Mutant Strain Spreads; N.J. Records Worst Month: Virus Update
Pedestrians wear protective masks while walking past stores in the Manly suburb of Sydney, Australia, on Monday, Dec. 21, 2020. Photographer: Brendon Thorne/Bloomberg

Mutant Strain Spreads; N.J. Records Worst Month: Virus Update

U.S. cases rose on Christmas Day at the slowest rate in almost two months, though the numbers were likely skewed by the holiday. Hospitalizations in New York City continued to climb, while statewide the total fell slightly, as did new infections. New Jersey has had about as many cases in December as it did from May through October. North Carolina surpassed 500,000 infections over the holiday.

Japan will ban entry to most non-Japanese nationals through the end of January. Global infections surpassed 80 million.

As some European Union nations began vaccinations, Sweden joined France, Germany, Switzerland, Ireland and Japan on a growing list of countries that have identified their first cases of the coronavirus mutation widespread in the U.K. The Canadian province of Ontario said it also identified two cases not apparently tied to travel.

Key Developments:

  • Global Tracker: Cases pass 80.1 million; deaths reach 1.75 million
  • Southeast Asia vaccine rollout: Who will get what, when
  • World’s most loathed industry produced vaccine in record time
  • Nurses celebrating Covid-19 vaccines battle social media scorn
  • Poultry farms in apartment 13D show scale of pandemic-aid fraud
  • The year we were hot for supercold freezers
  • What you need to know about a second stimulus payment: QuickTake

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Mutant Strain Spreads; N.J. Records Worst Month: Virus Update

Virus Variant Found in Canadian Couple With No Travel History (4:32 p.m. NY)

The Canadian province of Ontario announced that it had found two cases of the coronavirus variant now widespread in the U.K. They were identified as a couple “with no known travel history, exposure or high-risk contacts,” according to a statement.

“This further reinforces the need for Ontarians to stay home as much as possible and continue to follow all public health advice, including the provincewide shutdown measures beginning today,” said Barbara Yaffe, the province’s chief medical officer. The lockdown restricts gatherings, limits in-person shopping and prohibits indoor and outdoor dining.

N.Y. Investigates Possible Vaccine Fraud (4:16 p.m. NY)

New York state investigators are looking into reports that an upstate healthcare agency obtained Covid-19 vaccine doses and improperly distributed them. A press release from Howard Zucker, the state health commissioner, suggested Parcare Community Health Network in Orange County may have diverted the vaccine to people not on the state’s list to receive it first -- health care workers and residents and staff of nursing homes.

“We take this very seriously and DOH will be assisting State Police in a criminal investigation into this matter,” Zucker said in a statement.

North Carolina Passes 500,000 Cases (3:36 p.m. NY)

North Carolina surpassed 500,000 infections over the holiday, reporting more than 19,000 new cases since Dec. 23. The state’s total is now 513,930, the Department of Health and Human Services reported. The state’s weekly-average number of hospitalizations hit a high. Total deaths, trending downward over the last several days, are now 6,526.

Mexico to Deploy Covid Vaccines on Monday (3:15 p.m. NY)

Mexico will begin to deploy doses of Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccines on Monday Dec. 28 in different areas of Mexico City and the state of Coahuila, the Ministry of Health said in a statement. The first to receive the vaccine will be health workers.

Trump Restates Opposition to Lockdowns (3:08 p.m. NY)

President Donald Trump, never a fan of closing the economy to slow the spread of the coronavirus, tweeted on Saturday that “lockdowns in Democrat run states” are ruining the lives of many people.

“Cases in California have risen despite the lockdown, yet Florida & others are open & doing well,” Trump said.

Democrat-led California has seen record Covid-19 cases and a spike in deaths this month, and health systems have become overwhelmed in some areas. An average of over 18,500 people have been hospitalized in California with Covid in the past seven days. But some Midwest states, both Democratic and Republican, have had recent success bringing cases down with restrictive measures of various kinds.

Florida, where few restrictions are in place, is now recording infections just below the level of the deadly surge last summer. Average daily fatalities, which trailed off in the fall, have more than doubled since the beginning of November.

California Hospitalizations Reach Record (2:33 p.m. NY)

California’s hospitalizations rose to a new high even as most of the state remained under a stay-home order through the holidays.

