The C.D.C. endorsed Pfizer boosters for children ages 12 and over. Catch up on Covid news.


Credit…Brett Carlsen for The New York Times

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday endorsed booster shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine for children ages 12 to 17, citing rising infections in teens and young adults and a troubling increase in pediatric hospitalizations.

As the contagious Omicron variant spreads through the country, public health officials have seized on extra vaccine doses as a first line of defense. Pfizer-BioNTech boosters are now authorized for any American older than 12 who is five months past his or her second dose of the vaccine.

An advisory committee recommended the changes following a meeting on Wednesday. They were endorsed by Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the C.D.C. director, on Wednesday night. Adolescents ages 12 to 15 may begin to receive boosters immediately. Adolescents ages 16 and older were already permitted to receive booster shots, but on Wednesday the C.D.C. panel strengthened the recommendation.

The advisory panel followed a similar move earlier this week by the Food and Drug Administration, which authorized Pfizer-BioNtech boosters for adolescents and shortened the recommended time interval between the initial vaccine regimen and the booster.

The F.D.A. also endorsed “an additional primary dose” of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for moderately or severely immunocompromised children aged 5 to 11, to be given 28 days after their second shots.

Studies suggest that vaccine side effects are minimal in children, although there is lingering concern about a link to myocarditis, a rare inflammation of the heart muscle that occurs more frequently in young men, following vaccination.

In Israel, which started administering boosters to adolescents aged 12 to 15 in June and rigorously tracks side effects, the health ministry identified two cases of myocarditis, among some 41,600 adolescents in this age group who received the booster.

Both children were hospitalized briefly and have fully recovered, said Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, an Israeli health official who addressed the committee.

The booster dramatically reduced infection rates among children aged 12 to 15, Dr. Alroy-Preis said. Although most infected youngsters generally did not experience severe Covid disease that required hospitalization, two children — one boy and one girl — have died, she said.

But while much of the committee’s discussion focused on the risks of the vaccine and its side effects, Dr. Camille Kotton, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School who specializes in transplant and immunocompromised patients, said the focus should be on the disease itself, which is having a devastating effect on vulnerable and immunocompromised patients.

“This is an important thing to think about — the risk of myocarditis from the disease itself,” Dr. Kotton said.

Though Omicron is generally perceived as causing less severe disease, she said, she now sees numerous patients on life support. Some have died.

“It’s a horrible state of affairs,” she said. “The highly infectious nature of Omicron is such that patients who have been incredibly careful the last two years have been getting infected with awful outcomes.”

Dr. Katherine Poehling, director of pediatric population health at Wake Forest School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C., expressed similar sentiments. “There are children waiting in the emergency department 18 hours and longer to get into the hospital because we’re so full,” she said. “We have parents asking us can their children get a booster dose, like older children.”

But several committee members said they were increasingly disturbed that only a minority of younger children are getting vaccinated at all, and said it is critical to increase the rates and adhere to other prevention strategies, like masking.

“We can’t put all of the burden on the people who are willing to get vaccinated,” said Lynn Bahta, a committee member who is a registered nurse with the Minnesota Department of Health. “When we have only half our adolescents vaccinated, that adds more burden as well. I am so concerned that the burden of disease prevention is all falling on the vaccinated and them getting the boosters.”

More than 70 percent of people 12 and older in the United States are fully vaccinated, according to the C.D.C. Children younger than age 5 are still not eligible for vaccination.

Americans aged 18 and older who received Moderna’s vaccine can get a booster of any available coronavirus vaccine six months after the second shot. Those who received Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot vaccine may get a booster dose of any available vaccine two months after their first shot.

The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines are both strongly preferred over the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, the C.D.C. has said. Only the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is authorized for children ages 5 to 11; boosters are not yet recommended for this group.




C.D.C. Recommends People Stay ‘Up to Date’ With Covid Boosters

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it was not changing its definition of full vaccination against the coronavirus, but recommended that people receive any additional doses they are eligible for.

Individuals are considered fully vaccinated against Covid-19 if they’ve received their primary series — that definition is not changing, but consistent with how public health has historically viewed or even talked about how we recommend vaccines, we are now recommending that individuals stay up to date with additional doses that they are eligible for, and we have now available, how you can stay up to date with your Covid-19 vaccines based on what vaccine you have received and what age group you are in, and that is available now on the C.D.C. website.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it was not changing its definition of full vaccination against the coronavirus, but recommended that people receive any additional doses they are eligible for.CreditCredit…M. Scott Brauer for The New York Times

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday said it was not changing its definition of “full vaccination” against the coronavirus. But the agency changed its emphasis on the appropriate regimen, tweaking how it referred to the shots.

The agency said that three doses of Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna’s vaccines should be considered “up-to-date” inoculations, and that Johnson & Johnson recipients should receive a second dose, preferably of Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech, to also be considered up to date.

The move amounted to a recommendation from federal health officials that Americans should change how they talk about vaccination schedules. People 12 years and older are eligible for boosters.

“Consistent with how public health has historically viewed or even talked about how we recommend vaccines, we are now recommending that individuals stay up to date with additional doses that they are eligible for,” Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, the C.D.C. director, said at a White House news briefing on Wednesday.

The C.D.C. did not change the definition of what qualifies as full vaccination — a subject of intense interest to corporations, schools, state health departments and professional sports leagues, which have themselves been reconsidering what it means to be fully vaccinated.

“The technical definition of ‘fully vaccinated’ — two doses of an mRNA vaccine or one dose of the J & J vaccine — has not changed,” Kristen Nordlund, a C.D.C. spokeswoman, said in a statement. “Individuals are considered fully vaccinated once they have received their primary series.”

She added that the agency recommend that people “stay ‘up to date’ by receiving any additional doses they are eligible for, according to C.D.C.’s recommendations, to ensure they have optimal protection.”


Credit…Taylor Glascock for The New York Times

Parents across Chicago raced to find child care on Wednesday morning after jarring news: Classes in the nation’s third-largest public school district were canceled. The teachers’ union and Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration had failed to agree on how to keep schools open during an Omicron-fueled virus surge.

