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Omicron symptoms, tests, vaccines news summary: 28 December 2021

Update:
COVID, coronavirus today news: Omicron symptoms, tests, vaccines, flight cancellations... | live updates

Covid-19 Omicron variant: live updates

Headlines and travel news:

- US President Joe Biden pledged to ease a shortage of covid-19 tests

- Lackawanna County declares state of emergency to combat omicron variant

- Covid spread forces Apple to close New York stores

- Dr Fauci warns against complacency with less severe Omicron

- Fourth vaccine dose given to test group in Israel

- More than 700 flights within, to or from US - and over 2,000 worldwide - cancelled on Monday. Nearly 3,300 flights scrapped globally on Boxing Day

Useful information and links:

- What's the incubation period for the Omicron variant?

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

- What are the symptoms of Omicron in children?

For domestic and international public health information:

- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

- The World Health Organization

- The Lancet

Our latest stories on covid-19:

Brazil

Brazil registers 171 Covid-19 deaths

Brazil reported 171 Covid-19 deaths on Tuesday plus 8,430 additional cases, according to data released by the nation's Health Ministry. The South American country has now reported a total of 618,705 coronavirus deaths and 22,254,706 total confirmed cases. The nation has registered a total of 77 confirmed cases of the Omicron variant, according to data from Brazil's 27 state and district health secretaries.

Spain studying halving quarantine from 10 to 5 days

Spain's Health Ministry are looking into reducing the time an infected person has to self-isolate from 10 to five days, following on from new measures adopted in the United States after being approved by the CDC. The autonomous regions of Madrid and Andalucia are in favour of havlving the quarantine period. "We have been saying for the past few days that management of the pandemic should not be the same as it was a year ago or even a few months ago. Firstly for the percentage of the poblation which has received both doses of the vaccine and secondly for the clinical characteristics of this particular variant," Madrid health ministry spokesman Antonio Zapatero explained.

 

Omicron

Omicron "not the same disease we saw at the start of the pandemic"

Sir John Bell, regius professor of medicine at Oxford University and the government’s life sciences adviser has claimed that the Omicron variant, "appears to be less severe and many people spend a relatively short time in hospital". He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, "The horrific scenes that we saw a year ago of intensive care units being full, lots of people dying prematurely, that is now history, in my view, and I think we should be reassured that that’s likely to continue."

New York City to limit classroom closures

New York City will stop quarantining entire classrooms exposed to Covid-19 and will instead prioritize a ramped-up testing program so that asymptomatic students testing negative for Covid-19 can remain in school, officials said on Tuesday.

A day earlier, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shortened the recommended isolation time for Americans with asymptomatic cases of Covid-19 to five days from the previous guidance of 10 days. President Joe Biden has pledged to ease a shortage of Covid-19 tests with the Omicron variant threatening to overwhelm hospitals and stifle travel plans as it spreads across the country this holiday week.

The Omicron variant was estimated to be 58.6% of the coronavirus variants circulating in the United States as of 25 December, CDC data showed on Tuesday.

Mayor Bill de Blasio described New York's new policy as 'Stay Safe, and Stay Open' and said it will take effect on 3 January. About a million New York City public school students are scheduled to return from holiday break on Monday. New York City Mayor-elect Eric Adams, de Blasio and New York Governor Kathy Hochul made the announcements at a news conference.

New York City aims to detect more infections while mitigating disruptions as officials described remote learning as 'a failed experiment.' The city's previous policy was to quarantine unvaccinated close contacts of infected students for 10 days. Instead of sending classes of unvaccinated students home to learn online when a student tests positive, the students will be given rapid at-home tests. If they are asymptomatic and test negative, they can return the day after their first negative test.

Students will be given a second at-home test within seven days of their exposure, according to the announcement. The step raised some concerns among parents. One tweeted that schools should be kept remote for at least a week's cushion following potential holiday gathering and travel exposure. Others called for mandatory testing for all children, as well as school employees.

New York will also sharply limit the number of people it allows in Times Square for its New Year's Eve celebration. Separately, Biden on Tuesday revoked a proclamation put in place last month that imposed travel restrictions on eight southern African nations, including South Africa, after the emergence of the Omicron variant.

 

 

Omicron might not be around for long, say experts

Initial fears about the Omicron variant could be unfounded as many experts feel that the B.1.1.529 strain could be the virus' last attempt to survive before it disappears. New cases in South Africa, where it is believed to have originated, are down 36% according to Johns Hopkins University. New York-based physician Dr. Craig Spencer claims that Omicron poses little threat for anyone who has been vaccinated and has a healthy immune system. While omicron is more contagious, on the flip side, it is less lethal.

