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December 27 coronavirus pandemic and Omicron variant news

Omicron derails holiday plans, strains hospitals

What we covered

  • The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shortened its recommended isolation time for those who test positive to Covid-19 from 10 days to 5 days if they don’t have symptoms.
  • More than 2,000 flights have been canceled globally today as more airline staff and crew are calling out sick as the Omicron variant spreads. 
  • Meanwhile, Chinese authorities are disinfecting an entire city of 13 million people as Covid-19 cases continue to rise.

Our live coverage of this story has ended for the day. Read the latest here.

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US flight attendant union criticizes new CDC isolation requirements

The Association of Flight Attendants is criticizing the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s new isolation guidelines for those who test positive for Covid-19, saying it will be on the lookout for employees being pressured to return to work prematurely. The association notes that the five-day period only applies to those who are asymptomatic. 

“The CDC gave a medical explanation about why the agency has decided to reduce the quarantine requirements from 10 to five days, but the fact that it aligns with the number of days pushed by corporate America is less than reassuring,” the association says in a statement.

“We cannot allow pandemic fatigue to lead to decisions that extend the life of the pandemic or put policies on the backs of workers. Already the lack of paid sick leave creates pressure on workers to come to work sick. Corporations that fail to recognize this with paid sick leave, or pressure workers to come to work sick or face discipline, are failing their workers and their customers,” the statement continues.

Earlier Monday, the CDC shortened the recommended times that people should isolate when they’ve tested positive for Covid-19 from 10 days to five days if they don’t have symptoms – and if they wear a mask around others for at least five more days.

Boise State withdraws from Friday's Arizona Bowl due to Covid-19

Boise State Athletics announced Monday that it has shut down all football team activities due to Covid-19 protocols. As a result, the Broncos will not compete against the Central Michigan Chippewas in the Arizona Bowl scheduled for Friday in Tucson.

Boise State’s decision was made in consultation with its medical staff, in addition to campus and public health officials

“We feel for the young men in our program who were very much looking forward to closing out their season, and for some, their football careers,” Boise State Director of Athletics Jeramiah Dickey said in a statement.

“I would personally like to thank Kym Adair and her team at the Arizona Bowl for putting together at first-class student-athlete and fan experience that we are extremely disappointed to miss,” he added.

Fauci calls CDC's decision to shorten Covid-19 isolation guidelines "very prudent"

Dr. Anthony Fauci said the changes the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention made to its isolation guidelines for Covid-19 are a good idea.

“I think that was a very prudent and good choice on the part of the CDC, which we spent a considerable amount of time discussing, namely getting people back in half the time than they would have been out, so that they can do it back to the workplace, doing things that are important to keep society running smoothly,” Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN’s Jim Acosta.

The CDC shortened the recommended times that people should isolate when they’ve tested positive for Covid-19 from 10 days to five days if they don’t have symptoms – and if they wear a mask around others for at least five more days.

The CDC also shortened the recommended time for people to quarantine if they are exposed to the virus to a similar five days if they are vaccinated and often to no time if they are boosted.

“With the sheer volume of new cases that we are having and that we expect to continue with Omicron, one of the things that we want to be careful of is that we don’t have so many people out,” Fauci told CNN’s Jim Acosta.

“We want to get people back to the jobs, particularly the essential jobs, to keep society running smoothly,” Fauci added.

One way to help slow the spread of Covid-19 is more testing, but tests are still hard to come by in the US, Fauci said, although the situation will get better soon.

“We don’t have enough tests at this particular point in time to get everybody uniformly, have the availability of testing – that will change considerably as we get into January,” Fauci said. 

The Biden administration has promised it will make 500 million tests available in the first couple of weeks of January with 200 to 500 million tests per month in the succeeding months.

“It would be great if we had it right now, but unfortunately, we don’t,” Fauci said.

What the country does have right now is vaccines, Fauci said as he encouraged everyone to get vaccinated, including children.  

“I appeal to parents, that if your child is five and over, get that child vaccinated not only for their own safety, because you see there’s a lot more infections in children, some of which result in hospitalizations. And that’s one of the things you don’t want to happen,” Fauci said. “You don’t want them to be spreading infections among themselves, and among others, So it’s really important to get those children vaccinated.”

Fauci has said vaccine mandates are a good idea, including for people who fly domestically, but don’t expect that mandate to happen any time soon. 

