December 16 coronavirus news

By Kara Fox, Jessie Yeung and Adam Renton, CNN

Updated 8:54 AM ET, Thu December 17, 2020
22 Posts
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8:26 a.m. ET, December 16, 2020

It's been seven days since the UK started its vaccine program. Here's how it's going so far.

From CNN's Kara Fox

Olive Talender receives an injection at a COVID-19 vaccination center in Chertsey, England on December 16.
Olive Talender receives an injection at a COVID-19 vaccination center in Chertsey, England on December 16. Leon Neal/Getty Images

It’s been a week since the UK became the first country in the world to deploy Pfizer/BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine.

So far, a total of 137,897 people in the UK have been vaccinated, according to Nadhim Zahawi, who is overseeing the coronavirus vaccine rollout.

On Wednesday, Zahawi tweeted that the vaccine program had gotten off to a "really good start" and gave a breakdown of the numbers.

Here's those numbers.

England:108,000
Scotland:18,000
Wales: 7,897
Northern Ireland: 4,000.
Scotland:18,000

Zahawi added that the number of vaccinated people would continue to rise as distribution in primary care networks takes effect.

But its possible that only around half of the population in England will be able to get vaccinated next year, according to a new report from the National Audit Office.

The report estimates that only 25 million people -- less than half of England's population of around 56 million -- could be vaccinated in 2021. That's if, and when, sufficient vaccines are available.

The UK government has signed five contracts for potential Covid-19 vaccines, including Pfizer/BioNTech's offering, which is currently being deployed.

The contracts will provide access to 267 million potential doses at an expected cost of £2.9 billion (US $3.9bn), according to a report released Wednesday by the National Audit Office.

They include:

  • 100 million doses from Astra Zeneca/Oxford
  • 60 million doses from Valneva
  • 40 million doses from Pfizer/BioNTech
  • 60 million doses from Novavax
  • 7 million doses from Moderna

The report also said an estimated 46,000 staff may be needed to support the deployment of the vaccines, noting the challenge of current staff shortages.

7:13 a.m. ET, December 16, 2020

Saudi Arabia receives its first shipment of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine

From CNN’s Mostafa Salem in Abu Dhabi

Saudi Arabia received the first shipment of the coronavirus Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine on Wednesday morning, with more than 100,000 people registered to receive the vaccine so far, Health Minister Tawfiq Al Rabiah told Saudi state TV.

The Kingdom’s Food and Drug Authority approved the registration of the Pfizer/BioNtech coronavirus vaccine last week in preparation for importing and distributing, state news agency SPA said.

Al Rabiah showed a vial of the vaccine on Saudi TV and said: "I am happy to bring the positive news to the citizens and residents [of Saudi Arabia] that the first batch of the coronavirus vaccine has arrived this morning."

Saudi Arabia opened registration for those willing to receive the vaccine on Tuesday, with the number of people signing up surpassing 100,000 so far, Al Rabiah said.

The vaccine will be administered for free and will be prioritized for those above the age of 65, those with chronic illnesses and frontline medical workers, he added.

7:07 a.m. ET, December 16, 2020

Indonesia's president says the Covid-19 vaccine will be free

From CNN's Eric Cheung in Hong Kong

Workers unload a shipment of the Covid-19 vaccine made by Sinovac, upon its arrival from Beijing at the Jakarta International Airport in Indonesia on December 6.
Workers unload a shipment of the Covid-19 vaccine made by Sinovac, upon its arrival from Beijing at the Jakarta International Airport in Indonesia on December 6. Handout/Indonesian Presidential Palace/AFP/Getty Images

Indonesian President Joko Widodo said the country will provide free Covid-19 vaccines for all, state-run Antara News Agency reported on Wednesday.

"After re-calculating the state's financial standing, I can confirm that the Covid-19 vaccine would be offered free of charge to the public," he said. "There is no reason for the public to not get vaccinated."

Antara reported that Widodo has instructed ministries and local governments to prioritize the vaccination program in the 2021 budget. 

Indonesia received 1.2 million doses of the vaccine from Chinese pharmaceutical firm Sinovac on December 6.

The country is expected to receive another 1.8 million doses by early January, Antara reported.

Indonesia has so far reported 629,429 Covid-19 cases and 19,111 deaths.

