January 4 coronavirus pandemic and Omicron variant news

By Rhea Mogul, Adam Renton, Jack Guy and Ed Upright, Meg Wagner, Adrienne Vogt, Aditi Sangal, Melissa Macaya and Melissa Mahtani, CNN

Updated 4:53 a.m. ET, January 5, 2022
15 Posts
Sort byDropdown arrow
8:43 a.m. ET, January 4, 2022

The US's largest children's hospital is reporting a four-fold increase in Covid-19 hospitalizations

From CNN's Travis Caldwell

The Texas Children's Hospital stands at the Texas Medical Center (TMC) campus in Houston, Texas, U.S., on Wednesday, June 24, 2020.
The Texas Children's Hospital stands at the Texas Medical Center (TMC) campus in Houston, Texas, U.S., on Wednesday, June 24, 2020. (Callaghan O'Hare/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

With tens of millions of unvaccinated Americans at higher risk for severe disease from Covid-19 infections, doctors and health care facilities nationwide are reporting a rising number of young people hospitalized, some of whom are too young to receive vaccine doses.

The nation's largest pediatric hospital, Texas Children's Hospital in Houston, is reporting a more than four-fold increase in child hospitalizations from Covid-19 over the last two weeks, spurred by the spread of the Omicron and Delta variants over the holiday season.

"We have staggering numbers here from this Omicron surge already," Dr. Jim Versalovic, pathologist-in-chief at Texas Children's, said Monday. "We shattered prior records that were established during the Delta surge in August."

More than 700 children were in the hospital with Covid-19 during one 24-hour period last week, he said, and 90% of cases were shown through sequencing to have been caused by the Omicron variant.

"We are seeing more Covid now than we have seen in previous waves," said Dr. Edith Bracho-Sanchez, a primary care pediatrician and assistant professor of pediatrics at Columbia University Irving Medical Center in New York, "and it's worrisome that the worst of the winter here has not passed, and we are bracing for what is still to come."

Noting that some children who have coronavirus may be seeking medical care for other conditions yet testing positive, Bracho-Sanchez told CNN's Anderson Cooper Monday it is evident from what she has seen in New York City that more children there have Covid-19 than ever before.

"We would be foolish to keep minimizing Covid-19 in children at this point in the pandemic," she said.

Early research suggests Omicron may cause more upper airway problems, unlike previous strains that caused lower airway problems. However, upper airway conditions can be more dangerous for children than adults.

"We cannot treat the airways of children like they are the airways of adults," she said. "It's just not the way it works. And for us pediatricians, we know that respiratory viruses can lead to ... croup and bronchiolitis, that inflammation of the upper airways that does get in children in trouble."

Versalovic said Monday of the children at their facility needing care, "It's clear that the majority of cases either have Covid-19 as a primary factor or as a significant contributing factor to their hospitalization."

Data published from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Department of Health and Human Services last week showed that pediatric hospital admissions had reached a record high, eclipsing marks from the 2020 holiday surge as well as the Delta surge over the summer and fall.

Cumulative hospitalization rates through November are about eight times higher for unvaccinated adults and about 10 times higher for unvaccinated children ages 12 to 17, according to CDC data.

Children are the least vaccinated age group in the US, with around 53% of ages 12-17 fully vaccinated and those ages 5-11 far less, according to CDC data. Americans at age 18-24 are nearly 59% fully vaccinated and those ages 25-39 are at 63%.

Overall, 62% of the US population is fully vaccinated and more than 33% of those have received a booster, CDC data shows.

Read more about this here.

4:27 p.m. ET, January 4, 2022

Students in Spain will return to in-person classes next week

From CNN's Al Goodman in Madrid

The Minister of Health, Carolina Darias, appears after an extraordinary meeting of the CISNS, together with the Sectorial Conference of Education and the General Conference of University Policy, in La Moncloa, on January 4, 2022, in Madrid, Spain. After the meeting, both the Government and the autonomous communities have confirmed that the return to class will be face-to-face.
The Minister of Health, Carolina Darias, appears after an extraordinary meeting of the CISNS, together with the Sectorial Conference of Education and the General Conference of University Policy, in La Moncloa, on January 4, 2022, in Madrid, Spain. After the meeting, both the Government and the autonomous communities have confirmed that the return to class will be face-to-face. (E. Parra/Europa Press/Getty Images)

Spanish students — in schools through to universities — will return to in-person classes starting Jan. 10, Health Minister Carolina Darias announced Tuesday.

The move has been unanimously agreed by national and regional government experts in health, education and universities, she said.