“But we never take anything off the table. We always keep things open for consideration,” Fauci said.

Fauci said public health leaders will be watching the Covid-19 numbers closely. The number he will be particularly focused on is hospitalizations. When there are so many infections, he explained, some can be asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic.

“What really counts is making sure people don’t get sick,” Fauci said. “So, what we were saying as we go on further and we may be get more cases but less hospitalizations, it’s important to focus on how well we’re doing about keeping people well, if they’re in the hospital taking good care of them, but trying to keep them out of the hospital by whatever means possible.”

Nearly 100 NFL players test positive for Covid-19 on Monday

The National Football League had 96 of its players test positive for Covid-19 on Monday, the league announced today.  

With an additional 10 positive tests among players over the weekend, a total of 106 players have been placed on the league’s Reserve/Covid-19 list since Christmas.

The NFL postponed three games last week but has yet to cancel a game so far this season.

NBA shortens quarantine time for vaccinated players who test positive for Covid-19

The National Basketball Association (NBA) will now allow vaccinated players and coaches to clear quarantine after six days – if Covid-19 testing determines the individual is no longer infectious, according to a league memo obtained by CNN. 

The updated NBA protocols were first reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

The adjustment to six days is a reduction from the previously instituted waiting period of 10 days to clear quarantine.

The changes to the health and safety protocols were made on the same day the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shortened the recommended time that people should isolate after they’ve tested positive for Covid-19, from 10 days to five days if they don’t have symptoms – and if they wear a mask around others for at least five more days.

In an interview last week, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said 97% of NBA players are fully vaccinated and 65% have received a booster shot.

Apple makes all NYC stores pickup only as Covid-19 cases rise

Customers flow through the entrance of an Apple store in New York on November 26.

Apple has closed all of its New York City store locations to in-person shoppers due to Covid-19, Monica Fernandez, a spokesperson for the company, said in a statement. 

All of the stores are still open for customers to buy a product online and pick it up at the store, Fernandez said. 

“We regularly monitor conditions and we will adjust both our health measures and store services to support the wellbeing of customers and employees. We remain committed to a comprehensive approach for our teams that combines regular testing with daily health checks, employee and customer masking, deep cleaning and paid sick leave,” the company said in a statement. 

Hospitalizations of kids at one hospital in Chicago have quadrupled, doctor says

The number of children testing positive for Covid-19 at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago is “incredibly high,” Dr. Larry Kociolek, an attending physician and infectious disease specialist there, told CNN Monday.

Case numbers are three times as high as the hospital’s previous peak in December of 2020, Kociolek said. 

“Hospitalizations have quadrupled over our baseline over the past week,” Kociolek told CNN. “Fortunately, a lot of these infections are either mild infections or incidental positives, since we screen all children before procedures and at the time of admission, and we’ve actually not seen any change in the number of children being admitted to the ICU.”

Half of the hospitalizations were in children under the age of five, Kociolek said. Those children are not yet eligible to be vaccinated. 

“I think we’re definitely seeing the impact of vaccines in kids older than 5. The kids that are hospitalized are essentially all unvaccinated,” Kociolek said. 

Kociolek said about 7% of the kids who test positive don’t have any symptoms at all. The sharp rise in cases shows how contagious the Omicron variant is.

“Our community activity just shut up very, very quickly,” Kociolek said. 

Kociolek said the hospital is also concerned about a surge in multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, known as MIS-C, in the near future. MIS-C is a rare, but serious Covid-19 related condition that can affect kids. The condition typically occurs after there has been a surge of Covid-19 cases. Even children who have had mild Covid-19 cases can develop MIS-C, usually several weeks after infection.

“We did not see an increase in MIS-C following the Delta peak, but there’s reason to believe the Delta variant might be different than the Omicron variant in terms of causing MIS-C, so we are cautiously observing these cases,” Kociolek said. 

Kociolek said it is also important for parents to keep in mind that even mild Covid-19 cases can be contagious. To keep schools open, parents have to remember to keep their sick children home from school or any other activity. He also suggested parents may want to get their children tested or use a home test before they return to school. “That way you can ensure that they’re not carrying Covid-19 back to the classroom,” Kociolek said. 

