December 28 coronavirus pandemic and Omicron variant news

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

Updated 1:24 AM ET, Wed December 29, 2021
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5:31 p.m. ET, December 28, 2021

US hits record average number of new Covid-19 cases

From CNN's Virginia Langmaid

Health workers administer Covid-19 tests at a drive-through testing site in Stamford, Connecticut, on December 28.
Health workers administer Covid-19 tests at a drive-through testing site in Stamford, Connecticut, on December 28. (John Moore/Getty Images)

The US reached a seven-day average of 254,496 new cases on Tuesday, the highest this number has ever been over the course of the pandemic, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. 

Tuesday’s number beat the previous record of 251,989 new cases, set on Jan. 11, 2021. 

The US has seen a rapid acceleration in new cases since late November. Hospitalizations and deaths have not seen a similar increase in pace, but these are lagging indicators that may drag weeks behind case increases. 

The seven-day average of new deaths is currently 1,453, according to data from JHU, and 76,779 people are hospitalized in the US with Covid-19, according to data from the US Department of Health and Human Services. 

Note: This seven-day average is an in-progress data point and not yet the final number for Dec. 28, 2021. This number may rise as the day ends. 

5:36 p.m. ET, December 28, 2021

Spain reports nearly 100,000 new Covid-19 cases in a single day

From CNN’s Al Goodman

Spain reported 99,671 new cases of Covid-19 on Tuesday, the highest number for a single day since the start of the pandemic. It’s double the previous record set just last week, the country’s Health Ministry said. 

The latest record pushed Spain over six million total coronavirus cases since the pandemic started to 6,032,297. But officials say the pressure now is on neighborhood public health clinics and not on hospitals, where Covid-19 cases account for 18.7% of the intensive care ward beds nationwide, according to the the Health Ministry. That figure is up from 8% of Covid-19 cases in the ICUs, from Dec. 1. 

Spain’s Covid-19 infection rate on Tuesday was 1,360 cases per 100,000, up from 1,206 cases per 100,000 on Monday, the Health Ministry said. 

4:20 p.m. ET, December 28, 2021

Physician calls for six-month wait for Covid-19 booster to change amid Omicron surge

From CNN's Leinz Vales

As the Omicron variant of the virus continues to spread and health experts continue to call for an increase in testing and vaccinations, one primary health specialist believes the six-month requirement for the Covid-19 booster should be shortened to four months.

“Four months will actually be a much better idea in the surge than waiting that extra two months,” said Dr. Saju Mathew, a primary care physician. "I think that basically if you look at the number six months, it's fairly arbitrary. There's not necessarily a hardcore science behind it."

In November, the US Food and Drug Administration authorized boosters of the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna Covid-19 vaccines for everyone 18 and older. The use of a single booster dose of the Johnson & Johnson Janssen Covid-19 vaccine could be administered after two months.

Mathew went on to explain why health officials went with the six month window for people to get a booster dose.

"Six months is optimal, because after you get that second shot, you want the body to recover and develop what's called immune memory," Mathew said. "So six months is optimal, but you can shorten it as close to four months to actually get the booster shot."

"The reason that I say that is you also want to time it when the infection is at its peak," Mathew added. "With Omicron, lots of people are getting infected. Lots of breakthrough infections. This is the time to balance getting longer durability with actually controlling the infection."

4:00 p.m. ET, December 28, 2021

New York City's 7-day average Covid-19 positivity rate is now nearly 20%

From CNN’s Artemis Moshtaghian

As New York City faces a surge in Covid-19 cases, the city’s seven-day average Covid-19 percent positivity rate slowly crept up to 19.97% over the past week and continues to trend upward, according to data made available by the city’s health department.

The positivity rate is the percentage of people who test positive for the virus of those overall who have been tested.

Addressing the Omicron variant and the increase in Covid-19 cases at Tuesday’s news conference, Mayor Bill de Blasio said “what we're finding is something that has been fast and intense but, obviously thank God, to date more mild than we feared and we're very happy about that.”

Covid-19 hospitalizations—although trending upward—are still lower than they were during peak Covid-19 hospitalizations in March 2020 in New York City.

At peak hospitalizations in NYC, on a seven-day average, there were 1,848 Covid-19 hospitalizations in the city on March 31, 2020, as compared to data from Dec. 25, 2021 showing 219 Covid-19 hospitalizations on a seven-day average, according to city Covid-19 data.

