Live Updates

The latest on the coronavirus pandemic and the Omicron variant

Fauci weighs in on risk of indoor holiday gatherings
02:14

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.

14 Posts

White House says it is "prepared for the rising case levels”

The White House says it is “prepared for the rising case levels” of Covid-19 and confirmed President Biden will give a speech on the virus Tuesday.

“On Tuesday, the President will deliver remarks on the status of the country’s fight against Covid-19, as the country sees rising cases amid the growing Omicron variant,” White House Press Sec. Jen Psaki said in a series of tweets Saturday.

“Building off his Winter Plan, @POTUS will announce new steps the Administration is taking to help communities in need of assistance, while also issuing a stark warning of what the winter will look like for Americans that choose to remain unvaccinated. We are prepared for the rising case levels, and @POTUS will detail how we will respond to this challenge. He will remind Americans that they can protect themselves from severe illness from COVID-19 by getting vaccinated and getting their booster shot when they are eligible,” she added.

Psaki’s comments that the administration is “prepared for the rising case levels” comes as Vice President Kamala Harris told the Los Angeles Times in an interview published Friday that officials were caught unprepared for the rise of Covid variants.

We didn’t see Delta coming. I think most scientists did not — upon whose advice and direction we have relied — didn’t see Delta coming,” Harris told the LA Times. “We didn’t see Omicron coming. And that’s the nature of what this, this awful virus has been, which as it turns out, has mutations and variants.”

5 NHL teams' seasons are now on pause due to Covid-19

The National Hockey League has shut down the Boston Bruins and the Nashville Predators, citing a “rising number of positive cases as well as the potential for continued Covid-19 spread in the coming days.”

Each team’s games will be postponed through Dec. 26.

Now, five NHL teams have been forced to shut down in the past week, as the Bruins and Predators join the Calgary Flames, Colorado Avalanche and Florida Panthers.

The NHL has also postponed three additional games due to several players on the Toronto Maple Leafs and Vancouver Canucks entering the league’s Covid-19 protocols over the past two days. Saturday night’s scheduled game between Toronto and Vancouver has been postponed, as have Sunday games between Toronto and the Seattle Kraken and between Vancouver and the Arizona Coyotes.

“The Bruins, Predators, Maple Leafs and Canucks organizations have followed, and will continue to follow, all recommended guidelines aimed at protecting the health and safety of their Players, staff and communities at large as set by the NHL, local, state/provincial and federal agencies,” the NHL said in a statement.

Earlier Saturday, the NHL and NHL Players Association announced newly enhanced Covid-19 protocols would be put into effect through at least Jan. 7. The league and the NHLPA cited the increased number of positive cases within the last two weeks, as well as the new Omicron Covid-19 variant, as the reason for the enhanced protocols. 

In the new protocols, the league said all fully vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals will be required to wear masks at all times while inside team facilities and during travel. Daily testing for Covid-19 will also be required for all members of the team’s traveling party. 

CNN’s Homero De La Fuente contributed to this report

Biden to give Omicron-focused speech Tuesday

President Biden will give an Omicron variant-focused speech on Tuesday, according to a White House official.

The US is contending with higher case numbers, deaths and hospitalizations from the coronavirus heading into the holidays.

NBC News was first to report on the speech.

The Netherlands will impose strict lockdown measures to curb Omicron spread, prime minister says

Dutch outgoing Prime Minister Mark Rutte gives a press conference in The Hague, Netherlands, on December 18.

The Netherlands will impose a strict new lockdown starting Sunday at 5 a.m. local time to curb the spread of the Covid-19 Omicron variant, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte announced in a televised news conference Saturday, according to CNN affiliate RTL News.

Indoor gatherings will be limited to a maximum of two guests until Jan. 14, except on Christmas and New Year’s Eve, when that will be extended to four guests, according to RTL News.

All schools and extracurricular activities will also close until at least Jan. 9, RTL reported. On Jan. 3, the cabinet will decide whether education can reopen after Jan. 10.

Most indoor sports facilities will be closed except for swimming lessons, while outdoor facilities will be open for all ages. Most events will not be permitted, except for funerals, weekly markets selling groceries, and professional sports matches and competitions without spectators.

Brooklyn Nets stars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving placed on NBA's health and safety protocol

Kevin Durant, left, and Kyrie Irving of the Brooklyn Nets look on during a game at Barclays Center on June 1, in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.

Brooklyn Nets stars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving have been placed on the NBA’s health and safety protocol, the team confirmed to CNN on Saturday. 

Durant and Irving become the eighth and ninth members of the Nets to be placed on the list this week. Since Monday, Nets star guard James Harden, along with forwards Paul Millsap, LaMarcus Aldridge, DeAndre’ Bembry, James Johnson and guards Jevon Carter and Bruce Bowen, were also placed on the list. 

Some context: The news comes one day after the team announced Irving would re-join to practice and play in games outside New York. 

