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
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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.

4:06 a.m. ET, January 4, 2022

Hong Kong tightens vaccine requirements in wake of first Omicron cluster

From CNN's Wayne Chang and Teele Rebane in Hong Kong

People queue outside a community vaccination center administering the BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine in Hong Kong, China, on Tuesday.
People queue outside a community vaccination center administering the BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine in Hong Kong, China, on Tuesday. (Chan Long Hei/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

Hong Kong's leader on Tuesday announced a further tightening of the city's vaccination rules, days after the city confirmed a first Omicron cluster that has prompted fears of a wider community outbreak.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam said at a news conference that from February 24, unvaccinated people will not be allowed to enter venues including museums, public libraries and schools.

The government will also require school principals and teachers to get inoculated, Lam said. It is not yet decided whether students will be required to be vaccinated, she added.  

The government currently has no plans to apply the tightened vaccination rules to private workplaces or shopping malls, Lam said.

Lagging vaccination rate: All year, Hong Kong authorities have struggled to encourage higher vaccination rates — particularly among the reluctant elderly.

Just under 70% of Hong Kong's 7.5 million people are fully vaccinated, while nearly 73% have received their first dose, according to the Centre for Health Protection.

Hong Kong is one of the few places, alongside mainland China, to still use a zero-Covid approach, resulting in one of the world's strictest border control and quarantine programs.

Lam said Tuesday that in light of local Omicron cases, resumption of normal travel between Hong Kong and mainland China will “have to wait for another while.”

3:08 a.m. ET, January 4, 2022

Delhi's top official tests positive for Covid-19 following political rally

From CNN's Esha Mitra in New Delhi

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal addresses the crowd at an Aam Aadmi Party Maha Rally, on January 2, in Lucknow, India.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal addresses the crowd at an Aam Aadmi Party Maha Rally, on January 2, in Lucknow, India.  (Deepak Gupta/Hindustan Times/Getty Images)

Arvind Kejriwal, chief minister of India's capital Delhi, has tested positive for Covid-19 — one day after he spoke at a political gathering in the northern state of Uttarakhand with thousands in attendance.

“I have tested positive for Covid. Mild symptoms. Have isolated myself at home,” Kejriwal wrote in a tweet Tuesday morning, urging those who came in contact with him to get tested and self-isolate.

Kejriwal's positive test comes as India continues to see a surge in cases, prompting fears among the medical community of a potential third wave fueled by the highly transmissible Omicron variant.

Upcoming elections: Five states, including India’s most populous, Uttar Pradesh, are heading to the polls for state elections in early 2022.

While campaigning has not officially begun, several politicians, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, have held large political gatherings, speaking without masks as thousands gather in attendance.

Social distancing and preventative measures such as mask-wearing are often absent in the crowds. 

Omicron spread: Delhi reported 4,099 new Covid-19 cases on Monday, according to state health authorities. The Omicron variant was detected in 84% of the city's new cases over the last two days, according to its health minister.

India reported 37,379 new Covid-19 cases on Tuesday, according to the Ministry of Health — the second consecutive day of more than 30,000 cases and the highest daily figure since September last year.

2:08 a.m. ET, January 4, 2022

China locks down city of more than a million people after 3 Covid-19 cases found

From CNN's Beijing Bureau

A city in central China has gone into lockdown to curb the spread of Covid-19, according to local authorities.

The municipal government of Yuzhou, Henan province said all 1.2 million residents will be confined to their homes after just two asymptomatic cases were reported Sunday. A third local asymptomatic infection was identified Monday, the government added.

Barring essential services such as supermarkets, all public facilities including schools, public transport and shopping malls have suspended operations.

Those who work in essentials industries, including supermarkets, medicine production, and energy plants, are allowed to go to work after presenting a negative Covid-19 test, the government said.

China reported 108 new local cases across three provinces on Monday, including 95 in northwestern Shaanxi province, eight in southeastern Zhejiang, and five in Henan, according to the National Health Commission (NHC). 

The country also reported 21 new local asymptomatic cases, including 19 in Henan and two in Shanghai, the NHC said. China counts symptomatic and asymptomatic cases separately.

Lockdowns: The Yuzhou lockdown mirrors the strict restrictions imposed on residents of the northwestern city of Xi'an, capital of Shaanxi.

Since December, the ancient city has been grappling with China's largest community coronavirus outbreak since Wuhan, the original epicenter of the pandemic.

To date, more than 1,700 cases have been reported in the city. While the number pales in comparison to those in many other countries, the outbreak pushed China's caseload in the final week of 2021 to the highest level since March 2020.

Xi'an's 13 million residents have been confined to their homes since December 23. Many are growing desperate as they run out of essential supplies, including groceries, and fall short on medical attention.

Zero Covid: Xi'an authorities launched a fifth round of mass testing on Tuesday, vowing to eliminate the outbreak.

But the frustrations of residents underscore the growing challenge facing China's zero-Covid policy, which relies on a playbook of mass testing, extensive quarantines and snap lockdowns to stamp out any resurgence of the virus.

While the stringent measures have largely shielded the majority of the country from the worst aspects of the pandemic, as local outbreaks continue to flare up, the outcry in Xi'an raises the question of just how long zero-Covid can be sustained before public support begins to taper off, with millions of residents trapped in an seemingly endless cycle of lockdowns.