December 23 Omicron variant and coronavirus news

By Helen Regan, Amy Woodyatt and Adam Renton, CNN

Updated 1:15 AM ET, Fri December 24, 2021
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8:59 a.m. ET, December 23, 2021

US holiday air travel on Wednesday exceeded 2019 levels

From CNN’s Pete Muntean

Passengers in Christmas outfits are seen in a terminal at Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI) on December 22, 2021 in Baltimore, Maryland. AAA predicted more than 109 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more over Christmas and New Year holidays, a spike of 27.7% over last year.
Passengers in Christmas outfits are seen in a terminal at Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI) on December 22, 2021 in Baltimore, Maryland. AAA predicted more than 109 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more over Christmas and New Year holidays, a spike of 27.7% over last year. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Holiday air travel in the US is now higher than pre-pandemic levels.

The Transportation Security Administration announced on Thursday that 2.08 million travelers were screened on Wednesday, higher than on the same weekday in 2019.

The TSA expects Thursday to be one of busiest days of the holiday season at airports nationwide and anticipates 20 million people will fly between Dec. 23 and Jan. 3, rivaling pre-pandemic figures from 2019. 

8:38 a.m. ET, December 23, 2021

Here's what early studies say about how Omicron compares to Delta 

From CNN's Jacqueline Howard

Two new preprint papers add to growing evidence that the Omicron coronavirus variant may be less likely to cause severe disease and hospitalization compared to the Delta variant.

Omicron is associated with a two-thirds reduction in the risk of Covid-19 hospitalization compared with Delta, suggests one study, released online Wednesday as a working paper by researchers at the University of Edinburgh in the United Kingdom. That research was based out of Scotland.

The other paper, posted Tuesday to the online server medrxiv.org, suggests that people with Omicron infections have had 80% lower odds of being admitted to the hospital compared with Delta infections. But once a patient was hospitalized, there was no difference in the risk of severe disease, according to that research, based out of South Africa.

Both studies include preliminary data and have not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

The study out of Scotland included data on 23,840 Omicron cases and 126,511 Delta cases, from Nov. 1 to Dec. 19. The researchers – from the University of Edinburgh, University of Strathclyde and Public Health Scotland – took a close look at the health outcomes among those Omicron infections compared with Delta infections. There were 15 hospital admissions among those with Omicron infections and 856 hospital admissions among Delta.

"Although small in number, the study is good news. The two thirds reduction in hospitalisation of double vaccinated young people compared to Delta indicates that Omicron will be milder for more people," James Naismith, director of the Rosalind Franklin Institute and professor of structural biology at the University of Oxford, who was not involved in either study, said in a written statement distributed by the UK-based Science Media Centre on Wednesday.

The researchers found that the proportion of Omicron cases that were likely reinfections in people who have had Covid-19 before was more than 10 times that of Delta. The data also showed that having received a third dose of vaccine, or booster shot, was associated with a 57% reduction in the risk of symptomatic Omicron infection when compared with being at least 25 weeks out from completing a second dose.

"These early national data suggest that Omicron is associated with a two-thirds reduction in the risk of COVID-19 hospitalisation when compared to Delta. Whilst offering the greatest protection against Delta, the third/booster dose of vaccination offers substantial additional protection against the risk of symptomatic COVID-19 for Omicron," the researchers wrote in the paper.

Read the full story on the studies here.

8:19 a.m. ET, December 23, 2021

English Premier League postpones two Boxing Day matches due to Covid-19 issues

From CNN's Homero DeLaFuente

A general view of Watford scarves on the seats as tonights Premier League match at Turf Moor between Burnley and Watford has been postponed on December 15, 2021.
A general view of Watford scarves on the seats as tonights Premier League match at Turf Moor between Burnley and Watford has been postponed on December 15, 2021. (Martin Rickett/PA/Getty Images)

The English Premier League has postponed two matches scheduled for December 26 due to Covid-19 issues within Leeds United and Watford FC, it announced on Thursday.

In a news release, the EPL cited Leeds United and Watford FC not having enough available players to field a team as the reason for the postponements.

The League is aware that the decision to postpone these two matches will disappoint supporters and understands their frustrations at a special time of year when fans look forward to attending and watching football games,” the Premier League said in a statement.
“The League aims to provide as much clarity as possible, but unfortunately postponements sometimes have to be made at short notice, as safety is the priority. The League will endeavour to keep supporters updated if games become at risk on a matchday.”

Watford FC were scheduled to play on the road against Wolverhampton Wanderers, while Leeds United were scheduled to face off against hosts Liverpool FC on Sunday, December 26.

“While recognising a number of clubs are experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks, it is the clubs’ and the League’s collective intention to continue the current fixture schedule where safely possible. The health and wellbeing of all concerned remains our priority and the League will continue to monitor and reflect public health guidance, always proceeding with caution,” the statement concluded.

Closures and postponements: Leeds United announced that the training ground at Thorp Arch will be closed for the next two days following five new positive Covid-19 cases within the first-team squad and staff, on the advice of Public Health England.

Last weekend the Premier League postponed 10 matches as Covid-19 cases continue to rise in the country. In total, 12 matches have now been postponed due to Covid-19.

