WASHINGTON — 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.”
HERE’S WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW TODAY ABOUT THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC:
— Fauci says CDC may add test requirement for infected people ending isolation
— UK makes contingency plans in case omicron leads to big staff shortages in hospitals, schools
— National Basketball Association calls up minor league referees to keep games going
— Dozens of US colleges and universities adapt to virus surge by returning to online classes
Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING TODAY:
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.
JERUSALEM — Israel’s prime minister is warning that the country will soon see tens of thousands of new coronavirus cases a day.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett spoke at the start of the weekly Cabinet meeting in Jerusalem. He said that 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 risen in the past two weeks from around 700 to the more than 4,000 reported on Sunday.
“These are numbers that the world has not known, and that we also haven’t known,” Bennett said.
He said the government’s aim is “to allow the economy to function as much as possible, while protecting the most vulnerable among us.”
Israel has recorded at least 8,244 deaths from coronavirus since the start of the pandemic.
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.
PARIS – French authorities have announced that children six and older will have to wear masks in indoor public places as new cases of the highly contagious omicron variant surge past 200.000 for the fourth consecutive day.
By lowering the age of children obligated to wear masks from 11 to 6, the government is hoping to avoid shutting down schools after the holiday break. Classes resume Monday and young children will have to wear masks in public transport, in sports complexes and places of worship. The mask mandate extends to outdoor spaces in cities such as Paris and Lyon that have recently re-introduced mask wearing outside.
On the first day of the new year, France registered 219,126 new infections, down only slightly from the daily record of 232,200 noted on the last day of 2021.
French government is betting that fifth wave of the pandemic driven by the fast-spreading omicron variant can be tamed without returning to economically damaging lockdowns or curfews and without hospitals collapsing under growing numbers of gravely sick.
France has lost 123,000 people to COVID-19.
DALLAS — For air travelers, the new year picked up where the old one left off –- with lots of frustration.
By late morning Saturday on the East Coast, more than 2,400 U.S. flights and nearly 4,200 worldwide had been canceled, according to tracking service FlightAware.
That is the highest single-day toll yet since just before Christmas, when airlines began blaming staffing shortages on increasing COVID-19 infections among crews. More than 12,000 U.S. flights have been canceled since Dec. 24.
Saturday’s disruptions weren’t just due to the virus, however. Wintry weather made Chicago the worst place in the country for travelers, with 800 flights scrubbed at O’Hare Airport and more than 250 at Midway Airport. Forecasts called for nine inches of snow. Denver, Detroit and Newark, New Jersey, were hit with at least 100 cancellations each.
Southwest Airlines, which has major operations at Chicago Midway and Denver, canceled more than 450 flights nationwide, or 13% of its schedule, by midmorning. American, Delta, United and JetBlue scrubbed more than 100 flights apiece.