Nearly a third of fully vaccinated people have received a booster dose, CDC data shows

Here’s what the latest data on vaccination efforts in the United States, published Monday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, shows:

  • Fully vaccinated: 61.8% of the total US population (all ages) – more than 205 million people.
  • Not vaccinated: 22.4% of the eligible population (age 5+) have not received any dose of Covid-19 vaccine – at least 66 million people.
  • Current pace of vaccinations (seven-day average): 1,034,442 doses are being administered each day. 
  • An average of 793,160 million booster doses are being administered each day.
  • About 66 million people have received an additional dose, or booster
  • 35.2% of fully vaccinated adults (18+) have received a booster.
  • 47.1% of fully vaccinated people age 50 and older have received a booster.
  • 57.3% of fully vaccinated seniors (65+) have received a booster. 
  • 32.3% of the fully vaccinated population is boosted.

Note: CDC data on Covid-19 vaccinations are estimates. The agency notes that data on people who are fully vaccinated and those with a booster dose may be underestimated, while data on people with at least one dose may be overestimated. 

 You can see a full break-down of CDC data here.

This surge of Covid-19 patients is different from the others, health expert says

The latest surge of Covid-19 patients is different from previous surges, an emergency department expert on Long Island said Monday.

“During the first surge we saw majority of the patients were Covid. This surge, we’re seeing a lot of sicker patients that had delayed care because of the different surges that went on,” Dr. Fred Davis, emergency department co-chair at the Long Island Jewish Medical Center Northwell Health, told CNN’s Jake Tapper. “And now we’re also starting to see a number of patients presenting with very low acuity, or very minimal symptoms that are also coming into the emergency department to get tested.”

The majority of the more serious Covid-19 cases are unvaccinated, Davis said. There are some breakthrough cases, but those patients don’t tend to be as sick. 

“What we’re seeing currently in our own hospitals is that this variant of Omicron seems to be less severe — that those aren’t requiring as much of the hospitalizations as we saw during the Alpha variant,” Davis said.

While the staff is tired after two years of managing patients in a pandemic, Davis said they have learned a lot through each wave in cases. 

“While we fear that this is something that’s just starting, we also know that we can get through it because we got through something just as bad, if not worse,” Davis said.

CDC shortens recommended Covid-19 isolation and quarantine times

People wait in line for take-home Covid-19 test kits in New York on December 23.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has shortened the recommended times that people should isolate when they’ve tested positive for Covid-19 from 10 days to five days if they don’t have symptoms – and if they wear a mask around others for at least five more days.

The CDC also shortened the recommended time for people to quarantine if they are exposed to the virus to a similar five days if they are vaccinated, and often to no time if they are boosted

“Given what we currently know about COVID-19 and the Omicron variant, CDC is shortening the recommended time for isolation from 10 days for people with COVID-19 to 5 days, if asymptomatic, followed by 5 days of wearing a mask when around others,” the CDC said in a statement on Monday.

“The change is motivated by science demonstrating that the majority of SARS-CoV-2 transmission occurs early in the course of illness, generally in the 1-2 days prior to onset of symptoms and the 2-3 days after. Therefore, people who test positive should isolate for 5 days and, if asymptomatic at that time, they may leave isolation if they can continue to mask for 5 days to minimize the risk of infecting others.”

Quarantine refers to the time people stay away from others if they are exposed to a disease but not yet testing positive or showing symptoms.

CDC changed those recommendations, too. “For people who are unvaccinated or are more than six months out from their second mRNA dose (or more than 2 months after the J&J vaccine) and not yet boosted, CDC now recommends quarantine for 5 days followed by strict mask use for an additional 5 days,” it said.

“Alternatively, if a 5-day quarantine is not feasible, it is imperative that an exposed person wear a well-fitting mask at all times when around others for 10 days after exposure. Individuals who have received their booster shot do not need to quarantine following an exposure, but should wear a mask for 10 days after the exposure. For all those exposed, best practice would also include a test for SARS-CoV-2 at day 5 after exposure. If symptoms occur, individuals should immediately quarantine until a negative test confirms symptoms are not attributable to COVID-19.”

President Biden was briefed today by his Covid-19 team on the CDC’s decision, according to a White House official. 

Goldman Sachs introduces a new booster policy and mandates twice weekly testing

People enter the Goldman Sachs headquarters New York in June.

Goldman Sachs told employees in a memo on Monday that all individuals coming into the bank’s US offices will be required to show proof of a booster shot.

