January 4

Live updates: 2,500 US flights canceled due to storms, virus


Wintry weather combined with the pandemic to frustrate air travelers whose return flights home from the holidays were canceled or delayed in the first days of the new year.

More than 2,500 U.S. flights and more than 4,100 worldwide were grounded Sunday, according to tracking service FlightAware.

That followed Saturday’s mass cancelations of more than 2,700 U.S. flights, and more than 4,700 worldwide. Saturday’s single-day U.S. toll was the highest since just before Christmas, when airlines began blaming staffing shortages on increasing COVID-19 infections among crews.

A winter storm that hit the Midwest on Saturday made Chicago the worst place in the country for travelers throughout the weekend as the region’s airports continued to recover Sunday morning. About a quarter of all flights at O’Hare Airport were canceled Sunday.

American Airlines said most of Sunday’s canceled flights had been canceled ahead of time to avoid last-minute disruptions at the airport.

As the omicron variant surges across the United States, top federal health officials are looking to add a negative test along with its five-day isolation restrictions for asymptomatic Americans who catch the coronavirus, the White House’s top medical adviser said Sunday.

Dr. Anthony Fauci said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now considering including the negative test as part of its guidance after getting significant “pushback” on its updated recommendations last week.

Under that Dec. 27 guidance, isolation restrictions for people infected with COVID-19 were shortened from 10 days to five days if they are no longer feeling symptoms or running a fever. After that period, they are asked to spend the following five days wearing a mask when around others.

The guidelines have since received criticism from many health professionals for not specifying a negative antigen test as a requirement for leaving isolation.

“There has been some concern about why we don’t ask people at that five-day period to get tested,” Fauci said. “Looking at it again, there may be an option in that, that testing could be a part of that. And I think we’re going to be hearing more about that in the next day or so from the CDC.”


JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minster Naftali Bennett says authorities have decided to expand the country’s second booster campaign to people over the age of 60 as it copes with the omicron variant.

Israel last week approved the booster for a limited population of people with underlying illnesses.

Speaking on national TV, Bennett said Sunday that giving older Israelis an additional booster shot — their fourth vaccination overall — will provide a “new layer” of protection.

Earlier Sunday, Bennett warned that Israel will soon see tens of thousands of cases a day as the variant continues to spread. Bennett spoke at the start of the weekly Cabinet meeting in Jerusalem. He said despite rolling out more than 4.2 million coronavirus booster shots to the country’s population of 9.3 million since July, “the storm is coming to us these very days.”

Daily cases in Israel have riom around 700 to the more than 4,000 reported on Sunday.


PARIS — Despite a surge in coronvirus infections in France, Health Minister Olivier Veran struck an optimistic cord on Sunday, saying that “the fifth wave of COVID-19 is perhaps the last” in what for many around the world has become an endless pandemic.

President Emmanuel Macron’s governmen insists that getting as many people vaccinated – and boosted — as possible is the best way to contain fast-spreading omicron variant, Veran the weekly Le Journal Au Dimanche. It’s also the only way to avoid new lockdowns, damage to the country’s economic recovery and the pressure on already overburdened hospitals, he added.

France has vaccinated 77% of its population and is rushing out booster shots to combat omicron. But more than 4 million adults remain unvaccinated, including more than 1 million people over age 65.

And for them, public life will be severely restricted as the government rushes out vaccine passes.

Unvaccinated people who contract the virus will be “watched and punished,” Veran said. They will have to self-isolate for 10 days and for seven days if they were in contact with an infected person. For infected and inoculated residents, the quarantine has been reduced to seven days and further to five with a negative test. Starting Monday, those vaccinated and in contact with an infected person will not have to quarantine at all, Veran said.

Authorities registered 58,432 new cases on Sunday, a number well below the past four days when infections soared over 200,000.


PARIS — Soccer great Lionel Messi is isolating at home in Argentina.

Messi was among four Paris Saint-Germain players testing positive for the coronavirus ahead of the team’s French Cup game at Vannes on Monday night as it returns to action after the winter break.

PSG coach Mauricio Pochettino is uncertain when the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner will be able to return to France, or whether Messi can recover in time to play away to Lyon in the French league next Sunday.

Pochettino says Messi “tested positive in Argentina (and) until he’s negative, he won’t be able to travel to France. We’ll see when he gets back.”


LONDON — The U.K. government has been making contingency plans in case hospitals, schools and other workplaces are hit by major staff shortages amid the country’s record-breaking spike in coronavirus infections.

Public sector workplaces have been preparing for staff absences ranging from 10% to 25% as COVID-19 sickens more people or forces them to isolate, the Cabinet Office said.

