The latest on the coronavirus pandemic and the Omicron variant

By Aditi Sangal, Adrienne Vogt and Meg Wagner, CNN

Updated 6:00 p.m. ET, February 3, 2022
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12:41 p.m. ET, February 3, 2022

Top WHO official says Europe could see "long period of tranquility" in Covid-19 pandemic 

From CNN’s Allegra Goodwin 

Europe could see a “long period of tranquility” in the Covid-19 pandemic with a potential “ceasefire” in sight, Dr. Hans Henri Kluge, the World Health Organization regional director for Europe, said on Thursday.  

He said at a news briefing that the region could be entering “a plausible endgame for the pandemic – not to say that it is now all over – but to highlight that in the European region, there is a singular opportunity to take control of the transmission.”  

The potential “ceasefire” of the pandemic in Europe as Kluge described it, could be possible thanks to high levels of immunity, the lower severity of the Omicron variant and favorable weather as Europe moves out of winter, he said.  

“This context, that we have not experienced so far in this pandemic, leaves us with the possibility for a long period of tranquility and a much higher level of population defense against any re-surge in transmission, even with a more virulent variant,” Kluge said.  

Kluge noted that the region had recorded 12 million new cases in the past week, the highest weekly case incidence since the pandemic began.    

“Hospitalizations continue to rise, mainly in countries with lower vaccination uptake in vulnerable populations. This rise however, is not as rapid as the case incidence rate, and overall, admissions to intensive care have not increased significantly,” he said, adding the number of deaths across the region was “starting to plateau.”  

Kluge added the period of “higher protection” could bring “enduring peace,” but on the condition that countries continued vaccinating and boosting, protecting the vulnerable, promoting individual responsibility and intensifying surveillance to detect new variants.  

“I believe that it is possible to respond to new variants that will inevitably emerge without re-installing the kind of disruptive measures we needed before,” he added.  

The top WHO official also gave a stark warning on vaccine inequity.  

“We cannot accept vaccine inequity for one more day; vaccines must be for everyone, in the remotest corner of our vast region and beyond,” he said, calling for “a drastic and uncompromising increase in vaccine-sharing across borders.”  

Kluge also acknowledged the “catastrophic impact” of the pandemic on people suffering from cancer ahead of World Cancer Day on Friday.  

“Looking back over these past two years, cancer screening, diagnosis and treatment have suffered in an unprecedented way as health services have struggled to respond to Covid-19,” he said.  

“The way in which the pandemic delays cancer care and creates service backlogs is a deadly interplay,” Kluge added.  

He went on to say “the knock-on effect of this disruption will be felt for years.”  

12:38 p.m. ET, February 3, 2022

FDA says Covid-19 drugs and vaccines will be available for transition period if emergency declaration ends

From CNN’s Carma Hassan

The US Food and Drug Administration's Dr. Patrizia Cavazzoni said the agency recognizes a transition period will be needed to keep Covid-19 drugs available whenever the emergency declarations ends. 

Cavazzoni, director of the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research at the FDA, gave the answer in response to a question from Washington Republican Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers during a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on health hearing on Thursday.

“We need to get our lives back. We have vaccines available with a second fully approved this week, and part of that transition is ending the public health emergency. However, it's imperative that the tools we have to fight Covid-19 remain available for those who need and want them as we look to the end of the public health emergency. So, I had a few questions in that vein. Does FDA have the authority to continue authorizing vaccines and treatments for emergency use if the public health emergency were to end?” McMorris Rodgers asked.

Cavazzoni said they have worked with Covid-19 vaccine and drug manufacturers who are not yet fully approved to be able to seek full FDA approval in a timely manner.

Dr. Peter Marks, director of the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research at the FDA, said that products that have received emergency use authorization have guidance to transition to biologics license applications.

McMorris Rodgers also asked when the FDA plans to resume in-person meetings.

Cavazzoni said the increased workload due to the pandemic means that meetings via teleconference or video conference have allowed them to increase their “efficiency and effectiveness.”

11:46 a.m. ET, February 3, 2022

Novavax's Covid-19 vaccine becomes 5th authorized shot in the UK

From Sharon Braithwaite in London  

UK regulators have approved Nuvaxovid — the Covid-19 vaccine developed by US-based vaccine maker Novavax — for use in adults in Britain.  

The UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) in a statement released Thursday said it has approved the vaccine for use in people aged 18 and over for a first and second dose as it met the required safety, quality and effectiveness standards.

Nuvaxovid becomes the fifth Covid-19 vaccine authorized in the UK, the regulator said. 

MHRA's Chief Executive June Raine said it was approved following "a rigorous review of the safety, quality and effectiveness" of the vaccine.

8:38 a.m. ET, February 3, 2022

Germany's vaccine committee recommends Novavax Covid-19 vaccine for people over 18

From CNN's Nadine Schmidt in Berlin

Germany's vaccine advisory committee known as STIKO has recommended Novavax’s protein-based Covid-19 vaccine for all people over 18 on Thursday, as the country recorded its highest daily single-surge in infections.

In a written statement on Thursday, the committee recommended the Novavax recombinant protein vaccine in a push to encourage the more than 15% of German adults still not fully vaccinated to get the vaccine shots.

A booster shot should still be administered with an mRNA vaccine and particularly vulnerable people should also receive a second booster with an mRNA vaccine, STIKO added in its statement.

On Thursday, Germany reported 238,000 new cases over the last 24 hours, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

Around 74% of the German population has now been fully vaccinated against Covid-19, 76% have received at least one vaccine dose and 54% have received a booster shot, according to the country's public health body the Robert Koch Institute (RKI).

9:30 a.m. ET, February 3, 2022

Sweden to remove most Covid-19 restrictions next week 

From CNN’s Henrik Pettersson and Niamh Kennedy

Sweden's Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson speaks on Thursday at a press conference  in Stockholm regarding the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions.
Sweden's Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson speaks on Thursday at a press conference in Stockholm regarding the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions. (Marko Saavala/TT News Agency/AFP/Getty Images)

Sweden is set to remove most Covid-19 restrictions next week, according to the Swedish government on Thursday. 

It comes after fellow Scandinavian countries Norway and Denmark announced the lifting of most Covid-19 restrictions earlier this month. 

The Swedish government and Public Health Agency of Sweden deemed the Covid-19 situation “stable enough” to commence the easing of restrictions, according to a press release. The government said Omicron has not caused “as serious a disease as previous variants'' and the country’s intensive care units and general hospital care have not been severely impacted. 

After initially eschewing the lockdowns favored by its European neighbors, Sweden eventually imposed restrictions on public life. Restrictions were most recently tightened in early January when an 11 p.m. curfew was imposed on Swedish bars and restaurants. 

On Feb. 9, this curfew will be lifted alongside limits on the size of parties and distance between parties in hospitality settings. People will no longer need to show a vaccination certificate to attend certain public events. All attendance limits on public events will also cease. Square meter restrictions applying to trade fairs, shops and cultural and leisure settings will also go. 

Swedish people will no longer be advised to keep their number of social contacts low. Both workplaces and universities that have been carrying out remote learning have been advised to return gradually. 

On April 1, all remaining restrictions in Sweden will be removed or “adapted to the prevailing spread of infection,” the press release added. The Covid-19 vaccination recommendation will remain, however, alongside “special recommendations for health and medical care and care environments.”

The Public Health Agency has submitted a request to the government to no longer classify Covid-19 as “a socially dangerous or generally dangerous disease.” The government also intends to bring its Covid-19 legislation to an end. 

9:24 a.m. ET, February 3, 2022

ROC women’s ice hockey team resumes training following Covid outbreak

From CNN’s Gawon Bae in Seoul  

The Russian Olympic Committee's women's ice hockey team has been cleared to participate in the Winter Games after they were forced into quarantine due to several players contracting Covid-19, the Russian Ice Hockey Federation said in a press release on Wednesday.

The whole team went into quarantine on Jan. 31 due to positive PCR tests among several players, according to the statement. Those players were subsequently isolated from the rest of the ROC contingent.

Athletes and coaches subsequently conducted tests for three consecutive days with all the results coming back negative. The personnel who are not isolating were permitted to resume training on Thursday. 

The statement added that forward Ilona Markova could not travel to the Games after testing positive prior to departing for Beijing.

Two players, goalkeeper Valeria Merkusheva and defender Maria Batalova, will join the team on Thursday, the statement added.

The ROC’s women’s ice hockey team will face Switzerland in its opening match on Feb. 4. 

