The latest on the coronavirus pandemic and the Omicron variant

By Aditi Sangal, Adrienne Vogt, Melissa Macaya and Meg Wagner, CNN

Updated 6:45 PM ET, Thu January 27, 2022
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12:14 p.m. ET, January 27, 2022

EU regulators approve Paxlovid antiviral pill for those at risk of severe Covid-19

From CNN's Amy Cassidy

Boxes of the antiviral pill Paxlovid.
Boxes of the antiviral pill Paxlovid. (Kobi Wolf/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

The Covid-19 oral antiviral pill Paxlovid has been approved for use in the European Union for those at risk of severe disease, the bloc’s medical regulators announced Thursday.  

The human medicines committee of the European Medicines Agency recommends the pill, developed by pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, be granted conditional marketing authorization, according to an EMA news release. 

This makes it the first oral antiviral pill to be recommended in the bloc for treating Covid-19, the EMA said. It follows authorization in the US and the UK.

The EMA’s approval comes after its committee evaluated a study of Covid-19 patients which indicated the treatment “significantly reduced hospitalisations or deaths in patients who have at least one underlying condition putting them at risk of severe Covid-19.”

The EMA continued: “Over the month following treatment, 0.8% (8 out of 1,039) of the patients receiving Paxlovid were hospitalised for longer than 24 hours, compared with 6.3% (66 out of 1,046) of those who received placebo. There were no deaths in the Paxlovid group and 9 deaths in the placebo group.”

Paxlovid combines a new antiviral drug named nirmatrelvir and an older one called ritonavir and is administered as three pills given twice a day for five days.

 

11:53 a.m. ET, January 27, 2022

Virginia school board reverses mask mandate, putting it in compliance with governor’s executive order

From CNN’s Paradise Afshar 

A Virginia school board voted to reverse their mask mandate during a special meeting Tuesday. 

The Chesterfield County Public Schools voted 3-2 to amend its existing Covid-19 mitigation plan "to include providing parental choice for face masks,” according to its website

The vote puts the school board in compliance with an executive order signed by Gov. Glenn Youngkin, which bans universal mask mandates in schools.  

The school board’s updated mask policy goes into effect today. 

Chesterfield County Public Schools, which sits about 30 minutes from Richmond, has several migration strategies in place to combat Covid-19 in schools, including ventilation systems and cleaning protocols, according to its website. 

High-quality masks are also available at all 64 schools within the system's boundaries, which serves more than 63,000 students.  

Earlier this week, seven Virginia school boards filed a lawsuit with the Circuit Court for the County of Arlington that challenged the constitutionality of Youngkin's executive order.  

Additionally, a group of parents of public school students in Chesapeake filed a lawsuit last week asking the commonwealth’s Supreme Court to block the executive order.

12:18 p.m. ET, January 27, 2022

Child masking may help keep child care programs open, study finds

From CNN's Virginia Langmaid

 (Tiffany Hagler-Geard/Bloomberg/Getty Images)
 (Tiffany Hagler-Geard/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

Policies in home- and center-based child care programs that require children over age 2 to wear a mask may be lowering their risk of closing due to Covid-19, according to a study published Thursday in the Journal of the American Medical Association. 

The study found that programs that adopted a child masking policy early lowered the risk of closure because of Covid-19 by 13%, and those that stuck with it for a year had a 14% lower risk of closure.  

To conduct the study, researchers at multiple departments at Yale and Columbia universities examined data from more than 6,000 child care programs in the US. Baseline data was collected in May and June 2020, and then followup data was collected in May and June 2021. 

“Early adoption of child masking in May to June 2020 was associated with a 13% reduction in Covid-19–related childcare program closures during the 1-year follow-up,” the authors wrote. 
“Continued endorsement of child masking at both the May to June 2020 and May to June 2021 timepoints was associated with a 14% reduction in Covid-19 childcare closures when controlling for other risk mitigation strategies, such as social distancing, symptom screening, outside drop-off, and temperature monitoring,” they added.

The use of a six-foot distancing program was not associated with a reduced risk of closure at baseline, but programs that continued with the policy saw a 7% reduction in closure risk. 

Over the course of the study, programs that required child masking increased from 8.6% of the study population during the baseline sample to 32.7% a year later. Just over 6% of programs studied required masking at both survey points. 

“Most childcare professionals who affirmed child masking also reported their program engaged in multiple other risk mitigation behaviors consistent with this comprehensive approach,” the authors wrote. 