Irving, who has said he’s unvaccinated against Covid-19, had been sitting out this season after the team ruled he could not participate in practice or games until he was eligible to be a full participant. Local New York City policy prohibits any unvaccinated player from playing in home games. 

On Saturday, Brooklyn announced it signed James Ennis III and guard Shaquille Harrison to 10-day contracts as it deals with the Covid-19 outbreak. 

The Nets are scheduled to host the Orlando Magic on Saturday.

Since Irving has been away from the team, he is required to test negative for five days straight in order to be allowed to re-join the team. Being placed on the list indicates that Irving either tested positive, provided an inconclusive test or is considered a close contact to someone who has tested positive. This is the case for Durant as well.

Starting on Dec. 26, per new league protocols, all players and staff will be tested on game days. Players who got a booster shot or recovered from the virus recently will be exempt. The team didn’t specify if Irving and Durant tested positive or if they’re considered close contacts.

Players who are placed in the NBA’s health and safety protocols must test negative twice in a span of 24 hours. 

More than 5,000 new coronavirus cases reported in NYC, according to mayor

New York City recorded more than 5,000 new coronavirus cases as of Saturday, according to Mayor Bill de Blasio.

There were also 214 hospitalizations and nearly 13 million vaccine doses administered, the mayor wrote in a tweet.

On Friday, the Radio City Rockettes’ “Christmas Spectacular” show was canceled for the rest of the season “due to increasing challenges from the pandemic.” 

On Thursday, New York City reported its positivity rate from PCR tests doubled over a four-day period. The NYC health commissioner said cases have tripled in the past month.

New York state reported 21,027 cases on Thursday, the highest single day count of new Covid-19 cases, according to data released Friday.

Positive Covid-19 cases in the state jumped 154% in less than a week, according to the state data.

UK reports more than 90,000 daily new infections for 2 days in a row

The United Kingdom on Saturday reported 90,418 new cases of Covid-19, reaching over 90,000 infections for two days in a row, according to government data. The country also reported 125 deaths in the past 24 hours. 

There were 93,045 cases reported on Friday.

British health authorities announced earlier in the day that over 10,059 Omicron variant cases had been confirmed in its latest daily figures as the variant surges across the UK.

Paris cancels New Year’s Champs-Elysées fireworks display

Fireworks are ignited as 'Paris 2020' is projected onto the Arc de Triomphe during the New Year's Celebration on the Champs-Elysees on December 31, 2019, in Paris.

Paris has canceled its traditional fireworks display over the iconic Champs-Elysées avenue to welcome the New Year due to the renewed Covid-19 surge, Paris City Hall announced Saturday.

“The City of Paris regrets to cancel all the festivities planned on the Champs-Elysées this December 31st due to the resurgence of the pandemic and the new governmental announcements specified this Friday December 17,” Paris City Hall said in a statement.

“We hope that the year 2022 will allow us to celebrate joyful moments together and wish you in this expectation to share with your loved ones a beautiful holiday season,” according to the statement.

The news follows French Prime Minister Jean Castex’s announcement Friday that big outdoor events and gatherings will be banned on New Year’s Eve as the country faces its fifth wave of Covid-19 infections.

Castex said the Omicron variant was rapidly spreading across France and that “it will become the dominant variant in early 2022.” He called on people to get tested “in the hours preceding the holiday gatherings,” and to “act responsibly.”

France reported 48,808 new Covid-19 cases, an increase of almost 7% over the last week, as of Dec. 13, according to French government data.

WHO: Omicron cases doubling every 1.5 to 3 days in countries where transmission is documented 

Cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant are doubling every 1.5 to 3 days in the countries where transmissions are documented, the World Health Organization said on Saturday. 

In a technical brief shared with CNN, the WHO states that Omicron has been identified in 89 countries as of Thursday and consistently shows a substantial growth advantage over the Delta variant. Omicron has a high number of mutations, “some of which are concerning” and may be associated with higher immune escape potential and transmissibility. 

“It is spreading significantly faster than the Delta variant in countries with documented community transmission, with a doubling time between 1.5-3 days,” according to the document. 
“Omicron is spreading rapidly in countries with high levels of population immunity and it remains uncertain to what extent the observed rapid growth rate can be attributed to immune evasion, intrinsic increased transmissibility or a combination of both,” the WHO said. 

“There are still limited data on the clinical severity of Omicron,” the WHO added. “More data are needed to understand the severity profile and how severity is impacted by vaccination and pre-existing immunity.” 

“There are still limited available data, and no peer-reviewed evidence, on vaccine efficacy or effectiveness to date for Omicron,” the WHO continued.

Preliminary data from England indicates “a significant reduction in vaccine effectiveness against symptomatic disease for Omicron compared to Delta after two vaccine doses of either Pfizer BioNTech-Comirnaty or AstraZeneca-Vaxzevria vaccines. There was, however, higher effectiveness two weeks after a Pfizer BioNTech-Comirnaty booster, which was slightly lower or comparable to that against Delta.” 

