Live Updates

December 30 coronavirus pandemic and Omicron variant news

CDC director explains new Covid isolation period rules
02:38

What we covered

  • Airlines canceled more than 1,000 US flights on Thursday and have already canceled 500 from Friday’s schedule, threatening to throw off weekend flights home for holiday travelers.  
  • European countries including France, the UK, Spain and Italy continue to see a large increase in Covid-19 cases, with several nations setting new pandemic records.
  • Meanwhile, Dr. Anthony Fauci warned against attending large-scale New Year’s Eve celebrations, suggesting people opt for smaller gatherings with vaccinated and boosted family and friends.

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New York state records 74,000 new positive Covid-19 cases

New York reported more than 74,000 new positive Covid-19 cases across the state, once again breaking its single-day record.

Cases rose by 82% since Monday when the state reported a total of 40,780 new Covid-19 cases, according to a statement from Gov. Kathy Hochul’s office. 

The daily percent positivity is 22.05% with the 7-day average at 16.21%.

Hospitalizations also continue to rise with a reported 7,373 total hospitalizations, up by almost 20% since Monday, state data showed.

Covid-19 cases soar as Sydney prepares New Year's Eve party 

The Australian state of New South Wales (NSW) announced 21,151 Covid-19 cases Friday, a jump of close to 10,000 from the previous day’s count. 

The skyrocketing caseload comes as state capital Sydney prepares its famous New Year’s Eve fireworks show with no Covid-19 restrictions imposed on the public.

Ticketed spaces on the Sydney Harbour foreshore will host a reduced number of guests, but no caps will be enforced on private gatherings.

NSW police have asked the public to avoid overcrowded areas of the city unless they have a ticket to view the fireworks display from a particular vantage point. 

“With most vantage points for the fireworks ticketed this year, we are urging people not to head into the central business district (CBD) or harbour foreshore areas unless they have a ticket to a vantage point or a reservation at a restaurant or other venue,” NSW Police Assistant Commissioner Peter Thurtell wrote Thursday in a statement. 

Some context: The 21,151 cases detected in the 24-hour period leading into Friday are the highest reported by any Australian jurisdiction since the pandemic began.

The positive results came from 148,410 tests conducted, NSW Health stated. 

The majority of NSW cases were found in Sydney. 

Canadian province of Ontario will offer a fourth vaccine shot to vulnerable residents

Canada’s most populous province, Ontario, will now offer a fourth shot of an mRNA vaccine to its most vulnerable residents, just three months after their third dose. 

This will apply to residents of long-term care homes, retirement homes, Elder Care Lodges and other congregate care settings, health officials said.

In another significant move, Ontario announced it would no longer offer free, public Covid-19 testing to all residents, instead reserving tests for high-risk individuals who are symptomatic and are at risk of severe illness from Covid-19, and workers and residents in the highest risk settings, as well as vulnerable populations.

Some context: About two in every five Canadians live in Ontario which means beginning Friday, daily case counts alone will no longer be a reliable indicator of the progression of the virus in Canada as even those who are symptomatic will not be tested for the virus.

“We have to pivot. We know there’s ongoing community activity. We know we’ll have transmission risk, that data has to focus to screen those who need treatment and to protect those in high-risk settings,” said Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, adding that more than 90% of the cases in Ontario are now caused by the Omicron variant.

Moore said those who are symptomatic and do not qualify for testing should assume they are infected with Covid-19 and isolate according to provincial health guidelines.

Biden administration urges Supreme Court not to block vaccine mandate for large employers 

A healthcare worker prepares to administer a Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine to a person at a drive-thru site on December 16, in Miami.

The Biden administration on Thursday told the Supreme Court it shouldn’t block its vaccine mandate and testing requirement for companies with more than 100 people, citing the continued spread of Covid-19 and potential dangers going forward. 

The rule is “saving thousands of lives and preventing hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations in the next six months alone,” the Justice Department wrote in a filing. 

