(Bloomberg) -- China confirmed 127 Covid-19 cases in the city of Xi’an, the epicenter of its latest outbreak. The flare up has led to community spread, Xinhua reported. 

Japan’s former vaccine czar urged for a faster rollout of booster shots. But the World Health Organization said blanket booster programs will prolong the pandemic and the focus of immunizations must remain on decreasing deaths and severe disease.

Infections in the U.K. climbed to a record. The omicron variant may be less likely to land patients in the hospital than the delta strain, according to a trio of studies of preliminary data. 

U.S. regulators gave emergency authorization to Pfizer Inc.’s Covid pill for people at high risk of severe complications.

Key Developments: 

  • Virus Tracker: Cases pass 276.9 million; deaths near 5.37 million
  • Vaccine Tracker: More than 8.8 billion shots given
  • The quest for a disposable mask that won’t pollute
  • Stages and restaurants go dark as de facto shutdowns grip U.S.
  • Omicron hospitalization risk is far below delta’s in two studies
  • All you need to know about rapid test kits
  • What we know about omicron, the new virus variant: QuickTake

Apple Shuts Some Stores Amid Covid Surge (6:50 a.m. HK)

Apple Inc. temporarily shuttered at least seven retail stores in the U.S. and Canada over the past day as Covid-19 cases among employees surge. 

Colorado Ski Country’s Mask Mandate (3:30 p.m. NY)

A surge in cases -- believed to be the omicron variant - is triggering a mandatory mask order in Colorado ski country at the peak of the holiday travel season.

The Eagle County Board of Health, meeting in an emergency session Wednesday, reinstated an indoor mask mandate “regardless of vaccination status.” The popular resort towns of Vail and Avon are located in Eagle County.

“The decision was made in response to alarming news about the rise of Covid-19 cases,” according to a statement issued by Eagle County government. “During the course of a week, medical providers reported a dramatic spike in the number of sick individuals.”

California to Keep Schools Open, Provide Tests (2:05 p.m. NY)

Rather than close classrooms as omicron infections surge, California will provide one or two rapid coronavirus tests for every public school student returning from winter break, Governor Gavin Newsom said Wednesday.

California also will extend hours at state-run testing facilities and require booster shots for health-care workers to stem rising infections. 

Although California recorded the nation’s first omicron case, Newsom has resisted a new round of business or school closures. Instead, he has pushed for vaccinations, boosters and ramped-up testing to limit the variant’s spread. More than 87% of the state’s population over the age of 5 has received at least one vaccine dose, and 8.7 million of its 40 million people have received a booster shot. 

Cirque Du Soleil Cancels Some NYC Shows (1:40 p.m. NY)

Cirque Du Soleil is canceling some of its New York City shows due to breakthrough cases among people in its production. 

Cirque du Soleil and MSG Entertainment said it would cancel the shows for “‘Twas the Night Before…” at Madison Square Garden due to staff Covid cases and plan to resume the show on Dec. 28. Tickets for affected shows will be fully refunded, the company said in a statement on Wednesday.

In general, MSG has said its concerts, shows and events will go on as planned despite a spike in Covid cases in New York that has jumped six-fold in the last month.

Duke Joins U.S. Colleges Going Online (1 p.m. NY)

Add Duke University to the list of colleges -- including Harvard and Stanford -- that will begin the January semester online due to the rapid spread of the omicron varient. Classes will be held remotely beginning Jan. 5, and in-person instruction for undergraduates and most graduate and professional school programs is expected to resume on Jan. 10, Duke said Wednesday.

Upon return to campus, Duke students should expect to submit proof of Covid boosters shots before the end of January. A growing number of schools, including the University of Michigan and Michigan State, are requiring boosters. The American College Health Association is recommending booster shots for all students, faculty and staff on college campuses.

Pfizer Pill Gets U.S. Clearance (12:35 p.m. NY)

U.S. regulators gave emergency authorization to Pfizer Inc.’s Covid-19 pill for people at high risk of severe complications, bringing a more convenient treatment option to patients at a critical point in the pandemic.

The drug Paxlovid becomes the first at-home medication authorized for Covid-19. It is expected to become a potent weapon in battling the virus once production gears up, giving high-risk patients an easy-to-use treatment they can take from home.

D.C. to Require Vaccine Proof at Restaurants (12:33 p.m. NY)

Washington, D.C., will require restaurants and bars to verify that patrons ages 12 and older have received at least one dose of the Covid vaccine, Mayor Muriel Bowser said. The rule takes effect Jan. 15.

Omicron Hospital Risk Below Delta (11:50 a.m. NY)

Infection with the omicron variant of Covid-19 is far less likely to land patients in the hospital than cases involving the delta strain, according to early study data out of Scotland.  

