The latest on the coronavirus pandemic and the Omicron variant

By Fernando Alfonso III and Mike Hayes, CNN

Updated 3:24 p.m. ET, December 19, 2021
9 Posts
Sort byDropdown arrow
2:54 p.m. ET, December 19, 2021

Peru detects first cases of Omicron variant 

From CNN's Karol Suarez

Peru has detected its first four cases of Omicron in the country, health minister Hernando Cevallos announced on Sunday. 

The cases are being monitored by the National Institute of Health (INS) to determine where they came from and identify the people with whom they had contact, the minister said.  

Cevallos added that there are two other possible cases of Omicron saying, "The corresponding tests have already been carried out to identify which variant they have."

"There are two other people who have been in contact with them and have tested positive; we're doing a follow-up to see if this positivity belongs to Delta, which is the most frequent, or if it corresponds to Omicron," Cevallos said.

Given the presence of the Omicron variant in Peru, the health minister urged the population to get vaccinated against Covid-19. 

"The vaccine is the most effective way to avoid getting seriously ill," he said.

1:45 p.m. ET, December 19, 2021

NBA postpones 5 games due to Covid-19

From CNN's Kevin Dotson

The National Basketball Association has announced the postponement of five games due to Covid-19 issues within several teams in the league. 

The Brooklyn Nets, Cleveland Cavaliers, Orlando Magic, and Philadelphia 76ers each have large portions of their rosters and other team staff in the NBA’s Health and Safety protocol. 

Sunday’s scheduled games between Nets the and the Denver Nuggets as well the Cavaliers game against Atlanta Hawks and the 76ers versus the New Orleans Pelicans were postponed.

Monday’s game between the Magic and the Toronto Raptors was also postponed as well as Tuesday’s game between the Nets and the Washington Wizards.

No details were provided about rescheduling the games.

11:45 a.m. ET, December 19, 2021

Colorado governor urges 3 vaccine doses to combat Omicron variant

From CNN’s Claudia Dominguez

A healthcare worker prepares to administer a Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine to a person at a drive-thru site in Tropical Park on December 16, in Miami.
A healthcare worker prepares to administer a Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine to a person at a drive-thru site in Tropical Park on December 16, in Miami. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, who recently said he would not reimpose a statewide mask mandate, said Sunday it was important for lawmakers to lead with facts rather than fear in an interview on NBC’s Meet the Press.

“People just don’t react well to this ongoing environment of fear for two years. Let’s lead with facts,” Polis said.

He urged people to get a third vaccine dose in order to reduce the risk of contracting the new Omicron variant.

“Three doses of the vaccine are needed,” Polis said. “I have young kids, they have the DTaP [Diphtheria, Tetanus and Pertussis] vaccine…it’s three doses of that vaccine to be effective, so I wish they’d stop talking about it as a booster shot.” 

He also said that free at-home testing is available in the state and that over 1.2 million Coloradans have received a testing kit. He added that cases in the state have been going down for “several weeks,” but that Omicron could thwart this progress.

“We peaked in October, early November,” Polis said. “We had a lot less hospitalizations than we did a few weeks ago. Now that could change on a dime we know with the Omicron variant.” 

11:01 a.m. ET, December 19, 2021

There is a "tsunami" coming for unvaccinated Americans, CNN medical analyst says

From CNN's Susannah Cullinane and Dakin Andone

The US is now facing a resurgent coronavirus as the pandemic marches into its third year.

The country was averaging 126,967 new cases per day as of Saturday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

"This Omicron variant is extraordinarily contagious. It's as contagious as measles, and that's about the most contagious virus that we've seen," CNN medical analyst Jonathan Reiner said Saturday, warning there was a "tsunami" coming for unvaccinated Americans.

10:54 a.m. ET, December 19, 2021

US "can’t walk away" from Covid-19 mitigation measures with a tough winter ahead, Fauci says

From CNN's Deidre McPhillips

People wear masks at an indoor mall in The Oculus on December 13, in New York City.
People wear masks at an indoor mall in The Oculus on December 13, in New York City. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

With a doubling time of two to three days, the Omicron variant is “going to take over,” and the US needs to use all the tools at its disposal— from vaccination to testing and masking — to battle a tough winter, Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN on Sunday.

“It is going to be a tough few weeks to months as we get deeper into the winter,” he said, with significant strain on hospital systems, especially in places with low vaccination rates.

Fauci stressed the importance of vaccination — “If you want to be optimally protected, get boosted,” he said — but said “we can’t walk away” from other mitigation measures including masking and testing.

“We can’t do it without vaccines, Jake, but we can do a lot more with other things,” he told CNN's Jake Tapper. “It’s more than one thing. It’s a comprehensive approach.”

Testing has improved in the US over the past year, but Fauci said there’s still the opportunity to do better.

“We really need to flood the system with testing. We need to have tests available for anyone who wants them,” he said.

9:30 a.m. ET, December 19, 2021

Ireland says more than half of cases are Omicron

From CNN's Niamh Kennedy

Almost 52% of Covid-19 cases in Ireland are now the Omicron variant, according to the country's health department. 

"It has taken less than two weeks for Omicron to become the dominant strain of Covid-19 in Ireland,” Ireland's Chief Medical Officer Dr. Tony Holohan said in a tweet Sunday.

Irish health officials are identifying Omicron cases based on PCR tests displaying S gene target failure. The Irish Department of Health said in a tweet Sunday, that based on this methodology they estimate that 51.6% of reported cases in Ireland are now the Omicron variant. 