Spain’s high vaccination rate means 86.6% of students aged 12 to 19 are fully vaccinated, Darias added.

And 28.8% of students aged 5-11 have now had a first dose after pediatric vaccination started Dec. 15.

"Our classrooms are and continue to be a safe space," Darias said at a nationally-televised news conference in Madrid.

In-person classes had continued until the usual Christmas holiday break in December.

This week is still a holiday week for students in Spain, and authorities had debated whether they would maintain the scheduled return to in-person classes on Jan. 10 given a sharp increase in Covid-19 cases.

7:34 a.m. ET, January 4, 2022

French TV star Igor Bogdanoff dies of Covid-19 days after twin brother

From CNN's Joseph Ataman in Paris

Igor and Grichka Bogdanov (Bogdanoff) pose during a portrait session in Paris, France in November 2019.
Igor and Grichka Bogdanov (Bogdanoff) pose during a portrait session in Paris, France in November 2019. (Eric Fougere/Corbis/Getty Images)

French TV star Igor Bogdanoff has died of Covid-19, six days after his twin brother Grichka died of the same disease.

A friend of the twins confirmed their deaths and told CNN affiliate BFM TV the pair had died after catching the virus in November.

Jean-Louis Chalencon told BFM TV the twins had been hospitalized December 15, but had waited too long to be admitted.

Neither was vaccinated, Chalencon said, because the twins believed their “extraordinary life-style hygiene,” eating mostly seeds and not drinking alcohol, would protect them from the virus.

The 72-year-old twins were celebrities in France, not least because of their unusual facial features. Outside France, they were known after appearing in a viral meme.

7:18 a.m. ET, January 4, 2022

"We can't vaccinate the planet every six months," says Covid-19 vaccine creator

From CNN's Niamh Kennedy in Dublin, Ireland

Andrew Pollard, director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, at the University of Oxford in June 2021.
Andrew Pollard, director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, at the University of Oxford in June 2021. (Steve Parsons/PA Images/Getty Images)

Andrew Pollard, one of the creators of the Oxford AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine, has said that giving people booster shots twice a year is "not sustainable."

Speaking to UK newspaper The Telegraph in an interview published Tuesday, Pollard said: "We can't vaccinate the planet every six months."

Pollard, who also heads up the UK's Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization (JCVI), stressed the "need to target the vulnerable" going forward, rather than administering doses to all those over 12 years old.

More data is needed to ascertain "whether, when and how often those who are vulnerable will need additional doses,” said Pollard.

The scientist cast doubts on the necessity of a fourth Covid-19 vaccine dose, saying further evidence is also needed here before campaigns can begin. 

Israel has already begun its rollout of a fourth vaccine dose, offering it to all medical workers and people over 60 as of Monday.

And in late December German Health Minister Karl Lauterbach told public broadcaster ZDF that Germans "will need a fourth vaccination" against Covid-19.

But Pollard struck an optimistic note in his interview. The "worst is behind us" and the world "just needs to get through the winter," he said. 

“At some point, society has to open up," he added. "When we do open, there will be a period with a bump in infections, which is why winter is probably not the best time."

He concluded by issuing a stark warning about the dangerous consequences of vaccine misinformation, highlighting that even "unintentional" comments from politicians can wreak havoc.

"Let’s just say that comments made in mainland Europe affected people in Africa," he said.

7:10 a.m. ET, January 4, 2022

Japanese governor slams US military over Omicron spread

From CNN's Emiko Jozuka and Jake Kwon

Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki speaks at a press conference at the prefectural government headquarters in Naha, southern Japan, on Jan. 2, 2022. The governor criticized the U.S. military over many COVID-19 cases at its bases in Okinawa, citing them as one of the factors behind the spread of coronavirus infections in the prefecture.
Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki speaks at a press conference at the prefectural government headquarters in Naha, southern Japan, on Jan. 2, 2022. The governor criticized the U.S. military over many COVID-19 cases at its bases in Okinawa, citing them as one of the factors behind the spread of coronavirus infections in the prefecture. (Kyodo News/Getty Images)

A local governor in Japan has blasted the US military for failing to contain the spread of coronavirus in the country's southernmost prefecture of Okinawa, which is home to several US bases.

“I’m outraged because the rise in the number of infected among US military personnel suggests that their management is not enough,” Denny Tamaki, Okinawa’s prefectural governor, said in a press conference Sunday. 

Okinawa Prefecture reported 130 new Covid-19 cases on Monday -- the highest single-day total since September 25 last year, a prefectural official told CNN.

