U.S. Cases Slow in Holiday Amid Warnings of Worse: Virus Update
Top U.S. health officials warned of a post-Christmas surge in infection, as new cases slowed amid scattered holiday reporting from states. Total infections passed 19 million. New York state’s new infections dipped, as did holiday testing. North Carolina hospitalizations hit a record, while South Carolina reported record infections.
A coordinated vaccination campaign was underway in Europe, just days after the EU cleared a shot developed by Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE. Italy and France were among the first of the bloc’s 27 member states to start inoculations. In Germany, which began a day early, the rollout was postponed in some cities after doubts emerged about whether the shots had been kept cold enough during transit.
Concern about the mutated strain first detected in Britain grew in Asia. China asked airlines to suspend passenger flights with the U.K. from Dec. 28 to Jan. 10. Norway reported two cases of the variant.
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South Carolina Reaches Record Cases (3:35 p.m. NY)
South Carolina reported 4,370 new cases, the highest number in the pandemic. The state has emerged in recent weeks as a hot spot in the latest resurgence of the virus, with the number of infections Sunday double the weekly average at the start of the month. Hospitalizations neared a record, though total beds, including intensive care, were below 70% capacity.
U.K. Poised to Clear AstraZeneca Shot as Need for Vaccines Grows (3:09 p.m. NY)
The U.K. is poised to approve the vaccine produced by AstraZeneca Plc and the University of Oxford, giving the country another powerful tool to fight the pandemic as concern mounts over rising infections.
Britain’s drug regulator could clear the shot for use as early as this week, according to a person familiar with the matter, who asked not to be identified because the deliberations are confidential. AstraZeneca Chief Executive Officer Pascal Soriot and U.K. health officials had previously said they hoped for approval by the end of the year.
California Hospitalizations Climb to Record (2:57 p.m. NY)
California’s hospitalizations climbed to a new high after the state added 50,141 cases, one of the highest levels since a record two weeks ago.
The number of cases now totals 2.1 million. It also added 237 new deaths, bringing the total fatalities to 24,220.
The positive test rate of 12.3% hovers near an eight-month high. An additional 262 patients were hospitalized, bringing the total to 20,059. California has imposed a stay-home order for most of the state, and is expected to extend the notice for cities including Los Angeles and San Diego when it ends Monday with almost no intensive-care unit beds available.
Gottlieb Says Invest More in Vaccination Efforts (2:52 p.m. NY)
The U.S. needs to invest more in getting Covid vaccines out into the community once the first tranche, designated mostly for health care professionals and workers and residents in nursing homes, is finished, said former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb.
So far almost 2 million doses have been administered in the U.S., according to a state-by-state tally compiled by Bloomberg News. Gottlieb said some states have struggled to absorb the doses they’ve been allocated, and that the effort will move into “hard to vaccinate populations” in January.
“I think they’ll get up and running and get better systems in place to distribute these vaccines more efficiently,” Gottlieb said on CBS. “They’re going to turn to CVS and Walgreens to start distributing them in the community, and that’s a pretty big footprint.”
Among the measures in a $900 billion coronavirus stimulus bill awaiting President Donald Trump’s signature is $69 billion for vaccine development, Covid-19 testing and community health.
South Africa Weighs Reinstating Alcohol Ban (2:44 p.m. NY)
South Africa is considering reinstating a total ban on liquor sales as the number of Covid-19 infections surge over the summer holiday season, a person familiar with the discussions said.
Restrictions on alcohol sales have been implemented to various degrees since one of the world’s most stringent lockdowns was imposed in March, in part to lower hospital admissions from vehicle accidents and alcohol-related violence. Still, the government lost tax revenue as a result of an initial bar on any sales and liquor traders and bars fired workers.
Norway Detects Two Cases of Coronavirus Mutation (2:23 p.m. NY)
Norway has detected the new strain of the virus in two people who traveled from the U.K. in December, the Norwegian Institute of Public Health said in a statement on its website. The statement did not disclose the people’s nationality.
New York State Cases Slow Amid Drop in Testing (2:20 p.m. NY)
New York state’s new infections dipped Sunday as testing dropped off over the holiday, according to a statement from Governor Andrew Cuomo. The state reported 7,623 new cases, the lowest number since early December, with 130,299 tests. The day before, 10,806 people tested positive, with 201,442 tests.
