Covid news, live updates today: Omicron symptoms, quarantine, vaccines, flurona… | 5 January

Beijing Olympics imposes “closed loop”

With a month to go before the start of the Beijing Winter Olympics organisers have begun a “closed loop” operation to prevent a covid-19 outbreak among Games participants from leaking into China’s general public.

The 2022 Games, which open on 4 February, are set to take place as the world grapples with the highly transmissable Omicron variant, although China, which has a zero-tolerance covid policy, has reported just a handful of Omicron cases.

Organisers said on Wednesday that the “closed loop” bubble, in which participants can only leave if they are exiting the country or undergo quarantine, had been activated as planned on Tuesday, the same day that President Xi Jinping toured several Games facilities.

Xi expressed “firm confidence” that Games staff “will continue to do a good job in all preparations to ensure the complete success of the Beijing Winter Olympics and Paralympics,” state broadcaster CCTV reported on Wednesday.

Restrictions at Games venues in Beijing and Zhangjiakou in neighbouring Hebei province will be much tighter than those during last summer’s Tokyo Olympics.

Photo by REUTERS/Thomas Peter

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Covid, coronavirus news today: Omicron symptoms, tests, vaccines, flight cancellations… | live updates

“We can’t be complacent” – Dr Fauci

Dr Anthony Fauci, the US top infectious disease expert and President Biden’s chief medical adviser, says there is no room for complacency over the Omicron variant, despite growing evidence that it usually leads to milder symptoms than other strains of covid-19.

Speaking to CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday, Dr Fauci said: “There are certainly going to be a lot more cases, because this is a much more transmissible virus than Delta is, so quantitatively alone, even if you have a virus that looks in fact like it might be less severe […], the only difficulty is that we have so many, many cases that even if the rate of hospitalizations is lower with Omicron than it is with Delta, there’s still the danger that you’re going to have a surging of hospitalizations that might stress the healthcare system.”

He added: “You have a virus that might actually be less severe in its pathogenicity, but so many people are getting infected that the total amount of people that will require hospitalization might be up. So we can’t be complacent […]. We’re still going to get a lot of hospitalizations.”

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COVID, coronavirus today news: Omicron symptoms, tests, vaccines, flight cancellations… | live updates – AS English

COVID, coronavirus today news: Omicron symptoms, tests, vaccines, flight cancellations… | live updates  AS English

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Covid Live Updates: Omicron News, Vaccines and More

Credit…Dave Sanders for The New York Times

Following weeks of silence, Mayor-elect Eric Adams vowed on Thursday to keep New York City’s vaccine mandate for private-sector employees in place. The requirement, which was enacted by Mayor Bill de Blasio and is the first of its kind in the nation, went into effect on Monday, during Mr. de Blasio’s last week in office.

“Our focus is vaccine and testing, vaccine and testing, vaccine and testing,” Mr. Adams said, before turning to Dr. Dave A. Chokshi, Mr. de Blasio’s health commissioner, who will stay on as Mr. Adams’s health commissioner until March.

“The private sector employer mandate will stay in effect in the New Year, with a focus on compliance, not punishment,” Dr. Chokshi announced.

Epidemiologists applauded the mandate, but its timing at the tail end of Mr. de Blasio’s tenure sowed confusion among some business owners, who were unsure whether to abide by the mandate, or to just wait until Mr. Adams took office and announced his own policy. Some also see it as a bureaucratic headache and worry that some workers might quit rather than comply.

Mr. Adams’s silence on the matter had also fostered hope among some business owners that he planned to allow the mandate to lapse.

But in the weeks since Mr. de Blasio announced the policy on Dec. 6, the Omicron variant has rampaged through New York City and driven a sharp increase in coronavirus cases.

On Wednesday, the city set a one-day case record for the third time in a week, and a subway line connecting Queens and Manhattan shut down, because so many transit workers had called in sick. Life in the city, in some ways, has slowed to a crawl. The Westminster Kennel Club postponed its January dog show, in deference to Omicron.

Omicron has already infected hundreds of thousands of city residents. On Wednesday, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced that in New York City 39,591 people had tested positive the previous day. And that is an undercount as it doesn’t include many at home tests that came up positive but were never reported to the public health authorities.