Johannesburg

South Africa recalls new isolation and quarantine rules

South Africa has recalled rules that no longer required people without symptoms of Covid-19 to isolate or test if they have been in contact with a positive case, the government announced on Tuesday, saying an amended circular will be re-issued.

Last week the health ministry said that asymptomatic individuals who had been in contact with a case of Covid-19 no longer had to isolate but should monitor for symptoms for 5-7 days and avoid attending large gatherings. It had added that only those people who developed symptoms needed to get tested and that those with mild symptoms should isolate for eight days and severe cases for 10 days. It had also revised protocols on quarantine, saying all quarantine facilities outside the home would be stopped, while contact tracing efforts would also be scrapped aside from in specific scenarios such as cluster outbreaks.

The reason for the revision was based on a number of scientific factors including the fact that, most people have vaccinated with at least one vaccine dose and developed some level of immunity. This has contributed to the current low hospitalisation and high recovery rates, the department said.

Now all those protocols will be recalled after the Department of Health was inundated with media, stakeholders and public enquiries and comments following the release of the revised regulations. "In line with the principles of transparency and openness, the department has decided to put the implementation of the revised policy changes on hold, while taking all additional comments and inputs received into consideration," it said in a statement. "This means the status quo remains, and all prior existing regulations with regards to contact tracing, quarantine and isolation remain applicable."

The country has led the continent in terms of Covid-19 cases and deaths as well as vaccinations, with 3.42 million cases reported and 90,854 fatalities. Its experience has been closely watched around the world after it was among the first countries to identify the more transmissible Omicron variant. Cases started declining this week, with 7,216 new cases and 25 deaths reported in the past 24 hours.

Cyprus reports record high Omicron cases

Cyprus recorded a single-day record high of Covid-19 infections since the virus was first identified on the island in March 2020, data showed on Tuesday. The island reported 2,241 infections - up from 1,925 a day before. To date, there have been 154,926 cases reported and 630 deaths.

"I think this is due to the Omicron variant, which may have arrived earlier than we thought," said Petros Karayiannis, professor of microbiology and molecular virology at the medical school of the University of Nicosia and a member of a scientific advisory committee to the government.

Cyprus reported its first case of the Omicron variant on 10 December. Health experts believe Omicron is more contagious than earlier strains of the coronavirus, but two studies in the past week suggest that those affected are less likely to require hospital treatment.

"Possibly, without having more data, it is due to the Omicron variant which seems to trigger a milder infection," Karayiannis was quoted as telling the semi-official Cyprus News Agency (CNA). Authorities were to review the situation on Wednesday. The number of people on the island who have taken both doses of a Covid-19 vaccine has exceeded 80%.

NFL discussing covid isolation changes

As Tom points out in his thread, it’s not yet clear whether unvaccinated players would still be subject to a longer isolation period - as the CDC makes no such distinction.

And he reminds us that the past three Mondays have all set records for positive tests, so five days instead of 10 is a big deal as playoffs approach.

CDC raises some travel warnings

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it raised covid-19 related travel warnings for Malta, Moldova, Sweden and Argentina.

For Malta, Moldova and Sweden, the travel warning was raised to level four or 'very high' while for Argentina, it was raised to level 3 or 'high', the CDC said today.

The risks with mRNA covid vaccines

Given everything that has been happening, have you ever wanted to know a little more about how the mRNA vaccines actually work?

Several months back, Bloomberg pulled this together, just for people like you to become better informed.

Omicron testing troubles in parts of Europe

Demand for free covid-19 testing kits provided by Madrid's regional government far outstripped supply today, with long queues forming outside pharmacies in what has become a common scene since the Omicron variant began driving up infection.

It was a similar story in Italy, where long lines have developed at some drive-in testing centres while many chemists have reported being deluged with requests for tests as infections climb.

Madrid-based pharmacist Cristina Sanchez said she had only received 20 test kits to distribute on Tuesday as part of a plan to reinforce supply after pharmacies started running out of paid tests, but there were already more than 30 people waiting outside when she opened. As the first few people in line tend to take several tests each, most have to return home empty handed or buy kits for 9 euros, which were also selling out fast.

'The people who are waiting outside, who are cold, who have been waiting for a long time, we can't give them to them anymore,' she told Reuters at her pharmacy on the outskirts of Madrid.

Taxi driver Miguel Jesus Arroyo was one of the lucky few to secure a test.

'You've got to get up early, because if you don't come soon, it's all over in a flash,' he said.