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration — an agency that falls under the US Labor Department and is charged with ensuring safe workplaces — unveiled the new rule on Nov. 4. It said that it had the authority to act under an emergency temporary standard meant to protect employees if they are exposed to a “grave danger.” It requires businesses with 100 or more employees to ensure that their workers are fully vaccinated or undergo regular testing and wear a face covering at work. 

Should the court choose to block the vaccine requirement, the Justice Department said justices should leave the rest, including the testing and mask mandates, in place. 

“Although vaccination is the most effective means of mitigating the grave danger of Covid-19 in the workplace, OSHA specifically found that masking and testing is ‘essential’ for employees who remain unvaccinated to ‘reduce the risk’ of employees’ ‘transmit[ting]’ the virus to other employees at work,” the Justice Department wrote.

NBA postpones 11th game this season due to Covid-19 issues

The National Basketball Association (NBA) has postponed Thursday night’s Golden State Warriors at Denver Nuggets game due to Covid-19 issues within the Nuggets team.

The league said Denver did not have the league-required minimum of eight players available to proceed with the game.

The Nuggets listed 11 players on Thursday’s injury report with either an injury, illness (non-Covid-19) or who are in health and safety protocols.

According to the NBA, the league has postponed 11 games this season due to Covid-19 issues.

Israel will only administer a fourth Covid-19 shot to immune suppressed people

Israel will begin administering a fourth dose of the coronavirus vaccine to people with suppressed immune systems starting Friday.

A decision by the director general of the health ministry, Nachman Ash, to make a fourth dose available to anybody 60 and older, as well as to medical staff, remains on hold, despite it being hailed as a done deal by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett last week.

In response to the announcement Thursday evening, Bennett said in a statement, “Israel will lead the way in administering a fourth vaccine to the Israeli people. Israel’s strategy for overcoming omicron is clear: the greater the wave, the greater the protection we will need to overcome it.”

That more temperate message contrasted with the prime minister’s almost celebratory response just moments after the panel of coronavirus experts announced their initial recommendation for a wider roll-out of the fourth dose ten days ago.

“This is wonderful news … the State of Israel is continuing to stand at the forefront of the global effort to deal with the pandemic … I call on everyone who meets the criteria that the members of the committee have set: Go and get vaccinated,” he had said in a statement on Dec. 21.

Some context: Since that recommendation last week, Ash has been weighing the advice from his coronavirus experts (in favor of a fourth dose,) against data from South Africa and the UK regarding the severity of the omicron variant.

His decision-making also takes place in the knowledge that the Israeli government is desperate to avoid introducing any sort of lockdown measures and has made vaccination the overwhelming priority of its pandemic policy.

In a second decision Thursday, Ash approved shortening the gap between the second and third doses from five to three months because, “in light of the omicron wave, the need to raise the level of immunity among the entire population is growing as fast as possible.”

The number of new cases of the virus in Israel continues to grow steeply, topping 4,000 on Wednesday, more than five times the number two weeks ago.

US pediatric hospital admissions reach record high, CDC data shows

Pediatric hospital admissions in the US are the highest they’ve ever been over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

On average, 378 children were admitted to the hospital with Covid-19 on any given day over the week that ended Dec. 28, according to data published Thursday from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the US Department of Health and Human Services.

This is an increase of more than 66% from the previous week, and it breaks the previous record average of 342 children admitted to the hospital that was seen at the end of August and early September.

More than 76,000 children ages 17 and younger have been hospitalized with Covid-19 since August 2020.

Currently, 0.52 children are hospitalized with Covid-19 for every 100,000 children in the population. This breaks the previous record of 0.47 children hospitalized, set on Sept. 2. 

Pediatric hospital admissions are up by more than 50% in the past week in HHS regions 1, 2, 3, 4, 6 and 9, which includes the East Coast, South and Southwest. 

Daily Covid-19 cases top 189,000 in the UK, a new record

A medical worker prepares to take a sample from a person at a coronavirus testing center in London on December 18.

The United Kingdom has, once again, registered a record-breaking number of new Covid-19 cases reported within a 24-hour period, with 189,213 cases reported Thursday. 