The WHO declared Omicron a “variant of concern” on Nov. 26. On Thursday, leaders of the G7 nations called the Omicron variant “the biggest current threat to global public health.”  

London mayor declares "major incident" as Omicron variant surges in UK capital

A government digital poster encouraging people to wear face masks to curb the spread of coronavirus is displayed in a bus stop in London on December 17.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan has declared a “major incident” in the British capital as Omicron cases continued to rise on Saturday, according to a statement published on the London Assembly’s website.

Khan took the decision “following discussions with leaders from NHS London, local authorities and emergency and other essential services in the capital,” per the statement.

There have been 65,525 newly confirmed Covid-19 cases in London in the past seven days, with 26,418 cases reported in the last 24-hour period alone — the highest number since the start of the pandemic, according to the statement. The number of Covid-19 patients in London hospitals has gone up 29%, according to the London Assembly.

The assembly said a major incident “is defined as an event or situation with a range of serious consequences which requires special arrangements to be implemented by one or more emergency responder agency.”

“We know that the vaccine offer our best defense against the virus. There are now more clinics in London delivering vaccines than at any point during the pandemic. I urge all Londoners to book their appointment or to go to one of the many walk-in-centers across the capital as soon as you can,” Khan added.

Earlier in the day, Khan said the surge in cases of the Omicron variant across London was “hugely concerning,” adding the variant was now “dominant” in the British capital.

“Cases are increasing rapidly and the number of admissions to hospitals is on the rise again,” the mayor said.

The mayor had previously declared a major incident on Jan. 8 due to the rapid spread of Covid-19, but the measure ended on Feb. 26 as case numbers fell.

UK records more than 10,000 Omicron variant cases in the past 24 hours, health authorities say

British health authorities announced Saturday that an additional 10,059 Omicron variant cases have been recorded in its latest daily figures.

The total of confirmed Omicron-variant Covid-19 cases has jumped to 24,968 as of 6 p.m. Friday, the UK Health Security Agency said on its website.

The number of deaths related to the Omicron variant stands at seven, the agency said.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson will chair a meeting of the Cobra emergency committee on Saturday to discuss lockdown measures, a Downing Street spokesperson confirmed to CNN. 

Several groups appeal ruling on vaccine mandate to Supreme Court

Oakland County Health Department emergency preparedness specialist Jeanette Henson fills syringes with doses of the Covid-19 vaccine on August 24, at the Southfield Pavilion in Southfield, Michigan.

In the hours after a federal appeals court allowed the Biden administration’s vaccine mandate or weekly testing requirement to go into effect for large employers, several groups appealed the decision to the US Supreme Court.

They are asking Justice Brett Kavanaugh—who has jurisdiction over the lower court that rendered the decision— to put it on hold while the appeals process plays out. 

In one brief, lawyers for the Alliance Defending Freedom representing religious non profits and businesses said that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration had exceeded its authority in issuing the requirement. The groups say they object to the mandate’s “financial burdens, its restrictions on employee hiring and its coercion of employee choices.”

Another petition from a coalition of business groups said they would be irreparably harmed by the requirement because they will “permanently lose clients and reputation as a result of losing workers who immediately quit and join smaller companies rather than be vaccinated or tested weekly.”

The Buckeye Institute, in a separate challenge, argued that the Biden administration “frustrated with a minority of Americans’ medical choices” has attempted “to control and surveil the vaccination schedules of enormous swaths of the country’s population.” 

Republican states, led by Ohio, also signaled they plan to appeal. 

The flurry of appeals have yet to be formally received by the high court and have not yet been officially docketed. Once on the docket, the court is likely to call for a response from the government before acting. 

Separately, on its website, OSHA says that it is “gratified” by the appeals court decision and that to “account for any uncertainty” due to the legal changes it will not issue citations for noncompliance to employers before Jan. 10.

UK government to host emergency meeting on Covid-19 measures 

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson will chair a meeting of the Cobra emergency committee on Saturday to discuss lockdown measures, a Downing Street spokesperson confirmed to CNN.  

The prime minister’s office did not provide further details but British media outlets have suggested tougher measures could be brought in to stem the surge of coronavirus infections due in part to the Omicron variant.

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.

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

A person gets tested for Covid-19 at a mobile testing site in Times Square on December 17, in New York.

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.

READ MORE

From 6.2 million international visitors to 45. Thanks, 2021
This 10-year-old boy asked Santa last year for a cure for Covid-19. This year he has a new request
Omicron is breaking through the strictest Covid-19 protocols and it's upending the return of live professional sports

READ MORE

From 6.2 million international visitors to 45. Thanks, 2021
This 10-year-old boy asked Santa last year for a cure for Covid-19. This year he has a new request
Omicron is breaking through the strictest Covid-19 protocols and it's upending the return of live professional sports