December 27 coronavirus pandemic and Omicron variant news

By Helen Regan, Adam Renton, Tara John, Aditi Sangal, Mike Hayes, Melissa Macaya and Melissa Mahtani, CNN

Updated 1:01 AM ET, Tue December 28, 2021
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3:58 p.m. ET, December 27, 2021

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

From CNN's Liz Stark 

(Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)
(Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)

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.

2:50 p.m. ET, December 27, 2021

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

From CNN's Xiaofei Xu

French Prime Minister Jean Castex speaks during a press conference on December 27.
French Prime Minister Jean Castex speaks during a press conference on December 27. (Stephane De Sakutin/AFP/Getty Images)

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.

2:36 p.m. ET, December 27, 2021

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

From CNN's Melanie Schuman

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.

1:34 p.m. ET, December 27, 2021

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

From CNN’s Artemis Moshtaghian

(Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
(Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

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.”

12:55 p.m. ET, December 27, 2021

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

From CNN's Arnaud Siad

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).

12:39 p.m. ET, December 27, 2021

Greece announces further restrictions to curb Omicron spread

From CNN’s Chris Liakos in Athens

Patients wait to get vaccinated against Covid-19, in Aristotelous Square, in the center of Thessaloniki, Greece on December 23 2021.
Patients wait to get vaccinated against Covid-19, in Aristotelous Square, in the center of Thessaloniki, Greece on December 23 2021. (Sakis Mitrolidis/AFP/Getty Images)

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.

12:40 p.m. ET, December 27, 2021

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

From CNN's Allie Malloy and Betsy Klein

(Carolyn Kaster/AP)
(Carolyn Kaster/AP)

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.” 

“We have to do more, we have to do better, and we will,” Biden told the governors.

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.

11:56 a.m. ET, December 27, 2021

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

From CNN Health’s Virginia Langmaid

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.

11:50 a.m. ET, December 27, 2021

Israel begins trials for fourth dose of Covid-19 vaccine

From CNN's Elliot Gotkine in Jerusalem and Mia Alberti in Lisbon

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.”