Over the past week, the prefecture has averaged 17.37 new infections per 100,000 people, the worst ratio in the nation. The official said those numbers do not include infections among US military personnel in Okinawa. 

Okinawa Prefecture confirmed its first Omicron variant case on December 17, 2021, and initiated free PCR tests for base employees and prefectural citizens shortly afterward, the official said.

As of January 3, 88 cases of the Omicron variant have been confirmed, and 112 suspected cases reported, the official said.

According to the Okinawa government data, a total of 3,699 US military personnel in Okinawa have tested positive with coronavirus as of Monday. US forces confirmed a record 235 new infections last Friday among personnel stationed in Okinawa prefecture, according to local government data. 

Of those tested in Okinawa, approximately 47% were presumptive Omicron positives, US Forces Japan (USFJ) told CNN in an email.

The National Institute of Infectious Disease in Tokyo conducted genome analysis of Covid-19 cases among US military personnel in Okinawa’s Camp Hansen, and confirmed the Omicron variant was found there, according to a statement released Sunday by the Okinawa prefectural government.

However, the Okinawa prefectural government claims US authorities have not provided information on the exact number of Omicron infections.

Tamaki blamed US military personnel for spreading the Omicron variant to local communities, and renewed his call Sunday for US military authorities to enact strict measures to contain the virus. 

“Many infected people are still confirmed every day in the US military. We believe it is important to stop the infection in the US military and for the citizens in the prefecture to avoid contact with them to curb the spread of the infection in the prefecture,” said Tamaki, the Okinawa governor, in the press conference. 

For its part, USFJ said it is working to contain the outbreak.

“We take seriously our responsibilities to protect not only our personnel, but also the surrounding communities,” USFJ said. “We have placed all COVID-19 infected personnel into isolation and aggressive contact tracing has allowed us to place close contacts into quarantine.”

In response to the increased Covid-19 spread in Okinawa, Marine Forces Japan reinstituted mask mandates for everyone on-base regardless of vaccination status on December 23, according to a post on the Marine Corps Community Service website.

However, the mandate does not apply to those eating or actively exercising, including indoor cardio, organized athletics and sports. 

USFJ said it requires three negative Covid-19 tests for those traveling to Japan and a 14-day “restriction of movement” upon arrival.

Last year, two US Marine bases in Okinawa -- including Camp Hansen -- were put into lockdown and restrictions imposed at other bases in the region, according to Kyodo News.

USFJ said it will continue to monitor and adjust Covid-19 mitigation measures in cooperation with Japanese government.

6:50 a.m. ET, January 4, 2022

President of Mozambique self-isolating after positive Covid-19 test

From CNN's Vasco Cotovio and Niamh Kennedy

Mozambique's President Filipe Nyusi addresses the Russia-Mozambique Business Forum held at Moscow's World Trade Center, Russia on August 21, 2019
Mozambique's President Filipe Nyusi addresses the Russia-Mozambique Business Forum held at Moscow's World Trade Center, Russia on August 21, 2019 (Vladimir Gerdo/TASS/Getty Images)

The President of Mozambique, Filipe Nyusi, and his wife, Isaura Nyusi, have gone into self-isolation after testing positive for Covid-19. 

In a Facebook post published Monday, Nyusi announced that he and his wife received "positive results for Covid 19 in rapid tests" they took after undertaking "numerous activities" recently.

Nyusi added that they "immediately isolated ourselves in accordance with the health guidelines currently in place in our country" as they await the results of PCR tests. 

Mozambique reported 918 new Covid-19 cases on Monday, according to data from John Hopkins University. The seven-day average in the country is currently 3,028 cases. 

In light of the "highly contagious" nature of the Omicron variant, Nyusi renewed the "call for people to rigorously observe the measures to prevent and tackle the pandemic that is COVID-19."

He also called on "all compatriots, above 18 years of age, to adhere to the vaccination campaign that is unrolling across the country."

Leaders from the country's religious communities came together in late December for a Ministry of Health campaign encouraging people to come forward and get vaccinated. 

4:28 p.m. ET, January 4, 2022

Nurses in England call for stricter restrictions amid "extreme and unprecedented workforce absences"

From CNN’s Livvy Doherty and Niamh Kennedy

A nurse puts on PPE at a ward for Covid patients at London's King's College Hospital, on December 21, 2021.
A nurse puts on PPE at a ward for Covid patients at London's King's College Hospital, on December 21, 2021. (Victoria Jones/PA Images/Getty Images)

The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has called for stricter Covid-19 regulations in England after staff absences in the country's National Health Service (NHS) doubled in the two weeks since December 26.