This latest increase surpassed Wednesday’s daily tally of new cases which stood at 183,037.  

Another 19,544 cases of the Omicron variant have been reported across the UK as of Thursday, bringing the total Omicron case count to 229,666. 

“Data has shown that Omicron cases now constitute more than 90% of all community Covid-19 cases in England,” the Health and Security Agency said. 

Canada's Ontario province will offer a fourth Covid-19 shot to vulnerable residents

In a significant update to vaccine distribution, Canada’s most populous province, Ontario, will now offer a fourth shot of an mRNA vaccine to its most vulnerable residents three months after their third dose. 

This will apply to residents of long-term care homes, retirement homes, elder care lodges and other congregate care settings.

South Africa eases Covid-19 restrictions following a decline in new cases

People walk in Sandton, Johannesburg, on December 15.

The South African government has announced that it will relax some Covid-19 restrictions with immediate effect following a decline in both new coronavirus cases and hospital admissions, adding that “all indicators suggest the country may have passed the peak” of the fourth wave. 

According to a government statement issued Thursday, the national curfew will now be lifted and alcohol establishments licensed to operate beyond 11 p.m. local time will revert back to their full license conditions.

Previously, under “Alert Level 1” regulations, a curfew had been in place from midnight until 4 a.m. local time, with the sale of alcohol not permitted during these hours. 

Under new guidance, public gatherings will also now be restricted to no more than 1,000 people indoors — as opposed to 750 people — with outdoor gatherings still limited to 2,000 people.

According to data from the South African Department of Health, a 29.7% decrease in the number of new cases was reported in the week ending Dec. 25, in comparison to the previous week. 

While data has shown a “marginal increase” in deaths across all provinces, the department of health has seen a decline in hospital admissions across the country, with the exception of the Western Cape.

“While the Omicron variant is highly transmissible, there has been lower rates of hospitalization than in previous waves. This means that the country has spare capacity for admission of patients even for routine health services,” the government said in its statement. 

Despite the easing of some restrictions, the government has cautioned that the risk of an increase in infections remains high, owing to the transmissibility of the Omicron variant. 

In light of this, the wearing of masks in public places will continue to be enforced as a mandatory measure, and citizens are urged to continue observing public health protocols. 

“Vaccination remains the best defence against severe illness, hospitalization and death from COVID-19. All people in South Africa who have not yet done so are encouraged to vaccinated as soon as possible,” the government statement continued. 

The announcement comes a week after the government outlined its new quarantine regulations, with those exposed to a positive coronavirus case no longer required to quarantine or test unless they develop symptoms. 

Those who have been exposed to a positive case, but remain asymptomatic, will instead be asked to practice “self-observation” for five to seven days to monitor for the development of symptoms.  

Contact tracing has also been halted in South Africa, with the exception of cluster outbreaks or self-contained settings. 

Arkansas sets new single-day record for Covid-19 cases since start of pandemic 

Arkansas has set a new single-day record for Covid-19 cases since the pandemic started, with 4,978 residents testing positive in the last 24 hours, according to Gov. Asa Hutchinson.

Hutchinson said Thursday that he has directed the Department of Health to acquire 1.5 million at-home rapid tests to be made available for free to Arkansans.

As of Wednesday, hospitalizations have not increased, according to Hutchinson, who said he’s focused on monitoring hospitalizations.

“That is the key statistic I look at every day when talking to our hospital administrators, where are we on our hospitalizations, because we know without a doubt there are cases are going to continue to increase. We haven’t reached the peak yet,” he said.

Hutchinson added that the state does not plan to change its approach to in-person learning and each school district will be allowed to decide whether to mandate masks.

US Omicron cases could peak by late January, Fauci says

Health workers administer Covid-19 PCR tests at an outdoor testing site on December 28, in Stamford, Connecticut.

The Covid-19 case increase associated with the Omicron variant could peak in the US by the end of January, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNBC on Wednesday.