Across the country, the wildly contagious Omicron variant has infected millions and complicated the return to classrooms and workplaces. But nowhere has returning to school been more acrimonious and unpredictable than in Chicago, where, after two days back in classrooms following winter break, 73 percent of teachers voted to stop reporting to work. The city responded by calling off school altogether, refusing the teachers’ call for remote instruction. With no deal reached by Wednesday evening, district officials said classes would be canceled again on Thursday.

The abrupt pause in the academic calendar, rooted in years of enmity between the Chicago Teachers Union and City Hall, jumbled plans for hundreds of thousands of students and posed another major test for Ms. Lightfoot, a Democrat whose tenure has been marked by labor strife, the pandemic and a surge in homicides.

“If they are in class and Covid is rampaging, that’s a problem. If they are not there and out on the streets, that’s a problem,” said Tamar Manasseh, who leads an anti-violence group in the city, and who said she was looking into ways to help children with nowhere to go during the day. “This has put us in an untenable situation.”

Ms. Lightfoot, whose disagreements with the Chicago Teachers Union date back to a strike in the early months of her term, said in an interview that the two sides remained far apart as negotiations continued. Ms. Lightfoot said she intended to take legal action against the union, and on Monday evening said the city had filed an unfair labor practices complaint. The school district opened buildings for meal distribution on Wednesday and published a list of places where parents could get emergency child care.

“The consequences of the union acting like this time and time again are profound,” Ms. Lightfoot said. She added, “You think about the consequences for the families to be faced with the hostage choice of either going to work or taking care of their kids and home-schooling — no parent should be put in that position.”

Zolan Kanno-Youngs contributed reporting.

Mitch Smith and Robert Chiarito


Credit…Alessandro Di Marco/EPA, via Shutterstock

Australia blocked Novak Djokovic, the top-ranked men’s tennis player in the world, from entering the nation ahead of the Australian Open tournament, after immigration authorities said he didn’t meet entry requirements.

“Mr. Djokovic failed to provide appropriate evidence to meet the entry requirements to Australia, and his visa has been subsequently cancelled,’’ the Australian Border Force said in a statement. “Non-citizens who do not hold a valid visa on entry or who have had their visa cancelled will be detained and removed from Australia.”

His arrival in the country on Wednesday was mired in confusion after an airport dispute about the validity of his visa and questions about the evidence supporting an exemption from being vaccinated. Australia allows travelers who can show proof either of vaccination or of a valid medical reason for not being vaccinated to enter the country without quarantining.

Djokovic, an outspoken critic of vaccine mandates, has not said publicly whether he has been vaccinated against the coronavirus. But he announced on Tuesday that he had received a medical exemption from the Australian Open’s vaccine mandate to defend his title in Melbourne, where the year’s first major tennis tournament is played.

Tournament officials confirmed that in a statement on Tuesday, saying his application had been reviewed by two independent panels, a procedure that strongly suggested that he remains unvaccinated.

An Australian newspaper, The Age, reported that a plane carrying Djokovic landed at Tullamarine Airport in Melbourne at about 11:30 p.m. local time on Wednesday, and that Djokovic, who is Serbian, was still being questioned by officials from the Australian Border Force more than six hours later.


Credit…Darron Cummings/Associated Press

Kyrie Irving, the star Nets guard, made his regular-season debut against the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday night following the team’s surprise reversal of its policy to bar him from practices and road games until he received the coronavirus vaccine.

Irving looked rusty early on against the Pacers, missing his first three shots. But in the second quarter in Indianapolis, he began to heat up and scored 8 straight points.

Irving declined to be vaccinated for Covid-19 before the season, making him ineligible to play in New York City because of a local vaccine mandate at sports arenas that went into effect in September. The Nets, citing concerns about team chemistry, announced in October that Irving would not be permitted to play in road games either, even if laws in those cities would allow him to participate. The N.B.A. does not require players to be vaccinated.

For the most part, the team has played well in Irving’s absence, and has led the Eastern Conference for much of the season. Entering Wednesday, the Nets were No. 2 in the East, behind Chicago, with a 23-12 record after losing four of their last six games.

But last month, as the Omicron variant of the coronavirus began ravaging N.B.A. rosters, the Nets announced they would let Irving play in road games. Sean Marks, the team’s general manager, said at the time that the Nets were “faced with a roster that has been decimated over the course of the last several days.” Several of the Nets’ top players, including Kevin Durant and James Harden, have missed games because of the league’s virus-related health and safety protocols.

Irving was immediately placed into the protocols as well. The N.B.A.’s rules say an unvaccinated player can be placed into the protocols because of a positive or inconclusive test, or a confirmed exposure to a person who had tested positive. Players can be cleared to play again through testing and isolation periods that vary according to the players’ symptoms but that can be as short as a few days.

When Irving returned to action on Wednesday night, all of the Nets’ roster was available except guard Joe Harris, who is out with an ankle injury.


Credit…Desiree Rios for The New York Times

The United States Postal Service says it wants an exemption to the federal vaccine-or-test mandate because it could hinder its ability to deliver the mail.

“The Postal Service is seeking temporary relief because it wants to ensure that its ability to deliver mail and packages is not hindered amid the current disruptions in the nation’s supply chain,” Darlene Casey, a U.S.P.S. spokeswoman, said in a statement on Wednesday.

In November, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued an emergency order requiring that organizations with more than 100 employees require their workers to either be vaccinated against Covid-19 or be tested weekly and subjected to stricter face-covering requirements.

The U.S.P.S. formally requested a variance from that order in a letter to OSHA dated Tuesday.

“We are now in the middle of our peak season (mid-October through January), which is our busiest and most challenging time of year,” Deputy Postmaster General Doug A. Tulino wrote in the letter, a copy of which was provided to The New York Times. “The American people are relying on us to timely deliver their mail and packages throughout the holiday season — which aren’t limited to holiday packages but include critical items like Treasury checks, Covid-19 tests and pharmaceuticals.”

