US FDA panel recommends Covid-19 vaccine authorization

By Julia Hollingsworth, Adam Renton, Emma Reynolds, Nada Bashir, Melissa Macaya and Meg Wagner, CNN

Updated 7:50 a.m. ET, December 11, 2020
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8:25 a.m. ET, December 10, 2020

North Korea tells WHO it has tested more than 9,000 people and found no virus cases

From CNN's Yoonjung Seo in Seoul

As part of preventative measures against coronavirus, a worker takes the temperature of an attendee ahead of a performance by North Korea's National Acrobatic Troupe in Pyongyang, North Korea, on November 16.
As part of preventative measures against coronavirus, a worker takes the temperature of an attendee ahead of a performance by North Korea's National Acrobatic Troupe in Pyongyang, North Korea, on November 16. Kim Won Jin/AFP/Getty Images

North Korea says it has tested over 9,000 people and found no positive virus cases, according to data Pyongyang provided to the World Health Organization (WHO).

A total of 18,472 samples were taken from 9,373 people who underwent a "reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction" test (the common diagnostic swab test) over 10 days and with no positive cases detected.

Among those tested, 4,275 people had developed a fever as they were quarantined and the others tested were health workers deployed at quarantine stations and involved in collecting samples, according to the report.

North Korea has released 33,044 people from quarantine as of November 26, according to data released by WHO.

Independent testing: North Korea independently conducted the tests, and the Ministry of Public Health of North Korea provided the data to WHO, which released the statistics on Thursday. 

The North Korean government has maintained no positive cases of Covid-19 have been detected in the country, a claim widely questioned by experts.

8:22 a.m. ET, December 10, 2020

“We intend to act quickly,” FDA commissioner says of considering Pfizer’s vaccine for an EUA

From CNN Health’s Naomi Thomas

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“I’m not going to prejudge what the advisory committee – which is a non-binding committee of scientific experts – will say to us. We’ll have to see what the scientific and medical discussion is today,” US Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn told NBC’s Savannah Guthrie Thursday, when asked if authorization of Pfizer’s vaccine could come as early as today or tomorrow.

The FDA's Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee is meeting today to consider emergency use authorization for Pfizer and BioNTech's coronavirus vaccine.

 “Our plan is to take their recommendations into account for our decision making, and make a decision shortly thereafter,” Hahn continued. “Again, it really depends upon the complexity of the issues discussed, but we intend to act quickly.”

When asked about if the committee could raise questions or say that decisions need to be delayed – and whether the FDA could decide to move forward anyway – Hahn said that scenarios like that have been experienced by the agency.

“We have the advisory committee to get outside opinions about this. We think it’s very important for transparency,” he said, adding that the FDA is the only regulatory agency in the world that has such public data vetting.

“But we’ll make that decision. Our scientific experts will make that decision,” Hahn said.

8:23 a.m. ET, December 10, 2020

UK travelers could be banned from EU after January 1 under Covid-19 rules

From CNN's James Frater in Brussels

A passenger walks through Gatwick Airport in London, England, on November 27.
A passenger walks through Gatwick Airport in London, England, on November 27. Leon Neal/Getty Images

Travelers from the UK will from January be subject to the same travel restrictions as all other non-EU countries, which bar all but essential travel to Europe, a European official told CNN.

The current Brexit transition period ends on December 31 and these travel restrictions will still apply even if the UK and European Union strike a trade deal.

“The UK is not part of the Schengen area and -- following the end of the transition period -- it will also no longer be treated similarly to a Member State,” the official from the European Commission said, adding that the UK “will be subject to the [EU] Council Recommendation on the external travel restriction.”

The criteria in the recommendation is primarily based on whether a particular country’s epidemiological situation is better or lower than the EU average.

It also includes factors such as “containment measures, including physical distancing, as well as economic and social considerations.” 

Reciprocal arrangements on whether EU citizens are allowed to travel to that country, “should also be taken into account regularly and on a case-by-case basis,” the recommendation says. 

In October, EU member states decided that only eight countries met the "safe country" criteria, including Australia, Japan and New Zealand.

“The Council is responsible for reviewing the list of third countries towards which the travel restriction is lifted and the Council will therefore need to consider the inclusion of the UK,” said the Commission official.