“I would imagine, given the size of our country, and the diversity of vaccination versus not vaccination, that it likely will be more than a couple of weeks, probably by the end of January, I would think,” Fauci added. 

Spain reports record-high daily new Covid-19 case count for third consecutive day

Spain reported at least 161,688 new Covid-19 cases on Thursday, setting a record for the third consecutive day for the highest number of new cases in a 24-hour reporting period, the country’s health ministry has confirmed. 

Wednesday’s figure was 100,760 — the first time Spain surpassed 100,000 cases in a day since the pandemic began — while Tuesday showed 99,671 new cases. 

According to government data, Spain’s infection rate increased to 1,775 cases per 100,000 population over 14 days — up from Wednesday’s figure of 1,508 cases per 100,000. 

Pressure on intensive care wards across Spain has also increased, according to official data, with 19.4% of intensive care unit beds occupied by Covid-19 patients. 

While cases are on the rise, Spanish officials say the nation’s high vaccination rate will provide some defense against the rapidly expanding Omicron variant.  

Data shows that 89.9% of Spaniards age 12 years and above — or 37.8 million people — have now been fully vaccinated, while 10.6 million have now received a booster shot.  

In addition, nearly 27% of children ages 5 to 11 have received a first shot since pediatric vaccinations began this month. 

2022 Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show postponed due to Omicron surge

A dog competes in the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show at Madison Square Garden on February 11, 2020, in New York City.

The 2022 Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show will be postponed due to the surge of the Covid-19 variant Omicron in New York City, the Westminster Kennel Club president announced Wednesday. 

The club’s board of governors delayed the event, citing travel and event management disruptions from “the extraordinary spread of the Omicron variant,” according to a statement from President Chat Reynders. 

“The health and safety of all participants in the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show are paramount,” the board of governors in an additional statement
“We appreciate the community’s continued interest and support as we delay the show to a time when we can safely convene.” 

The 146th annual show was originally scheduled to be held in its traditional venue, Madison Square Garden, in January. 

A new date will be selected for later in 2022 and will be released when it is confirmed, the board of governors’ statement said. 

In 2021, the 145th Annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show was relocated to an outdoor venue at Lyndhurst Estate in Tarrytown, New York, in June to mitigate Covid-19 spread.  

No spectators or vendors were permitted to attend the 2021 show due to the state’s Covid-19 regulations, and all human participants were required to show proof of Covid-19 vaccination or a negative test within 72 hours of entry. 

NYPD sickouts surpass previous peak levels in March 2020

NYPD cruisers are seen parked on October 29, in New York City.

The New York Police Department’s top brass says the percent of sickouts has surpassed pre-pandemic peak levels of March 2020, and the department is taking actions including canceling days off and switching shifts to make sure staffing is at appropriate levels.

Twenty-one percent of the NYPD staff is out sick, compared to approximately 19% in March 2020 at its previous peak, NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea said at a news briefing Thursday.

The sickouts, however, are not expected to impact New Year’s Eve security plans for the truncated Times Square New Year’s Eve celebration, police said. 

The security response, police say, will be like years past, which include revelers passing through magnetometers, explosive trace detection machines, and heavy weapons and canine detection teams.

Vaccine status will be checked first before going through security checkpoints, police said. Vaccines and masks are required for the event, they reminded attendees.

As of now, there are no specific credible threats to the celebration, the NYPD said.

These are some of the major cities that are canceling their big New Year's Eve events

In New York City, the New Year’s Eve celebration in Times Square will be “scaled back,” with fewer revelers and everyone required to wear a mask, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office said last week.

But some major cities in Europe, where the spread of Omicron has been startling, have already announced they’re flat-out canceling plans.

On Wednesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci repeated his warning that people should avoid large New Year’s Eve gatherings and stick with small gatherings of vaccinated family or close friends.