He added that the mandate was “likely to result in the loss of many employees” just when they are needed most. Such a loss “would have a potentially catastrophic impact on our ability to provide service to the American public when demand is at its highest,” Mr. Tulino wrote.

The Postal Service requires all employees and contractors “who interact with the public” to wear face coverings “when there is a state, local or tribal directive in place that requires face coverings to be worn,” Mr. Tulino wrote. Face coverings are also required for employees and contractors who cannot maintain social distancing, he wrote.

Those policies apply regardless of a person’s vaccination status, he said.

In the last 18 months, the Postal Service has received “only a handful of citations” related to pandemic restrictions, which, Mr. Tulino wrote, “illustrates that the Postal Service’s established Covid-19 mitigation measures have been extremely successful to date.”


Credit…Emon Hassan for The New York Times

Gov. Kathy Hochul of New York said she would ask the State Legislature to make the sale of drinks to go at bars and restaurants legal, cementing in law a popular emergency policy that helped the battered hospitality industry weather the first year and a half of the pandemic.

In her annual state of the state address, Governor Hochul said that legalizing to-go drinks was “something our bars and restaurants have been asking for” because it was “a critical revenue stream during the lean times last year.” Her aides said she would send a bill to the legislature during the current session.

She added: “Cheers, New York.”

The previous governor, Andrew M. Cuomo, had used his emergency powers during the first year of the pandemic to put in place a special “off-premises privileges” rule allowing to-go alcohol sales. The measure was intended to throw a lifeline to the struggling food and beverage industry. Customers quickly grew accustomed to the convenience of takeout drinks.

But the rule died when the state of emergency ended last June and the legislature did not pass a measure that would extend it. Several other states, including Iowa and Arizona, have legalized the sale of takeout alcohol during the pandemic.

7–day average


Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The seven-day average is the average of a day and the previous six days of data. Currently hospitalized is the most recent number of patients with Covid-19 reported by hospitals in the state for the four days prior. Dips and spikes could be due to inconsistent reporting by hospitals. Hospitalization numbers early in the pandemic are undercounts due to incomplete reporting by hospitals to the federal government.

Andrew Rigie, executive director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance, welcomed the news that Ms. Hochul would push for legislative action on the issue this year. “The drinks to go policy provides critically important revenue streams to struggling restaurants and bars and is extraordinarily popular with the public, unsurprisingly,” he said in a statement.

Mr. Rigie added, “We commend Governor Hochul for her leadership, and we look forward to toasting her administration and the state legislature once this important policy is reinstated.”

The announcement on Wednesday came as the highly contagious Omicron variant has driven cases to record highs in New York State. New daily cases were averaging more than 66,000 by Jan. 4, according to a New York Times database.

Nicole Hong Luis Ferré-Sadurní and Grace Ashford contributed reporting.


Credit…Alessandro Grassani for The New York Times

The Italian government made Covid-19 vaccination mandatory for people 50 and older on Wednesday, as it sought to curb the explosive growth in new cases because of the Omicron variant.

The government also approved rules that prevent the unvaccinated from entering businesses, including banks, post offices and some stores. Previously, workers older than 50 could show proof of a negative test to do their jobs. Now they will have to be vaccinated or show proof they have recovered from an infection. The measures go into effect on Feb. 15.

“We want to curb the growth of infections and push the Italians who haven’t gotten vaccinated yet to do so,” Italy’s prime minister, Mario Draghi, said in a statement on Wednesday. “We are targeting in particular age groups that are at higher risk of being hospitalized to reduce the pressure on hospitals and save lives.”

Mr. Draghi added that the government’s goal was to keep hospitals working while, at the same time, keeping schools and businesses open. With new infections rising fast, scientists fear that hospitals may soon have to shut down regular activities to devote beds and personnel to Covid patients.

7–day average


Source: Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University. The daily average is calculated with data that was reported in the last seven days.

Almost 7 percent of Italians over 50 are estimated to have not received any vaccination yet. Vaccination rates are high in Italy, the first country outside China to be severely hit by the pandemic. But there still are millions of unvaccinated people.

The government also set aside 92.5 million euros for free rapid testing in schools to lessen the impact of the virus and avoid the massive use of remote learning, the education minister, Patrizio Bianchi, said.


Credit…Saul Martinez for The New York Times

A small, new real-world study suggests that two widely used at-home antigen tests, the Abbott BinaxNOW and Quidel QuickVue, may fail to detect some Omicron infections even when people are carrying high levels of the coronavirus.

The study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, focused on 30 people infected with the virus at five workplaces that experienced what were most likely outbreaks of the Omicron variant in December. The people received both saliva-based P.C.R. tests and rapid antigen tests using nasal swabs.

It took three days, on average, for people to test positive on a rapid antigen test after their first positive P.C.R. result. In four cases, people transmitted the virus to others while the rapid test showed the negative result, according to the study, which was conducted by several members of the Covid-19 Sports and Society Working Group.

It is not clear whether the infections were missed because the antigen tests are inherently less sensitive to Omicron or because saliva tests may be better at detecting the new variant.

But the results are consistent with other preliminary evidence that the at-home tests that many Americans have come to rely on — at least as currently administered, with a nasal swab — may fail to detect some Omicron cases in the first days of infection.

The researchers said they shared their results with federal officials — including at the White House, the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — in real-time, as the outbreaks were occurring last month.

The study comes a week after the Food and Drug Administration released its own update on the effectiveness of the rapid antigen tests. “Early data suggests that antigen tests do detect the Omicron variant but may have reduced sensitivity,” the agency said.

Emily Anthes and Christina Jewett


Credit…Anna Watts for The New York Times

President Biden’s coronavirus response coordinator said Wednesday that, beginning next week, Americans struggling to get tested for the coronavirus will be able to have the cost of rapid at-home tests reimbursed by their insurers, but offered no specific promises about when free tests would be available.

The remarks by Jeff Zients, who leads the White House pandemic response, come two weeks after Mr. Biden said his administration would buy half a billion rapid tests to distribute free to the public, and that insurance companies would begin reimbursing people for tests they purchased on their own. Mr. Biden said at the time that the free tests would be available “in the coming weeks.”

