The Omicron variant is now dominant in the US

By Jack Guy, Melissa Mahtani, Melissa Macaya, Meg Wagner and Aditi Sangal

Updated 7:20 a.m. ET, December 21, 2021
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6:34 a.m. ET, December 20, 2021

Stricter measures to contain Omicron variant come into force across Europe

From CNN’s Hannah Ritchie

The Covid Certificate Check vaccination checking app on an Apple Inc. iPhone arranged in Bern, Switzerland, on Thursday, Sept. 16, 2021.
The Covid Certificate Check vaccination checking app on an Apple Inc. iPhone arranged in Bern, Switzerland, on Thursday, Sept. 16, 2021. (Stefan Wermuth/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

Stricter Covid-19 measures have come into effect across Europe, as several nations rush to curb the spread of the Omicron variant.

Here's a look at some of them:

  • In Switzerland, only those with vaccine passports or proof of recovery will be permitted inside restaurants and indoor event spaces starting Monday, and masks must be worn at all times unless consuming food or drink. 

  • Sweden will tighten its border restrictions from Tuesday, requiring all visitors from Nordic nations to show a vaccine passport to cross into the country. Previously, Nordic countries were exempt from Sweden’s border rules, which include an entry ban on all non-essential travelers from outside the EU, and proof of vaccination from all other arrivals.  

  • As of midnight Sunday, Germany became the latest in a string of nations to limit the arrival of British travelers, adding the United Kingdom to its list of areas with "variants of concern.” As of Monday, only German citizens and residents can enter the country from the UK. 

  • On Friday, Denmark announced the closure of cinemas, theatres, and museums, while also prohibiting the sale of alcohol after 10 p.m. and asking hospitality venues to shut earlier. Those restrictions are now in effect.

 

6:14 a.m. ET, December 20, 2021

Unvaccinated people face 20 times greater risk of dying from Covid-19 than those who have been boosted, according to US data

From CNN Health’s Deidre McPhillips

Unvaccinated people face a 10 times greater risk of testing positive and 20 times greater risk of dying from Covid-19 than fully vaccinated people who have also received a booster, according to data published recently by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

The CDC data -- which assesses data through October -- suggests the gap in risk between unvaccinated people and those with a booster is even larger than it is between unvaccinated people and those who are fully vaccinated with their initial series.

Unvaccinated people face a five times greater risk of testing positive for Covid-19 and 14 times greater risk of dying from Covid-19 than fully vaccinated people do, according to the CDC data.

6:32 a.m. ET, December 20, 2021

Boris Johnson's office responds to latest image of UK PM purportedly breaking lockdown rules

From CNN's Robert Iddiols in London

Boris Johnson, U.K. prime minister, departs number 10 Downing Street on his way to attend a weekly questions and answers session in Parliament in London, U.K., on Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2021.
Boris Johnson, U.K. prime minister, departs number 10 Downing Street on his way to attend a weekly questions and answers session in Parliament in London, U.K., on Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2021. (Hollie Adams/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

A photo that appears to show UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson drinking wine with staff during the UK’s first coronavirus lockdown last year was published in the UK press Sunday.

The image, shared with The Guardian, purports to show an outdoor gathering that took place on May 15, 2020, during the country’s first nationwide lockdown.

Staff were gathered in the garden at Downing Street, which is also the Prime Minister’s residence, and Johnson can be seen with then-fiancée Carrie Symonds. On the table are bottles of wine and a cheeseboard. 

Four other members of staff are sat around a second table. Nine people are also gathered on the grass, with another two sat nearby.

Social distancing restrictions at the time meant that mixing between households was limited to two people, who could only meet outdoors and at a distance of at least two meters. In workplaces, the guidance said in-person meetings should only take place if “absolutely necessary.”

On Sunday, a Downing Street spokesperson said that work meetings often take place in the garden during the summer.

"On this occasion there were staff meetings following a No10 press conference," said the spokesperson. “Downing Street is the Prime Minister’s home as well as his workplace. The Prime Minister’s wife lives in No10 and therefore also legitimately uses the garden.”

Following the emergence of the photograph, Labour Deputy Leader Angela Rayner tweeted: “Enough is enough. Tell us the truth about what was going on in Downing Street from the very beginning immediately @BorisJohnson."

The Prime Minister has faced a string of allegations of parties at 10 Downing Street while Covid-19 restrictions were in place.

Senior civil servant Sue Gray has been tasked with investigating the reports after Cabinet Secretary Simon Case was removed from the inquiry following revelations that he had known about a quiz held in his department.

