December 4 coronavirus news

By Jessie Yeung, Brett McKeehan, Emma Reynolds, Hannah Strange, Melissa Macaya and Meg Wagner, CNN

Updated 12:05 a.m. ET, December 5, 2020
22 Posts
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8:10 a.m. ET, December 4, 2020

Fauci apologizes for suggesting UK rushed vaccine approval and says he has "faith" in regulators

From CNN's Angela Dewan

Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks during a White House Coronavirus Task Force press briefing at the White House in Washington, DC, on November 19.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks during a White House Coronavirus Task Force press briefing at the White House in Washington, DC, on November 19. Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

Dr. Anthony Fauci has apologized for his apparent criticism of British regulators who have authorized the Pfizer vaccine and said he had "faith" in the UK scientific community.

There really has been a misunderstanding, and for that, I’m sorry and I apologize for that. I do have great faith in both the scientific community and the regulatory community at the UK," Fauci told the BBC. 

“I do have confidence. It came out wrong and that was not the way I meant it to be," he added.

Some background: The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases on Thursday said UK regulators had not scrutinized the trial data as carefully as the US Food and Drug Administration.

In an interview with CBS News, Fauci remarked that the UK authorities "just took the data from the Pfizer company and instead of scrutinizing it really, really carefully, they said, ‘OK, let's approve it. That's it.’"

But he told the BBC later on Thursday that the US simply did things "a little bit differently" to the UK.

“We do things a certain way in the United States, possibly a little different, not necessarily better or worse than what’s done in the UK, and I think that’s where we slipped, where I slipped. I made it seem one was better than the other."

Fauci assured everyone that ultimately, the vaccine was going to be safe and effective.

He explained that there was a lot of tension in the US over the credibility, safety and efficacy of vaccines.

“If we had, for example, approved it, yesterday or tomorrow, there likely would have been pushback on an already scrutinizing society that has really, in some respects, in the United States, too much skepticism about the process," he said.

He said that the FDA "has gone over all of the raw data in real time, in a way that could not possibly have been done any more quickly" and it would take at least another week "to get to the point where the FDA will be able to, with confidence, make a statement regarding safety and efficacy.”

This comes as UK Business Secretary Alok Sharma announced Friday that the UK expects to have 800,000 doses of the vaccine by next week.

Speaking on Sky News, Sharma defended the UK's rapid processing of the vaccine saying that the UK regulator is "regarded as a gold standard of regulation by international scientists and people around the world." 

8:14 a.m. ET, December 4, 2020

London at risk of being placed under England's highest Tier 3 restrictions as cases remain high

Empty tables are seen outside a restaurant on December 2 in London.
Empty tables are seen outside a restaurant on December 2 in London. Peter Summers/Getty Images

London is at risk of being placed into England's highest Tier 3 category of restrictions with Covid-19 infection rates "still far too high," according to a top health official for the capital.

Professor Kevin Fenton, London regional director for Public Health England, said that case reductions during England's national lockdown, which ended on Wednesday, had started to slow.

"The promising reductions we had begun to see with the recent national restrictions across the capital have also shown signs of slowing in recent days -- a stark reminder of just how delicate our situation is. If we want to avoid being placed into Tier 3, it is vital we keep transmission down," he said

Fenton said there was a "mixed picture" across London, with the highest cases in the north-east of the city, but that "even in those areas that have had the biggest declines, rates are still far too high."

He called on residents to "remain vigilant" as the city approaches its first weekend under Tier 2 restrictions since the month-long lockdown ended, saying that action in the weeks ahead will make a big difference to the outlook into the New Year.

His warning came as the Office For National Statistics said that the number of people testing positive for coronavirus in England decreased in the week from 22-28 November. Infection rates decreased in all regions except the North East.

Around 1 in 105 people tested positive, with around 25,700 new infections per day.

The UK became the first country to approve the Pfizer/BionNTech vaccine this week, with the first doses delivered from Belgium on Thursday and shots expected to start in days.

But the rollout will take time as the vaccine has to be kept in freezing temperatures. It is set to be delivered initially to care home workers, health workers and the elderly, with 800,000 doses promised in the coming week.