The new booster policy takes effect on Feb. 1 and applies to both employees and visitors. The move comes as a spike in Covid-19 cases complicates the return of office workers in New York and across the United States.

In addition to mandating booster shots for eligible employees, Goldman Sachs plans to double mandatory testing to twice weekly for those entering US offices, beginning on Jan. 10.

News of the new health policies was first reported by Bloomberg and confirmed to CNN by a spokesperson for Goldman Sachs. 

Andy Slavitt, former Covid-19 adviser to President Biden, told CNN earlier this month there’s “no question” CEOs should require employees to get boosters in light of how contagious Omicron is. 

“Boost everybody. If everybody is boosted, that’s your best shot at having everyone back,” Slavitt said, referring to how business leaders should approach back-to-the-office plans.

Airlines canceled more than 1,100 US flights on Monday

A coronavirus surge and winter weather threw off holiday travel plans for a fourth straight day on Monday – and at one airline, would-be travelers are waiting on hold for as long as 11 hours.  

Airlines canceled more than 1,100 US flights today and delayed more than 4,400 flights, according to the aviation tracking website FlightAware. On Sunday, about 1,400 flights were canceled and more than 6,000 delayed, FlightAware reported.  

In all, carriers have canceled nearly 4,000 flights since Friday – Christmas Eve – and more than 11,800 were delayed, according to FlightAware data.    

West coast-heavy Alaska Airlines said severe weather in the Pacific Northwest disrupted its flight schedule. Alaska canceled more than one in five of its flights – 144 – on Monday, according to FlightAware, on top of the 248 cancellations Alaska Airlines reported on Sunday.  

“Reservations is experiencing extremely long hold times of up to 11 hours,” Alaska Airlines told CNN in a statement. “We apologize for the inconvenience our guests are experiencing due to flight delays and cancellations. We realize it’s incredibly frustrating when travel doesn’t go as planned.” 

Alaska said crew members calling out from work sick due to coronavirus is “no longer a factor,” but other carriers said it is an issue.   

United Airlines, which canceled more than one in 10 of its flights on Friday and Saturday, told CNN that “nearly 50% of our passengers have arrived at their final destination either early or within four hours of their originally scheduled flight.” It canceled 115 flights on Monday “due to Omicron staffing issues.”

Covid-19 hospitalizations increasing slowly in Florida, hospital official says

While demand for Covid-19 tests is up, hospitalizations in the state of Florida do not appear to be, the head of the Florida Hospital Association tells CNN. 

“Although we are experiencing significant new daily cases of Covid, our hospitalizations for Covid are still relatively low and increasing slowly,” said Mary C. Mayhew, president and CEO of the Florida Hospital Association. “While hospitals are readying their surge plans, today there are many beds available to treat Covid and non-Covid patients,” she continued.

According to Mayhew, current statewide hospitalizations of 2,075 Covid-19 patients is about 12% of the 17,121 hospitalizations at the peak of the Delta variant surge on Aug. 23.

“Our biggest challenge continues to be the severity of our workforce shortages consistent with what states around the country are confronting,” Mayhew noted in her statement.

Jackson Health System, one of the largest health systems in South Florida, said in a post on Twitter on Monday, “Across the Jackson Health System hospitals, we currently have 212 patients who have tested positive for COVID-19.” One day earlier, the hospital system reported 175 patients. On Christmas Day, the system reported having 153 patients Covid-19 patients. 

Demand for testing has been increasing, as the number of people waiting to be tested at one of Miami-Dade County’s busiest testing sites continues to grow. 

There was a line of cars wrapped around Tropical Park on Monday morning, with individuals reporting wait times for testing of more than two hours. 

Ron Goncalves, general manager of Nomi Health Florida, which partners with Miami-Dade County to run its testing sites, told CNN, “We’ve been north of 50,000 tests daily across the state of Florida, including limited numbers of sites and operating hours for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.”  

At the peak of the Delta wave, Goncalves said they averaged about 34,000 tests per day. 

Nomi Health Florida is now planning to open four or five more testing sites in Miami-Dade County “in the coming days” to help with testing demands, according to Goncalves. He also told CNN that the company has enough of staffing and tests, and has their labs working around the clock to cover the increase in volume, the likes of which they have not seen before.   

Miami-Dade County also plans to distribute free at-home testing kits at public libraries today, while supplies last. 