“Surprisingly, we did not find an association between adult masking alone and the prevention of Covid-19–related childcare closures. One possible explanation is that programs that did not endorse strict masking policies were less concerned about Covid-19 in general and less likely to close when there were Covid-19 exposures or cases in the program,” according to the authors.

The study noted that while some concerns have been voiced over the social and developmental impacts of masking on young children, “how quickly children adapt and recognize other emotional cues, such a body language, is not known.”

“Evidence suggests that school-age children can identify most emotions in masked faces. Two-year-old children recognize spoken words better through an opaque mask compared with a clear face shield, suggesting verbal communication to infants is not harmed by face masks,” the authors wrote.
10:47 a.m. ET, January 27, 2022

Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau in isolation after Covid-19 exposure

From CNN’s Paula Newton

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks at a news conference in Ottawa on Wednesday, January 26.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks at a news conference in Ottawa on Wednesday, January 26. (David Kawai/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Thursday that he is isolation after an exposure to Covid-19. 

“Last night, I learned that I have been exposed to COVID-19. My rapid test result was negative. I am following @OttawaHealth rules and isolating for five days. I feel fine and will be working from home. Stay safe, everyone – and please get vaccinated,” Trudeau tweeted.

Trudeau is fully vaccinated and boosted. He has not reported having contracted Covid-19 during the pandemic, but his wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, tested positive for the virus in March 2020. 

Trudeau did not disclose how he was exposed. He met in person with several members of his cabinet Wednesday. He also has three school-age children.

9:55 a.m. ET, January 27, 2022

Downing Street has not yet received the report into alleged lockdown parties

From CNN's Luke McGee, Niamh Kennedy and Sharon Braithwaite

(Rob Pinney/Getty Images)
(Rob Pinney/Getty Images)

Downing Street has not yet seen or received a copy of the much-anticipated report by senior civil servant Sue Gray into alleged lockdown gatherings, a spokesperson for the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Thursday. 

Speaking to journalists during a lobby briefing, the spokesperson didn't rule out the report being published next week, emphasizing however that the timeline is very much out of Downing Street's hands.

The report is set to first be published in the House of Commons, followed by a statement from the Prime Minister to Parliament, the spokesperson added.

Downing Street has reserved the right to not publish the entire report if parts of it potentially interfere with the London Metropolitan Police's investigation or other security matters, according to the spokesperson. 

When asked if the report will be published in full, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said "of course," without providing a timetable.

Pushed on whether there will be any redactions, Johnson said:

“I can't go beyond what I said yesterday, but I stick completely by what I've said to the House of Commons. But what I hope people understand is that while we wait for all that to go on we've got to get on and the government is getting on with our work.” 

When asked if he was delaying the report, Johnson said, "absolutely not, but you'll just have to, I'm afraid, you've got to let the independent inquiries go on.''

Johnson told lawmakers Wednesday that he wouldn't resign over the party scandal.

9:17 a.m. ET, January 27, 2022

New Delhi parents push for reopening schools after more than 600 days of closures

From Esha Mitra in New Delhi

Schoolchildren use hand sanitizer and have their temperature checked before entering their classrooms in New Delhi on November 1.
Schoolchildren use hand sanitizer and have their temperature checked before entering their classrooms in New Delhi on November 1. (Money Sharma/AFP via Getty Images)

A delegation of parents have led a petition with more than 1,600 signatures asking for the government to open schools in New Delhi, which have been shut for more than 600 days during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Schools first closed in the national capital territory on March 1, 2020, due to the pandemic. Many were allowed to reopen on Nov. 1, 2021, but were again shut just 16 days later due to high pollution levels.

As schools began to reopen in November and early December, India's third wave forced them to again close. 

On Wednesday, the delegation met with Delhi's Deputy Chief Minister Manish Sisodia, who afterward released a statement calling for the government to allow schools to open. 

“We closed schools when it was not safe for children but excessive caution is now harming our children. A generation of children will be left behind if we do not open our schools now,” Sisodia said in a tweet Wednesday.

The deputy chief minister's office said in the statement that the New Delhi government would recommend the reopening of schools to the New Delhi Disaster Management Authority in a meeting on Thursday.  

“Our children lack a voice, they lack a vote, and unlike spa lobbies or restaurant lobbies who have been pushing for reopening, someone needs to speak up on behalf of our children,” Dharini Mathur, one of the parents demanding the reopening of schools, told CNN. 

On Wednesday, New Delhi reported 7,498 new Covid-19 cases, a decline from the more than 20,000 cases it reported earlier this month, according to local health bulletins.

