California Crisis Deepens; U.S. Allergic Reaction: Virus Update
Technicians fix a bicycle outside a bike store in the Sham Shui Po area of Hong Kong, China. (Photographer: Billy H.C. Kwok/Bloomberg)

California Crisis Deepens; U.S. Allergic Reaction: Virus Update

New cases in California shattered another record as a deepening crisis threatens a shortage of intensive-care beds and medical staff. The most-populous U.S. state is struggling to control its outbreak even as most residents are under stay-at-home orders.

The first hiccups in the distribution of a Covid-19 vaccine in the U.S. included a holdup in delivering 3,900 shots to two states and the announcement that Pfizer Inc. would ship about 900,000 fewer doses next week than are set to ship this week. A health-care worker in Alaska who received the shot experienced the first known severe allergic event in the U.S.

Germany recorded its biggest increase in deaths since the pandemic began as Chancellor Angela Merkel hinted that a hard lockdown that takes effect Wednesday will remain in force longer than planned.

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California Crisis Deepens; U.S. Allergic Reaction: Virus Update

EU Pushes for Fast Vaccine Approval (4:45 p.m. NY)

European authorities are pushing for a compressed approval timeline for the Covid-19 vaccine from Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE, according to people familiar with the plan, which could enable a rollout on the continent before Christmas.

Should the vaccine win the backing of a key drugs oversight committee on Monday, the European Commission is planning for a sign-off as soon as the same day, two people said. That would enable shipping the first shots to vaccine centers as early as Wednesday, one of the people said.

Alaska Health-Care Worker Has Allergic Reaction (3:15 p.m. NY)

A health-care worker in Alaska experienced the first known severe allergic event in the U.S. since administration of Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE’s Covid-19 vaccine began this week.

The person, who had no history of allergies, experienced flushing and shortness of breath 10 minutes after receiving the shot, the Alaska health department said in a statement Wednesday. The person was admitted to the emergency room and received Pepcid, Benadryl and epinephrine through an intravenous drip. The patient stayed overnight and is in stable condition, according to the department.

Pfizer is coordinating with local officials and will closely monitor all reports suggesting serious allergic reactions and will update labeling language if needed, spokeswoman Jerica Pitts said in a statement. Reports of serious allergic reactions in the U.K. prompted U.S. regulators to recommend not administering the shot to people with a known history of allergies to any component of Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine.

New Zealand to Inoculate Entire Population (3:10 p.m. NY)

New Zealand aims to begin vaccinating its entire population against Covid-19 in the second half of next year in its largest-ever immunization program, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said.

The government has secured two additional vaccines from pharmaceutical companies AstraZeneca and Novavax and will have enough for all 5 million New Zealanders, Ardern said Thursday in Wellington. If proven to be safe and effective, immunization will begin with border workers and essential staff in the second quarter of 2021 followed by the general population in the second half, she said. The vaccines will be free to the public.

New Zealand has eliminated community transmission of the virus, but its border remains closed, a big blow for the important tourism industry and the economy. Vaccines will be key to the reopening of the border, but the government cautioned Thursday that the start of the immunization program “will not mean any changes to our borders initially.”

California Shatters Daily Records (2:20 p.m. NY)

California reported a record 53,711 new virus cases and 293 deaths, according to state health department data. The daily case count includes 41,081 newly reported infections -- shattering the prior record by more than 5,000 -- while the remaining reflect a backlog from previous days due to a new processing system, the department said in a statement.

Hospitalizations jumped 4.3% to a record 15,886 patients, reflecting a deepening crisis that threatens a shortage of intensive-care beds and medical staff.

The most-populous state is struggling to control its outbreak even as the majority of residents are under stay-at-home orders. Governor Gavin Newsom said on Tuesday that officials are looking overseas to hire temporarily medical personnel, may ask the U.S. Navy to send back a hospital ship and have sent 5,000 more body bags to hard-hit counties as deaths rise.

France to Receive 1.16M Vaccine Doses by Dec. 30 (2 p.m. NY)

France expects to receive 1.16 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine by Dec. 30, Prime Minister Jean Castex said in a parliamentary debate. He said France, in coordination with other European countries, will do “everything possible” to start vaccinating in the last week of the year. France is counting on a further delivery around Jan. 5, and an additional 1.6 million doses in February.

Irish Authorities Warn of ‘Troubling’ Trend (1:41 p.m. NY)

Ireland Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan warned of “significant and concerning indicators that this disease in moving in the wrong direction” after figures Wednesday showed daily cases rising about a third to 431.
Health authorities will meet Thursday to consider the renewed surge, which came after Ireland reopened non-essential stores, restaurants and some bars even as many governments across Europe tighten restrictions over Christmas.

“These trends are all the more troubling because of the delicate and precarious situation we are in -- as a country, we are heading into a period of potential widespread inter-household and inter-generational mixing,” Holohan said.

Spain Moves to Tighten Christmas Curbs (1:35 p.m. NY)

Spain granted regional administrations the power to further restrict movement and limit the size of Christmas gatherings, as new cases rose to the highest in almost a month.

“We are concerned by the increase in recent days,” Health Minster Salvador Illa told reporters Wednesday, following a meeting with his counterparts from Spain’s 17 regions. Although gatherings are allowed, Illa said citizens should “stay at home and not move” over the holidays.