Biden directs federal funding to assist in Covid-19 testing

Medical workers administer Covid-19 tests at a subway station in New York on December 27.

President Biden has directed federal funds to help get more Covid-19 testing across the country. In a memo Monday, citing the Stafford Act, Biden ordered the Federal Emergency Management Agency to assist with testing in the places “that need it most.”

“It is the policy of my Administration to combat and respond to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic with the full capacity and capability of the Federal Government to protect and support our families, schools, and businesses, and to assist State, local, Tribal, and territorial governments to do the same,” Biden wrote. “This policy includes the use of emergency and disaster assistance available from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to get COVID-19 testing to the places that need it most.”

The order directs the department of Health and Human Services, “on a fully reimbursable basis, to provide testing sites, launched and operated by HHS in close coordination with State, local, Tribal, and territorial public health departments,” using FEMA funding.

Some context: The rate of daily Covid-19 cases detected in the US has eclipsed those fueled by the Delta variant over the summer. While coronavirus hospitalizations remain relatively lower than peaks earlier this year, the situation may get worse as tens of millions of Americans remain unvaccinated, putting them at higher risk for complications and death.

Furthermore, both health and government officials have been warning that the Omicron variant threatens to overwhelm hospitals and health care workers.

US Education Department stresses importance of safely maintaining in-person learning 5 days a week 

As Covid-19 cases continue to surge across the US, the Biden administration is urging school districts to take certain safety measures to ensure classrooms remain open for in-person instruction in the second half of the school year, according to a new resource guide addressed to school leaders, which was obtained by CNN on Monday. 

In it, the US Department of Education outlines key strategies for keeping students and educators safe while maintaining in-person learning.

“After settling back into a school routine, many districts are eager to return to the ease of pre-COVID interactions and learning experiences, but we urge significant caution before decreasing any mitigation strategies. It is incredibly important that all schools work to remain open for in-person learning five days a week, especially in light of the Omicron variant,” according to the department’s document.

“The goal remains to keep all schools open for in-person learning five days a week throughout the 2021-22 school year and beyond—let’s make this goal a reality!” Education Secretary Miguel Cardona wrote in a message to school leaders.

Cardona also urged school leaders to adopt safety strategies to “keep our students and staff safely in school and avoid quarantines and unnecessary closures or disruptions” — including collaborating with local health departments, encouraging vaccinations in school communities and implementing widespread Covid screening testing and “Test to Stay” strategies, among other measures.

This comes amid a sharp rise in Covid-19 cases across the country, leaving many school districts to grapple with questions about in-person and remote instruction as students return from winter break in the coming weeks.

Cardona has emphasized that schools should continue to prioritize in-person learning, with proper mitigation and testing strategies in place to protect students and school staff. 

“We know what works, we know how to protect ourselves, there’s no reason our schools should be going remote fully, we need to keep our kids in the classroom,” Cardona said in a CNN interview last week.

France tightens Covid-19 restrictions but won't impose curfews or lockdowns

French Prime Minister Jean Castex speaks during a press conference on December 27.

France will tighten restrictions but will not impose curfews or lockdowns ahead of New Year’s Eve celebrations, despite reporting record new coronavirus cases, French Prime Minister Jean Castex announced at a news conference on Monday.

“At this stage, our will is to adapt our plans in a proportionate way that allows us to rule out any curfew measure,” Castex said after a special health defense council meeting.

Starting on Jan. 3, France will introduce several restrictions for a duration of three weeks, such as banning eating and drinking inside cinemas, theaters, sports events or on-board public transportation, including long-distance transport.

Large gatherings outdoor and indoor will be restricted to 5,000 and 2,000 participants respectively, while standing concerts will be canceled. Customers willing to dine at a restaurant or café will have to be seated.

Working from home will also be made mandatory “when possible” for at least three days per week, and Castex said it’s up to local leaders to decide if mask-wearing mandates outdoors should be brought back for city centers.

Castex reiterated the government’s position that vaccinations are the key to get through this pandemic, which he described as “a never-ending film.”

Starting tomorrow, the required time needed between your last shot and booster dose will be shortened to three months.

The government also expects a new law, that will turn the country’s health pass into a vaccine pass, to come into effect starting on Jan. 15. It will effectively ban unvaccinated people from going to public places such as cinemas, theaters, restaurants and cafés. 

