December 29 coronavirus pandemic and Omicron variant news

By Rhea Mogul, Adam Renton, Tara John and Ed Upright, CNN

Updated 1:01 AM ET, Thu December 30, 2021
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6:43 a.m. ET, December 29, 2021

Thousands of flights have been canceled worldwide

From CNN's Robert North

More than 2,000 flights have been canceled globally on Wednesday so far as the Omicron surge continues to disrupt travel.

According to the tracking website FlightAware, 2,221 flights have been canceled as of 5 a.m. ET Wednesday with 721 of them flying within, into, or out of the United States. Nearly 3,000 flights have been delayed.

Globally, airlines have canceled thousands of flights over the holiday period as staff and crew call in sick. More than 6,000 flights on Christmas Eve, Christmas, and the day after Christmas were canceled.

In the US, more than 1,200 flights were canceled and more than 5,000 were delayed on Sunday alone. More than 3,000 flights were canceled on Monday, with a similar amount stopped on Tuesday as well, according to FlightAware.

6:26 a.m. ET, December 29, 2021

US and European countries report another day of record-breaking Covid-19 cases

From CNN's Tara John, Niamh Kennedy, Salma Abdelaziz, Duarte Mendonca, Vasco Cotovio, Nicola Ruotolo and Xiaofei Xu

A nurse cares for a patient in the intensive care unit of a hospital in Palma, Spain on Monday.
A nurse cares for a patient in the intensive care unit of a hospital in Palma, Spain on Monday. (Clara Margais/picture alliance/Getty Images)

The United States and a number of European countries smashed their Covid-19 case records Tuesday as the highly-transmissible Omicron variant spreads across the world.

The US: The nation 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. The figure beat the previous record of 251,989 new infections, set on January 11, 2021. Hospitalizations and deaths have not seen a similar increase in pace but these are lagging indicators that may drag weeks behind case increases.

Nationwide pediatric Covid-19 hospitalizations are nearing the record high set in September, however. On average, roughly 305 children were admitted to the hospital with Covid-19 on any given day over the week that ended December 26, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the US Department of Health and Human Services.

France: Authorities reported a record high of 179,807 new confirmed cases in a 24-hour period on Tuesday. Despite a rise in hospitalizations and ICU occupancy, French data is showing fewer deaths. In the last 24 hours, France recorded 290 Covid-19 related deaths, 484 people hospitalized and 83 people in ICU beds. A year ago, the country recorded 363 deaths, 25 hospitalizations and 44 people in intensive care.

United Kingdom: On Tuesday, the country again broke its Covid-19 case records with 129,471 new infections, according to official data. Covid-19 hospitalizations in England have risen by 25% over the course of one week but the government has said there will be no further restrictions there before the new year.

On Wednesday, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the Omicron variant is milder than the Delta strain but "continues to cause real problems," and urged the public to get vaccinated or boosted if eligible to avoid hospitalizations.

Spain: The country's health ministry reported 99,671 new cases on Tuesday, the highest number in a single day since the start of the pandemic. It’s double the previous record, set just last week.

Italy: Italy is also reporting its highest daily new cases since the start of the pandemic, with 78,313 infections recorded Tuesday. It also has lower figures in hospitalizations and deaths when compared with data from 2020. In the same period last year, Italy recorded 8,585 new infections, 445 Covid-19 related deaths, and 2,565 intensive care beds occupied. On Tuesday it reported 202 deaths, and 1,145 ICU occupancy.

Portugal: Portugal has also recorded its highest-ever number of new daily cases, with a total of 17,172 new coronavirus infections, its health ministry said Tuesday.  

Despite rising cases, authorities have seen a 70% reduction in the number of deaths, hospitalizations, and ICU admissions over the Christmas period compared to the previous year. Between December 20 to 27, 2021, there have been 14 deaths and 151 ICU admissions, according to health authority data. There were 68 deaths and 506 ICU admissions in the same period in 2020.

5:11 a.m. ET, December 29, 2021

Nearly all of China’s new locally transmitted cases are reported in city of Xi’an

From CNN's Beijing Bureau

Mainland China reported 152 locally transmitted Covid-19 infections on Wednesday, including 151 reported from the city of Xi'an in the northwestern Shaanxi province, health authorities announced Wednesday.