7:47 a.m. ET, December 4, 2020

Pfizer and Moderna coronavirus vaccines should be authorized within a week after advisory meetings, top FDA official says

 From CNN Health’s Maggie Fox

A health worker in Hollywood, Florida, injects a person during clinical trials for a Pfizer coronavirus vaccine on September 9.
A health worker in Hollywood, Florida, injects a person during clinical trials for a Pfizer coronavirus vaccine on September 9. Eva Marie Uzcategui/Bloomberg/Getty Images

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) should authorize coronavirus vaccine candidates from Pfizer and Moderna within a week of meetings held to discuss them, a top official said Thursday.

Pfizer’s vaccine will be discussed by the FDA’s vaccine advisers December 10 and Moderna’s December 17, Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, told an American Medical Association webinar.

“One question that will come up is how fast will we see a vaccine authorized after that. It will depend on the discussion at the advisory committee but we are hoping that within about a week afterwards we will see an authorization if everything goes well for each of those,” Marks said.

It’s a piece of good luck that the Pfizer and Moderna coronavirus vaccines appear to have a 95% efficacy, Marks said.

“It is a high bar. They had 95% effectiveness across a wide range of individuals. We are lucky that these first vaccines out the gate, if everything checks out in our review, seem to be very good vaccines,” he said. 

“By August to October of this year it became clearer to us that the first vaccines that came through would indeed likely be granted emergency use authorization because of the incredibly pressing nature of this crisis,” Marks added.

Doctors cannot yet tell patients how long the vaccines will protect them from infection, Marks said.

“We know that we’re going to get at least months of protection out of this. And it’s months of protection that will help us all climb out of this Covid-19 crisis,” he said.

Volunteers in the clinical trials will be followed for at least two years and regularly checked to see how long the vaccines’ protections last, Marks said.

6:52 a.m. ET, December 4, 2020

University of Washington model projects almost 539,000 US Covid deaths by April

From CNN's Matthew Hilk

Medical staff stand by a bag that contains a deceased Covid-19 patient at United Memorial Medical Center in Houston on November 25.
Medical staff stand by a bag that contains a deceased Covid-19 patient at United Memorial Medical Center in Houston on November 25. Go Nakamura/Getty Images

An update from an influential University of Washington model paints a staggering picture of Covid deaths in the coming months -- and suggests that even a rapid vaccine rollout won't reduce that number by much.

The update from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) Friday morning projects 538,893 Americans could die from coronavirus by April 1. The model suggests daily deaths will peak in the range of 3,000 in mid-January before gradually falling. 

How vaccine developments could affect that: The data suggest that a "rapid vaccine rollout" would still mean about 527,704 deaths by April 1 -- a reduction of only about 11,000. The model covers primarily the period before vaccines are expected to be widely available to the public. 

Why masks are still so vital: Far more impactful, the model suggests, would be universal mask wearing. The model argues that over 66,000 American lives could be saved.

"Avoiding even larger death tolls depends critically on state governors implementing packages of mandates as hospital stress becomes high," the researchers write. 

On the other end of the spectrum, the modeling shows deaths by April would soar to 717,229 if safety mandates are dropped and not renewed as cases rise.

US President-elect Joe Biden told CNN's Jake Tapper on Thursday that he will ask Americans to wear masks for the first 100 days after he takes office -- in marked departure from President Donald Trump's approach to the pandemic.

Despite the continued spread of Covid-19 in the US, there continues to be resistance to wearing masks. At an Oval Office ceremony on Thursday, few people were wearing them, according to reporters who were in the room.

6:31 a.m. ET, December 4, 2020

Hong Kong reports more than 100 cases for the third time in ongoing "fourth wave"

From CNN's Jadyn Sham and Akanksha Sharma in Hong Kong

A worker in Hong Kong attends to people in line at a Covid-19 testing center on November 24.
A worker in Hong Kong attends to people in line at a Covid-19 testing center on November 24. Vernon Yuen/NurPhoto/Getty Images

Hong Kong reported 112 new coronavirus cases on Friday, with 12 considered imported, health authorities announced at a regular news conference.

This is the third time that the city’s new cases breached the 100 per day mark in its ongoing "fourth wave." The first time it happened was on November 29 and then on December 2, according to official figures.

Of the 100 local cases reported on Friday:

  • 36 were untraceable
  • 17 were traced back to dance studio clusters
  • 47 were related to previously reported cases.

The head of the Communicable Disease Branch of the Department of Health's Center for Health Protection, Dr Chuang Shuk-Kwan, warned that the number of confirmed cases was “still on the rise” and has not shown “any downward trend yet”.