Overall, India reported more than 286,000 cases over the past day — down from a record of over 533,000 cases on Jan. 14 — and 573 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

8:49 a.m. ET, January 27, 2022

Israeli health ministry expands eligibility for fourth Covid-19 vaccine dose

From CNN's Hadas Gold in Jerusalem

Israel’s health ministry has officially approved a fourth dose of the Covid-19 vaccine to people over the age of 18 with underlying conditions as well as to caregivers looking after people at high risk and those who have jobs with a high risk of exposure to the virus.

The fourth dose will be administered after at least four months have passed after administration of the third shot.

The ministry did not immediately specify which occupations are considered high risk.

The announcement adopts a more conservative position than the recommendation of Israel’s Covid-19 advisory panel earlier this week. On Tuesday, the panel advised that a fourth vaccine dose should be administered to anyone aged 18 years and above, provided more than five months had passed since their third dose.

“The decision is based on encouraging preliminary results of a study of the fourth dose,” the health ministry said Thursday.

“It was administrated to people 60 years of age and above. Two-fold increase in protection and 3-5 fold increase in the level of protection against severe illness in comparison to the third dose have been demonstrated. The decision also considers the spread of COVID-19, number of hospitalizations, and very high probability of infection," the health ministry explained.

10:04 a.m. ET, January 27, 2022

Vaccination and booster shots almost obliterate dangerous Omicron risks, Moderna official says 

From CNN’s Naomi Thomas

A vial of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine and syringes are prepared at a pop-up vaccine clinic in Staten Island, New York, on April 16.
A vial of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine and syringes are prepared at a pop-up vaccine clinic in Staten Island, New York, on April 16. (Angela Weiss/AFP/Getty Images)

Moderna Chief Medical Officer Dr. Paul Burton said it is good news that people who have been vaccinated and boosted with Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine are protected against the Omicron strain of the virus, but that it is something to keep monitoring.

On Wednesday, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine suggested that Moderna Covid-19 shots remain durable against the Omicron variant, but that antibody protection wanes and was six times lower six months after getting boosted. 

“The data that was produced last night in New England Journal of Medicine shows that if you get vaccinated with the Moderna vaccine and then you get boosted, you get a nice, good level of protection with antibodies against the original Covid virus strain, and also against the Omicron strain,” Burton said on CNN's "New Day" when asked about waning antibody protection after six months.
“But, what we see by six months is that those levels begin to fall. And if you project that out and you make the conclusion that they will continue to fall, we know that probably by the autumn of this coming year, in 2022, that those levels will be down to an area where people may not have protection,” he continued.

“I think it’s good news now, people who have been vaccinated and boosted are protected, but we have to keep watching it,” Burton said. 

Burton said that he believes the end of the Omicron wave is in sight, but those who are unvaccinated are still at risk. 

“Vaccination and boosting almost obliterates that risk, but 40% of this country are still not fully vaccinated and certainly not boosted,” he said.

Omicron was a "curveball," Burton said.

“It exploded around the world, there’s now a subvariant of that, cases of hospitalization in this country are perhaps the highest we’ve ever seen, deaths of three and a half thousand people a day. So, to protect against that, I think you need the maximum level of protection, and you need that for durability,” he added.  

Moderna announced yesterday that it is moving forward into a Phase 2 clinical trial of a coronavirus vaccine booster shot that is specific to the Omicron variant.

"Remember, it’s just two months from when we all heard about Omicron, we’re now starting this trial, it’s important,” he said. “It will probably take about two months to really get the data from it, and so by the middle of the year, we should be in a position to be going into full-blown manufacturing and preparation to supply people.” 

8:15 a.m. ET, January 27, 2022

Hong Kong shortens 21-day quarantine to two weeks

From CNN’s Wayne Chang and Lizzy Yee

Hong Kong will shorten its tough 21-day quarantine requirement for incoming travelers to two weeks, followed by seven days of “self-health monitoring," Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam announced. During the seven days, people will be allowed to leave their home, but must undergo two rounds of testing. This rule will go into effect starting Feb. 5.

Lam said the quarantine was reduced given the shorter incubation period of the Omicron variant, ​which is now the city’s dominant variant.

Social distancing measures currently in place in Hong Kong, including a ban on in-dining restaurants as well as a shutdown of all entertainment venues will remain until Feb. 17, Lam also said. In-person school classes will remain suspended for two additional weeks, until Feb. 21.

Hong Kong reported 164 new cases of Covid-19 on Thursday — the highest since the beginning of the pandemic, said Lam.

Dr. Chuang Shuk-Kwan, head of the Communicable Disease Branch of the Centre for Health Protection of the Department of Health, said during a daily news conference that 116 of the new infection were locally transmitted cases.