The highly transmissible omicron variant has caused Britain’s daily new caseload to soar over Christmas and the New Year, with a new daily high of 189,000 on Dec. 31. About 1 in 25 people in England — or about 2 million people — had COVID-19 in the week before Christmas, the Office of National Statistics estimated. In London, the figure was 1 in 15.

Cabinet Office Minister Stephen Barclay said there had already been “significant” absences and the government was preparing for “every eventuality.” He cited increased support for virus testing in schools and warehouses, and perhaps better ventilation, as an example of how to prevent disruptions.


LONDON — Secondary school students in England will be required to wear face masks when they return to classes after the Christmas holidays.

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said Sunday the move was an attempt to “minimize disruption” in schools as the highly transmissible omicron variant drives coronavirus infections in the U.K. to record levels.

Similar guidance on masks for students ages 11 and above was already in place for schools in Scotland and Wales.

Students and teachers are set to return to classrooms on Tuesday after more than two weeks off, during which Britain’s daily caseload has climbed as high as 189,000 on Dec. 31.


SOFIA, Bulgaria — Bulgarian health authorities have identified the country’s first cases of the highly transmissible omicron variant.

Twelve people were found to have the variant, the country’s chief health inspector Angel Kunchev said Sunday. He warned that the new variant can be expected to spread faster and soon become dominant.

All but one of the cases are from the capital Sofia and all of them have mild symptoms, Kunchev said adding that no one needs hospitalization. Seven of the people were not vaccinated, while the other five are fully vaccinated.

Bulgaria is the least vaccinated country in the 27-member European Union as just one-third of the population has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

The Balkan country of 7 million has reported a total of 748,184 cases, including 30,983 fatalities. Authorities on Sunday reported 1,076 confirmed new cases of coronavirus and 28 deaths.


PARIS — Unvaccinated people traveling from the United States will have to self-isolate in France for 10 days under supervision from local authorities in line with new government restrictions Sunday.

All passengers from the U.S. have to provide a negative COVID-19 test – a PCR or an antigen test – no older than 48 hours in addition to proof of vaccination before boarding a flight to France.

Unvaccinated travelers from the U.S. previously were required to self-quarantine without supervision for seven days.

New COVID-19 cases in France have surpassed 200,000 for four consecutive days, fueled by the highly contagious omicron variant.

French authorities also are stepping up pressure on unvaccinated residents. The government is pushing parliament to pass a law in the next two weeks that would allow only vaccinated residents to enter restaurants, cinemas, theaters, museums, and sports arenas.


AMSTERDAM — Thousands of people defied a ban on gatherings to assemble on an Amsterdam square for a demonstration against the Dutch government’s coronavirus lockdown measures.

The municipality of the Dutch capital had outlawed the protest, saying police had indications some demonstrators could be attending “prepared for violence.”

But thousands of people made their way to the square on Sunday, with some unfurling a banner that read, “less repression, more care” near the Van Gogh Museum. A group of people in white overalls and white masks held up signs, including one that said: “It’s not about a virus, it’s about control” on one side and “Freedom.” on the other.

There was a heavy police presence on the square and in nearby streets. The municipality designated the area a security risk region, a decision that gave police powers to preventatively frisk people.


NEW DELHI — India has reported over 27,000 new COVID-19 cases, data from the Health Ministry showed amid growing concerns of a potential new surge stoked by the highly contagious omicron variant.

Sunday’s confirmed cases represented the highest daily count since October. The country also reported 284 deaths, bringing India’s total death toll in the pandemic to over 481,000 people.

The country now has more than 1,500 confirmed omicron cases, with the highest number in the western state of Maharashtra. India plans to start vaccinating children between 15 and 18 on Monday.

Various states have brought in a slew of restrictions to curb cases, including nightime curfews, restricted seating at bars and restaurants, and bans on large public gatherings.


ATLANTA — Another one of Georgia’s largest school districts has decided to start 2022 classes virtually because of high numbers of COVID-19 cases.

Atlanta Public Schools announced students will be virtual when classes start back after winter break on Tuesday.

The district is also asking all teachers and other staff to report to their jobs for mandatory COVID-19 testing unless they are ill and will use that information for planning, the district said in a statement.

Currently, Atlanta schools plan to return to regular classes on Jan. 10.

Atlanta schools join Fulton County, Dekalb County, Clayton County and Rockdale County schools in a virtual return after Christmas.

Georgia’s two largest school districts — Gwinnett County and Cobb County — have not announced any changes to returning to school in person as of Saturday.


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