Across the city, the test positivity rate is above 20 percent. Hospitals across the city are seeing hundreds of new Covid-19 patients a day, though many are far less sick than patients from previous coronavirus waves, doctors and hospital systems say. As of Tuesday, the most recent day of reporting, there were just under 3,200 Covid-19 patients in New York City hospitals. About 370 were in intensive care units.

Dr. Ashish K. Jha, the dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, said Mr. Adams’s decision was a wise one.

“Vaccines remain the way we get out of this pandemic,” Dr. Jha said. “And asking employers, private and public, to make sure their employees are vaccinated — which creates a much safer working environment — I think it’s essential.”

Dr. Jha’s enthusiasm was not universal.

Mr. de Blasio’s mandate, which is now Mr. Adams’s, has angered some in the business sector, including big corporations, which chafe at the prospect of having to abide by both President Biden’s mandate, which is in Supreme Court limbo and contains a testing loophole for the unvaccinated, and New York City’s, which does not.

“For large businesses with a global and national footprint, consistency between federal policies and state and local policies on vaccine and mask mandates and Covid protocols generally is really important,” said Kathryn Wylde, chief executive of the Partnership for New York City, which represents many large corporations.

“And the de Blasio policy is not consistent in terms of timing or terms with the Biden policy.”

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COVID, coronavirus today news: Omicron symptoms, tests, vaccines, flight cancellations… | live updates

US Covid-19 cases hit record levels

The average number of daily Covid-19 cases in the United States has hit a record high of 258,312 over the past seven days, a Reuters tally on Wednesday showed as US officials weigh the impact of the more transmissible Omicron variant. The previous peak for the seven-day moving average was 250,141 recorded on 8 January 2021.

US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky, in a round of television interviews, said she was watching the nation’s case load and its potential impact on health care providers.

While there was some data from other countries that showed less disease with Omicron, it was too early to say what the impact might be across the United States, particularly given its uneven vaccination rates, Walensky told MSNBC. “We may have many, many more cases and so we may still very well see a lot of severe disease in the hospitals. What I am focused on now is making sure that we can get through this Omicron surge, that we do so with minimal amount of hospitalization and severe disease. We are seeing and expecting even more cases of this Omicron variant”.

States showing the highest daily infection numbers on Tuesday included New York, which reported as many as 40,780 cases, and California, which reported over 30,000. Texas reported more than 17,000 cases and Ohio over 15,000. The Omicron variant was estimated to make up 58.6% of the coronavirus variants circulating in the United States as of 25 December, according to data from the CDC on Tuesday.

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Covid Live Updates: Omicron News, Vaccines and More

ImageA United Airlines gate agent this week in Denver. United joined many other airlines in canceling flights over Christmas.
Credit…Erin Schaff/The New York Times

Thousands of would-be travelers received last-minute cancellations of their Christmas flights on Friday and Saturday because of the recent spike of Omicron cases, including among airline workers.

The number of cancellations globally for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day added up to more than 3,500, the Flight Aware website showed. Although the cancellations represented a relatively small percentage of the roughly 80,000 arrivals on any given day, they were a jarring disruption in a holiday season shadowed by the highly transmissible Omicron variant, which now accounts for more than 70 percent of new coronavirus cases in the United States.

United Airlines canceled 176 flights of the 4,000 domestic and international flights scheduled at dozens of airports on Friday, mostly the result of crew members calling in sick, said Joshua Freed, a spokesman for the Chicago-based carrier. At least 44 more flights on Saturday have already been canceled, he added.

A spokeswoman for Delta Air Lines said that it had canceled 158 of the 3,100 flights scheduled for Friday, Christmas Eve, one of the most hectic travel days of the year. The Atlanta-based airline was exhausting “all options and resources,” including rerouting and substituting planes and crews to cover scheduled flights.

The cancellations were caused by “a combination of issues, including weather and Omicron-related issues, and Delta expected at least 150 more cancellations over the weekend, spokeswoman Kate Modolo said.

Alaska Airlines had 17 cancellations on Thursday after a growing number of crew members reported exposure to the virus, but the carrier only needed to scrap nine flights on Friday, according to a spokesperson.