What happens next: The UK will be considered with other non-EU countries at the next review scheduled to take place in the week of December 14, an EU official at the European Council told CNN. 

“The list of countries for which restrictions should be lifted is reviewed and, as the case may be, updated regularly,” the Council official explained, but said it was too early to “confirm at this stage what the status of a country will be on 1 January.”

Essential travel is categorized into 11 areas including:

  • healthcare professionals
  • passengers in transit
  • diplomats
  • people travelling for imperative family reasons.
8:30 a.m. ET, December 10, 2020

Pfizer principal investigator "very optimistic" about positive news after FDA meeting

From CNN Health’s Naomi Thoma

Dr. Onyema Ogbuagu, an associate professor at the Yale School of Medicine, and the principal investigator of the Pfizer trial there, said on Thursday that he is very optimistic there will be good news after the US Food and Drug Administration meeting. 

An FDA advisory committee is meeting on Thursday to discuss emergency use authorization for the Pfizer vaccine.

When asked by CNN’s Alisyn Camerota whether there was any reason or anything he had seen happen that would mean emergency use authorization wouldn’t happen, Ogbuagu said:

“No, I think there’s no reason to think that we won’t get a positive vote from the committee that sits today. We know that Canada and the UK have already done so.”

He said he knew Camerota was probably alluding to the reports of anaphylactic reactions in two individuals in the UK, but said to remember these were individuals with known histories of anaphylaxis, who carried EpiPens.

“I do hope at some point we can figure out which components of the vaccine led to that, but I really am very optimistic that we’ll have positive news after the meeting,” Ogbuagu said.

WATCH:

7:59 a.m. ET, December 10, 2020

CDC now projects up to 362,000 US Covid-19 deaths by January 2

From CNN Health’s Ben Tinker

A forecast published Wednesday by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention projects there will be 332,000 to 362,000 coronavirus deaths in the United States by January 2. 

Unlike some individual models, the CDC’s ensemble forecast only offers projections a few weeks into the future. The previous ensemble forecast, published December 3, projected up to 329,000 coronavirus deaths by December 26.

At least 289,450 people have already died from Covid-19 in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

CNN is tracking the spread of Covid-19 in the US here:

7:52 a.m. ET, December 10, 2020

China flight attendants advised to wear diapers for Covid protection

From CNN's Lilit Marcus

Transportation officials around the world have been looking for ways to keep passengers and crew safe on planes during the pandemic.

On November 25, the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) released new guidelines for the country's airline industry, which it oversees.

The document, titled Technical Guidelines for Epidemic Prevention and Control for Airlines, Sixth Edition, contains advice about the best hygiene practices to carry out on aircraft and in airports. 

But one of those suggestions -- that personnel like flight attendants wear disposable diapers so they don't need to use the bathroom -- has raised some eyebrows.

A section on PPE advises cabin crew on flights to and from high-risk countries to wear "medical masks, double-layer disposable medical gloves, goggles, disposable hats, disposable protective clothing, and disposable shoe covers."

The next sentence reads: "It is recommended that cabin crew members wear disposable diapers and avoid using the lavatories barring special circumstances to avoid infection risks."

While such advice may seem dramatic, it's no secret that lavatories can be the germiest place on an airplane. In August, a woman traveling from Italy to South Korea contracted coronavirus during her trip, and a visit to the bathroom -- the only place where she didn't wear an N95 mask -- was named as the possible source of her infection.

Read the full story here:

7:15 a.m. ET, December 10, 2020

Indian regulators request more data before approving AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine

From journalist Manveena Suri and Esha Mitra in New Delhi

Vials of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine are seen inside a visual inspection machine at the Serum Institute of India on November 30.
Vials of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine are seen inside a visual inspection machine at the Serum Institute of India on November 30. Francis Mascarenhas/Reuters

India’s Central Drugs Standard Organization (CDSCO) requested more data from the Serum Institute of India (SII), which applied for emergency use of AstraZeneca’s Covid vaccine on Monday. 

The CDSCO said on Thursday that SII should submit “updated safety data of Phase II/III clinical trial in the country, immunogenicity data from the clinical trial in UK and India and the outcome of the assessment of UK- MHRA (the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency) for grant of EUA.”