Since December 9, Shaanxi Province has reported a total of 982 locally transmitted cases, of which 962 were confirmed from the capital city Xi'an.

Wednesday marked the sixth day of lockdown for the city's 13 million residents that started last Thursday. It is China's largest lockdown since the restrictions in Wuhan, which sealed off 11 million people in 2020.

New rules: Public venues and transportation have been closed except for essential services like supermarkets and hospitals. Travel to and from the city is suspended except for special circumstances requiring official approval.

Before Monday, only one member of each household was allowed to leave to buy groceries and other necessities every other day. The city tightened measures to the highest level on Monday as cases continued to rise, banning all residents from leaving home unless permitted for mass testing. Groceries are instead supposed to be delivered to people's doors. 

Under the current policy, people in communities that don't have cases or close contacts of cases can only have one person per household leave their home for groceries every other day. This can only happen after the entire community tests negative for Covid-19 in the latest round of mass testing that started Wednesday.

Users on the Chinese social media site Weibo have complained they can't get enough food since the government tightened measures. Over 52,000 posts were published on Weibo with the hashtag “Difficult to buy groceries in Xi’an,” which has got more than 260 million views.

I can't go out and things are expensive and I can't buy them," one Weibo user commented. "We can eat dry rice for a few days. But the baby needs milk powder."

"The night before lockdown, we laughed at the citizens who went to the supermarket panic buying. The municipal government said that the food supply was sufficient. As a result, we found we were really stupid and believed this kind of nonsense," another Weibo user said.

As a result of the backlash, some districts in Xi'an have stepped up efforts to provide basic necessities, Chinese media People's Daily reported.

Read more here

4:20 a.m. ET, December 29, 2021

Hong Kong orders compulsory testing after flight crew members test positive for Covid-19

In this file photo, residents and workers of Discovery Bay subject to compulsory testing form a queue near the Discovery Bay Fire Station on Lantau Island, Hong Kong, on Nov. 2021
In this file photo, residents and workers of Discovery Bay subject to compulsory testing form a queue near the Discovery Bay Fire Station on Lantau Island, Hong Kong, on Nov. 2021 (Nora Tam/SCMP/Reuters)

Hong Kong authorities conducted compulsory Covid-19 testing in two neighborhoods on Tuesday after they identified two coronavirus cases, according to a government news release.

Residents at a building in Tuen Mun district and in Discovery Bay on Lantau Island were forced to remain under lockdown overnight as authorities carried out tests, the release said.

A 46-year-old air crew member living in Discovery Bay was confirmed to have the virus and a 44-year-old crew member who lives in Tuen Mun tested preliminary positive on Tuesday, according to the government. Preliminary positive cases require further testing.

Both air crew returned to Hong Kong from the United States on Christmas Day, the release said.

Authorities finished the testing order on Wednesday morning, the release said. No further cases have been found so far, public broadcaster RTHK reported, citing health officials.

Strict measures: Hong Kong, along with mainland China, is one of the last places in Asia to maintain a zero-Covid strategy. 

Its strict anti-epidemic measures include a border largely sealed to non-residents, lengthy quarantine for almost all arrivals, limits on public gatherings and mandatory mask-wearing.

When a suspected cases arises, contacts are traced and often entire buildings are locked down for mandatory testing. In some cases, close contacts are ordered to undergo quarantine at a government facility.  

Hong Kong, which has a population of more than 7 million, has reported 12,605 Covid-19 cases and 213 related deaths, according to the government.

4:20 a.m. ET, December 29, 2021

China's Covid-19 cases continue to rise as authorities battle Xi'an outbreak

From CNN's Beijing Bureau

A health worker tests a resident for Covid-19 in Xi 'an, Shaanxi Province, China, Dec. 29.
A health worker tests a resident for Covid-19 in Xi 'an, Shaanxi Province, China, Dec. 29. (Cang Hai/Costfoto/Future Publishing/Getty Images)

China recorded 197 new Covid-19 cases on Tuesday, the National Health Commission (NHC) said, as the nation battles an outbreak in the city of Xi'an that forced its 13 million residents into a strict lockdown last week.

Of the new cases, 152 are locally transmitted and 45 imported, according to the NHC. 