Total hospitalizations rose by 299, to 7,183. The statewide rate for positive tests rose to 5.85%. Another 115 people died, the 11th consecutive day above 100.
North Carolina Hospitalizations Hit Record (1:53 p.m. NY)
North Carolina reported a total of 3,123 people hospitalized, a record almost double the number of month ago, state data show. Available intensive care beds were about 80% filled, while inpatient beds were just below three-quarters full. The state, hit hard in this recent surge, reported 2,898 more cases a day after it crossed a total of 500,000 infections. Another 23 people died.
South Africa Passes 1 Million Cases (1:40 p.m. NY)
Coronavirus infections in South Africa passed the 1 million mark, making it at least the 18th country to reach the milestone, as the health ministry reported 9,502 new cases on Sunday. The number of fatalities rose by 214 to 26,735. A new virus lineage has been detected in the country that may be driving a second wave of infections.
Turkey Says Vaccines From China Delayed at Customs (1:15 p.m. NY)
Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said Sinovac Biotech Ltd. shipments of Covid-19 vaccines expected to begin Sunday will be delayed by “one or two days,” citing disruptions at Chinese customs.
The delay is due to new coronavirus cases in Beijing including at the city’s customs, Koca said in a tweet. Turkey has agreed to purchase 50 million doses from the Chinese company and is planning an extensive inoculation campaign following an emergency certification. It also inked an agreement with Pfizer Inc. partner BioNTech SE for 4.5 million doses, with an option to raise it to 30 million.
NYC Rate of Positive Tests Continues to Rise (12:08 p.m. NY)
New York City’s rate of positive tests ticked over 7%, based on a seven-day average, as the daily number of new hospitalizations rose further to 191, Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a tweet. The city’s positive test rate has been on a steady increase, from less than 2% in early November. The state last hit 7% in early May.
Germany Suffers Vaccination Blip Over Temperature (11:39 a.m. NY)
The vaccine rollout was postponed in some German cities after doubts emerged about whether the Pfizer-BioNTech shots had been kept cold enough during transit.
The Bavarian cities of Coburg, Lichtenfels, Kronach, Kulmbach, Bayreuth, Hof and Wunsiedel were all affected, according to a statement posted on the Lichtenfels website. The vaccine needs to be kept in ultra-cold storage at around minus-94 degrees Fahrenheit (minus-70 Celsius).
“When reading the temperature monitors in the centrally procured cool boxes, doubts arose about compliance with the cold chain,” the statement said. “If there is only the slightest indication that the vaccine does not meet the quality criteria 100%, the batch will not be used.”
Italy’s Reported Cases Slow Amid Fewer Tests (11:36 a.m. NY)
As vaccinations began, Italy reported a slowing of infections and fatalities, partly because of reduced testing over the holiday. The nation reported 8,913 new cases Sunday and 305 deaths, for a total of 71,925 fatalities. The positive test rate hovered at about 15%. The virus continued to accelerate in the Venice region, which reported 3,337 cases.
Fauci, Giroir Warn of Post-Christmas Surge (10:47 a.m. NY)
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S.’s top infectious disease doctor, said experts are studying whether vaccines will work against the new strain of the coronavirus beginning to spread from the U.K. He said on CNN’s State of the Union that viruses mutate “all the time” and that most mutations don’t have much significance.
But, he added: “You take something like this very seriously.”
Fauci also warned that the worst is yet to come for the pandemic and said there still is a chance for a “surge upon a surge” with people traveling for the holidays. He said the U.S. is at a “very critical point” in combating the pandemic.
Assistant Secretary for Health Brett Giroir told “Fox News Sunday” that a post-Christmas rise in infections “really depends on what the travelers do when they get where they’re going.”
“We know the actual physical act of traveling in airplanes, for example, can be quite safe because of the air purification systems,” he said. “What we really worry about is the mingling of different bubbles once you get to your destination.”
German Minister Rejects Swift Easing as Death Toll Tops 30,000 (10:38 a.m. NY)
German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer has ruled out a rapid lifting of the nation’s coronavirus restrictions, as the nation’s death toll from the disease ticked above 30,000.
“We must not risk everything we have achieved with quick easing, otherwise it will start all over again,” Seehofer said in an interview with Bild am Sonntag newspaper.