In a letter to the UK’s Health Secretary Sajid Javid on Monday, the RCN said “it is confusing and concerning” that there are laxer measures in place in England compared to Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

“Nursing professionals are questioning the level and nature of the variation between governments," the letter said.

The RCN added that the health service can “ill afford” the losses when it is already short tens of thousands of staff. 

But the UK government continues to defend the robustness of the Plan B measures adopted in England, and on Tuesday the UK Vaccines Minister Maggie Throup told Sky News that a reduction in hospitalizations shows these measures are "working."

The number of Covid hospitalizations is currently "half what they were a year ago," said Throup. Patients are presenting "less severe" symptoms than previously, she said, adding that she didn't "see a reason why we need to change" the current Covid-19 measures in England.

However, multiple NHS trusts have now declared critical incidents in the UK, with “extreme and unprecedented workforce absences” cited in an internal memo from United Lincolnshire Hospitals Trust in central England.

An NHS trust covers a certain geographical area and can be made up of multiple hospitals, as well as specialized services, such as an ambulance service.

Around half a dozen NHS trusts have declared critical incidents in the last four or five days, said Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, in an interview with Sky News on Tuesday.

Although declaring a critical incident means a trust is under significant pressure, said Hopson, it is also “a sensible, planned thing to do” as hospitals can continue to provide core care and receive help from neighboring providers.

There is some possible cause for optimism when looking at the current hospitalization figures for London, which appear to have “plateaued,” said Hopson.

While the impact of people mixing over Christmas and schools returning this week remains to be seen, there are “glimmers of good news,” he added.

5:38 a.m. ET, January 4, 2022

Delhi imposes weekend curfew amid rising Omicron cases

From CNN's Esha Mitra in New Delhi

A medical worker takes a swab sample from a man for a PCR Covid-19 test at a health center in New Delhi on January 4, 2022.
A medical worker takes a swab sample from a man for a PCR Covid-19 test at a health center in New Delhi on January 4, 2022. (Prakash Singh/AFP/Getty Images)

India’s national capital territory of Delhi has announced a weekend curfew amid rising Covid-19 cases.

“We need to control the spread as much as we can," Manish Sisodia, Delhi’s deputy chief minister said on Tuesday. "I appeal to citizens to not leave their homes on Saturday and Sunday.”

All establishments, except essential services, will be shut on weekends, added Sisodia.

“In India and the world over, the graph of [the] Omicron [variant] is continually rising, cases are constantly rising,” Sisodia said.

Earlier on Monday, Delhi’s health minister Satyendar Jain said that the Omicron variant made up 84% of total cases reported over the last two days.

However Sisodia said that while about 11,000 positive cases were reported in Delhi over the last 8-10 days, only 350 required hospitalization and 124 needed oxygen.

One of those cases was Delhi’s chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, who said he had tested positive for Covid but only had mild symptoms.

On Tuesday India reported 1,892 cases of Omicron, according to the Indian Ministry of Health, with 382 reported in Delhi.

While Delhi imposed new restrictions, Yogi Adityanath, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh state, downplayed the severity of Omicron.

“Omicron is very weak, a simple viral fever but there is need for precaution for any disease,” Adityanath said Monday, the same day he spoke at a gathering with thousands in attendance.

Uttar Pradesh is one of five states set to hold elections in early 2022, and politicians from a number of parties have been holding large gatherings.

No cap on rallies has been imposed by India’s election authority, as the dates for elections are yet to be announced and campaigning has not officially begun.

However the election commission has written to the states of Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Goa, Manipur and Punjab asking them to ramp up vaccination and ensure that polling personnel have received two doses of the vaccine, reported the Press Trust of India, an agency cooperatively owned by multiple Indian newspapers, on Monday.

The country started vaccinating children aged 15-18 on Monday, and from January 10 will issue “precautionary doses,” or booster doses, to those who had their second dose at least nine months ago, which largely includes healthcare workers and those over 60 with comorbidities.

At least 1.46 billion vaccine doses have been administered in India, with 90% of the adult population having received at least one dose.

4:44 a.m. ET, January 4, 2022

Germany softens entry rules for UK travelers

From CNN's Stephanie Halasz

Germany will now allow fully vaccinated travelers from the United Kingdom to enter the country without having to quarantine.

The new travel rules are a result of Germany downgrading the UK to a "high-risk area." For the last few weeks it had been classified as a "virus variant area," with mandatory quarantine even for vaccinated travelers.

Under the new rules, unvaccinated arrivals will still have to isolate and quarantine for at least five days.