The state added 26 new patients to 19,797, though the number of available intensive-care unit beds -- hovering near a record low -- increased slightly.

The number of infections statewide surpassed 2 million this week, and it added 30,375 Saturday, bringing the total to 2.07 million. It added just 36 new deaths, reflecting a pause in testing at some sites for the holidays. Fatalities totaled 23,983.

France Cases Slow Over Holiday (1:39 p.m. NY)

France reported the lowest number of new cases in almost two weeks, with 3,093 additional confirmed cases, according to French health authorities. The number of deaths rose by 146 to 62,573.

N.J. December Cases Equal May-October Tally (1:31 p.m. NY)

New Jersey has had about as many cases in December as it did from May through October. This month’s tally is already a record.

The state reported 4,000 cases on Dec. 25, bringing its total so far this month to roughly 117,000. From May 1 to Oct. 31, it reported nearly 119,000.

Of 458,901 total cases since the outbreak first hit New Jersey in March, just under half were reported in November and December, data show.

Hospitalizations from Covid-19 have tripled in that same two-month time period.

New York State Cases Slow, Deaths Again Above 100 (1:26 p.m. NY)

New York state’s new cases slowed and total hospitalizations fell slightly, as did the statewide positive test rate, Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a tweet. But several areas -- including Long Island and the regions around Albany and Erie -- are getting hit harder than state averages.

After two straight days of new infections above 12,000 -- among the highest numbers of the pandemic -- 10,806 cases were recorded Saturday. Another 122 people died, the 10th consecutive day with fatalities above 100.

German Vaccinations Begin Earlier Than Planned (12:47 p.m. NY)

Germany’s vaccination program started a day earlier than planned when a 101-year-old woman and around 40 others in a care home for the elderly were inoculated on Saturday, DPA reported.

“Every day we wait is a day too many,” the news agency quoted the head of the home, Tobias Krueger, as saying. Ten workers at the facility in the eastern German city of Halberstadt were also vaccinated, DPA said.

Inoculations will start across Germany on Sunday, beginning with people aged over 80, care workers and health personnel deemed to be at particular risk. Health Minister Jens Spahn said Saturday it will likely take until the middle of next year to provide every citizen who wants one with a shot.

France Begins Vaccinations (12:04 p.m. NY)

France will kick off its vaccination campaign on Sunday morning with about 10 elderly residents and one staff member at a care home in Sevran, outside Paris. In the afternoon, several residents at a care home in Dijon will receive shots, French health authorities said in a briefing with reporters.

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 that the current available vaccines will 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.

NYC Hospitalizations Continue to Climb (11:58 a.m. NY)

New York City’s hospitalizations continued rising, with another 180 people admitted with Covid-19, Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a tweet. The number of virus patients in the city’s hospitals has roughly doubled since the beginning of the month. The positive test rate, based on a seven-day average, ticked up slightly to 6.78%. The number was less than 2% in November.

Italy Cases Slow (11:54 p.m. NY)

Italy reported 10,407 new cases, a decrease from 19,037 the day before, and the number of newly-recorded deaths fell to 261. 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. Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said in a Facebook post on Saturday that the first doses of the vaccine arrived in Rome.

A new Covid-19 strain was found in the region of Campania, which includes Naples, in six passengers traveling from the U.K., where it is widespread, and in other areas of the country including Veneto, La Repubblica reported on its website.

Ireland Cases Accelerate (11:24 a.m. NY)

Ireland recorded almost 1,300 new virus cases on Saturday, breaking 1,000 for the second day in a row and taking numbers back to the peak of the so-called second wave of the disease. The government has already brought forward new curbs, closing all bars and restaurants on Christmas Eve and restricting travel for at least three weeks. It hasn’t ruled out a return of tougher measures.

U.K. Cases Stay Above 30,000 (11:11 a.m. NY)

The U.K. reported more than 30,000 cases for the seventh consecutive day. Saturday’s tally of 34,693 cases is in line with the average over the previous seven days. Deaths were significantly lower at 210, compared to a daily average of 522 for the past week. However, not all countries in the U.K. are reporting complete data over the holidays.