More than 51 million people, or 76.6% of the total population, in France have been fully vaccinated and more than 22 million have received their booster shot as of today.

France reported a record-breaking 104,611 covid infections on Christmas Day, the first time that case numbers crossed the 100,000 threshold since the beginning of the pandemic, according to Health Ministry data.

The government will re-evaluate the Covid-19 situation at the next health defense council on Jan. 5.

New York City pediatric Covid-19 hospitalizations increase nearly 5-fold over 3 week period, data shows

Pediatric coronavirus hospital admissions in New York City have increased nearly five-fold since the week ending Dec. 11 through Dec. 23. 

Compared to the week of Dec. 5 to Dec. 11 when there were 22 pediatric admissions in New York City, there is a near five-fold increase through Dec. 23, when the state reported 109 pediatric admissions, according to New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett who announced the data Monday.

During the same period, there was a two-and-a-half-fold increase from 70 admissions to 184 statewide.

This data will be revised because Dec. 19 to Dec. 23 is currently a partial week of data reporting from the state.

CNN reported Sunday that officials issued a health advisory late last week which indicated a four-fold increase in New York City’s pediatric admissions through data available as of Dec. 19.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul once again encouraged parents Monday to get their children vaccinated and noted a gap between first and second doses for pediatric vaccines.

While acknowledging the time lag between first and second dose, Hochul said 27.3% of 5- to-11-years-old statewide have received one dose, a number which mirrors nationwide statistics. Hochul said 16.4% have completed the series which is up from 11% two weeks ago.

Two million testing kits which contain two tests each are going to New York City schools by Friday.

Meanwhile, about a third of the 608 nursing homes across New York state have at least one resident with a Covid-19 infection, but only about two thirds of nursing home residents have been fully vaccinated and boosted, Bassett said Monday. 

“We have done pretty well in getting the nursing home residents vaccinated – nearly 90% are fully vaccinated. But we are not doing as well as we would like in getting people boosted. And this seems to be particularly important in protecting against adverse outcomes of Omicron infection,” Bassett said.

She added that officials are working in a “very granular way,” county by county to improve the booster rate.

New York City mayor says 179,000 residents received a Covid-19 booster in the last week

179,000 New York City residents received their Covid-19 vaccine booster shot since Mayor Bill de Blasio announced his vaccine booster incentive program last week, bringing the total number of vaccinated New York City residents to 1.9 million, the mayor said at a news conference Monday.

“We put this mandate into action as Omicron was coming, but we had no idea it would be quite this intense,” the mayor said, “We knew with Omicron coming, with cold weather, it was time to do more, well thank God we did because these mandates have been absolutely necessary to keep this city going.”

De Blasio said there were 296 citywide Covid-19 hospitalizations Monday and that this number had gone up intensely, as did the confirmed positivity level, 7.96%, which the mayor called aberrant.

However, he added that the city’s hospitals are “doing remarkably well. We have real challenges, but what’s striking is how different the Omicron experience is than even last winter, let alone the spring of 2020.”

With 17,334 Covid-19 positive cases reported Monday, the Mayor said he believed the positive case number, “is going to peak really soon.”

Starting Monday, all private sector employers, about 184,000 businesses, are required to have a Covid vaccine mandate in place at their business. Asked if businesses would be prone to spot checks, de Blasio said businesses should expect inspections.

“But again, with an attitude of ‘let’s make sure things are working for everyone’s health and safety.’ We’re not trying to do gotcha, we’re trying to just make sure that we’re moving forward,” he said.

“It is a multi-agency inspection force, which is very similar to the way that we conducted engagement and then enforcement related to Key to NYC as well,” New York City’s Department of Health Commissioner Dave Chokshi said. “We seek to work with businesses and business owners so that everyone can come into compliance for the simple reason that vaccination is good for business — it helps us to keep our economy open and running and it helps to keep employees and all New Yorkers healthy and out of the hospital.”

No further restrictions in England before the New Year, UK health official says

There will be no further restrictions in England before the New Year, British Health Secretary Sajid Javid said on Monday. 

Speaking to reporters, Javid said: “There will be no further measures before the New Year. We won’t be taking any further measures.” 

“Of course, people should remain cautious as we approach New Year celebrations,” he added.

The UK has reported 321,036 Covid cases over the past three days (Dec. 24, 25 and 26).