7:34 a.m. ET, February 3, 2022

Beijing to invite 150,000 spectators to attend the Winter Olympics

From CNN's Gawon Bae in Seoul

The Olympics will invite 150,000 spectators to attend the 2022 Winter Games, Vice President of the Beijing Organizing Committee Yang Shu'an confirmed Thursday during the 139th International Olympic Committee Session. 

Shu'an said Olympic venues will be split evenly between spectators from inside the “closed-loop" system — which separates Games-related personnel from the public — and those living outside of it. 

The 150,000 spectators from outside the "closed loop" will include international residents residing in mainland China, diplomatic personnel, marketing partners, winter sports enthusiasts, residents and local students, he said.

Spectators inside the “closed loop” will consist of members of the Olympic family, National Olympic Committees delegations, athletes, media representatives and broadcasters, Shu'an added.

On Jan. 17, the IOC announced tickets for the Games would not go on sale for international visitors or the general public, citing Covid-19 concerns. Instead, it decided groups of spectators would need to be invited to fill the stands. 

7:34 a.m. ET, February 3, 2022

Germany reports new Covid-19 daily cases record 

From CNN's Radina Gigova

Germany reported a new record of daily Covid-19 infections with more than 238,000 new cases over the last 24 hours, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

Germany also reported 164 Covid-19 related deaths, according to JHU.

Thursday's numbers bring the total number of coronavirus cases that Germany has reported since the start of the pandemic to 10,474,992 and the total number of deaths to 118,339.

9:19 a.m. ET, February 3, 2022

Belgian skeleton racer Kim Meylemans relocated to Olympic Village after Covid-19 isolation scare

From CNN's Hannah Ritchie in Sydney 

Kim Meylemans speaks to press at the Brussels Airport in Zaventem, Brussels, before leaving for Beijing on January 29.
Kim Meylemans speaks to press at the Brussels Airport in Zaventem, Brussels, before leaving for Beijing on January 29. (Laurie Dieffembacq/BELGA MAG/AFP/Getty Images)

German-born Belgian skeleton racer Kim Meylemans has been permitted to enter the Winter Olympics Village on Thursday, following an emotional Instagram video concerning a Covid-19 isolation scare in Beijing.

Early this month before her arrival in China, the 25-year-old Olympian had tested positive for Covid-19, missing two World Cup races as a result, according to her Instagram.

Despite 12 negative PCR tests in the lead up to the Games, Meylemans said she then tested positive upon her arrival into Beijing.

“I had 12 negative PCR tests in the last two weeks but suddenly upon arrival in China, I am considered positive again. Science proving that a PCR can detect viral residue long past a person's infection, seems to not matter at all,” she said in an Instagram post Tuesday. 

After being placed in isolation at a government hotel, Meylemans then returned “two consecutive negative Covid-19 tests” according to a statement from the International Olympic Committee.

It was her understanding that following the negative tests, in accordance with the Beijing 2022 Playbook, she would be treated as a close contact and moved to the Olympic Village for seven more days of isolation.

Instead, Meylemans revealed in an emotional video on Wednesday that she had been placed in a government facility, sparking outcry on social media. 

“Some of you have read the good news that I was sent out of the isolation facility, we thought this meant I was allowed to return to the Olympic Village and would be treated as a close contact, but I did not return to the village, the ambulance went to another facility where I am now,” Meylemans told her Instagram followers. 

“I am supposed to stay here for another seven days with two PCRs a day and no contact with anybody else. We are not even sure I will ever be allowed to go into the village. Obviously, this is very hard for me so I ask you all to give me time to consider my next steps because I am not sure I can handle 14 more days and the Olympic competition while being in this isolation,” she added, breaking down in tears. 

The situation was quickly rectified though. After Belgian Olympic officials and the IOC learned of Meylemans' situation, they asked for her to be moved into the isolation site inside the Olympic Village. 

In an update posted late Wednesday from inside isolation, Meylemans said the efforts from her supporters and the IOC had “paid off.”

“I am now in a wing that is just isolation, but at least I am back in the village. I feel safe and I’ll be able to train a little better here,” she said. 

Meylemans, who made her Olympic Winter Games debut at PyeongChang in 2018, was the first skeleton slider, male or female, to ever represent Belgium in the Olympics.

Per the Beijing 2022 Playbook, athletes who are identified as close contacts at the Games are allowed to train, compete, and live in the Olympic Village, provided they remain in a single room, are transported alone and eat alone.