11:31 a.m. ET, December 16, 2020

Doctors in Northern Ireland treat patients from parked ambulances as hospitals pass full capacity

From CNN's Kara Fox

Medical staff attend to a patient in an ambulance at Antrim Area Hospital in Northern Ireland on Tuesday, December 15.
Medical staff attend to a patient in an ambulance at Antrim Area Hospital in Northern Ireland on Tuesday, December 15. Liam McBurney/PA/Reuters

Doctors from several hospitals across Northern Ireland were forced to treat patients in parking lots on Tuesday as the nation’s health service was pushed to the brink.

Across Northern Ireland, hospital capacity stood at 104%. 

At one point outside the Antrim Area Hospital, 17 ambulances containing patients were lined up outside the emergency department.

Wendy Magowan, director of operations at the Northern Trust -- a health and social care provider serving 470,000 people in the region -- said one patient waited 10 hours in an ambulance in County Antrim overnight.

43 people were waiting for an emergency bed at Antrim Area Hospital and 21 at the Causeway Hospital on Tuesday morning, Magowan told the UK’s PA Media.

She added that 100 of the Antrim hospital’s 400 beds were already occupied by Covid-19 patients.

“The pressure has been building, we are seeing our Covid figures here in Antrim hospital increasing,” she told PA.

Day in day we’re not seeing this second surge starting to abate at all.”

The worrying scenes took place as First Minister Arlene Foster engaged with other UK political leaders about the British government’s plan to relax coronavirus restrictions over the Christmas holiday. 

No decisions to reverse the plans have been taken, but the government is facing mounting criticism to do so from health experts who have warned that hospitalizations at New Year could match that of the pandemic’s peak in April, unless tighter measures are brought in. 

On December 11, Northern Ireland emerged from a “circuit breaker” lockdown -- where schools remained opened, but some businesses in the retail, leisure and hospitality sectors were forced to close.

The lockdown did not drive down infection rates.

Northern Ireland’s health minister, Robin Swann, said he would propose a series of new restrictions to executive colleagues on Thursday.

486 new cases of the virus were recorded in Northern Ireland over the last 24 hours, with the deaths of a further six people announced on Tuesday.

1,135 people have died from Covid-19 in Northern Ireland so far.

6:10 a.m. ET, December 16, 2020

Singapore says almost half of all migrant workers living in dorms were infected with Covid-19

From CNN's Eric Cheung in Hong Kong

A worker uses hand sanitizer at the entrance to the Westlite Mandai worker dormitory in Singapore, in August.
A worker uses hand sanitizer at the entrance to the Westlite Mandai worker dormitory in Singapore, in August. Wei Leng Tay/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Since the pandemic began, 47% of migrant workers living in dormitories across Singapore have been infected with Covid-19, according to a statement released by the Singaporean Ministry of Health on Monday.

A total of 152,794 migrant workers residing in dorms have returned positive results in PCR or serology tests for Covid-19. Approximately 323,000 migrant workers are living in dormitories across Singapore, the statement added.

PCR tests are used to diagnose current or new infections, the ministry said, while serology tests can detect the presence of Covid-19 antibodies in blood samples and allow health officials to identify people who had been infected in the past.

The vast majority of migrant workers who returned positive results were either asymptomatic or had very mild symptoms, it added.

The new statistics show that the number of infections in Singapore was much higher than previously thought. 

"For every Covid-19 infection in the dormitories detected through PCR testing, another 1.8 cases were untested and undetected at the time, and were identified subsequently only through serology testing," the ministry said. 

"This is not surprising as many migrant workers did not have any symptoms, and thus would not have sought treatment."

As of Wednesday, Singapore reported 58,341 cases and 29 deaths since the pandemic began.

The majority of those cases were reported in migrant workers' dormitories over the summer, prompting authorities to lock down the facilities and conduct testing to stem the outbreak.

6:08 a.m. ET, December 16, 2020

China will suspend inbound international flights if five people onboard test positive for coronavirus

From CNN's Eric Cheung in Hong Kong

A security guard watches over the empty international arrivals channel at Beijing airport on November 6.
A security guard watches over the empty international arrivals channel at Beijing airport on November 6. Greg Baker/AFP/Getty Images

China will suspend inbound international flight routes if five or more people test positive for Covid-19 when they land, the Civil Aviation Administration of China said in a statement on Wednesday.