CNN’s Taylor Romine contributed reporting to this post.


4:00 p.m. ET, December 28, 2021

Several European countries report record high daily new Covid-19 infections as Omicron continues to spread

From CNN’s Duarte Mendonca in Portugal, Nicola Ruotolo in Italy and Xiaofei Xu in France

People line up to get tested for Covid-19 in Paris on December 24.
People line up to get tested for Covid-19 in Paris on December 24. (Michel Euler/AP)

Several European countries — such as France, the UK, Italy, and Portugal — are currently seeing a large increase in daily new cases, many even setting new records since the pandemic began as the Omicron variant continues to spread. Despite the rising trend in daily cases, those figures haven’t translated into more deaths and hospitalizations, particularly when compared to the same period a year ago. 

France reported a record high of 179,807 new confirmed coronavirus cases in a 24-hour period on Tuesday, setting the highest number since the start of the pandemic, the French health authorities said. 

The latest data shattered the previous record of 104,611 new daily cases, which was set on Saturday.

The increase in daily figures is a huge increment of 176,847 new cases when compared to last year’s figures, yet despite a rise in hospitalizations and ICU occupancy, France latest data is showing less deaths.

French authorities’ data shows that in the last 24 hours, France recorded 290 coronavirus related deaths, 484 people hospitalized and 83 people in ICU beds.

A year ago, the country recorded 363 deaths, 25 hospitalizations and 44 people under intensive care.

Meanwhile, the UK has also set a new daily record of Covid-19 cases with 129,471, according to British government data released Tuesday. 

Elsewhere in Europe, Portugal has also recorded the highest number of new daily cases since the start of the pandemic, with a total of 17,172 new coronavirus cases, the Portuguese Health Ministry said on Tuesday.

The highest count of daily infections took place on Jan. 28, with 16,432 cases reported at the time.

Looking back at last year’s figures, the latest data shows a large increase of 15,079 new daily cases, however, despite the rise in cases, Portugal is showing a lower number on deaths, hospital admissions and ICU occupancy.

The data shows that currently, Portugal has 936 people hospitalized, with 152 of them in intensive care and 19 deaths, whereas a year ago Portugal was recording 2,967 hospitalizations, with 503 of them in ICU units and a total of 58 deaths. 

Italy is seeing a similar situation, with the country also reporting their highest daily new cases since the start of the pandemic with 78,313 people infected in the last 24 hours, according to the country’s Health Ministry data.

The latest figures show that the trend of rising cases continues after the country reported recently new daily case records for three consecutive days.

Despite the rise in daily cases, Italy has recorded lower figures in hospitalizations and deaths when compared with data from a year ago.

On Dec. 28, 2020, Italy recorded 8,585 new infections, 445 Covid-19 related deaths and 2,565 ICU beds occupied, which reveals a significant contrast to the most recent numbers of 78,313 new infections, 202 deaths and 1,145 ICU occupancy.

Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that France's ICU occupancy and hospitalizations are down in comparison with last year. The country's latest data shows only deaths are down in comparison.

1:39 p.m. ET, December 28, 2021

Covid-19 hospitalizations rise 25% in England in one week

From CNN’s Niamh Kennedy and Salma Abdelaziz

A paramedic unloads a patient from an ambulance outside the Royal London hospital in London on December 28.
A paramedic unloads a patient from an ambulance outside the Royal London hospital in London on December 28. (Hollie Adams/AFP/Getty Images)

Covid-19 hospitalizations in England have risen by 25% over the course of one week as the country continues to grapple with the Omicron variant.  

The latest data from the UK government dashboard showed an additional 1,374 hospital admissions in England on Tuesday. This represents a 25% increase compared with the Dec. 21 figure of 1,098.

There are currently 9,546 people in hospital with Covid-19 in the country.

This comes as England set a new daily record for Covid-19 cases on Tuesday when 129,471 cases were reported.  

The UK's public health agency, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has warned there may be "temporary pauses" in ordering or receiving home testing kits as authorities try to cope with the "exceptional demand."

The agency has ramped up delivery capacity since Dec. 18, delivering 900,000 test kits daily. They encouraged people to revisit the UK government site "every few hours" to try get tests, urging them to make sure they are using "any tests they already have at home before ordering or collecting more.” 