The document read that SII firm presented their application “with the interim safety data from Phase II/III clinical trial carried out in the country and the interim safety and efficacy results of Phase II/III and Phase III clinical trials carried out in the UK, other countries and India.”

The regulator tasked with reviewing the emergency authorization application from SII met on Wednesday.

CNN has reached out to the Serum Institute of India. 

The background: The AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine candidate was found to have 70.4% efficacy in an interim analysis of Phase 3 trial results, published for the first time in a peer-reviewed journal yesterday.

But experts have raised questions after AstraZeneca's data showed the vaccine was about 62% effective in most people but 90% effective in a subset of volunteers who had a low first dose of vaccine.

Moncef Slaoui, chief adviser to Operation Warp Speed, told a news briefing Wednesday that the US Food and Drug Administration may prefer data generated from an ongoing US trial when it comes time to decide on authorizing the vaccine.

7:12 a.m. ET, December 10, 2020

Singaporean "cruise to nowhere" passenger re-tests negative for coronavirus after false positive halted voyage

From CNN’s Angus Watson

The Royal Carribean International cruise ship Quantum of the Seas is seen docked at Marina Bay Cruise Centre in Singapore on December 9.
The Royal Carribean International cruise ship Quantum of the Seas is seen docked at Marina Bay Cruise Centre in Singapore on December 9. Roslan Rahman/AFP/Getty Images

An 83-year-old Singaporean passenger aboard a "cruise to nowhere" has re-tested negative for coronavirus after a false positive halted the voyage, Singapore’s Ministry of Health said Thursday.

The man had initially tested positive for the virus while aboard the Quantum of the Seas, operated by Royal Caribbean International, and was transported to a nearby hospital. 

That test has now been re-classed as negative, Singaporean authorities said in a statement.

How the story unfolded: The ship had been hosting a three-night, four-day “cruise to nowhere” itinerary around Singapore, as part of a program to reinvigorate domestic travel in Singapore amid the global coronavirus pandemic. 

Close contacts of the individual in question were quarantined while a number of other passengers and crew members were forced to stay on board while contact-tracing took place.

“We have rescinded the Quarantine Orders of his close contacts, who had earlier been placed in quarantine as a precautionary measure while investigations were ongoing,” the statement read.

According to the Singapore Tourism Board, all 1,680 passengers and 1,148 crew members had tested negative for coronavirus when the cruise ship departed on December 7. 

In a statement, Royal Caribbean International said the cruise line has worked closely with the government to develop a “thorough system” to test and monitor all guests and crew, and maintain public health best practices.

"That we were able to quickly identify this single case and take immediate action is a sign that the system is working as it was designed to do," a Royal Caribbean representative said. 

Under new protocols, the cruise had been operating with reduced occupancy, with mandatory universal testing and mask wearing enforced, as well as physical distancing and enhanced cleaning practices. 

Only Singaporean citizens were allowed to buy tickets for the cruise, and crew members from around the world spent 14 days quarantining in the city-state in order to be cleared for working.

6:42 a.m. ET, December 10, 2020

San Francisco could run out of intensive care beds in 17 days, say health officials

From CNN's Christina Maxouris

Intensive care unit capacity could run out by December 27 if Covid-19 numbers continue to climb as fast as they are now, health officials project.

That is "in just 17 days," the city's health director Dr. Grant Colfax said Wednesday. "And that's if things don't even get worse, but they very well may." 

There are 123 Covid-19 patients across San Francisco, Colfax said, a number higher than ever before that shows "no signs of going down." Thirty of those patients are in intensive care units. 

This number is climbing, and climbing rapidly. Now, not only by the day, but by the hour," he added.

The city is experiencing by far its worst surge to date, Colfax said, adding the virus was "everywhere in our city right now."

"Even lower-risk activities now carry substantial risk because there's more virus out there than ever before," he said.

The surge has also been fueled by the gatherings that took place over the Thanksgiving holiday. Since then, at least 167 people are testing positive for the virus daily, and the average case rate per 100,000 has skyrocketed since Thanksgiving week -- from 15 to 30. 

"The reality is unfortunately proving to be as harsh as we expected," Colfax said.

Read the full story here: