to isolate or test if they have been in contact with a positive case, the government announced on Friday, saying developments around the virus justified a shift from containment measures towards mitigation. The country has led the continent in terms of covid-19 cases and deaths, as well as vaccinations, and its experience has been closely watched around the world after it was among the first countries to identify the more transmissible Omicron variant.

France posts new record daily infections

France hit another covid-19 infection record on Friday,  with the daily figure getting close to 100,000, a trend that prompted the government to convene a special meeting on the pandemic on Monday which could trigger new restrictions on movement. Health authorities reported 94,124 new daily covid-19 cases on Friday while the number of people hospitalised for the disease reached a seven-month high at close to 16,200, according to official data.

Covid-19 blog: a Christmas Day welcome

Good morning and welcome to our daily live blog for Christmas Day 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.


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