The latest on the coronavirus pandemic and the Omicron variant

By Ed Upright, Aditi Sangal, Adrienne Vogt and Meg Wagner, CNN

Updated 5:48 AM ET, Wed December 15, 2021
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6:56 a.m. ET, December 14, 2021

Omicron variant found in at least 32 states

Test tubes hold Covid-19 tests in Los Angeles, California, on December 6.
Test tubes hold Covid-19 tests in Los Angeles, California, on December 6. (Allison Zaucha/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

The Omicron variant has been identified in at least 32 states on Monday.

Here's the full list:

  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Hawaii
  • Idaho
  • Illinois
  • Iowa
  • Louisiana 
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan 
  • Minnesota
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • Nebraska
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • North Carolina 
  • Ohio
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania 
  • Rhode Island
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Virginia 
  • Washington
  • Wisconsin

6:11 a.m. ET, December 14, 2021

Emma Raducanu tests positive for Covid-19

From Reuters

Emma Raducanu competes in the Transylvania Open in Cluj-Napoca, Romania, on October 29.
Emma Raducanu competes in the Transylvania Open in Cluj-Napoca, Romania, on October 29. (Flaviu Buboi/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

US Open champion Emma Raducanu has tested positive for COVID-19 and will miss this week's Mubadala World Tennis Championship exhibition event in Abu Dhabi, the 19-year-old Briton said on Monday.

Raducanu, who became the first qualifier to win a major when she triumphed at Flushing Meadows in September, was due to face Olympics singles gold medallist Belinda Bencic at the December 16-18 event.

"I was very much looking forward to playing in front of the fans here in Abu Dhabi, but unfortunately after testing positive for Covid-19, I will have to postpone until the next opportunity," Raducanu said.

"I'm isolating as per rules and hopefully will be able to get back soon."

Read more here.

6:01 a.m. ET, December 14, 2021

Spain to begin vaccinating children aged 5 to 11 on Wednesday

From CNN's Al Goodman in Madrid

A health worker prepares a Covid-19 vaccine at Isabel Zendal Hospital in Madrid, Spain, on November 26.
A health worker prepares a Covid-19 vaccine at Isabel Zendal Hospital in Madrid, Spain, on November 26. (Burak Akbulut/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Spain will begin vaccinating children aged 5 to 11 on Wednesday, the Health Ministry has announced. 

The aim is to vaccinate the 3.3 million children in this age range during December and January, according to a Health Ministry statement. 

The Health Ministry sent the first shipment of 1.3 million doses to Spain's 17 regions this week and more doses are due in January, the statement added.

It comes after the country's public health commission approved the Covid-19 vaccination for 5 to 11-year-olds on December 7.

Spain has fully vaccinated 89.6% of its population 12 years and older, per the Health Ministry's latest data, issued on Monday

5:52 a.m. ET, December 14, 2021

South African study indicates people less likely to be hospitalized with Omicron variant

From CNN Health’s Maggie Fox

A new study from South Africa indicates that Pfizer/BioNTech’s vaccine is only about 33% effective against the Omicron variant of coronavirus, but people infected with the Omicron variant are less likely to end up in the hospital than those infected with the original strain of the virus.

The data comes from Discovery Health, a large health insurance company that covers 3.7 million people in South Africa. The team there, along with researchers at the South African Medical Research Council, looked at claims data coming from the time when Omicron became predominant across South Africa, and compared it to data from earlier periods.

They examined 211,000 positive coronavirus test results, 41% of them taken from adult members who had been given two doses of Pfizer’s vaccine. The company estimated 78,000 of these cases involved Omicron between November 15 and the first week of December.

They estimate the risk of ending up in the hospital from Covid-19 was 29% lower for Omicron infections in adults, compared to the original virus, but said children were 20% more likely to be hospitalized. The comparison was to one of the first strains of the virus, not to the Alpha or Beta variants that were prevalent in South Africa this year.