With the Omicron variant of the coronavirus fueling a sharp rise in cases across the country, demand for all kinds of tests is far outpacing supply. In some areas, people are waiting in long lines to take the highly sensitive polymerase chain reaction, or P.C.R., tests that are administered at medical clinics. Rapid at-home tests are flying off pharmacy shelves.

“We know this remains frustrating for people getting tested in many parts of the country,” Mr. Zients said on Wednesday. “So we are working to do all we can.”

The administration’s new “test to stay” guidance for schools, in which students exposed to the virus can remain in the classroom if they test negative, is among the factors driving up demand for the rapid tests.

Last week, when Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, omitted a testing requirement from new isolation guidelines, she was greeted with a chorus of criticism from public health experts who said a negative test should be required before an infected person ends a five-day isolation period.

On Tuesday, the C.D.C. amended the latest guidance — not to say that testing was required, but to say that people who wanted to end their isolation periods after five days and had access to tests may choose to take them. If the test results are positive, they should stay home for another five days, the guidance says; if negative, and their symptoms are resolving, they may go out, but should continue to wear masks in public for another five days.

Addressing reporters on Wednesday, Dr. Walensky said she omitted a testing requirement from the guidance because rapid tests are not authorized by the Food and Drug Administration to determine whether someone is infectious to others; they are authorized merely to detect infection, and are meant to be used serially, as is the case in schools.

But after the guidance was released, she said, “it became very clear that people were interested in using the rapid tests,” and since that was the case, she at least wanted to “provide guidance on how they should be used.”

The recommendation for the general public is different from the one for health care workers, who are required to test negative before going back to work. Dr. Walensky said the C.D.C. was always more conservative in its recommendations for health workers, because they care for vulnerable people, including those with weak immune systems.

Matching testing supply with demand has been a challenge for both the Trump and Biden administrations. Early in the pandemic, there was a shortage of tests and the components that make up test kits. By late 2020, manufacturers had expanded production. But once vaccines arrived, the Biden administration put less emphasis on testing. Demand plunged, and manufacturers pulled back.

Now the manufacturers are running at full speed again. Mr. Zients said manufacturers would begin delivering rapid tests kits to the federal government next week, and that the administration would set up a “free and easy system, including a website” where Americans could order them.

Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, told reporters on Wednesday that new federal testing sites would open this week in the District of Columbia and Philadelphia, followed soon after by Maine, Maryland, Nevada, Delaware, Texas and Washington state. She noted that mobile testing sites were already open in New York City and New Jersey.

Zolan Kanno-Youngs contributed reporting.




Boris Johnson Scales Back Covid Travel Restrictions for Visitors

Under the new rules, vaccinated travelers will no longer need to take a test before traveling to England. Visitors will still need to take a test within two days of their arrival.

When the Omicron variant was first identified, we rightly introduced travel restrictions to slow its arrival in our country. But now Omicron is so prevalent, these measures are having limited impact on the growth in cases while continuing to pose significant costs to our travel industry. So I can announce it, in England from 4 a.m. on Friday, we will be scrapping the pre-departure test, which discourages many from traveling for fear of being trapped overseas and incurring significant extra expense. We will also be lifting the requirement to self-isolate on arrival until receipt of a negative PCR, returning instead to the system we had in October last year, where those arriving in England will need to take a lateral flow test no later than the end of day two and, if positive, a further PCR test to help us identify any new variants at the border.

Under the new rules, vaccinated travelers will no longer need to take a test before traveling to England. Visitors will still need to take a test within two days of their arrival.CreditCredit…Toby Melville/Reuters

LONDON — Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Wednesday scaled back restrictions on people traveling to England as the Omicron variant appears to be so widespread that measures tightened in November can no longer stem the spread.

Starting Friday, vaccinated travelers will no longer need to take a test before their journey, Mr. Johnson said in a statement to Parliament on Wednesday. They will still need to take one within two days of arrival, he said, though a rapid antigen test is enough. As of Sunday the government will not require a more expensive PCR test.

The changes were welcomed by the country’s hard-hit aviation industry.

Mr. Johnson defended the stricter travel restrictions that were put in place in late November, when the Omicron variant was first identified, as necessary to slow its arrival.

“But now,” he said, “Omicron is so prevalent, these measures are having limited impact on the growth in cases, while continuing to pose significant costs on our travel industry.”

7–day average


Source: Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University. The daily average is calculated with data that was reported in the last seven days.

The decision announced Wednesday effectively takes Britain back to the same rules it operated in October. But unvaccinated passengers will still be required to take a pre-departure test and to self-isolate on arrival for 10 days, during which time they must take two PCR tests.

There were 194,747 daily cases recorded in the U.K., according to data released on Wednesday, near the record of 218,724 cases announced on Tuesday.

Mr. Johnson’s announcement covered England only, but Wales said it would take a similar step and Scotland and Northern Ireland are expected to follow suit.

Tim Alderslade, chief executive officer of Airlines UK, an industry body, said the relaxed rules were a “hugely welcome move at a critical time in the booking season for passengers.”

The change would, he said in a statement, “provide a massive boost to those wanting to travel abroad or come to the U.K. this year. People will now be able to book knowing that, for the fully vaccinated, all emergency testing restrictions have been removed.”


Credit…Christian Hartmann/Reuters

PARIS — Faced with a surge in coronavirus cases driven by the Omicron variant, President Emmanuel Macron of France said Wednesday that he wanted to “piss off” millions of his citizens who refuse to get vaccinated by squeezing them out of the country’s public spaces.

By shocking the nation with a vulgarity three months before presidential elections, Mr. Macron was relaying not only a public health message, but also a political one. He appeared to be calculating that tapping into the growing public anger against the unvaccinated held more potential electoral rewards than the risk of angering an anti-vaccination minority whose support he has little hope of ever getting.

Using his harshest language yet to urge the recalcitrant to get their shots, Mr. Macron said he would not “throw them in prison” or “vaccinate them by force.” But he made it clear he meant to make their lives harder.