Fuelled by the highly contagious Omicron variant, cases in Spain have soared in the past month, pushing the national 14-day incidence to a record 1,206 cases per 100,000 people on Monday, a five-fold rise since the beginning of December. Italy, one of the countries worst hit by the pandemic, has also reported rising infections.

Luca Zaia, the head of the north-eastern Veneto region which has been badly hit by the surging case load, said he was worried test kits could soon run out and asked the government to drop testing requirements in certain situations.

'We cannot let the testing system collapse,' he said.

Covid Omicron update: speaking with the experts

Andy Slavitt has tweeted the following very useful thread after interviewing many experts on the subject.

It's worth reading the full thread but in summary, Slavitt says the following:

'It’s easier to find a graph or a study to retweet that reenforces a view than it is to grant the nuance to at validates opposing views. As of today, those who see omicron as milder are just as right as people who see it as potentially more dangerous.

'For me, my baseline is to advocate for policies that favor those with the fewest choices—

-Require vaccines when in crowds

-Preserve best anti-virals for immunocompromised

-Support frontline health care workers by reducing spread.'

Lackawanna County declares Omicron state of emergency

Lackawanna County declares state of emergency to combat omicron variant

“Do hereby declare the existence of an emergency in Lackawanna County due to covid-19,” said Frank Ruggiero, Lackawanna County Solicitor. 

Lackawanna County officials say they can set the wheels in motion to respond quicker to any emergency that results from the covid-19 pandemic. 

The declaration enables the county, among other things, to access federal and state resources to address the spread of covid-19. 

“So we have to act now. We can’t wait until it gets bad. So we have to act,” said Dr. Sabine Charles, Physician, Epidemiologist, Lackawanna County Health Department.

Covid testing: know where and what to do

There was a line of cars filled with people wanting a covid-19 test.

It's something officials expected following the holiday weekend, and they said they're happy to see several people taking extra precautions as the Omicron variant continues to spread.

The cars moved quickly through the testing line off Shaw Avenue and Mariposa Street in northeast Fresno, waiting no longer than 15 minutes.

"We knew people were going to be getting together for the holidays. We knew there were going to be exposures," explained Dr. Kenny Banh. "We really have beefed up resources so that we can make sure to provide testing for everyone in the county who needs it."

According to Dr. Banh, if you believe you were exposed to the virus during the holiday weekend, now is the time to get tested.

New York covid testing

Morgan Mckay reports on there being five new covid-19 testing sites opening in New York City from tomorrow.

Cruise ships denied entry due to covid cases

At least four cruise ships were denied entry to foreign ports because of covid cases onboard.

A Holland America ship was turned away from Puerto Vallarta after the company said 21 crew members tested positive. Passengers on the Carnival Freedom ship were denied entry to Bonaire and Aruba in the Caribbean.

"The only reason why we found out that people on the ship had covid is because the first destination we were supposed to go to — we sat there for a couple of hours — and then we found out they wouldn't let us on that destination because of so many people on the ship having covid,” said Leah Murray, a Carnival Freedom passenger.

From Delta to Omicron, healthcare workers on front line

The Omicron variant has now been detected in all 50 states. While more will be known about Omicron in the near future, the toll the new variant is taking on an already taxed health care system is of concern now.

Take a look back at what the Delta surge did to the healthcare workforce (defined by CDC as paid or unpaid workers who are exposed to patients or infectious materials). Many of them suffered burnout, had gruelling workloads due to staffing shortages and non-covid care was impacted.

The challenges are beginning to mount with staffing shortages because of Omicron infections, and in some parts of the country hospitals are being strained.

Dr Jay Bhatt assesses the healthcare situation.

Covid spread: talk about confined space

It is being reported that a quarter of those onboard a US warship have tested positive for covid-19.

The symptoms that I am hearing most commonly are congestion.

Nasal congestion, upper airways, runny nose sore throat, the common cold type symptoms people expect, but headache is the other symptom many people have mentioned to me.

Dr. Dale Bratzler, OU Health

What Omicron symptoms to watch for

Covid-19 cases across the United States have continued on an upward trend. Cases have surpassed what Oklahomans saw during the surge at the end of August.

"If it is that much more transmissible and that many more people are going to get infected even if it is a small percentage, the absolute number it is going to be elevated as far as people being admitted into the hospitals, said Dr. David Chansolme with Integris Health.

Though doctors can't make a diagnosis of the variant based on symptoms alone, doctors said some with the Omicron variant may be similar to the original strain or Delta, but there are a few that seem to be a bit different.