Two doses of the Pfizer vaccine was 33% protective against infection overall, but 70% effective in preventing severe complications including hospitalization, they said. 

“The Omicron-driven fourth has a significantly steeper trajectory of new infections relative to prior waves. National data show an exponential increase in both new infections and test positivity rates during the first three weeks of this wave, indicating a highly transmissible variant with rapid community spread of infection,” Dr. Ryan Noach, CEO of Discovery Health, said in a statement.

“Overall, the risk of re-infection following prior infection has increased over time, with Omicron resulting in significantly higher rates of reinfection compared to prior variants,” Shirley Collie, chief health analytics actuary at Discovery Health, said in a statement. Collie said people in South Africa’s Delta wave had a 40% relative higher risk of reinfection with Omicron and those infected when Beta predominated had a 60% higher relative risk of reinfection with Omicron.

“Notwithstanding the fact that children continue to show a very low incidence of severe complications following Covid-19, Discovery Health’s data indicate that children under age 18 have 20% higher risk of admission for complications of Covid-19, when infected with Omicron,” Collie added.

“This is early data and requires careful follow up. However, this trend aligns with the South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) warning in recent days that during South Africa’s third wave of infection (June to September 2021) they had seen an increase in pediatric admissions and now, in the fourth wave, they are seeing a similar increase in admissions for children under five. Anecdotal reports from hospitals in South Africa indicate that most Covid-19 diagnoses in children admitted to hospital are co-incidental -- many children that are admitted for non-COVID related conditions, and are not experiencing Covid-19 complications, test positive for Covid-19 on routine screening tests.”

5:31 a.m. ET, December 14, 2021

German city begins vaccinating children aged 5-11

From CNN's Sarah Dean

The northwest German city of Bremen began vaccinating children aged five to 11 on Tuesday, the Health Senator's spokesman told CNN. 

Shots will be administered at a special vaccination center designed for children in the city center.

“We want to create a trustworthy and secure environment and the children's vaccination center is perfect for that. Pediatricians and experienced childcare workers will be working there,” Bremen's Health Senator Claudia Bernhard said in a press release.

Parents and custodians will receive invitations for vaccination appointments, which they can book on the center's website.

First invitations will go to children born in 2010 and 2011, as supplies for children are still scarce. Younger siblings over five can get their shot if they accompany the invitees, the press release said.

Priority will be given to children with pre-existing medical conditions, as recommended by Germany's independent vaccination committee.

7:01 a.m. ET, December 14, 2021

South Korea reports record number of Covid-19 patients in critical condition

From CNN’s Yoonjung Seo in Seoul

A medical worker checks on a Covid-19 patient inside the intensive care unit of the Bagae Hospital in Pyeongtaek, South Korea, on December 1.
A medical worker checks on a Covid-19 patient inside the intensive care unit of the Bagae Hospital in Pyeongtaek, South Korea, on December 1. (Jeon Heon-Kyun/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

South Korea has reported a record number of Covid-19 patients in critical condition and Covid-19 related deaths from Monday, putting more pressure on the capacity of the country’s medical system.

The number of critically ill Covid-19 patients now stands at 906 as 30 more patients were added from the previous day, and 94 additional Covid-19 deaths have been reported, raising the total number of the country’s deaths to 4,387, according to data from the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) on Tuesday.

On Friday, Health Minister Kwon Deok-cheol said ICU bed capacity was reaching its limit in the Greater Seoul area as patients in critical conditions and deaths were rising due to the virus spreading among the elderly people.

The country has reported 5,567 daily new cases of coronavirus from Monday, according to the data by the KDCA. 

As of 12 am Tuesday, 83.8% of the population received their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, 81.3% of the population received a second dose of vaccine, and 13.9% received a booster shot, according to the KDCA.

At least, 17 Covid-19 patients died in South Korea last week (December 5 to December 11) before being admitted to a hospital bed, according to the KDCA’s data.