In doing so, Mr. Macron, an inveterate political gambler who became the nation’s youngest leader ever five years ago, effectively kicked off his campaign for re-election Wednesday, drawing clear lines between his supporters and opponents. He also moved the focus of debate away from themes like immigration and Islam that have dominated the political race so far and that are advantageous to his strongest rivals, on the right and far right.

7–day average


Source: Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University. The daily average is calculated with data that was reported in the last seven days.

Mr. Macron was clearly seeking to tap into a rich political vein that his counterparts have been more cautious to exploit: anger among the majority of vaccinated people at a minority who refuse to get vaccinated and disproportionately occupy hospital beds. More than 77 percent of French people, and 92 percent of those 12 and older, have received at least two doses, according to the government.

“The unvaccinated, I really want to piss them off,” Mr. Macron said, using a French word that is more vulgar, explaining that a new, reinforced vaccine pass would make it impossible for the unvaccinated to go to restaurants and cafes, or the theater and cinemas. Their recalcitrance, as well as the surge in cases in France, is threatening to undermine his success so far in tackling the pandemic.


Credit…Carl De Souza/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

RIO DE JANEIRO — While Rio de Janeiro’s renowned Carnival parade will go on, the city will cancel its street parties, which ordinarily draw millions of revelers, the mayor says, citing the Omicron variant.

The freewheeling public celebrations “won’t be possible,” Mayor Eduardo Paes Casaid at a news conference on Tuesday. “It’s been decided: there won’t be street carnival in the tradition of the past.”

Mr. Paes said the official parade, in which samba groups put on elaborately choreographed shows flanked by bleachers that seat 56,000 people, would be held, with some health precautions.

Last year, Carnival was canceled in its entirely because of the pandemic, but for many Brazilians, the real show is the street parties, and Cariocas, as Rio residents are known, were devastated to learn that they would not take place.

“I was very excited, very hopeful, for the 2022 Carnival, even more so after a year without Carnival,” said João Ramos, 26.

Mr. Ramos, a designer, said that as soon as he read the news, he shared it with friends, who had already been discussing what costumes to wear.

“It poured cold water on us, everyone was so sad,” he said.

Still, Mr. Ramos said, the decision is understandable. Already the effect of year-end celebrations can be seen: The number of cases is ticking up again, after plunging for months.

7–day average


Source: Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University. The daily average is calculated with data that was reported in the last seven days.

As Carnival approached, many Brazilians had begun cautiously rehearsing again, planning for that outburst of samba-fueled joy when they and millions of visitors take over public spaces and shake off the previous year’s sorrows.

After two years of a pandemic, they said, it was sorely needed.

“With most Brazilians fully immunized, we thought it was happening,” said Tatiana Paz, the organizer of one street performance group. “But then the situation worsened again, and there is nothing we can do about it.”

Other major cities such as Olinda, São Luís, and Florianópolis have also canceled their carnival events in the past 24 hours.

Rio canceled both the parade and the street parties in 2021, when Brazil’s death toll surged as its vaccination campaign was off to a slow start. But toward the end of the year, as shots became more widely available, Brazilians embraced them: About 68 percent of the country’s population is fully vaccinated, and the country’s caseload and death toll plunged.

The period of relative calm that followed allowed the population to begin socializing again. Streets, beaches, and bars became packed as summer set in. On Copacabana beach, the sky was filled with fireworks as onlookers welcomed the New Year.

However, cases started rising again as Omicron spread around the world.

Rio’s annual Carnival, considered to be one of the largest in the world, takes place in the weeks leading up to Ash Wednesday, the Western Christian holy day that marks the start of Lent. Ash Wednesday falls on March 2 this year.

The city’s tradition, with its lively music and elaborate costumes, has endured and often thrived even in difficult times. Brazilians have danced through wars, hyperinflation, repressive military rule, runaway street violence and the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic. Official calls to postpone Carnival in Brazil in 1892 (for sanitation reasons) and 1912 (to mourn the death of a national hero) were largely ignored.

In another city famous for Carnival, New Orleans, this year’s Mardi Gras parades appear to be moving forward. The event was canceled in 2021.

Flávia Milhorance and Derrick Bryson Taylor


Credit…Jack Plunkett/Invision, via Associated Press

For the second year in a row, the Grammy Awards have been pushed back by the coronavirus pandemic.

The 64th annual ceremony, which had been set for Jan. 31 in Los Angeles, has been rescheduled, according to a joint statement on Wednesday from the Recording Academy and CBS, as the Omicron variant has led to a surge in cases nationwide.

The new date will be announced soon, the statement said, noting, “The health and safety of those in our music community, the live audience, and the hundreds of people who work tirelessly to produce our show remains our top priority.”

Last year’s show was postponed by six weeks as cases spiked, and before vaccinations were widely available. Last week, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, President Biden’s chief medical adviser, predicted that the latest wave of the pandemic may reach its peak in the United States by the end of January.

This year the composer and bandleader Jon Batiste has 11 Grammy nominations, more than any other artist, and will compete for both album and record of the year. Other top nominees include Olivia Rodrigo, Justin Bieber, Billie Eilish and Doja Cat. No performers have been announced yet.


Credit…Cindy Schultz for The New York Times

Gov. Kathy M. Hochul of New York said Wednesday that she would propose spending $10 billion to help rebuild a health care work force that has been exhausted and depleted by the nearly two-year-old pandemic.

“We simply do not have enough health care workers in our hospitals, or in our long-term care facilities, in our ambulances, or in the homes of our loved ones,” the governor said in her first State of the State speech in Albany, labeling the moment a crisis.

The state health work force is about 6 percent smaller than it was before the pandemic. Even before the coronavirus strained the system, officials had projected the work force would need to grow by 11 percent by the end of 2022 to meet demand, the governor’s office reported.

“We must stop the current hemorrhaging of health care workers,” Ms. Hochul said in her speech. “And we’re going to do it. Not just by saying we owe them a debt of gratitude, but actually paying them the debt we owe.”