All but one of the locally transmitted cases were reported in Xi’an in the northwest Shaanxi province, the NHC said. One case was reported in the eastern province of Jiangsu, it added. 

Since December 9, Shaanxi province has reported a total of 982 local cases, of which 962 were found in Xi'an, 10 in Xianyang, nine in Yan'an, and one in Weinan.

Authorities in Xi'an further tightened lockdown measures and rolled out the fifth round of mass testing on Monday, in line with China's rigid zero-Covid strategy. All residents must stay at home unless permitted to go outside for mass testing. Previously, each household was allowed to send one designated person out to buy groceries every two days.

China has reported a total of 101,683 Covid-19 cases and 4,636 deaths, according to state-run People’s Daily.

11:37 p.m. ET, December 28, 2021

India authorizes Novavax's Covid-19 vaccine for emergency use

From CNN's Jen Christensen

India's drugs controller-general granted emergency use authorization for Novavax's Covid-19 vaccine, the company said in a statement Tuesday.

The vaccine will be manufactured locally by the Serum Institute of India under the name Covovax, the statement said.

It does not need any kind of special refrigeration and can be stored and transported using the current vaccine supply chain, the statement said. It should help in areas that are hard to reach, it added.

“No one is safe until everyone is safe, and today’s authorization marks a vital step for India, where additional vaccine options and millions of doses are needed in the country’s ongoing efforts to control the pandemic,” said Stanley C. Erck, president and CEO of Novavax.

The vaccine is in use in other countries, including Indonesia and the Philippines, according to the company. Novavax will submit its data for authorization of its Covid-19 vaccine in the United States by the end of the year.

1:57 a.m. ET, December 29, 2021

Indonesia records its first locally transmitted Omicron case

From CNN's Akanksha Sharma

Domestic tourists arrive ahead of the end of year holidays season amid at the Gusti Ngurah Rai Airport in Kuta, Bali, Indonesia on December 22,
Domestic tourists arrive ahead of the end of year holidays season amid at the Gusti Ngurah Rai Airport in Kuta, Bali, Indonesia on December 22, (Johannes P. Christo/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Indonesia has recorded its first locally transmitted case of the Omicron coronavirus variant, state news media Antara reported Tuesday.

"The Omicron case from local transmission was reported in a man, with no history of foreign travel nor having come in contact with foreign travelers," Siti Nadia Tarmizi, the director of prevention and control of vector and zoonotic diseases at the Health Ministry, said in a virtual news conference in Jakarta, according to Antara's report.

The 37 year-old man had traveled from Medan and arrived in Jakarta on December 6. Two weeks later, when he was going back to Medan, his antigen test came back positive, Tarmizi said.

The PCR test a day later also came back positive.

“On December 26, 2021, based on laboratory results, it was confirmed that the patient was exposed to the Omicron variant”, Siti Nadia Tarmizi said, adding the infected man is asymptomatic and currently isolated. 

Contact tracing is ongoing and his wife who accompanied him in his travels, has tested negative for Covid-19, Tarmizi added.

Indonesia reported its first case of the Omicron variant on December 16.

Since then the government says it has upped security at the country’s borders, urged people not to travel abroad and expedited vaccination to meet the national target, Antara's report said.

8:46 p.m. ET, December 28, 2021

A guide to the 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 past six months or your single J&J dose in the past 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.
1:22 a.m. ET, December 29, 2021

Covid-19 cases surge in Sydney, Australia

From CNN's Angus Watson in Sydney

Australia’s most populous state, New South Wales (NSW), reported a near doubling of its daily Covid-19 case tally Wednesday with 11,201 new infections — up from 6,602 the previous day.

Most of the cases were found in state capital Sydney. 

Three new deaths were also announced by NSW Health in its Wednesday statement.

“There are currently 625 COVID-19 cases admitted to hospital, with 61 people in intensive care, 23 of whom require ventilation,” NSW Health said.

Speaking to Sydney radio station 2GB Tuesday NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet defended his decision to relax restrictions earlier this month, including reintroducing broad freedoms for unvaccinated people.

“We’ve always said as we open up, case numbers will increase,” Perrottet said. “These are the difficulties we’ll go through.”

“I think NSW, despite this, is in a very strong position, and I’m very confident about 2022,” Perrottet added.