Among those, one person was diagnosed with Covid-19 in a postmortem, while the other 16 had tested positive for coronavirus and were waiting to be assigned beds, the KDCA added.

4:57 a.m. ET, December 14, 2021

China detects second case of Omicron variant in air passenger who transferred through Shanghai 

From CNN’s Beijing Bureau 

China has identified a second case of the Omicron coronavirus variant on the mainland in a traveler who had arrived from overseas on November 27 in Shanghai, but who didn’t test positive until December 13 after flying to Guangzhou -- despite undergoing multiple tests while in compulsory two-week hotel quarantine in Shanghai.

The 67-year-old man was in home quarantine when local health authorities conducted a Covid-19 test on December 12, which was found a day later to be positive for the Omicron variant after genome sequencing. 

It's unknown whether he was infected from overseas or while inside China's "closed loop," measures for incoming overseas travelers aimed at identifying and preventing the spread of Covid-19 before exposure to the community. 

The man had flown from Shanghai to Guangzhou on Air China flight CA1837 within the "closed loop" system on December 11, according to state broadcaster CCTV. Air China staff confirmed to CNN the flight was nearly full, with all economy seats sold and only six business class seats empty.

The man is currently in isolation in hospital, which is a requirement for all those who test positive for Covid-19. He is in stable condition, local health authorities announced Tuesday. 

On Monday, China detected its first instance of the Omicron variant on the mainland, the state-run news agency Xinhua News reported.

The first Omicron variant case was identified by health authorities in the northern port city of Tianjin in an asymptomatic inbound traveler who arrived from overseas on December 9, the report said, adding the diagnosis was later verified by the country’s CDC.

The traveler who tested positive for the Omicron variant in Tianjin is now in isolation in hospital and undergoing treatment, Xinhua reported on Monday.

6:14 a.m. ET, December 14, 2021

Nigeria to destroy 1 million expired Covid-19 vaccines

From CNN’s Yong Xiong

A health worker prepares a Covid-19 vaccine dose in Lagos, Nigeria, on November 26.
A health worker prepares a Covid-19 vaccine dose in Lagos, Nigeria, on November 26. (Pius Utomi Ekpei/AFP/Getty Images)

Nigeria will destroy one million expired Covid-19 vaccines, Faisal Shuaib, executive director of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), said on Monday, adding his agency was working with drug regulators to set a date for their destruction. 

“We're working with NAFDAC to schedule a date for when this destruction will take place,” Shuaib told reporters during a press conference on Monday.

Last week, Nigeria’s health minister warned in a statement that vaccines the country received through COVAX -- the World Health Organization's vaccine-sharing program -- had shelf lives that only allowed a few months, some just weeks, to administer the shots. 

Shuaib also said Nigeria would no longer accept vaccines with a short shelf life, though the country had previously accepted vaccines with short shelf lives from international donors.

4:57 a.m. ET, December 14, 2021

Omicron to become dominant variant in Denmark this week

From CNN’s Vasco Cotovio

Omicron is expected to become the dominant coronavirus variant in Denmark this week, the country's Statens Serum Institut said in a statement on Monday.

The institute also expects the number of new infections to rise to around 10,000 per day. On Monday, Denmark reported 7,799 new infections, the highest daily increase since the pandemic started. 

The head of the Statens Serum Institut, Henrik Ullum, says the rise in infections will naturally lead to an “increase in the number of hospitalizations, especially among unvaccinated and vaccinated debilitated people [with underlying diseases].”

In the statement, Ullum called on people to get their booster shots. 

“We estimate that both the second and especially the third dose [of the vaccine] protect against serious diseases of the omicron variant,” Ullum said. “In addition, new studies from England indicate that the third jab also provides protection against symptomatic infection.”

Ullum said the omicron appears to be spreading quicker than other variants, but added it is still unclear if it is so because it evades immunity provided by the vaccines or if it is just more contagious.