Covid-19: Omicron summary

US President Joe Biden pledged to ease a shortage of covid-19 tests with the Omicron variant threatening to overwhelm some hospitals and stifle travel plans as it spreads across the country this holiday week. Here is a brief summary of how things stand this Tuesday...

Deaths and infections

Americas

Rising cases, along with bad weather, caused airlines to cancel more than 1,000 flights on Monday, and the spread of the Omicron variant prompted the US government's top infectious disease expert to suggest the government consider mandating vaccines for domestic flights.

US health authorities shortened the recommended isolation time for Americans with asymptomatic cases to five days from the previous guidance of 10 days.

Confirmed cases in Argentina almost doubled on Monday from Friday to 20,263 new infections, the highest daily tally in almost 6 months.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro will not vaccinate his 11-year-old daughter against covid-19, he said.

Asia-Pacific

Australia recorded another record surge in infections as
an outbreak of the highly infectious Omicron variant disrupted reopening of the economy, while state leaders argued over domestic border controls.

Indonesian health authorities were conducting contact tracing on Tuesday after detecting the Southeast Asian country's first case of the Omicron variant in the community.

Europe

Spain's infection rate exceeded 1,000 cases per 100,000 people for the first time on Monday, although hospitals were under much less strain than in previous waves of the pandemic.

Greece announced further restrictions effective from Jan. 3-16 to contain a further upsurge in covid-19 infections including the Omicron variant, targeting mainly night-time entertainment venues.

Middle East and Africa

Daily new cases in Turkey surged 30% on Monday to 26,099, the highest percentage rise this year, as the health minister warned about the rapid spread of the Omicron variant.

Iran has banned the entry of travellers from Britain, France, Denmark and Norway for 15 days.

Medical developments

India gave emergency use authorisation for Merck's covid-19 pill molnupiravir, and Serum Institute of India's Covovax and Biological E's Corbevax coronavirus vaccines.

China's Kintor faced a temporary setback as interim analysis for a late-stage trial for its potential covid-19 pill did not yield sufficient data due to the lack of hospitalised cases.

Economic impact

Asian shares edged higher on Tuesday, cruising in the slipstream of another record-setting day on Wall Street, while the safe-haven yen lost ground as traders stayed in riskier assets.

Japan's factory output jumped at the fastest pace on record in November, as easing global supply chain bottlenecks helped car production leap out of its recent slump, lifting prospects for a strong fourth-quarter economic rebound.

The risks of Covid-19 for children are real.

We are alerting New Yorkers to this recent striking increase in paediatric covid-19 admissions so that paediatricians, parents and guardians can take urgent action to protect our youngest New Yorkers.

We must use all available safe and effective infection control, prevention and mitigation strategies.

Dr Mary T Bassett, Acting State Health Commissioner

Europe in Omicron's hands

France, Italy and New York City have seen record numbers of covid-19 cases over the Christmas holidays as the highly transmissible Omicron variant has triggered a huge surge in infections worldwide.

France recorded 104,611 on Saturday, according to data from the public health office, higher than the 94,124 infections the previous day and the first time the country has gone past 100,000 infections in a single day.

The French government will meet on Monday to discuss new restrictions to stem the increase. It comes after France announced earlier this month that all UK arrivals would be banned from entering the country unless they had a “compelling reason to do so”.

Claire Gilbody-Dickerson reports.

NFL will require media to receive covid-19 booster shot

The National Football League (NFL) on Monday said it will require members of the media to receive a covid-19 booster shot in an effort to stem the spread of the virus within the league.

The requirement will take effect on Jan. 12 and will apply to media working at team training facilities, covering the playoffs and the Feb. 13 Super Bowl in Los Angeles.

The announcement comes after the league changed its covid-19 protocols for players amid the emergence of the highly-contagious Omicron variant which contributed to the postponement of several games this month.

The NFL encourages but does not require players to be vaccinated against the virus.

It recently said it vaccination rate stood at 94.6% among players and nearly 100% among personnel, while 30 of the league's 32 clubs have an overall vaccination rate of 95% or higher.

Apple closes New York City stores amid rising covid cases

Apple Inc said on Monday it had closed its New York City retail stores due to a spike in covid-19 cases. However, customers can pick up online orders at the stores, the iPhone maker said.

The closed stores include outlets at Fifth Avenue, Grand Central, SoHo and all major flagship stores.

Earlier this month, Apple said it had temporarily closed three stores in the United States and Canada after a rise in covid-19 cases and exposures among the stores' employees. For the same reason, Apple also mandated that all its customers and employees wear masks at its U.S. retail stores.