On Wednesday, Spain reported 6,196 new daily infections, the most since Nov. 19.

Under the existing plan, no more than 10 people will be able to meet for festive celebrations on Dec. 24, Dec. 25., Dec. 31 and New Year’s Day and these gatherings are limited to families. Travel between regions is limited between Dec. 23 and Jan. 6.

N.Y. Expects Shots for General Public in January (12:05 p.m. NY)

New York state could begin vaccinating certain members of the general public in late January, pending federal deliveries, Governor Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday. The state will issue a directive requiring insurance companies to cover the cost of the vaccine for all New Yorkers, Cuomo said.

The state has received 87,750 doses from Pfizer, and an additional 80,000 doses are expected in the next few days, Cuomo said. The state is prioritizing the most at-risk health-care workers for the vaccine, as well as nursing home staff and residents. Phase two includes other essential workers, as well as members of the general public who have pre-existing conditions, Cuomo said.

New York is also expecting 346,000 Moderna doses, pending U.S. emergency approval, he said.

Cuomo again warned that a full shutdown of non-essential businesses could come in January, but that it depended on hospitalization rates throughout the holidays. “Is a close-down possible in January? Yes,” he said. “It depends on what you do.”

NYC Vaccinates 1,600 Medical Workers (11:30 a.m. NY)

About 1,600 health-care workers have been vaccinated in New York City in the past 48 hours, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday.

Two health-care workers at Elmhurst Hospital in Queens were the first public-hospital employees in the city to receive the new Covid-19 vaccine. Elmhurst bore the brunt last spring as the pandemic overwhelmed the city’s medical system and forced a shutdown of non-essential businesses and schools.

The hospital, which de Blasio called “a place where something extraordinary happened,” faces another wave with the city’s seven-day average of new cases reaching 2,785 as of Dec. 14. That’s “a really big number, a real cause of concern,” he said. The city reported 195 new hospital admissions for Monday -- 3 in 100,000 of its population are hospitalized citywide with the virus, exceeding the 2 per 100,000 ratio public-health safety threshold.

The total picture is less dire than it was last spring, said city Health and Hospitals President Mitchell Katz. The public system’s 11 hospitals now hold about 280 Covid patients, well within its capacity and far fewer than the 4,000 who overwhelmed its institutions in one day last April, he said. Still, Katz said, “we have to watch capacity closely.” Additional nurses will be arriving to handle the system’s increasing needs starting Monday, he said.

Pompeo in Quarantine After Exposure (10:45 a.m. NY)

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is in quarantine after coming into contact with someone who tested positive for Covid-19. Pompeo has tested negative for the infection and is being closely monitored by the State Department’s medical team, according to a department spokesperson. President Donald Trump is meeting with his Cabinet on Wednesday.

Bank Of America to Extend Pandemic Benefits (9:09 a.m. NY)

Through the end of the first quarter, the bank’s workers will be reimbursed $75 or $100 a day to pay caregivers, depending on the employee’s compensation, according to a memo to staff. The second-biggest U.S. bank is also boosting the number of days employees can use backup facilities or in-home care in 2021 to 50 from a previous 40.

The Charlotte, North Carolina-based lender has spent $300 million to provide 3 million days of care so far this year, and expects another 1 million days to be used in the first quarter, according to Chief Human Resources Officer Sheri Bronstein.

EU Ousts Uruguay From Travel List (8:53 a.m. NY)

The European Union shut its door to visitors from Uruguay amid a surge in coronavirus cases there, while gearing up for deliberations on how to treat travelers from the U.K. when its Brexit transition ends next month.

EU governments decided on Wednesday in Brussels to remove Uruguay from their common list of countries whose residents should be allowed to visit the bloc during the pandemic, according to an official familiar with the matter.

The removal of Uruguay shrinks the EU list of permitted travel to residents of just eight states: Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand, Rwanda, Singapore, South Korea and Thailand.

U.S. Retail Sales Tumble (8:53 a.m. NY)

Total retail sales decreased 1.1% in November from the prior month, following a 0.1% October decline, the first drops since March and April, Commerce Department figures showed Wednesday. That was worse than all but one economist had forecast in a Bloomberg survey calling for a 0.3% decline, and October’s figure was originally reported as a 0.3% increase.

The figures signal that the record pace of Covid-19 cases, along with the arrival of colder weather, is taking an increasing toll on the economy as governments re-impose lockdowns, with more people losing their jobs and businesses shutting temporarily or permanently.

Merkel Ties Pandemic Exit to Above 60% Immunization Rate (8:03 a.m. NY)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel tied an exit from the coronavirus pandemic to immunizing more than 60% of the population, indicating a long fight still ahead. Germany is targeting so-called herd immunity, which means most of the population is resistant to the disease, Merkel said Wednesday in Germany’s lower house of parliament.

Johnson Urges ‘Extreme Caution’ in U.K. Over Christmas (7:21 a.m. NY)

Boris Johnson urged people to exercise caution over Christmas. “We can celebrate it sensibly, but we have to be extremely cautious in the way we behave,” the prime minister told lawmakers in the House of Commons on Wednesday.

As many as three households will be able to gather together for five days between Dec. 23 and 27 in England. Ministers have faced growing demands to reconsider the approach after a surge in Covid-19 infections in recent days.

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