A total of 5,124 Covid-19 cases were recorded by the Department of Health Sunday. The country reported its highest case daily number since early January on Saturday when 7,333 cases were recorded, according to state broadcaster RTÉ. 

This follows the Irish government's announcement Friday of a host of additional measures targeted to stem the surge of the new variant. From Monday, hospitality establishments and live events will be subjected to an 8 p.m. curfew, which industry professionals have deemed devastating for the sector.  

Chair of the National Public Health Emergency Team’s (NPHET) Irish Epidemiological Modelling Advisory Group, Philip Nolan said in a tweet Saturday that the restrictions serve to “reinforce a call to all of us to prioritize our socializing over the coming weeks to a small group of people who matter most to us”.

The country’s epidemiologists have been unable to model “precisely” scenarios for Omicron, Nolan said. However, he warned that “a large wave of infections is likely” due to Omicron's large growth advantage. 

Ireland is currently offering booster doses to all adults over 40 years old, pregnant women, healthcare workers, people living in nursing homes or long-term residential care facilities and people aged 16-49 with an underlying health condition. 


8:34 a.m. ET, December 19, 2021

Israel to add US, Canada, and Germany to no-fly list

From CNN's Elliott Gokine

Israel is adding 10 more countries, including the US and Canada, to its “red” no-fly list, as it braces for a fifth wave of coronavirus infections.  

Subject to ministerial approval, the United States, Canada, Belgium, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Morocco, Portugal, Switzerland and Turkey will be added to the “red” list at midnight on Tuesday. The list already includes much of Africa, the UK, Denmark, France, Spain, the United Arab Emirates, Ireland, Norway, Finland and Sweden. 

“Time is running out,” warned Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, in remarks at the beginning of Sunday’s cabinet meeting. “The wave is coming. Every family should be prepared, every person should make sure they’re vaccinated with three shots, and that their children are vaccinated.”  

On Saturday night, it was announced that Bennett was canceling Sunday evening’s annual reception with journalists, diplomats and others, “due to growing concerns over a potential new Covid wave in Israel."

Meanwhile, the country is ramping up its vaccination campaign for children, with Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz telling Kan Radio they would be “storming” the education system this week, increasing the number of vaccination centers in schools 10-fold, to 500. He added there were some indications the booster shot’s efficacy has waned, and that a fourth vaccination dose might be required, especially for the elderly. 

In a bid to stem the spread of the rapidly-spreading omicron variant, Israel has banned most foreigners from entering the country.

Israelis are for the most part banned from visiting countries on its “red” list; travelers returning from them need to self-isolate for seven days, first in quarantine hotels, and then, on receipt of a negative PCR test, at home, providing they sign a contract agreeing to have their movements tracked.  

Despite these measures, Israel’s Covid-19 numbers have been creeping higher, with an additional 875 cases recorded on Friday, the highest number in at least a month, before dropping to 372 on Saturday, due to lower weekend testing rates (in late summer, infections peaked at more than 10,000 a day). Serious cases rose by one, to 81. Less than three months ago, at the height of the fourth wave, they exceeded 750.  

More context: The number of people contracting the Omicron variant also continues to grow. According to the Health Ministry, 134 people have now been identified as contracting the Omicron variant, up from 89 a few days ago.

There was a “high suspicion” of omicron in more than 300 additional cases. The R coefficient, the number of people infected by each Covid-19 sufferer, remains just above one, a threshold it crossed more than a month ago.  

“If what is happening in Europe happens here,” Dr. Eran Segal of the Weizmann Institute of Science, told Israel Channel 12. "We will see a doubling of infections every two or three days.”   

8:11 a.m. ET, December 19, 2021

London mayor says further Covid-19 restrictions are "inevitable" 

From CNN’s Martin Goillandeau

Pedestrians walk past a sign at Liverpool Street train station in London on December 18.
Pedestrians walk past a sign at Liverpool Street train station in London on December 18. (Tolga Akmen/AFP/Getty Images)

New coronavirus restrictions from the UK government are “inevitable,” London Mayor Sadiq Khan said on Sunday.

Khan was speaking after he declared a "major incident" in England’s capital city on Saturday due to rapidly rising case numbers.

“I think if we don't bring in new restrictions, sooner rather than later, you're going to see even more positive cases and potentially public services like the NHS on the verge of collapse, if not collapsing,” Khan told the BBC. “Those who work in the NHS think of GPs, A&Es in hospitals, ambulances, but also the fire service, police service, local authorities, they're seeing record numbers of staff absences, and the worry is our ability to look after people who are either unwell or need public service. That is why we have declared the major emergency."

The mayor of London added that any new restrictions would have to be balanced with financial support from the UK government.

He suggested new restrictions should come into force after Christmas given the “impact on people's well-being and mental health” it would have if they were brought in prior to Christmas.

“Christmas is important. Even for those of us that don't celebrate religiously, you get time off, you get to see your family. So I think we should be able to celebrate Christmas safely,” he said.

“But I think sooner rather than later, we have to look at social distancing. We're going to have to look at household mixing. And because if we don't, the number of cases only going one way and the issue isn't the seriousness of the consequences, not just that. It's also the numbers of people who have the virus,” Khan added.

7:42 a.m. ET, December 19, 2021

Omicron variant found in at least 45 US states, Puerto Rico and Washington, DC

The Covid-19 Omicron variant has been identified in at least 45 US states on Sunday, according to news releases from state officials in their respective states.

Omicron has also been detected in both Puerto Rico and Washington DC, officials said.

The variant has been found in the following states: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Wyoming