Massachusetts Imposes New Restrictions (11:04 a.m. NY)

New restrictions went into place Saturday in Massachusetts, limiting capacity to 25% in office spaces, restaurants, fitness centers and other venues. Most elective surgeries will be postponed. A resurgence of cases in November appears to be receding, though hospitalizations and fatalities, which lag infections, remain high in the state, according to data compiled by the Covid Tracking Project.

Portugal Reports Fewest Cases Since October (10:05 a.m. NY)

Portugal on Saturday reported the smallest daily increase in confirmed virus cases since October. There were 1,214 new cases in a day, less than a fifth of the daily record of 6,994 reported on Nov. 19. The number of patients in intensive-care units rose by nine to 513.
Portugal is scheduled to start providing Covid-19 vaccines on Sunday, and will begin by giving the shots to healthcare workers.

Japan Bans New Entry by All Non-Nationals (9 a.m. NY)

The Japanese government will ban all new entries by non-Japanese nationals starting Dec. 28 and lasting through the end of January, the government said in a statement. The move comes amid mounting concerns over a new variant of the virus at a time when new cases in Tokyo have reached a record.

Sweden Finds First Case of New Strain (8:26 p.m. NY)

Sweden has identified its first case of the new coronavirus mutation after a person from the U.K. visited the Nordic nation to celebrate Christmas in the Sormland region. There’s a risk more people in Sweden have been infected by the variant, according to Signar Makitalo, the infection prevention doctor for the region.

The country’s health agency is now recommending that everyone in Sweden who has traveled from the U.K. after Dec. 12 be tested for the virus.

The agency confirmed that 9,750 doses of Pfizer’s vaccine have arrived in Sweden, with enough doses to cover 4,900 people. The first inoculations will be administered on Sunday.

Turkey Signs Vaccine Accord With BioNTech (5:27 p.m. HK)

Turkey signed an agreement with Pfizer Inc. partner BioNTech SE for 4.5 million doses of their coronavirus vaccine, with an option to raise it to 30 million. Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said Friday that an initial 550,000 doses will arrive by the year-end or in early January, state news agency Anadolu reported.

Turkey made its first Covid-19 vaccine deal with Sinovac Biotech Ltd. for 50 million doses, saying it found the Chinese vaccine to be the safest as it’s manufactured using conventional methods. But the CoronaVac needs to be administered in two shots, which means the amount Turkey signed for will be enough only for 25 million of its citizens out of a population of more than 83 million people.

20 Nigerian Doctors Die From Covid in One Week: Report (3:46 p.m. HK)

At least 20 Nigerian doctors have died from Covid-19 in a week amid a second wave of infections, the Premium Times reported, citing the Nigeria Medical Association.

The outbreak has been caused by intense community transmission in nearly two dozen states. Nigerian health workers had complained of exposure to coronavirus infections due to a lack of adequate personal protective equipment, which has led to more than 1,000 infections among health workers.

Russia Allows Sputnik V Vaccine for Elderly Use (3:38 p.m. HK)

Russia reported 29,258 more infections in the past day, with cases reaching 3,021,964. Deaths rose by 567 to 54,226.

The country’s health ministry allowed the use of the Sputnik V vaccine for mass vaccination of those older than 60, ministry head Mikhail Murashko said on Russia-24 TV.

Russia started a mass vaccination program domestically for people 18-60 years old earlier this month. Authorities have put the effectiveness of the locally developed shot at 91.4%.

South Africa Sees Another Daily Record (3:03 p.m. HK)

South Africa reported record daily infections for a third straight day, with 14,796 new cases, the health ministry said late Friday, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 983,359.

The government rejected allegations that a new variant in the country had spurred a second wave in the U.K., and criticized its decision to impose travel restrictions. Several other countries have also halted flights from South Africa.

U.S. Cases See Christmas Lull (1:34 p.m. HK)

The U.S. recorded 106,188 new Covid-19 cases on Dec. 25, an increase of just 0.6% from the day before and the smallest daily gain since Nov. 4, according to data compiled by Bloomberg and Johns Hopkins University. However, the numbers were likely skewed by the Christmas holiday: The last time the daily rise was below 1% was on Thanksgiving, and was preceded and followed by significantly larger jumps.

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