Since Dec. 12, fully vaccinated close contacts of a positive Covid-19 case in England have been advised to take lateral flow tests for seven days, causing a huge spike in demand for LFTs in the country. 

Hopes of New Year's Eve celebrations were kept alive on Monday when the UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid announced that no further restrictions would be imposed in England before Dec. 31. 

UK Care Minister Gillian Keegan advised people on Tuesday to "be cautious," take a lateral flow test before heading out to New Year's celebrations and seek out "ventilated spaces."

1:26 p.m. ET, December 28, 2021

US CDC adds Sweden, Malta and Moldova to high risk travel list

From CNN’s Forrest Brown

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention added three European destinations to its highest-risk category for travel on Tuesday, including Sweden.

In its weekly update of Covid-19 travel advisories, the CDC also added Malta and Moldova to its "Level 4: Covid-19 Very High" category.

The CDC places a destination at Level 4 when more than 500 cases per 100,000 residents are registered in the past 28 days.

Last week, the CDC added eight destinations to the Level 4 category.

Separately on Tuesday, President Biden revoked a proclamation put in place last month that enacted travel restrictions on eight southern African nations, including South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique and Malawi.

2:18 p.m. ET, December 28, 2021

Here's a guide to CDC’s new Covid-19 quarantine and isolation recommendations

From CNN's Jamie Gumbrecht

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday released new isolation and quarantine guidelines for people infected with or exposed to Covid-19.

Important to note: These are guidelines, not mandates, but many industry groups and organizations use them to set their own policies. While these guidelines offer more detail, the old adage applies: If you feel sick, stay home.

Here is a list of basic things to know:

For people who test positive for Covid-19:

  • Stay home and isolate for five days, regardless of whether you have symptoms. For symptomatic people, Day 1 is the first full day after symptoms developed.
  • If you have no symptoms OR if symptoms are resolving after five days, you can leave isolation but should wear a mask around others — even at home — for five more days.
  • If you have a fever — even a low fever that is going down — you should continue to isolate until your temperature is normal. 
  • There’s no need to test out of isolation after five days; tests can remain positive for months after Covid-19 infection, although you are no longer infectious. 

For people exposed to Covid-19:

These are based on what studies show about how and when people are likely to infect others.

If you are boosted, have received your first two Pfizer or Moderna doses in the last six months or your single J&J dose in the last two months: 

  • No need to quarantine at home after exposure.
  • Always wear a mask around others for 10 days.
  • Test if you develop symptoms, or five days after exposure. People can be infected even without symptoms.
  • If you test positive, you should begin to follow isolation guidelines.

If you are unvaccinated, or are eligible for a booster and haven’t received one: 

  • Quarantine at home for five days, and continue to wear a mask around others for five more days to be sure you don’t infect someone else.
  • Test if you develop symptoms or five days after exposure.
  • If you test positive, you should begin to follow isolation guidelines.

1:04 p.m. ET, December 28, 2021

Biden issues proclamation revoking southern Africa travel restrictions

From CNN's Betsy Klein

Travelers wait in line inside the departures terminal at Cape Town International Airport on December 3.
Travelers wait in line inside the departures terminal at Cape Town International Airport on December 3. (Dwayne Senior/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

President Joe Biden issued a presidential proclamation on Tuesday revoking a proclamation put in place last month that enacted travel restrictions on eight southern African nations, including; South Africa, as the Omicron variant began to spread. 

CNN had previously reported Biden’s intent to lift the restrictions.

The travel restrictions had come under fire across the globe, described by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres as “travel apartheid.���

Biden administration officials repeatedly defended the move as an action to give the US more time to understand the variant and its spread.

“The travel restrictions imposed by that proclamation are no longer necessary to protect the public health,” Bide said in the new proclamation.

Tuesday’s proclamation noted that scientists have determined that people vaccinated against Covid-19 “are protected against severe disease and hospitalization from the Omicron variant.”

It also said that the variant is now in over 100 countries and is “prevalent” in the US, where cases have been rising for weeks. It said that “substantial progress” has been made in understanding the Omicron variant.

The previous proclamation will be lifted at 12:01 am EST on Dec. 31.