5:51 a.m. ET, December 20, 2021

Danish Health Ministry estimates Covid-19 infections could reach up to 45,000 per day by Christmas

 From CNN's Robert Iddiols and Susanne Gargiulo, and CNN Health's Deidre McPhillips

Denmark's Health Minister Magnus Heunicke speaks during a press conference in the Prime Minister's Office in Copenhagen, Denmark, Friday Dec. 17, 2021. The Danish Prime Minister said Friday that theaters, cinemas, concert halls, amusement parks, museums and art galleries must shut down to contain the spread of the coronavirus. 
Denmark's Health Minister Magnus Heunicke speaks during a press conference in the Prime Minister's Office in Copenhagen, Denmark, Friday Dec. 17, 2021. The Danish Prime Minister said Friday that theaters, cinemas, concert halls, amusement parks, museums and art galleries must shut down to contain the spread of the coronavirus.  (Olafur Steinar Gestsson/Ritzau Scanpix/AP)

The Danish Ministry of Health anticipates between 9,000 to 45,000 new daily Covid-19 infections by Christmas Day in light of the Omicron variant, according to a report published Saturday.

The Statens Serum Institut (SSI), part of Denmark’s Ministry of Health, also forecast up to 250 hospital admissions per day by Christmas in the report, which estimated infection rates and new hospital admissions through to January 1, 2022.   

While it acknowledges a high degree of uncertainty associated with the modeling, the Expert Group for Mathematical Modelling expects “both increasing infection rates and more admissions towards Christmas.” 

The report took into consideration the country’s accelerated plan for revaccinating all those over the age of 18, and acknowledged “uncertainties around the Omicron variant,” including severity. The projections also hinge “on the degree of declining immunity for the Omicron variant” and the behavior of the population.  

The expert group modeled eight different scenarios with different combinations of relevant parameters. All eight scenarios pointed to increasing infection rates and new admissions.  

"We estimate between 130-250 daily new admissions on December 24, if we assume that the Omicron variant gives the same hospitalization risk, and infects one and a half to twice as much as the Delta variant," said Camilla Holten Møller, leader of the expert group.  

“There is still great uncertainty about the admission risk for the Omicron variant. And there are indications that the variant may be less severe," added Holten Møller. 

"Therefore, we have also made calculations with it being half as serious as the Delta variant. If this is the case, the models show we can expect between 120-190 daily new admissions on 24 December." 

Denmark recorded 8,212 new confirmed coronavirus cases on Sunday, according to SSI data.  

New restrictions came into effect on Sunday in an attempt to curb the spike in infections. Distancing measures and nightlife restrictions are also back in place, and passes are required on parts of the public transit system. 

5:30 a.m. ET, December 20, 2021

New York State broke highest single-day Covid-19 case count for third consecutive day on Sunday 

From CNN’s Artemis Moshtaghian and CNN Health’s Deidre McPhillips

New York State Governor Kathy Hochul COVID-19 gives a press briefing to address the rising cases in the state and the new variant Omicron on 29th November 2021 in New York, United States.
New York State Governor Kathy Hochul COVID-19 gives a press briefing to address the rising cases in the state and the new variant Omicron on 29th November 2021 in New York, United States. (Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket/Getty Images)

New York State set a new record for single-day Covid-19 cases for a third consecutive day Sunday, according to data released by Governor Kathy Hochul’s office.

The state reported 22,478 positive Covid-19 cases, up from 21,908 on Saturday and 21,027 on Friday.

Despite surging numbers, Hochul told New Yorkers they are in a far more favorable position than when the virus initially struck last year.

"This is not March of 2020, we are not defenseless,” she said Sunday.

"We have the tools to protect ourselves and the vulnerable loves ones in our families: Get vaccinated, get the booster and wear a mask when indoors or in large gatherings. Don't take a chance during the winter surge."

While Covid-19 cases have slowly increased across New York State over the last three days, statewide Covid-19 hospitalizations have remained around the same, according to available data.

It’s a bit too early to tell whether hospitalizations will follow suit and increase as there is generally about a three-week lag behind Covid-19 case trends, according to CNN Health’s analysis of Covid-19 trends in New York.

However, the upward trend in Covid-19 cases could be a message that the US should brace for a winter surge of cases that could very well break records set last winter.

5:07 a.m. ET, December 20, 2021

China reports 37 locally transmitted Covid cases, mostly in Xi'an

From CNN's Beijing Bureau

China has reported 37 locally transmitted cases on Sunday, of which 21 were in the historic city of Xi'an in China's northwest Shaanxi province. 

Since December 9, when its first case was detected among staff at a quarantine hotel, a total of 49 cases of Covid-19 have been reported in the city.

Authorities believe the cases are linked to an inbound flight from Pakistan on December 4, where at least six passengers were found to have the Delta variant. 

On Sunday, mass testing for its nearly 13 million residents was launched and schools were suspended from Monday, the municipal government announced. The city has designated one high-risk area in Chang’an University and 13 middle-risk areas.