Greece announces further restrictions to curb Omicron spread

Patients wait to get vaccinated against Covid-19, in Aristotelous Square, in the center of Thessaloniki, Greece on December 23 2021.

Greece has announced further restrictions in an effort to curb the spread of the Omicron variant which has seen a sharp rise particularly in the Attica region where the capital city of Athens is located. 

From Jan. 3 until Jan. 16, hospitality and entertainment venues across the country including clubs and bars will have to close at midnight, Health Minister Thanos Plevris said during a news conference. Standing customers will be banned and there will be a maximum limit of six people per table.

Additionally, spectator attendance will be limited in sports matches due to no compliance with current rules – with capacity reduced to 10% in stadiums. 

Flexible working hours and 50% remote working for the private and public sectors will be reintroduced.

Greece today reported more than 9,000 new coronavirus cases.

Biden on Covid-19 testing shortages: "We have to do more, we have to do better, and we will"

President Biden on Monday conceded that while the administration is taking steps to ramp up Covid-19 testing, it is “not enough,” adding, “If I had known, we would have gone harder, quicker if we could have.”

Biden, who was participating in the White House Covid-19 Response Team’s regular call with the National Governors Association, said that “seeing how tough it was for some folks to get a test this weekend shows we have more work to do and we’re doing it.” 

Biden was also asked again whether the quarantine period for those who test positive with Covid-19 should be shortened, Biden reiterated what he told ABC News last week, that he will listen to his medical team’s advice, adding, “when I get a recommendation I follow it.” 

Though this was the first time Biden joined the group’s virtual meeting, White House Covid-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients said it was the 40th such call between the White House and this group.

Pediatric hospitalizations continue to rise in the US, CDC and HHS data show

After a slight dip in the beginning of December, pediatric Covid-19 hospitalizations in the US have continued to rise and are nearing the peak reached in early September.

On average, 262 children have been in the hospital with Covid-19 on any given day over the week that ended Dec. 24, according to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the US Department of Health and Human Services. 

This is a nearly 35% increase from the previous week, and just 23% lower than the peak average of 342 children in the hospital that was seen at the end of August and early September.

Nearly 75,000 children ages 0-17 have been hospitalized with Covid-19 since August 2020. While this age group makes up the lowest number of Covid-19 hospitalizations of all age groups, hospitalizations in this population are rapidly increasing. 

Pediatric hospitalizations have seen the most rapid growth in HHS regions one and two. In region one, consisting of Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont, the average number of children hospitalized has increased 65.7% since last week. In region two, made up of New Jersey, New York, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands, pediatric hospitalizations rose 173.55% from the previous week.

Israel begins trials for fourth dose of Covid-19 vaccine

Israel has begun trials for a fourth dose of the Covid-19 vaccine for healthy patients as it looks to roll out the additional booster shot to at-risk populations. The Sheba Medical Center said it is the first time in the world healthy subjects are receiving a fourth shot of the Covid-19 vaccine. 

Around 150 health workers whose antibody levels have dropped are part of the trial at the Sheba Medical Center outside of Tel Aviv. 

“I don’t feel much as a guinea pig,” Dr. Jacob Lavee, former director of Heart Transplant Unit at the Sheba Medical Center, told CNN. “I volunteered for research done here in previous shots, mainly booster shot, as I know my own immunity has dropped below threshold, and therefore, not only am I potentially exposed to Omicron, but more importantly, I might be a potential hazard to the heart transplant patients I’m taking care of.” 

On Dec. 21, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett welcomed a decision by a panel of experts to recommend the additional booster for people over 60 years old, health care workers and people with suppressed immune systems. But the health ministry’s director-general has yet to sign it off.

“Wonderful news, do not waste time – go get vaccinated,” Bennett said in a statement at the time. 

Those eligible for the fourth dose will be administered it provided at least four months have passed since the third dose, the government said in the statement.

“The State of Israel is continuing to stand at the forefront of the global effort to deal with the pandemic. The citizens of Israel were the first in the world to receive the third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and we are continuing to pioneer with the fourth dose as well,” Bennett added.   

Initial results from the study are expected by the end of the week by which time Israel’s rising Covid-19 caseload will likely be even heavier. 