She proposed spending more than $4 billion to support wages and bonuses to increase the number of health care workers in the state by 20 percent over the next five years. That would include up to $3,000 in bonuses for all full-time health care workers who remain in their positions for a year, and $2 billion in spending on health care capital infrastructure and improved lab capacity.

The governor also wants to offer free tuition to students who are preparing to work in high-demand health occupations and to provide stipends to make up for lost income while they are in school. Doctors could receive loan forgiveness up to $120,000 if they work in underserved areas for three years. She also wants to start a “Nurses Across N.Y.” Program to place nurses in underserved areas.

Hospitals across the state are reporting that staffing is the biggest challenge of this stage of the pandemic, as new cases soared this week to levels not seen since the first wave in May 2020. The result has been packed emergency rooms and waits for beds at some institutions, though fewer patients are requiring intensive care because of vaccinations and what scientists say is the milder nature of the Omicron variant.

As the governor spoke in Albany, the new mayor of New York, Eric Adams, laid out a plan to provide $111 million in new funding for the city’s public hospitals to help them cope with the surge in patients caused by the highly contagious Omicron variant. He also announced a $27 million loan program for the city’s so-called safety-net hospitals, which are outside the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation network.


Credit…Sarah Blesener for The New York Times

A small, new real-world study suggests that two widely used at-home antigen tests, the Abbott BinaxNow and Quidel QuickVue, may fail to detect Omicron infections when people are carrying high levels of the coronavirus.

The study, which has not yet been peer reviewed, focused on 30 people, who were most likely infected with Omicron, who tested positive for the virus at workplace surveillance programs. They took both saliva-based P.C.R. tests and rapid antigen tests using nasal swabs.

It took three days, on average, for people to test positive on a rapid antigen test after their first positive P.C.R. result. In four cases, people transmitted the virus to others while the rapid test showed the negative result, the study noted.

It is not clear whether the infections were missed because the antigen tests are inherently less sensitive for Omicron or because saliva samples may be a better way to detect the new variant.

But the results suggest that the at-home tests that many Americans have come to rely on — at least as currently administered, with a nasal swab — may be failing to detect Omicron in the first days of infection.

Anne Wyllie, a microbiologist at the Yale School of Public Health and a co-author of the study, urged people to interpret negative test results with caution. “People should not ignore high risk exposures,” she said. “They should not ignore symptoms.”

Rapid antigen tests, which are designed to detect proteins on the surface of the coronavirus, have always been less sensitive than P.C.R. tests, which amplify the virus’s genetic material and can detect even very small traces of the virus. But in the new study, the rapid antigen tests failed to detect the virus even in people who had high viral loads, and who were thus likely to be infectious.

The tests were done over a series of up to 10 days. The discordant results overwhelmingly came during the first three days of infection.

The study, by researchers at the University of Washington, the Yale School of Public Health and others, concluded: “In real-world antigen testing, the limit of detection was substantially lower than manufacturers have reported to the F.D.A. based on laboratory validation.”

In 29 of 30 people, samples of the virus produced a telltale genetic pattern on P.C.R. tests, suggesting that they were likely infected with Omicron.

Although the study is small and has not yet been reviewed by experts, it fits with emerging research suggesting that some rapid antigen tests may be less sensitive to Omicron than to other variants. It is also consistent with a recent report from South Africa, which suggests that saliva samples might be a better way to detect Omicron than nasal swabs.

The study comes a week after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration released an update that made headlines by stating: “Early data suggests that antigen tests do detect the omicron variant but may have reduced sensitivity.”

An Abbott spokesman, John Koval, said on Wednesday that the finding that a P.C.R. test is more sensitive is “not new.”

“Due to immediate turnaround time, frequent rapid antigen testing does slow transmission — and with a highly infectious variant frequent testing is needed, which is not realistic with P.C.R.,” he wrote in an email.

Quidel’s president, Douglas Bryant, said in a statement that the company performed recent testing using samples from South Africa and confirmed that its rapid tests are detecting the Omicron variant.

“The QuickVue antigen tests are able to detect the live Omicron variant with similar performance as with other variants,” he said.

Christina Jewett and Emily Anthes


Credit…Tyrone Siu/Reuters

Hong Kong announced a series of strict pandemic control measures on Wednesday, including suspending flights from the United States and seven other countries, as it scrambled to contain an incipient coronavirus outbreak.

The new measures came as the authorities held thousands of passengers of a cruise ship under mandatory quarantine to trace a Covid case.

The flight bans will deepen the city’s isolation from the outside world and mark a return to the tough restrictions the city imposed in the early days of the pandemic. Hong Kong has largely brought the coronavirus under control, but the arrival of the highly transmissible Omicron variant threatens to set off the city’s fifth wave of the pandemic.

“Given the very dire situation of the pandemic, we have to grasp this critical moment,” Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, said at a news conference.

Mrs. Lam had said on Tuesday that no new social distancing measures were expected. But the spread of Omicron, including the infection of a person with no clear connections to the city’s first detected Omicron cluster, evidently forced a change.

“We have to contain the pandemic to make sure there will not be a major outbreak in the community again,” she said. “We are racing with Omicron.”

7–day average


Source: Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University. The daily average is calculated with data that was reported in the last seven days.

The restrictions will make it even harder to enter Hong Kong, which already imposes some of the world’s longest quarantines — up to three weeks. Under the new rules, no flights will be allowed from Australia, Britain, Canada, France, India, Pakistan, the Philippines or United States for two weeks, starting on Saturday. People who have recently been in those countries will also be barred from entering Hong Kong by other routes.

Large public events will be canceled, and several types of public venues — including bars, gyms and karaoke parlors — will be closed. Visitors will be barred from hospitals and nursing homes for two weeks. Dining in restaurants after 6 p.m. will be banned. But the government decided not to stop in-person instruction in schools, or to require government officials to work from home.

Hong Kong has reported a growing number of imported cases involving the Omicron variant, with 133 as of Tuesday.

“If this continues, there will be tremendous strain on our quarantine and health care facilities,” said Dr. Ronald Lam, Hong Kong’s director of health.

