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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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.

8:24 a.m. ET, January 27, 2022

Beijing Olympic Committee reports 23 new Covid-19 cases linked to the Winter Games

From CNN's Beijing Bureau 

A security guard stands behind a barricade in an area not accessible to the general public at Olympic Park in Beijing on January 23.
A security guard stands behind a barricade in an area not accessible to the general public at Olympic Park in Beijing on January 23. (Andrea Verdelli/Getty Images)

The Beijing Olympics Committee reported 23 new Covid-19 cases related to the Winter Games on Thursday.

Fifteen of those cases tested positive upon arrival at Chinese airport customs and eight were found in people already inside the closed-loop system. All of the cases were reported in Olympics-related personnel. 

On Thursday, 1,530 people are expected to arrive into Beijing ahead of the Games, according to the official ‘My 2022’ app for accredited staff. So far, more than 4,000 people have arrived, including 415 international athletes and officials and 3,631 Olympics-related personnel.

Of the 4,046 arrivals so far, 129 cases of Covid-19 have been reported, including those who were found at arrival and those detected within the closed loop.

At least 50 cases have been found within the closed loop since Jan. 4. It has not been specified if any of these closed-loop cases were in recent arrivals or if any local transmission occurred.

7:37 a.m. ET, January 27, 2022

Maryland county school CEO suggests mask requirements in classrooms won't go away anytime soon

From CNN's Virginia Langmaid

The head of one of the largest school systems in United States indicated this week that she doesn't see an end to mask requirements in the classroom anytime soon.

“I have not been thinking about a maskless classroom,” Monica Goldson, the CEO of Maryland's Prince George’s County public schools said at an event Monday, according to video of the remarks from CNN affiliate WJLA. “The only classroom I’ve been thinking about is one where teaching and learning takes place from the time the kids walk in until the time they leave.”

“I think this is how our life will be for a minute, and we’re showing that we’re adaptable and we can make whatever necessary changes so that we can keep our students learning and safe," she said. 

Goldson said there’s no “magic number” for student vaccinations that will signal shifting away from mitigation measures.

“We'll continue to do what we know is safe and that’s to wear a mask in our classroom," she added. 

In a statement to CNN Wednesday, the school district said it is “hopeful for a time when Covid-19 is no longer an issue and does not impact our day-to-day operations.”

“PGCPS will continue to make health and safety decisions, including the wearing of masks, in collaboration with our County health partners and after review of CDC guidance,” the statement said.
“For now, the data tells us that continued mask-wearing in our schools and offices is necessary. Our mask requirement will remain in place," the statement said. 

More than 136,000 students attend public school in the suburban DC county, placing it among the 20 largest school districts nationally. 

7:24 a.m. ET, January 27, 2022

South Korea reports record number of Covid-19 cases for a third consecutive day

From CNN’s Yoonjung Seo

South Korea reported 14,518 new Covid-19 cases on Wednesday, setting another record for daily cases since the pandemic began, according to data released Wednesday by the country’s health agency. 

On Wednesday, the country reported 13,012 new daily infections. 

Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum said that the spread of the Omicron variant has “begun in full force” and the country will focus on reducing severe cases and deaths. 

The total number of confirmed cases stands at 777,497, with 350 considered critically ill. The death toll is at 6,654, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) on Thursday.

As of Wednesday, 85.6% of the population has been fully vaccinated with 50.7% of the population having received a booster shot, according to the KDCA on Thursday.

Follow how many people have been vaccinated: Tracking Covid-19 vaccinations worldwide