The following cities have already announced they’re canceling their big shindigs:

  • Athens: No fireworks show over the Acropolis this year. Greek Health Minister Thanos Plevris said during a news briefing on Dec. 23, that all public Christmas and New Year celebrations planned by municipalities are canceled.
  • Atlanta: Georgia’s capital city is canceling the New Year’s Eve Peach Drop at Underground Atlanta because of the rising number of Covid-19 cases, according to a tweet from Underground Atlanta.
  • Berlin: Germany will impose strict contact restrictions to curb the spread of Covid-19 starting on Dec. 28 and prohibit New Year’s Eve gatherings, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced on Dec. 21. That means no big fireworks gathering in Berlin, the capital, nor in other big gathering spots such as Munich and Frankfurt.
  • Edinburgh: Public New Year’s Eve celebrations in Scotland will be canceled, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said on Dec. 21. In a statement, Sturgeon explained details for post-Christmas restrictions on large events to blunt the spread of Omicron.
  • London: A planned New Year’s Eve event in London has been canceled over Covid-19 concerns, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan tweeted on Dec. 20. “Due to the surge in Covid cases, we’ve taken the difficult decision to cancel our NYE event in Trafalgar Square,” Khan tweeted. “The safety of all Londoners must come first.”
  • New Delhi: The government of India’s union territory of Delhi, which encompasses the national capital of New Delhi, has announced a ban on all social, cultural, political and festival gatherings until further notice because of a rise in Covid-19 cases, CNN’s New Delhi Bureau reports.
  • Paris: Paris has canceled its traditional fireworks display over the Champs-Elysées Avenue to welcome the New Year because of the renewed coronavirus surge. “The fireworks will not take place, nor unfortunately will there be any DJ sets,” the mayor’s office told AFP in a report on France24.com. French Prime Minister Jean Castex said on Dec. 17, that major public parties and fireworks would be banned on New Year’s Eve and recommended that even vaccinated people take a self-test before getting together for year-end parties, according to Reuters.
  • Rome: In Italy, Rome is among several cities that have decided to cancel festivities over Covid health concerns. Large New Year’s Eve celebrations across the country have been canceled, including open air concerts and fireworks in Venice. Nightclubs will be closed for the month of January as well. The Campania region has also banned feasts and alcohol consumption in public areas from Dec. 23 to Jan. 1.

See which cities are still moving forward with their NYE’s plans here.

Greece reports another record-high in new daily Covid-19 cases

Greece has reported a new record-high in the number of daily Covid-19 cases with 35,580 additional cases registered on Thursday, according to government data. 

A further 72 coronavirus-related deaths were also reported Thursday.  

On Wednesday, Health Minister Thanos Plevris announced a series of new restrictions as part of the government’s efforts to curb the spread of the Omicron variant. 

The measures include the closure of hospitality and entertainment venues at midnight, a ban on standing customers and a maximum limit of six people per table, reduced sports venue capacity and the reintroduction of 50% remote working for public and private sectors.

Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is 92% effective at preventing Covid-19 in ages 12-17, CDC data shows

A Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine is prepared for administration at a vaccination clinic on September 22, in Los Angeles.

The mRNA vaccine from Pfizer/BioNTech is 92% effective at preventing Covid-19 in young people ages 12 to 17, according to data published Thursday in the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

The researchers looked at 243 adolescents with no previous positive Covid-19 tests in Arizona between July 25 and Dec. 4. The teens or their parents took nasal swabs and sent them in for weekly PCR testing. Twenty-one teens tested positive during the study period, and 18 of them reported symptoms. The findings are consistent with clinical trials and other studies, the researchers report. 

The study took place during a period when Delta was the dominant circulating variant of the coronavirus. Early findings suggest that the latest variant, Omicron, may be less sensitive to vaccines. A booster dose raises protection levels, but boosters have not been approved for children and teens in the US. 

The US Food and Drug Administration has approved the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine for people as young as 16, and it’s available under an emergency use authorization for ages 5 to 15. 

Other research published in the MMWR on Thursday found that reports of serious adverse events were rare in children ages 5 to 11 who got the vaccine. 