7:49 a.m. ET, December 23, 2021

Scottish Government proposes nightclubs close for three weeks after Christmas

From CNN's Mostafa Salem

The Scottish Government has recommended nightclubs to close for three weeks from December 27, instead of operating under recently announced restrictions.

“While it would be open to them to operate with distancing and table service, and that option will remain, we consider that closure and regulations, combined with financial support, may reduce losses and help these businesses weather what we hope will be a short period until they are able to operate normally again,” Deputy First Minister John Swinney told lawmakers at a Covid-19 Recovery Committee on Thursday.

For three weeks from December 26, sporting events in Scotland will be “effectively spectator-free” and indoor events limited to 200 people with one-meter distancing to curb the spread of Covid-19, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced Tuesday.

Swinney added Thursday that although early data from more than one study suggest hospitalization is less likely with the Omicron variant compared to Delta, “we do not yet know conclusively if the proportion of Omicron cases needing hospital care is lower, higher or the same as Delta.”

8:19 a.m. ET, December 23, 2021

A dozen Broadway shows have been canceled as crew or cast test positive for Covid-19

From CNN's Aya Elamroussi

Broadway shows cancelled due to COVID-19 outbreak.
Broadway shows cancelled due to COVID-19 outbreak. (Yuki Iwamura/AP)

Amid the rapid spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant, a dozen Broadway shows have shuttered their doors this week as cast or crew members test positive for Covid-19 -- during what is usually a busy holiday season for the industry

Since Broadway returned following an 18-month hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic, vaccination against Covid-19 has been required for eligible audiences, crews, performers and other staff.

The safety measure, among others such as mask-wearing, is aimed at keeping the curtains raised as the US enters yet another Christmas marred by a rise in Covid-19 and shutdowns.

Broadway provides about 97,000 jobs in New York City, adding about $14.7 billion to the city's economy in the 2018-2019 season, according to the Broadway League.

See the full list here:

7:25 a.m. ET, December 23, 2021

Kids under 5 still are waiting for Covid-19 vaccine protection

From CNN's Jen Christensen

While some US teens have been vaccinated for so long that they're now eligible for Covid-19 boosters, those under the age of 5 still haven't gotten their first shots.

The Pfizer vaccine has been authorized for children 5 and older since late October, and teens 16 and up have been eligible for boosters since December 9.

As coronavirus cases in children surge again, vaccine approval for kids under 5 can't come soon enough for many parents. But it looks likely that the youngest children won't get protection from Covid-19 until well into 2022.

In another setback, Pfizer announced last week that it was amending the clinical trial of its vaccine in children 6 months to 5 years old.

The company said two doses didn't elicit the same kind of robust immune response in 2- to 5-year-olds as with adults. A third dose will be added to the trials for children under 6.

Read the full story:

7:24 a.m. ET, December 23, 2021

House Majority Whip Clyburn has a breakthrough case of Covid-19 and is asymptomatic

From CNN's Karl deVries

House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-GA) speaks on medicare expansion and the reconciliation package during a press conference with fellow lawmakers at the U.S. Capitol on September 23, 2021 in Washington, DC. 
House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-GA) speaks on medicare expansion and the reconciliation package during a press conference with fellow lawmakers at the U.S. Capitol on September 23, 2021 in Washington, DC.  (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images)

House Democratic Whip Jim Clyburn tweeted on his official Congressional account that he has tested positive for Covid-19.

He wrote: “This is a breakthrough case,” and urges anyone who has not been vaccinated to protect themselves and get vaccinated.

 

6:59 a.m. ET, December 23, 2021

Illinois Democrat Jan Schakowsky tests positive for Covid-19

From CNN's Karl deVries

Jan Schakowsky has tested positive for Covid, the Illinois Democrat Rep. confirmed in a series of posts on Twitter.

Schakowsky said: "We got tested when we felt something was off, and now we can prevent exposure to our family and loved ones. I implore you to do the same before holiday gatherings this week and next. Get tested if you feel sick or have been around someone who tests positive."

She added that she and her husband are quarantining with their dogs.

6:59 a.m. ET, December 23, 2021

Queen to spend Christmas with Prince Charles and Camilla at Windsor after Omicron scuppers usual plans

From CNN's Max Foster

View of Windsor Castle, England, with lawns and gardens, Prince of Wales's Tower and Brunswick Tower
View of Windsor Castle, England, with lawns and gardens, Prince of Wales's Tower and Brunswick Tower (Graham Prentice/Alamy)

Queen Elizabeth II will be joined by Prince Charles and his wife Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall on Christmas at Windsor Castle, changing her Christmas plans due to the surge of coronavirus cases in the United Kingdom.

“The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall will be with Her Majesty The Queen on Christmas Day,” a spokesperson for Clarence House told CNN.

On Monday, a Buckingham Palace source confirmed that the Queen would not travel to Sandringham for Christmas and would instead celebrate at Windsor Castle, due to the surge in Omicron.

In a typical year, the Queen travels to her country estate of Sandringham for the family's annual Christmas retreat.

But in recent weeks, the palace has been taking added precautions due to coronavirus, including canceling a pre-Christmas lunch that the monarch typically hosts for extended family.