Other airlines, including JetBlue and Allegiant, did the same, according to Flight Aware, although American Airlines said that it currently had no flight cancellations.

While most travelers have been able to get where they are going, hundreds of people who had anticipated the first near-normal holiday season in years when they booked, scrambled for alternatives.

Mats, blankets and pillows littered the floors of the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport on the morning of Christmas Eve. The impromptu accommodations emptied out before sunrise as those who had spent the night because of flight delays and cancellations tried to rebook their seats.

Joe Lampkin, a traveler from the Minneapolis area, was waiting near Gate D4 early Friday, trying hard to book a flight later in the morning to Seattle, where his family is waiting for him.

“Hopefully that one doesn’t get canceled,” Mr. Lampkin said.

Customers took to social media to air their grievances about the cancellations.

The United States is recording nearly 187,000 new daily cases, a 55 percent increase over the last two weeks, according to The New York Times’s coronavirus tracker.

Similar problems were cropping up around the globe as airline staff members called in reports of illness or exposure to the virus.

“A large number of our frontline team members are being required to test and isolate as close contacts given the increasing number of cases in the general community,” said a representative for Austalia-based Jetstar Airways, which had to cancel about 80 flights.

Staffing shortages have been affecting a range of service industries as the virus continues to spread.

England said this week that it was reducing the number of days that people must isolate for after showing Covid-19 symptoms to seven days from 10 days, a change that officials said could help alleviate the shortages. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention made a similar move on Thursday, though that change applies only to health workers.

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Covid-19 live updates today: Omicron cases, stats, travel restrictions, vaccines…

Dollar droops as optimism as Omicron impact felt

The safe-haven dollar languished near an almost one-week low against its major peers on Thursday as investors adopted a more optimistic stance about the global economic outlook, despite the rapid spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant.

The dollar index, which measures the currency against six rivals, stood at 96.111, not far from the overnight low of 96.020, touched for the first time since Dec. 17.

The risk-sensitive Australian dollar was steady at $0.72125 following Wednesday’s 0.86% surge. Sterling was little changed at $1.33515 after a 0.63% rally.

Risk appetite has improved since Monday, when markets were rattled by government restrictions relating to the spread of Omicron.

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Covid-19 live updates today: Omicron cases, stats, travel restrictions, vaccines…

US faces Omicron flight risk

Americans are facing a second Christmas of upended holiday plans, with a surge in covid-19 infections fuelled by the now-dominant Omicron variant forcing some people to cancel their travel and fret about whether it is safe to visit loved ones.

Carmen Rivera and her fiancee Jasmine Maisonet made the painful decision to cancel their flights to visit family in Florida and Puerto Rico, Reuters report, after Maisonet was exposed to an infected co-worker and tested positive for covid-19. Rivera, a newly elected city council member in Renton, Washington, hasn’t seen her family in Puerto Rico since the start of the pandemic.

With the latest wave of covid-19 infecting even those who have been vaccinated and boosted against the disease, like Maisonet, Rivera said it stung to spend another holiday season in isolation.

‘We thought we were safe, we were washing our hands, sanitizing, vaccinated, masking – we believe in science,’ Rivera said.

The swift rise in infections from Omicron, first detected last month and now accounting for 73% of U.S. cases, has added fresh confusion and concern around holiday travel. Many Americans flocked to covid-19 testing sites or scrambled to get at-home tests this week to ensure a negative test result before heading to see relatives. President Joe Biden said on Tuesday that vaccinated people should follow precautions but feel comfortable celebrating the holidays with family and travelling as planned, despite the Omicron wave.

Travel companies are betting vaccinated Americans will heed Biden’s advice and have retained a rosy outlook on this year’s holiday season, riding the momentum from a rebound in U.S. travel over Thanksgiving.

The American Automobile Association estimates that 109 million Americans will hit the road, board a plane or otherwise travel more than 50 miles between 23 December and 2 January, marking a 34% increase from 2020, according to a statement from AAA.

However, AAA spokesperson Ellen Edmonds said that estimate was compiled before 14 December, and the spike in cases that has occurred since might prompt cancellations.

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