CDC cuts quarantine time for covid-affected Americans to 5 days

US health authorities on Monday shortened the recommended time for isolation for asymptomatic Americans with covid-19 to five days from the previous guidance of 10 days.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also said the people who test positive after quarantining should follow five days of wearing a mask when around others.

Omicron accounts for 73% of U.S. coronavirus infections, the federal CDC had said last week. Breakthrough infections are rising among the fully vaccinated population, including those who have had a third booster shot. However, Omicron appears to be causing milder symptoms in those people, some of whom have no symptoms at all. Reducing the CDC's 10-day quarantine recommendation would help asymptomatic people return to work or school, with proper precautions, White House medical adviser Anthony Fauci had told CNN last week.

Premier League tops weekly record for new covid-19 cases

PREMIER LEAGUE

Premier League tops weekly record for new covid-19 cases

The Premier League has revealed new cases of covid-19 at its clubs have topped 100 for the first time in a seven-day period.

League chiefs said there were 103 freshly discovered cases in the week from Monday December 20 to Sunday December 26.

That follows the announcement of 90 new positive cases for the previous week, which was more than double the previous high.

Biden: more work to do on covid testing

"Seeing how tough it was for some folks to get a test this weekend shows that we have more work to do and we're doing it."

US President Joe Biden spoke today about the challenges being faced by Americans in getting the required tests, especially as Omicron runs riot.

Fauci warns caution over Omicron complacency

While Dr. Anthony Fauci warned that covid-19 cases will likely continue to climb, he confirmed what others are saying that studies show Omicron is less severe in terms of hospitalizations. He also, however stressed caution:

"We don't want to get complacent" because "when you have such a high volume of new infections, it might override a real diminution in severity."

Listen to him below.

Which people will be able to get the third dose in early 2022?

Coronavirus vaccines

Which people will be able to get the third dose in early 2022?

With Omicron tearing its way across the world, many western countries have authorized the use of booster vaccines in an attempt to stop the spread of covid-19.

As it has been so long since the original round of jabs, vaccine efficacy has faltered. Alongside this, Omicron has the ability to circumvent old vaccines, putting more people at risk. Having a booster tops-up the protection needed to ward off the virus.

Oliver Povey brings you the latest on the guidance coming from the CDC.

Omicron surge: the data

Chief Medical Officer Christopher Longhurst has been assessing the recent data on the new variant and points to the 'huge surge' in infections. In his thread he goes on to say, supported by further evidence:

'We have not seen an impact on hospitalization @UCSDHealth yet, although this is always a lagging indicator. We do expect to see patients with omicron (especially unvaccinated patients) admitted for COVID in the coming days and weeks

'The majority of COVID cases diagnosed @UCSDHealth have been patients who are vaccinated, and many are boosted. Unfortunately, it seems unlikely the booster dose is providing additional benefit against omicron infection - we are analyzing our data now and will know more soon.'

Omicron sparks French reaction

French Prime Minister Jean Castex said that in response to a rapid spread of the Omicron variant of covid-19, the government is narrowing the delay for a third booster shot to three months from four, but there will be no curfew for New Year's Eve.

Castex also said that from yesterday and for the next three weeks, all public gatherings will be limited to 2,000 people for indoor events, and to 5000 people for outdoor events.

Consumption of drinks and food will be banned in long-distance transport and home working will become mandatory for at least three days per week where possible, Castex said.

A 2021 timeline from Alpha to Omicron

US NEWS

A 2021 timeline from Alpha to Omicron

Covid-19 has dominated lives, the economy and the national discourse for a second year. This year began with a new variant that would later be named Alpha was the concern raising case numbers as the US struggled to get its vaccine rollout going.

As the year 2021 comes to a close, a new variant Omicron, which is even more transmissible than all the variant before, along with the Delta variant are once again causing infections to surge. This time round the US is going into the winter with a majority of the population vaccinated but far from the levels that had been hoped for and Omicron appears to be more capable of evading the vaccine wall. Here’s a look back at covid-19 over the course of 2021.

Omicron hits New Year celebrations

Some countries are playing down the impact of Omicron but most people appear to be taking it very seriously with still much to be learned.

This article points to another end of year party season with minimal party feeling.

Covid-19 live blog: welcome

Good morning and welcome to our live coverage for today, Tuesday 28 December 2021, of the spread of the covid-19 Omicron variant.

The highly contagious new strain has led to travel chaos over the festive period, with airlines forced to cancel thousands of flights as rising coronavirus case figures cause staff shortages.

We will be keeping across all the major news, guidance and opinion related to the pandemic and bringing it to you here.

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