Under the new rules, if five or more passengers test positive for Covid-19 after arriving in China on a flight, the airline company will be banned from running those flights for two weeks, it said.

A four-week suspension will be served if 10 or more passengers test positive for the virus, it said. Airlines will be allowed to resume flying one flight per week on the route once the suspension ends. 

Previously, airlines had to serve a one-week suspension if five or more passengers on a flight tested positive for Covid-19. The tightened restrictions are implemented with immediate effect.

On Tuesday, the Civil Aviation Administration of China issued one-week suspension notices to Ethiopian Airlines, the Russian airline Pegas Fly, and Swiss International Air Lines after five or more passengers who traveled on their flights tested positive for Covid-19.

4:17 a.m. ET, December 16, 2020

US has surplus of monoclonal antibody treatments for Covid-19, Azar says

From CNN's Shelby Lin Erdman

Not enough Covid-19 patients are asking for or receiving monoclonal antibody treatment, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said on Tuesday.

“We have a surplus of these monoclonal antibodies right now, the Regeneron and Lilly antibodies, and what's happening is people are waiting too long to seek out the treatments until they show up at the hospital and, by then, it may be too late in order to get the benefit of these antibody treatments that beat back the spread of the virus,” Azar told CNBC in an interview.

What is the treatment? "Monoclonal antibodies are laboratory-made proteins that mimic the immune system's ability to fight off harmful antigens such as viruses," the FDA said in a statement after approving the Eli Lilly treatment. It's "designed to block the virus' attachment and entry into human cells."

The treatment involves an infusion, and Azar acknowledged there’s a natural resistance to get that kind of treatment if a person still feels healthy.

But doctors need to prescribe and use these products early in the disease progression, as it can "dramatically reduce the risk for us of hospitalizations at a time when our hospitals are getting very crowded with people with Covid,” he said.

“So basically if you are over 65 or at risk of serious complications or hospitalizations because of comorbidities, what have you, and you test positive, you need to seek out and get the Lilly or the Regeneron monoclonal antibody,” Azar said.
3:57 a.m. ET, December 16, 2020

This 107-year-old woman beat Covid-19

From CNN's Kay Jones and Amanda Jackson

Tillie Dybing.
Tillie Dybing. Ecumen

Tillie Dybing is a survivor.

At the age of 107, the Minnesota woman recently beat Covid-19 after being diagnosed this fall, according to officials at the Ecumen Detroit Lakes community home, where she has lived since 2015.

This isn't the first pandemic Dybing has lived through. Born in 1913, she was almost 5 years old when the 1918 flu pandemic hit her family farm in North Dakota, she told CNN affiliate KARE.

"My folks got sick and they were in bed, and I'd run into the bed and my Dad said, 'Can't you find another place to run,'" she said.

Throughout her life, Dybing endured other losses, including the deaths of several siblings in infancy and her husband in her 80s. She is also a cancer survivor, having beaten uterine cancer at the age of 95, KARE reported.

Now, she has survived two viral pandemics. The only Covid-19 symptoms Dybing says she had was fatigue.

"Nothing in her lungs. They said she doesn't have a fever. She just slept all the time," Dybing's daughter Susan Berke told KARE.

Dybing recently returned to her apartment at the facility after spending a few weeks away from the general population, Ecumen officials said. They added that they are happy she has recovered and thanked her family for trusting them with her care.

3:31 a.m. ET, December 16, 2020

Coronavirus is adding to delays for the US Postal Service this holiday season

From CNN's Artemis Moshtaghian 

A letter carrier sorts mail at his station inside the Roxbury Post Office in Boston, MA on December 1.
A letter carrier sorts mail at his station inside the Roxbury Post Office in Boston, MA on December 1. Lane Turner/The Boston Globe/Getty Images

The United States Postal Service is warning customers that they are experiencing unprecedented volume increases and limited employee availability due to the impact of Covid-19.

“We appreciate your patience and remain committed to delivering the holidays to you,” an update on their website says.

“While every year the Postal Service carefully plans for peak holiday season, a historic record of holiday volume compounded by a temporary employee shortage due to the Covid-19 surge, and capacity challenges with airlifts and trucking for moving this historic volume of mail are leading to temporary delays," said the USPS, adding that similar challenges are being felt by “shippers across the board.”