The study looked at reports of two safety surveillance systems, the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) and v-safe, from Nov. 3 to Dec. 19. During this period, about 8.7 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine were given to kids 5-11. 

VAERS received 4,249 reports of adverse events, and more than 97% were not serious. One hundred serious events were reported, most commonly fever, vomiting and increased levels of troponin, a protein found in the heart muscle. There were 12 reports of seizure and 15 reports of myocarditis, of which 11 were verified.

More on the study: V-safe enrolled 42,504 vaccinated children ages 5-11. After the first dose of the vaccine, 54.8% reported local reactions and 34.7 reported systemic reactions; after the second dose, 57.5% reported local reactions and 40.9% reported systemic reactions. The most commonly reported reactions were pain at the injection site, fatigue and headache.

The researchers noted that their findings are consistent with clinical trials and that both VAERS and v-safe rely on reports that may be biased or underreported. “Parents and guardians of children ages 5 to 11 years should be advised that local and systemic reactions are expected after vaccination,” they wrote. “Vaccination remains the most effective way to prevent Covid-19 infection.”

Japanese government: No Covid spread occurred between Tokyo 2020 participants and locals

There was no spread of Covid-19 between participants of the postponed 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo this year and the local population, according to genomic sequencing data confirmed by the government of Japan. 

The positive cases in the Olympic Village and those of Japanese residents were unrelated, the government report said. 

The data was released by Dr. Saito Tomoya, director of the Centre of Emergency Preparedness and Response of Japan’s National Institute of Infectious Diseases, during the International Olympic Committee World Conference on Prevention of Injury and Illness in Sport.

According to Saito, the dominant SARS-CoV-2 variant in Japan originated from the initial Delta strain that first entered the country around May, two months before the Games. This variant is not endemic anywhere else in the world. “That means there is no evidence that the virus was spread to the rest of the world by participants in Tokyo 2020. And no epidemic other than AY.29 in Japan means that virus strains that were brought in by the participants did not spread in Japan,” he said.

This data also provided the breakdown of Covid-19 cases between athletes and officials and the other accredited participants of the Games.

“As the other participants were largely Japanese residents living in or around Tokyo, the number of cases among them went up at the same time as local cases were increasing. On the other hand, imported cases from athletes and officials, the majority of whom were overseas visitors staying at the Olympic Village or Games accommodation, were contained effectively,” according to the report. 

Avoid cruises regardless of vaccination status, CDC advises

A cruise ship is pictured docked in New York city on December 5, 2021.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention increased the risk level for cruise ship travel to its highest level and said cruise travel should be avoided, regardless of vaccination status.

“The COVID-19 Travel Health Notice level has been updated from Level 3 to Level 4, the highest level,” the CDC website said on Thursday. “This reflects increases in cases onboard cruise ships since identification of the Omicron variant.”

“Since the identification of the Omicron variant, there has been an increase in the number of COVID-19 cases among cruise passengers and crew reported to CDC. Additionally, there has been an increase in the number of cruise ships meeting the COVID-19 case threshold for CDC investigation,” the agency said.

The CDC said people should avoid cruise travel, regardless of whether they are vaccinated. Those who do travel on a cruise ship should make sure they are fully vaccinated and boosted, if eligible. People who go on a cruise should also get tested one to three days before their trip, and three to five days after, regardless of vaccination status.

For the unvaccinated, they should also self-quarantine for five full days after. People on cruise ships should also wear masks in shared places, the CDC said.

NYC Times Square New Year's Eve celebration should've been canceled, CNN medical analyst says

The 2022 sign that will be lit on top of a building on New Year's Eve is displayed in Times Square, New York, Monday, Dec. 20, 2021. 

New York City’s New Year’s Eve celebration in Time Square should’ve been canceled due to the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant, CNN medical analyst Dr. Jonathan Reiner said.

“I think that right now, we’re in the public health crisis of our lifetimes, and although I love a big celebration, and it’s good for the nation’s spirit to celebrate New Year’s Eve, you know, all those people have to get to Times Square via some way,” Reiner, a professor of medicine and surgery at George Washington University, said on CNN. “They’re all going to be on public transportation. They can be on the subways. They are going to pack the subways, and … I think, frankly, it should have been canceled the way most European cities have done.”