An Omicron outbreak in the city has been traced to a Cathay Pacific flight attendant who ignored quarantine requirements after returning to the city from the United States. He dined at the Moon Palace restaurant in the upscale Fashion Walk shopping mall on Dec. 27, infecting his father and at least one other person, who then infected others.

The restrictions came as Hong Kong health authorities on Wednesday ordered a Royal Caribbean cruise ship to return to port early as officials searched for the contacts of a Covid-19 patient.

Nine people who boarded the ship, the Spectrum of the Seas, on Jan. 2 had come into contact with the patient, who did not board the ship, the government said in a statement. The nine were told to quarantine as soon as they were identified as contacts, though they preliminarily tested negative.

The vessel, which was carrying about 2,500 guests and 1,200 staff members, was scheduled to return on Thursday but was back in port as ordered on Wednesday morning, a Royal Caribbean representative said.

More than 3,000 passengers of the ship were subjected to mandatory quarantine, Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, said at a news conference on Wednesday.

All crew members and guests 12 and older had to be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 and provide negative test results before boarding, the cruise line said in a statement. The passengers who sailed on the ship will receive a 25 percent refund on their cruise fare, it added.

The cruise line also said that it had canceled another ship scheduled to depart on Thursday and that all guests who had booked it would receive a full refund.


Credit…Al Drago for The New York Times

All nine of the justices on the Supreme Court have received booster shots of the coronavirus vaccine, a spokeswoman said. The justices have all been fully vaccinated since last March.

The court is preparing to hear arguments on Friday in two major challenges to the Biden administration’s efforts to address the coronavirus in the workplace.

As they have since the beginning of the current term in October, the justices will hear arguments on Friday in person in the Supreme Court’s courtroom. The courthouse remains closed to the public, and lawyers and credentialed journalists are required to wear N95 masks and to have recently received a negative test for the virus. The court does not require proof of vaccination.

Friday’s arguments concern measures requiring vaccination or frequent testing of workers at large employers and vaccination of health care workers at facilities that receive federal money. The court will provide a live audio feed of the arguments on its website.


Credit…Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

The Sundance Film Festival announced Wednesday that it will cancel all in-person events set for Jan. 20-30. The news comes as virus cases are spiking because of the Omicron variant. The festival will now be virtual for a second year in a row.

Sundance, in a news release, said it was “a difficult decision” to cancel its first hybrid festival, which would have allowed patrons to watch films either in-person in Park City, Utah, or online via a portal.

The release noted that with case numbers expected to peak in Park City and the surrounding Summit County during the week of the festival, “we cannot knowingly put our staff and community at risk. The undue stress to Summit County’s health services and our more than 1,500 staff and volunteers would be irresponsible in this climate.”

7–day average


Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The seven-day average is the average of a day and the previous six days of data. Currently hospitalized is the most recent number of patients with Covid-19 reported by hospitals in the state for the four days prior. Dips and spikes could be due to inconsistent reporting by hospitals. Hospitalization numbers early in the pandemic are undercounts due to incomplete reporting by hospitals to the federal government.

The news follows the announcement earlier today that the Recording Academy would postpone the Grammys, set to take place Jan. 31 in Los Angeles. In recent weeks, the Palm Springs International Film Festival canceled its event, and both the American Film Institute awards luncheon and the Critics Choice Awards, set for January, were postponed.

Last year was the first time Sundance held a completely virtual event. The multiday affair was deemed a success considering the circumstances and generated one of the highest sales in the festival’s history when Apple paid $25 million for the film “CODA,” which is now looking for recognition in the awards race.


Credit…Andrea Mantovani for The New York Times

The World Health Organization says that it is monitoring a coronavirus variant detected in a small number of patients in France, but that, for now, there is little reason to worry about its spread.

The B.1.640.2 variant was first identified in October and uploaded to Gisaid, a database for disease variants, on Nov. 4. Only about 20 samples have been sequenced so far, experts said this week, and only one since early December.

Abdi Mahmud, a Covid incident manager with the W.H.O., told reporters in Geneva on Tuesday that the variant had been on the agency’s radar since November, but added that it did not appear to have spread widely over the past two months.

“That virus has had a lot of chances to pick up,” he said.

By contrast, the Omicron variant, which was first uploaded to Gisaid on Nov. 23, has more than 120,000 sequences in the database. (The vast majority of Omicron cases have not been sequenced.) It has been detected in at least 128 countries, according to the W.H.O., and is fueling record-high case numbers in many parts of the world.

7–day average


Source: Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University. The daily average is calculated with data that was reported in the last seven days.

Concerns over the variant in France arose after researchers found that it contained 46 mutations that differed from the original version of the coronavirus. Omicron also has a high number of mutations, which researchers believe made it far more transmissible.

According to a research paper that was published on a preprint server in late December, but that has not been peer-reviewed, the B.1.640.2 variant was first detected in southeastern France in a vaccinated person who had recently traveled from Cameroon. Researchers found a total of 12 cases in the area and named the variant “I.H.U.,” after the research institute in Marseille that helped identify it.

“It is too early to speculate on virological, epidemiological or clinical features of this I.H.U. variant based on these 12 cases,” researchers wrote.

Numerous coronavirus variants have emerged over the past two years, and the reasons that some spread widely while others do not are complex. For now, several independent researchers say there is little reason to be concerned about the I.H.U. variant.

Tom Peacock, a virologist at Imperial College in London, tweeted this week that, so far, “this virus has had a decent chance to cause trouble but never really materialised.”

Lots of chat about B.1.640.2 in the last few days – just a few points to keep in mind:

– B.1.640.2 actually predates Omicron

– in all that time there are exactly… 20 sequences (compared to the >120k Omis in less time)

Def not one worth worrying about too much at the mo…

— Tom Peacock (@PeacockFlu) January 3, 2022


Credit…Patrick T. Fallon/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

After going virtual last year, CES, a mega-conference in Las Vegas that’s the traditional launchpad for many of the tech industry’s latest gadgets, is trying to make a comeback. The trade show kicks off on Wednesday, with an estimated 2,200 exhibitors set to show up in person.