The study suggests omicron is associated with a two-thirds reduction in the risk of hospitalization when compared with the earlier variant, though it’s also more contagious. 

While booster doses offer greater protection against delta, a third shot also offers substantial additional protection against the risk of symptomatic infection for omicron, researchers found.

Spain Brings Back Outdoor Masks (11:45 a.m. N Y)

Spain will reintroduce compulsory use of masks outdoors. The decision was announced in a meeting by Prime Minsiter Pedro Sanchez in a meeting with the leaders of the country’s leaders Wednesday, and will first need approval by the government’s Cabinet, a formality. The government has also said it will assign members of the armed forces to vaccination tasks, as it seeks to massively roll out third jabs.

U.K. Reports Over 100,000 New Cases (11:10 a.m. NY)

The U.K. reported a record 106,122 new coronavirus cases on Dec. 22, according to government data. 

Amazon Requires Masks for Warehouse Workers (11 a.m. NY)

Amazon warehouse employees in the U.S. will be required to wear face masks at work beginning Wednesday, CNBC reported, citing a notice sent to employees on Tuesday and confirmation from a company spokesperson.

Booster Focus May Prolong Pandemic, WHO Says (11 a.m. NY)

The focus of immunizations must remain on decreasing deaths and severe disease and blanket booster programs are set to exacerbate vaccine inequity as about 20% of all daily doses currently administered are booster shots or an additional dose, according to the World Health Organization.

“Blanket booster programs are likely to prolong the pandemic rather than end it by diverting supply to countries that already have high levels of vaccination coverage, giving the virus more opportunity to spread and mutate,” Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a media briefing on Wednesday.

NYC Public Hospitals to Ban Most Visitors (10:40 a.m. NY)

New York City’s public hospitals said on Wednesday that the system would begin banning most visitors amid the Covid spike, spurred by a recent outbreak in one of the hospitals. The visitation rules won’t be as restrictive as they were during the height of the pandemic in 2020 as women in labor, children and hospice patients will still be able to receive visitors.

Privately run Mount Sinai Health System also said it would limit visitors.

Czech Cabinet Tightens Rules (10:17 a.m. NY)

The Czech government limite the size of audiences at public events and announced stricter rules around the New Year’s to prevent the spread of coronavirus, Health Minister Vlastimil Valek said. Cultural and other public events can have maximum 1,000 people seated or 100 standing attendees.

Nets Game in Portland Postponed (10:15 a.m. NY)

Mayor-Elect to Keep NYC Health Chief (10:06 a.m. NY)

Eric Adams will keep Dave Chokshi as New York City’s chief health official, a sign the mayor-elect seeks to maintain continuity with Mayor Bill de Blasio’s pandemic response against a backdrop of surging Covid cases, according to a person familiar with the decision who was unauthorized to speak publicly. 

Mauritius Vaccination Validity Now 6 Months (10:06 a.m. NY)

Mauritius, an Indian Ocean island nation with 72% of population having completed inoculation, amended the conditions to be considered as fully vaccinated, according to Health and Wellness minister Kailesh Jagutpal.

The status will now be valid for six months. To be considered once again as fully vaccinated, the person should get a booster dose within four to six months after the second jab or single shot of Johnson & Johnson. These new measures will be effective as from Jan. 15., Jagutpal told reporters in Port Louis, the capital, on Wednesday.

So far, there are 174,854 people who have been administered with a booster dose, representing about 14% of the population.

Austria’s Curbs Seek to Save Ski Season (9:38 a.m. NY)

Austria will restrict quarantine-free travel from the U.K., Netherlands, Norway and Denmark and only allow in select travelers as it balances between containing the pandemic and salvaging its ski season.

Only people who’ve had a booster shot and can show a negative coronavirus test will be allowed to enter the Alpine nation from those countries without self-isolation, Austria’s coronavirus task force said on Wednesday. The measure stops short of a de facto entry ban that has applied to other high-risk countries, and leaves a window for travel to support winter tourism.

Amazon Limits Sales of At-Home Tests (9:35 a.m. NY)

Amazon is placing a 10-unit limit on the amount of at-home Amazon brand PCR tests a customer can order amid a surge in demand for tests due to the omicron variant, CNBC reported, citing a spokesperson. 

U.K. Backs Shot for At-Risk Kids (9:30 a.m. NY)

The U.K. vaccines panel cleared the Pfizer shot for use in vulnerable young children to widen vaccination coverage against the omicron variant.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation changed its advice to allow at-risk children aged 5 to 11 years old to become eligible for two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Each inoculation will be one-third of the adult dose.


©2021 Bloomberg L.P.