London and Paris are among major European cities that have canceled New Year’s Eve celebrations due to the latest Covid-19 surge.

Dr. Jonathan Reiner.

Reiner said Americans need to hunker down for the next few weeks.

“I think that we can all celebrate at home, and we’ll get take-in, we’ll support our restaurants by buying their food but eating it in our own homes, staying safe for the next few weeks. And this surge is going to end, and we’re going to come out on the other side, and we’re going to learn our lessons and we will go on with our lives, but my message for everyone is stay safe right now,” he said.

NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio has defended the decision to hold a scaled-down Times Square celebration, which will have fewer revelers and a mask requirement, saying the event will “send a message to the world [that] New York City is open.”

“The way to deal with Covid is not shutdowns,” de Blasio said this morning. “It’s even more in terms of vaccination, doubling down on vaccinations.”

FDA expected to broaden Pfizer Covid-19 booster eligibility to ages 12-15 in days, source says

A child receives a dose of Pfizer's Covid-19 vaccine at an event launching school vaccinations in Los Angeles, California on November 5.

The US Food and Drug Administration is expected to broaden eligibility for Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine boosters to youths ages 12 to 15 in the coming days, according to a person familiar with the agency’s plan.

People as young as 16 are already eligible to receive boosters of the Pfizer vaccine six months after their two-dose series. Youths ages 12 to 15 have been eligible to receive the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine since May; as of early July, about four million people in this age group had been fully vaccinated and would be eligible for a booster immediately.

When asked on Wednesday about boosters for adolescents and younger teens, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky told CNN that the FDA “is looking at that right now; of course the CDC will swiftly follow as soon as we hear from them, and I’m hoping to have that in … the days to weeks ahead.” 

US health officials have been pushing for months for adults to get boosted, especially after the emergence of the Omicron variant.

Studies have already shown the two-dose Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine does not provide sufficient protection against infection with the Omicron coronavirus variant, although it still appears to help protect against severe disease. A booster dose increased protection significantly, studies have shown.

The latest timeline for people ages 12 to 15 was first reported by The New York Times. The Times also reported that the booster schedule will shift from six months after the primary dose series to five months, and a booster shot is expected to be authorized for children ages 5 to 11 with immune deficiencies.

Italy reports new daily record of Covid-19 infections

People line up at a rapid swab testing site in Rome on Thursday, Dec. 30.

Italy has reported a new record of 126,888 daily Covid-19 cases, government data showed Thursday, as well as 156 further coronavirus-related deaths. 

According to the data released by the Health Ministry of Italy, an additional 288 patients were hospitalized, while 41 patients have now been admitted to intensive care.

Uruguay detects first cases of Omicron variant

The first cases of the Omicron coronavirus variant have been detected in Uruguay, the health ministry said in a statement on Wednesday. 

“Confirmed cases have been detected by the national surveillance system of the Ministry of Public Health; it has started the epidemiological investigation that includes contact tracing and recommendations of prevention and control,” the statement reads. 

The health ministry recommended the population to get their booster shots “as soon as possible, especially among high priority populations, who remain unvaccinated, or are not yet fully vaccinated.” 

NYC mayor-elect outlines plan to combat Covid-19 in the new year 

Mayor-elect Eric Adams speaks during an announcement at Brooklyn Borough Hall, New York on December 28 2021 where he said new COVID pandemic policy will be announced after he takes office in 2022.

New York City Mayor-elect Eric Adams and city officials Thursday unveiled his plan to combat Covid-19 in the new year, with officials notably teasing that the private sector vaccine mandate will stay in effect and a decision on whether to mandate vaccines for students is to be decided by the spring.

Adams said Covid-19 is a “formidable” opponent worthy of a “formidable plan.”