In the southeastern Zhejiang province -- where hundreds of cases have been reported in recent weeks -- authorities reported only 10 new locally transmitted Covid-19 cases, a significant decline from the 77 cases reported Friday.

Authorities downgraded the city to low risk on Sunday.

Since December 6, Zhejiang province has reported at least 475 cases as of Sunday, according to the provincial government. 

On Sunday, two cases were also reported in southern Guangdong province and one case was reported in Beijing. 

Over the weekend, China's National Health Commission advised people in any city with Covid-19 cases not to travel during the New Year and Chinese New Year holidays. 

5:00 a.m. ET, December 20, 2021

South African President ends self-isolation following positive covid test

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has ended a week of self-isolation which followed his positive test for Covid, according to a statement from his office. 

“The President thanks all South Africans and leaders and friends internationally who conveyed their good wishes during this period."
"In turn, the President wishes all persons infected with Covid-19 a safe and speedy recovery,” the statement read. 

The President has returned to duty and will chair the final Cabinet meeting for 2021 on Wednesday.

“President Ramaphosa repeats his call for everyone in the country to stay safe by being vaccinated, wearing face masks, washing or sanitizing hands frequently, maintaining a social distance and avoiding gatherings,” the statement adds.  

5:23 a.m. ET, December 20, 2021

South Korea’s president orders national university hospitals to focus on treating critically ill Covid patients

From CNN’s Yoonjung Seo and Gawon Bae in Seoul

A healthcare worker attends to a Covid-19 patient at an intensive care unit (ICU) at Pyeongtaek Bagae Hospital in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province, South Korea, on Thursday, Dec. 16, 2021.
A healthcare worker attends to a Covid-19 patient at an intensive care unit (ICU) at Pyeongtaek Bagae Hospital in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province, South Korea, on Thursday, Dec. 16, 2021. (SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in ordered the country’s national university hospitals to focus on treating critically ill Covid patients, amid a surge in cases and concerns over hospital bed shortages in the nation.

On Sunday, South Korea reported a record high of 1,025 critically ill patients. The number has slightly dropped to 997 on Monday, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).

Last week, ICU bed occupancy in the greater Seoul area stood at 86.5% and the rest of the nation reached 72.6%, KDCA said in a statement.

On Monday, Moon also instructed public hospitals located in the greater Seoul area to shift specialization to infectious diseases where possible, and asked private hospitals to support their efforts by treating other patients, President Moon’s spokeswoman Park Kyung-mee said in a statement.

Moon also called for an expansion of modular hospital beds for treating Covid patients and more public medical workers, including doctors from the military, to be allocated to treating critically ill Covid patients.

“Securing Covid-19 hospital beds is entirely the responsibility of the government,” Moon said as he admitted that the efforts of nearly doubling the number of Covid-19 treatment beds and expanding at-home treatment options were insufficient to support recovery efforts.

Last week, the government reversed its phased plan to ease restrictions, instead reinstating stringent social distancing measures, including a 9 p.m. curfew nationwide for restaurants and cafes

The country reported 5,318 new daily cases of Covid-19 from Sunday, bringing the country’s total confirmed cases since the beginning of the pandemic to 570,414, including 4,776 deaths, KDCA added.

5:20 a.m. ET, December 20, 2021

Cruise ship with 48 Covid-positive people aboard docks in Miami

From CNN’s Andy Rose

US shipowner Royal Caribbeans new Oasis-class cruise ship, Symphony of the Seas, the largest passenger ship ever to be constructed by gross tonnage and built by French shipyard STX, is pictured on February 13, 2018 in the port of Saint-Nazaire, western France.
US shipowner Royal Caribbeans new Oasis-class cruise ship, Symphony of the Seas, the largest passenger ship ever to be constructed by gross tonnage and built by French shipyard STX, is pictured on February 13, 2018 in the port of Saint-Nazaire, western France. (Fred Tanneau/AFP/Getty Images)

A Royal Caribbean cruise ship that docked in Miami over the weekend had 48 people aboard who tested positive for Covid-19, the cruise line said.

“They were identified as a result of immediate contact tracing after a guest tested positive,” Royal Caribbean said in a written statement Sunday.

The company said that the Symphony of the Seas had more than 6,000 guests and crew members, meaning fewer than 1 percent of the people aboard tested positive.

“Each person quickly went into quarantine,” the Royal Caribbean statement said.

“Everyone who tested positive were asymptomatic or had mild symptoms, and we continuously monitored their health.”

Royal Caribbean said 95% of the people aboard Symphony were fully vaccinated, including 100% of the crew.

The ship’s upcoming voyages will not be affected, the company said.

CNN’s Lechelle Benken contributed to this report.