“I don’t think it’s right, right now at this moment but it may change in a week,” Dr. Gili-Regev Yochay, director of Infection Prevention Control Unit at the Sheba Medical Center, told CNN. “It depends what we see is happening in England, and also here — if we see there is more severe disease, maybe it will be correct. That’s why it is so important to start a research ASAP.” 

Biden addresses US governors on Omicron rise: "We're going to have your back in any way we can"  

President Biden is speaking with the nation’s governors as a wave of Covid-19, driven by the heavily transmissible Omicron variant of the coronavirus, crashes across the country and drives caseloads to record levels in areas of the Northeast.

Biden asked that the governors “say something” if they needed federal assistance, and assured them that the government will help support their efforts.

“We just have to stay focused and continue to work together. My message to the governors is simple — if you need something, say something. We’re going to have your back in any way we can,” Biden said.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, shared some of the challenges his state is facing with Omicron.

“As we face Omicron, the governors and your administration must be working together more closely than ever,” Hutchinson said during the call. “I’d like to give you a glimpse of Arkansas today. First, hospitalizations are down by half from where they were this time last year. Our Omicron case count and the demand for testing has increased.”

“As governors, we are getting pressure to do more, and the need is great to do more in terms of the rapid tests and the availability of it,” he continued, adding that he hopes “federal solutions don’t stand in the way of state solutions.”

Biden told governor that “there is no federal solution. This gets solved at a state level.”

“As I said last week, Omicron is a source of concern, but it should not be a source of panic. If you’re fully vaccinated, you get your booster shot and you’re highly protected,” he said on the call.

More on today’s meeting: It is Biden’s first time joining the weekly call convened between his Covid team and state leaders, and comes a week after he laid out an enhanced strategy for combating the new surge focused heavily on accelerating testing and vaccinations.

The new steps, which included ordering 500 million at-home rapid tests that Americans can obtain for free, came too late to avoid disruptions to winter holiday plans. Thousands of flights were canceled as airline staff tested positive. Many Americans downsized their plans amid the viral spread. Biden’s new tests, and the website where Americans can order them, won’t be in place until next month, the White House has said.

English Premier League reports 103 positive Covid-19 cases

The English Premier League has reported 103 Covid-19 cases in the week leading up to Boxing Day, it said in a statement on Monday.

“The League can today confirm that between Monday 20 December and Sunday 26 December, 15,186 Covid-19 tests were administered on players and club staff,” the statement read. “Of these, there were 103 new positive cases.” 

The 103 cases are an increase on the previous week (Dec. 13 to 19) when 90 players and staff tested positive for coronavirus.

“The safety of everyone is a priority and the Premier League is taking all precautionary steps in response to the impact of the Omicron variant of COVID-19,” the statement said. “The League has reverted to its Emergency Measures, and has increased testing of players and club staff to daily lateral flow and twice-weekly PCR tests, having previously carried out lateral-flow testing twice a week.”

European airlines say they are experiencing a small number of cancellations

As more than 2,000 flights have been canceled Monday, European airlines are experiencing a small number of cancellations amid record-breaking numbers of Covid-19 cases in several European nations.

A British Airways spokesperson told CNN on Monday that the airline had canceled “a number of flights due to operational constraints,” ​and are instead using larger aircrafts, where possible, to get customers to their destinations. According to tracking website FlightAware, 45 flights from British Airways were canceled on Monday.

Virgin Atlantic told CNN that flying continues “as scheduled,” noting the exception of one of its London to New York City rotations, which saw cancellations on Dec. 21. A Virgin Atlantic spokesperson told CNN, “We continue to take pre-emptive measures to uphold operational and staffing resilience, always putting the health and safety of our customers and people first.”

Scandinavian Airlines told CNN it has seen “a small number of daily cancellations on Christmas day and onwards,” acknowledging that the airline had “experienced an increased sick leave due to more people experiencing symptoms and staying home like recommended.”

Lufthansa was also forced to cancel some long haul flights to North America.

Iberia said there have been no cancellations ​to their flights so far.

More than 2,000 flights ​worldwide have been canceled Monday as Covid-19 cases surge across the globe, according to tracking website FlightAware. 

Of the nearly 2,200 canceled flights, more than 700 were within, into or out of the United States, according to FlightAware. More than 3,000 flights are delayed. 

Globally, airlines canceled more than 6,000 flights on Christmas Eve, Christmas and the day after Christmas. In the United States, more than 1,200 flights were ca