“If the lockdown does not have a sufficient effect, the measures must be tightened,” he said, adding that a “third wave” must be avoided “at all costs.”
Germany Facility Defends Early Vaccine Start (8:32 a.m. NY)
The German facility that began inoculating elderly patients against Covid-19 on Saturday, a day earlier than agreed with the EU, has defended the decision.
“We had the vaccine on Saturday and were ready -- why should we wait until Sunday?” Immo Kramer, the center’s technical director, was quoted as saying in Bild newspaper. “Nobody would understand that. I’m glad we got started right away.”
A 101-year-old woman and around 50 others, including care workers, were inoculated on Saturday in a home in the eastern German city of Halberstadt.
Greece, Portugal Inoculate Health Workers (6:36 a.m. NY)
The Mediterranean nations of Greece and Portugal started their vaccination programs by inoculating health workers. Greek President Aikaterini Sakellaropoulou and Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis were scheduled to be vaccinated later in the day.
France Inoculates First Citizen (6:22 p.m. HK)
A 78-year-old woman living in a care home in Sevran, just outside Paris, was the first person to receive the vaccine in France, local media reported. President Emmanuel Macron celebrated the news with a tweet: “We have a new weapon against the virus: the vaccine. Continue to stick together.”
Next week, vaccinations will be rolled out to 23 establishments in the Paris, Lyon and Tours areas, as well as the northern tip of France. This will also involve elderly care home residents and older staff at risk.
The French Health Ministry expects the current available vaccines to be effective against the new Covid-19 variants circulating mainly in the U.K. and South Africa. The first two stages of vaccination, covering 15 million people considered a priority, are expected to take six months, before vaccines are rolled out more widely.
Poland Registers Drop in Cases Ahead of Strict Lockdown (5:43 p.m. HK)
Poland, which is implementing a strict lockdown on Monday, registered 3,678 coronavirus cases on Sunday, the lowest tally since Oct. 7. It had 57 deaths caused by the virus, the least in two months. The nation started inoculating front-line medics and plans to open a vaccine registration process for teachers and the elderly on Jan. 15, Premier Mateusz Morawiecki told reporters in Warsaw.
“We’re starting our path to normalcy today and the biggest logistical operation in decades. Maybe in the second quarter we will be able to vaccinate a big enough part of the population to start returning to normal life,” he said.
China to Suspend U.K. Flights (5:33 p.m. HK)
China’s Civil Aviation Authority has asked airlines to suspend connections with the U.K. from Dec. 28 to Jan. 10, citing the new variant. The local government in Beijing is calling for stricter Covid-19 controls and prevention measures after the Chinese capital reported five local cases on Saturday.
Nordics Vaccinate Nonagenarians (4:26 p.m. HK)
Denmark and Sweden started their vaccination programs by inoculating residents at elderly care centers. One of the first Danes to receive a vaccine was Carl-Einar Jorgensen, a 92-year-old living in Copenhagen, while 91-year-old Gun-Britt Johnsson of Malmo was the first Swede, local media reported. Finland and non-EU member Norway followed later on Sunday.
Hungary Virus Deaths Drop Below 100 for First Time Since Nov. (4:22 p.m. HK)
Hungary reported 96 deaths related to the Covid-19 virus on Sunday, the first time the daily tally fell below 100 since Nov. 23.
The eastern European nation registered 698 new coronavirus cases, the smallest number in more than three months, after performing the fewest number of tests since Sept. 1. The rate of positive tests remained above 20%.
Hungary started administering coronavirus vaccinations to front-line hospital workers on Saturday, a day ahead of the coordinated European Union rollout.
Italy Kicks Off Vaccination (3:17 p.m. HK)
Italy started its vaccination campaign across the country on Sunday, with three health workers receiving the Pfizer-BioNTech shot early in Rome.
In an interview with newspaper Repubblica, Health Minister Roberto Speranza said the vaccination process will not impact Italy’s “three-tier strategy” in the near term, and that he expects some regions will need to face “red zone” restrictions in coming months.
Italy reported 10,407 new cases earlier, a decrease from 19,037 the day before. The country on Thursday began what will be the first of two strict lockdown periods as the government tries to curb contact between citizens during the holiday period.
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