New Virus Strain Could Be in U.S.; Fauci Gets Shot: Virus Update
(Bloomberg) -- The new Covid-19 strain that emerged in the U.K. is possibly already in the U.S., Germany, France and Switzerland, officials in those countries said. Ireland imposed new restrictions to stem an “extraordinary growth” in cases, and said the nation should act on the assumption that the new variant has arrived.
Pfizer Inc.’s partner BioNTech SE is exploring options to boost vaccine production, and its chief executive officer said its shot will probably work against the new virus strain. Taiwan reported the first locally transmitted infection since April, ending what was the world’s longest stretch without a domestic case.
New Jersey and Arizona reported the highest number of deaths from Covid-19 since June and July, respectively. Deaths are up in New York City as well. Meanwhile, Anthony Fauci, the U.S. government’s top infectious-disease doctor, received Moderna Inc.’s vaccine, part of an effort by health officials to build confidence in the shots.
- Global Tracker: Cases pass 77.7 million; deaths surpass 1.7 million
- U.S. Hot Spots: Hospitals deluged as vaccine still months away
- First-in-line shots go viral online to inspire wide support
- Leading Indian Covid vaccine maker readies for ‘uphill’ roll out
- Covid wreaked havoc on airlines in 2020. Here’s how, in Charts
- More than 2.1 million people have been vaccinated
U.K.’s Johnson Looks at Tighter Lockdown (4:45 p.m. NY)
Boris Johnson’s government is examining whether to move more areas of England into lockdown to counter a faster-spreading variant of coronavirus.
Ministers are considering whether to apply the highest Tier 4 restrictions -- forcing non-essential shops and leisure facilities to close -- to more regions, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Ministers and scientific experts met late Tuesday after cases of the new Covid-19 strain were identified outside London and southeast England, which were placed into Tier 4 last weekend.
France to Reopen Transport Links to U.K. (3:35 p.m. NY)
France said it will start to reopen critical trade and transportation links with the U.K. by midnight Tuesday, two days after a temporary suspension triggered chaos at Britain’s busiest port.
Travel from the U.K. will resume for European Union citizens and residents able to demonstrate negative Covid-19 tests, according to a statement from Prime Minister Jean Castex. Other nationals will be allowed to resume essential travel.
France shut down freight traffic from Dover on Sunday over concerns the faster-spreading variant of Covid-19 could trigger a surge in cases, just as it did in London and surrounding areas, where the U.K. government has imposed a strict lockdown.
Meatpacking Counties Hit Hardest, USDA Says (2 p.m. NY)
The Covid-19 infection rate in U.S. counties dependent on meatpacking jobs was as high as 10 times the average level of rural counties last spring, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report.
The report examined the spread of Covid in the 57 mostly rural U.S. counties in which meatpacking accounts for at least 20% of employment. Beginning in mid-April, confirmed Covid cases in those counties outpaced the rest of the country and remained “much higher” than in other U.S. counties through mid-July, the USDA’s Economic Research Service found.
Meat-processing plants quickly became epicenters of the virus in the U.S. in the spring as mostly immigrant employees continued to work, sometimes shoulder to shoulder, in cramped, cold, damp facilities, often without protective gear.
Rural areas recently surpassed urban and suburban parts of the country in cumulative Covid deaths as a portion of population. As of last week, there were 109 cumulative deaths per 100,000 residents in “non-core” counties, the least-populated classification, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Over the past week, North Dakota, South Dakota and Iowa reported some of the highest death rates when scaled for population. New cases were worst in Tennessee, Texas and Oklahoma.
South Carolina Governor Tests Positive (1:25 p.m. NY)
South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster was notified late Monday that he has tested positive for the virus, his office announced. McMaster, who is experiencing mild symptoms with a cough and slight fatigue, was at a White House Christmas party Dec. 14.
The office said the governor had undergone routine testing due to coming into close contact with the Covid-19 virus. He will isolate for the next 10 days and monitor for additional symptoms, following guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In a statement, McMaster urged “everyone to be extra careful during the Christmas holiday season. This virus spreads very easily.”
New Jersey Covid Deaths Spike (12:51 a.m. NY)
New Jersey’s daily number of reported Covid-19 deaths surpassed 100 for the first time since June, according to data posted on the state’s website.
The 104 new deaths pushed New Jersey’s total number of confirmed deaths from the pandemic to 16,418. The 3,735 hospitalizations were the most since May.
New Covid-19 Strain May Already Be in U.S. (12:40 p.m. NY)
The new variant of Covid-19 found in the U.K. may already be in the U.S. undetected, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
No cases of it have yet been identified, the CDC reported, but viruses have been sequenced from only about 51,000 of the 17 million U.S. cases. Travel between the two countries and the prevalence of the new strain in the U.K. boost the chance it is already in the U.S., the CDC reported.
Moncef Slaoui, chief scientific adviser to Operation Warp Speed, said on Monday that it would take weeks to determine scientifically if the strain is more transmissible but that it didn’t appear to be any more dangerous. He also said he expects the existing vaccines will likely still offer protection against it.
Arizona Records Most Deaths Since July (11:50 a.m. NY)
Arizona on Tuesday reported 153 new Covid-19 deaths, the most since late July as its medical centers struggle to keep up with a mounting number of patients. The latest fatalities pushed the state’s death toll to 8,125 since the pandemic began.
Along with Nevada, Arizona on Monday reported the highest hospitalization rates nationwide, when scaled for population.