“We must allow our city to function,” he said adding he intends to “follow the science,” promote equity in resources and overall, “be smatter, live with Covid, and protect everyday New Yorkers.”

Vaccines and booster still remain the “best weapons in our arsenal” he said, adding the overall objective is to “keep our city open.”

The plan focuses on six priorities: vaccination; supporting hospitals and congregate settings; testing; treatment; slowing the spread; and safer schools.

The current NYC Health Commissioner Dr. Dave Chokshi, who will stay on through March, said the private sector mandate will stay in effect in the new year.

“We will also study the need for what we are calling the up-to-date mandate which would require New Yorkers to have their booster shots under the vaccine mandates currently in place,” Chokshi added.

“Studying it encompasses both following the emerging science on the importance of booster doses with Omicron as well as understanding the impact of the mandate on the settings it would apply to,” he added.

The city will set a deadline of this spring for a decision about a vaccine mandate in schools that would, if decided upon, commence later in 2022, Chokshi said.

While the city added 60 more testing sites after the emergence of Omicron, test and trace will continue to stand up more sites, he added. 

The incoming NYC health commissioner said the city will also focus on upping access to monoclonal antibodies including oral medication with a “focus on equity” and reaching underserved, high risk populations.

The city also plans to distribute 2 million high-grade masks via community based organizations and city health sites, said Dr. Ashwin Vasan, who will take over for Chokshi in March as health commissioner.

Vasan also added that the city plans to come up with a universal, color-coded system that shows level of threat at any time of Covid-19 within the city and indicates clearly what level of safety measures are in place.

More on the NYC Covid-19 plan: As previously announced by the current NYC mayor and leadership, as well as the governor, on Jan. 3 the city will implement the “stay safe stay open” plan, officials said.

This includes doubling surveillance testing in schools, adjusting the situation room and contact tracing protocols, sending home millions of rapid at-home tests, and strengthening mitigation including high quality masks and ventilation.

Portugal will shorten Covid-19 isolation period from 10 to 7 days

Portugal will shorten its mandatory self-isolation period for asymptomatic Covid-19 patients from 10 to seven days, the national Directorate-General of Health (DGS) announced Thursday. 

“This decision is in line with other countries and comes from a thoughtful technical reflection, based on the incubation period of the now-dominant Omicron variant,” the statement added. 

According to the DGS, the new guidance will come into effect by the end of next week.

On Thursday, Portugal reported a new record of 28,659 daily coronavirus cases, as well as 16 further Covid-19 related deaths.

Portugal’s decision comes a day after Spain’s health ministry announced it would reduced the quarantine time for people who tested positive for Covid-19 from 10 to seven days.

Princeton University delays undergraduate return by one week due to Covid-19

Ivy covers the walls of a building on the Princeton University campus in Princeton, New Jersey, U.S., on Friday, Aug. 30, 2013.

Princeton University announced on Monday that they are delaying undergraduate student returns by one week and will not allow students to travel outside of the county until mid-February. 

Undergraduate students will only be allowed to return to campus no earlier than Jan. 14, instead of the previously planned date of Jan. 7, Dean Jill Dolan and Vice President W. Rochelle Calhoun said in an email to the school. 

“Updated modeling suggests that staggering undergraduates’ return over ten days from January 14 – 23 will help flatten the curve of the campus positivity rate, which will allow the University to better respond to the increase in positive cases we anticipate when students come back to campus,” the email says. 

In addition, the email says that undergraduate students will not be allowed to travel outside of Mercer County or neighboring Plainsboro Township in New Jersey, where the university is located, except in “extraordinary circumstances.” The travel ban will be in effect until mid-February, the school said, and it will revisit the policy by Feb. 15. 

These measures are just a part of a larger plan to return to campus, which will also require undergraduate students to get tested once they arrive on campus and will not be allowed to attend class until they have a negative test. They will also be required to get a booster shot by Jan. 31, or within 30 days of the student is eligible, the email says. 

All of these policies specifically apply to undergraduate students. It is not immediately clear what testing and travel requirements are in place for graduate students and faculty.