The new cases bring the city’s total to 6,702. Two people died from Covid-19 in Hong Kong on Friday, bringing the city’s virus death toll to 112.

5:25 a.m. ET, December 4, 2020

Global deaths from Covid-19 surpass 1.5 million in another tragic milestone

The world hit another tragic milestone late Thursday as the number of deaths from coronavirus exceeded 1.5 million worldwide, according to figures from Johns Hopkins University.

Covid-19 cases are now at 65.3 million globally, with the United States having the highest number of reported infections of any country at 14.1 million. It has also recorded more deaths than any other country, at 276,383.

Brazil has the second-highest number of deaths at 175,270, and 6.5 million cases.

India has the second-highest number of cases at 9.6 million and 139,188 deaths.

5:50 a.m. ET, December 4, 2020

Tokyo 2020 budget balloons to $15.3 billion on cost of Covid

From CNN’s Junko Ogura in Tokyo

The floating monument, consisting of the Olympic rings, placed in Tokyo Gulf, as a symbol of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympic Games, in Tokyo, on December 1.
The floating monument, consisting of the Olympic rings, placed in Tokyo Gulf, as a symbol of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympic Games, in Tokyo, on December 1. Ahmet Furkan Mercan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

The postponed Tokyo Olympic Games are set to cost $2.7 billion more than initially projected, the organizing committee said Friday, taking the total cost of next year’s event to $15.3 billion.

The extra spend includes:

  • Cost of postponing of the games by one year: $1.5 billion
  • Cost of Covid-19 prevention measures: $0.9 billion
  • Added contingency sum: $0.3 billion

The entire cost of the games will be borne by the Tokyo Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government and the Government of Japan.

“Tokyo 2020, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, the Government of Japan and other related parties will continue to work together in order to ensure that athletes from around the world can compete in the Games under perfect conditions and spectators can participate in a safe and secure environment, as proof that mankind has overcome the virus,” said Friday’s statement.

The cost of the Tokyo Olympics was initially projected at $12.6 billion, before the pandemic forced its postponement.

Sums are based on the exchange rate used by the Tokyo Organising Committee (USD 1 = JPY 107). 

4:58 a.m. ET, December 4, 2020

Indian Prime Minister says frontline healthcare workers and elderly will be vaccinated first

From CNN’s Manveena Suri in New Delhi and Akanksha Sharma in Hong Kong

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has announced that vaccinations will begin “as soon as we get a go-ahead from the scientists,” and that the first phase of the rollout will prioritize frontline healthcare workers and older citizens.

Addressing an all-party meeting on Friday to discuss the Covid-19 situation, Modi said there were "nearly eight vaccines are on different stages of trial with their manufacturing assured in India.” 

Of these, three vaccines from India are at different stages of development, Modi added.

Central and state governments are now working together to coordinate distribution for when a vaccine is approved, Modi said, assuring that "experts think that the vaccine isn't too far away."

Case count: On Thursday, India reported 36,595 new cases and 540 additional deaths.

That raises the country's total to at least 9,571,559 cases and 139,188 virus-related deaths.

4:48 a.m. ET, December 4, 2020

Seoul to strengthen Covid-19 restrictions as city faces "desperate crisis"

From CNN’s Jake Kwon and Gawon Bae in Seoul 

South Korea’s capital Seoul will be placed under tougher Covid-19 prevention measures starting Saturday, with the city in a “desperate crisis," announced Acting Mayor Seo Jeong-hyup on Friday.

The city has already been put under an "emergency period" since November 24, but Seoul must now effectively "stop after 9 pm," Seo said. The announcement came after the greater metro area recorded 463 new cases from Thursday.

Under the new restrictions: Public venues including cinemas, study cafes, beauty salons and department stores must close after 9 p.m. Supermarkets smaller than 300 square meters (3,229 square feet) will be exempt. Public transport will reduce passenger capacity by 30% after 9 p.m.

The measures will last at least two weeks, Mayor Seo said. 

The whole country faces new rules: The government has designated a “special disease prevention effort period” from December 7 until January 3, during the peak of the holiday season, according to Yoon Tae-ho, a senior Health Ministry official.

During this period, the government will toughen inspections in high-risk facilities like restaurants, entertainment facilities, amusement parks and indoor gyms, all usually busy toward the end of the year.

Yoon urged people to postpone end-of-year meetings, move events online, cancel parties, and switch to online schooling.