Fauci Vaccinated With Moderna’s Shot (10:55 a.m. NY)
Anthony Fauci was among the first employees of the National Institutes of Health to get a Covid-19 vaccine, administered in the same auditorium where he first arrived at the NIH as a fellow 52 years ago.
Fauci, the U.S. government’s top infectious-disease doctor, received Moderna Inc.’s vaccine along with Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and NIH Director Francis Collins, and six front-line health care workers at the NIH Clinical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.
The groundwork for Moderna’s messenger RNA vaccine began with a collaboration between NIH and the company before the pandemic began, Collins said. “What we’re seeing now is the culmination of years of research,” Fauci said.
The public ritual of vaccinating senior health leaders is part of an effort to build confidence in vaccines that were developed in record time and amid political wrangling over the timing of the vaccines’ authorization.
Fauci, who turns 80 on Thursday, noted that he’s getting the vaccine partly because he still sees patients as an attending physician at the NIH Clinical Center, but also to send a message “to the rest of the country that I feel extreme confidence in the safety and the efficacy of this vaccine.”
He flashed a thumbs-up sign after getting the shot in his left arm.
NYC Deaths Surge 31% (10:35 a.m. NY)
New York City lost 188 residents to Covid-19 in the week ended Dec. 21, up 31% from the average for the previous four weeks.
While cases declined in the past week, hospitalizations and deaths increased. The seven-day average of confirmed and probable deaths has more than doubled this month, to 34 on Dec. 18. Mayor Bill de Blasio has urged residents to stay home for the holidays.
The fatalities are nowhere near the 700-plus daily deaths New York City saw in April. The most populous U.S. city has reported 387,361 confirmed and probable cases since the outbreak began, and 24,735 deaths.
Denmark Says Other Variant Detected (9:20 a.m. NY)
Denmark’s health authorities said that about 10% the country’s positive test results are now of the N439K mutation of the virus, calling the rate “concerning.” The mutation, which was first discovered in Romania in May, is different from the one spreading in the U.K. and also from the one that infected the Danish mink farms earlier this year, authorities said.
Danes, Dutch Postpone Care to Deal With Virus (9:14 a.m. NY)
Intensive-care units in Denmark’s capital region are now approaching full capacity, prompting health officials to postpone planned operations and seek assistance from hospitals outside the Copenhagen area. The development comes amid a surge in Covid-19 cases, though the daily tallies have lately been below a Dec. 18 spike of more than 4,500.
Hospitals in the Netherlands also put all non-urgent health care on hold to be able to attend to a large influx of Covid patients, according to national press agency ANP. More patients are being transferred to neighbor Germany.
Switzerland Gets First 107,000 Vaccine Doses (9:02 a.m. NY)
Switzerland received the first 107,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and will start individual shots this month before an official national rollout on Jan. 4. The country will prioritize people age 75 and up, as well as adults with highest-risk chronic illnesses.
The country analyzes only 1% of the about 30,000 cases per week, and hadn’t found the mutated virus strain as of Dec. 10. However, it’s probable that the variant has already been brought into Switzerland by multiple people on flights from the U.K., according to the Swiss Covid-19 science task force.
EU Calls on Member States to Reopen Transport Links to U.K. (9 a.m. NY)
The European Commission called on member states to reopen critical trade and passenger transport links to the U.K. while discouraging non-essential travel, a step toward ending the chaos at Britain’s busiest port.
The British government is desperately trying to reopen trade routes to France after a day of cross-Channel political bartering failed to end the impasse. France shut down freight traffic from Dover in southeast England at midnight on Sunday because of fear over the mutant strain of Covid-19 that forced the U.K. government to impose a strict lockdown on London and surrounding areas.
More than 40 countries are restricting flights and effectively isolating the U.K.
New Irish Curbs to Stem ‘Extraordinary’ Virus Growth (8:24 a.m. NY)
Ireland will bring in a raft of new restrictions to control the coronavirus, Prime Minister Micheal Martin said in a national address, citing “extraordinary growth” in the virus there.
Pubs and restaurants will close from Dec. 24 until Jan. 12, while inter-county travel will be effectively banned. Non-essential stores can remain open, but the government has asked that January sales be postponed. While there is no “firm evidence” that the new strain of the virus is in Ireland, “the most responsible thing is to proceed on the assumption that it is already here,” Martin said.
“We may now be seeing a daily growth rate of approximately 10%,” Martin said. That “is simply not sustainable.”
IMF Warns Euro-Area Recovery May Slow, Stimulus Needed (8 a.m. NY)
The euro area is in danger of seeing a slower economic recovery in 2021 than previously expected, and may need more stimulus as a resurgent coronavirus sweeps through the continent, the International Monetary Fund said.
Sweden Wants New Covid Laws in Force by January (7:57 a.m. NY)
Sweden plans to enact new pandemic laws on Jan. 15 that will give it the right to shutter businesses and public transport to help tackle a spike in cases. Despite a resurgence of infections, Sweden has so far stopped short of a full lockdown partly because it lacked the legal framework to do more.
Romanians Reluctant to Have Vaccine (7:12 a.m. NY)
Romanians remain reluctant to have a Covid-19 vaccine. Only 30% said they were willing to have the shot, while 29% of people said they definitely wouldn’t, according to a survey by the Avangarde polling company, cited by G4Media. The rest of the population was still undecided, the poll showed.
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