But with the highly contagious Omicron variant of the coronavirus surging, scores of major tech companies are still presenting mostly virtually.

It’s a sign that decisions to hold big in-person events at this phase of the pandemic remain far from clear-cut, the DealBook newsletter reports. Yet the organizers of CES — like those of the Winter Olympics and the Australian Open, which are set to begin soon — have decided it’s time to gather in person again.

Canceling the show would “hurt thousands of smaller companies, entrepreneurs and innovators” who depend on the show to introduce their products, Gary Shapiro, the chief executive of the Consumer Technology Association, the trade group that organizes CES, wrote in an opinion column in The Las Vegas Review-Journal. (The conference is also important for Las Vegas, which reaped an estimated $291 million from spending tied to it in 2020.) Mr. Shapiro noted that the conference had embraced pandemic protections like requiring attendees to be fully vaccinated and masked while on the show floor, and that testing was readily available.

But many large companies have chosen to attend remotely, including Amazon, AMD, AT&T, General Motors, Google, Intel, Lenovo, Meta, Nvidia, Pinterest, T-Mobile and Twitter. That will leave “big gaps on the show floor,” Mr. Shapiro said. And CES will end a day early, in what the organizers said was a concession to safety.

Other big events are delaying their return to in-person gatherings. The World Economic Forum postponed its annual confab in Davos, Switzerland, which was set to take place this month.

So is it safe to hold live in-person events again? Omicron cases appear to be less severe than cases from previous variants, and vaccines and new treatments are becoming available. More governments are also edging toward managing, not containing, the coronavirus, and are increasingly reluctant to reimpose restrictions. That could mean that a return to regular mass gatherings in some places may not be far-off.


Credit…Isadora Kosofsky for The New York Times

In hospitals around the country, doctors are taking notice: This wave of Covid seems different from the last one.

Once again, as they face the highly contagious Omicron variant, medical personnel are exhausted and are contracting the virus themselves. And the numbers of patients entering hospitals with the variant are surging to staggering levels, filling up badly needed beds, delaying nonemergency procedures and increasing the risk that vulnerable uninfected patients will catch the virus.

But in Omicron hot spots from New York to Florida to Texas, a smaller proportion of those patients are landing in intensive care units or requiring mechanical ventilation, doctors said. And many — roughly 50 to 65 percent of admissions in some New York hospitals — show up at the hospital for other ailments and then test positive for the virus.

“We are seeing an increase in the number of hospitalizations,” said Dr. Rahul Sharma, emergency physician in chief for NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell hospital. But the severity of the disease looks different from previous waves, he said. “We’re not sending as many patients to the I.C.U., we’re not intubating as many patients, and actually, most of our patients that are coming to the emergency department that do test positive are actually being discharged.”

7–day average


Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The seven-day average is the average of a day and the previous six days of data. Currently hospitalized is the most recent number of patients with Covid-19 reported by hospitals in the state for the four days prior. Dips and spikes could be due to inconsistent reporting by hospitals. Hospitalization numbers early in the pandemic are undercounts due to incomplete reporting by hospitals to the federal government.Holiday interruptions to testing and data reporting may affect case and death trends.

Though it’s still early for firm predictions, the shift in hospital patterns fits with emerging data that Omicron may be a variant with inherently milder effects than those that have come before, less prone to infecting the lungs, where it can cause serious disease. But the lower proportion of severe cases is also happening because, compared with previous variants, Omicron is infecting more people who have some prior immunity, whether through prior infection or vaccination. The vast majority of Omicron patients in I.C.U.s are unvaccinated or have severely compromised immune systems, doctors said.

Hospitals, facing staff shortages, are under enormous strain. In New York City, hospitalizations have exceeded the peak of last winter’s surge. And Governor Larry Hogan of Maryland declared a state of emergency on Tuesday, noting that the state had more hospitalized Covid-19 patients at that time than at any previous point during the pandemic.

“We’re in truly crushed mode,” said Dr. Gabe Kelen, director of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine’s emergency department.

The number of I.C.U. patients is a lagging indicator, likely to rise in the coming weeks, experts said. What’s more, some states are still struggling under the crush of hospitalizations from Delta, a previous version of the virus that may be more virulent. (Hospitals are frequently in the dark about which variant newly admitted patients are infected with.)

Emily Anthes and Azeen Ghorayshi


Credit…Adnan Abidi/Reuters

NEW DELHI — When the Omicron coronavirus variant spread through India late in December, Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged the nation to be vigilant and follow medical guidelines. Arvind Kejriwal, the chief minister of the capital region of Delhi, swiftly introduced night curfews, shut down movie theaters, and slashed restaurants and public transport to half capacity.

Then, both men hit the campaign trail, often appearing without masks in packed rallies of thousands.

“When it is our bread and butter at stake, they force restrictions and lockdowns,” said Ajay Tiwari, a 41-year-old taxi driver in New Delhi. “There are much bigger crowds at political rallies, but they don’t impose any lockdown in those areas. It really pains us deep in the heart.”

As Omicron fuels a rapid spread of new infections through India’s major urban hubs, the country’s pandemic fatigue has been intensified by a sense of déjà vu and the frustration of mixed signals.

7–day average


Source: Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University. The daily average is calculated with data that was reported in the last seven days.

It has been just a few months since the deadly Delta variant ravaged the country, when government leaders vastly underestimated its threat and publicly flouted their own advice. The memories of overwhelmed hospitals and funeral pyres working around the clock are still all too fresh here.

The metropolis of Mumbai on Wednesday reported more than 15,000 new infections in 24 hours — the highest daily caseload since the pandemic began, beating the city’s previous record of about 11,000 cases during the second wave in the spring. In New Delhi, the number of daily infections increased by nearly 100 percent overnight.

The sheer size of India’s population, at 1.4 billion, has always kept experts wary about the prospects of a new coronavirus variant. In few places around world was the toll of Delta as stark as in India. The country’s official figures show about half a million pandemic deaths — a number that experts say vastly undercounts the real toll.