December 17 coronavirus news

By Helen Regan, Adam Renton, Eoin McSweeney, Ed Upright and Meg Wagner, CNN

Updated 12:04 a.m. ET, December 18, 2020
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1:27 a.m. ET, December 17, 2020

Vaccines not a "silver bullet" to end the pandemic, WHO official says

From CNN's Pauline Lockwood and Angus Watson

WHO Regional Director for Western Pacific Takeshi Kasai addresses the media in Manila, Philippines, on October 7, 2019.
WHO Regional Director for Western Pacific Takeshi Kasai addresses the media in Manila, Philippines, on October 7, 2019. Bullit Marquez/AP

Although promising, vaccines “will not stop the virus” and are not a “silver bullet” to ending the pandemic, a top World Health Organization official told a news conference hosted on Zoom Thursday. 

Dr. Takeshi Kasai, WHO regional director for the Western Pacific, made the comments as he was giving an update on the region’s progress in dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic. 

When asked by CNN when the world could hope to go back to normal, Kasai said that “the answer to this question depends on all of us. And the individual actions that we take now and into the future."

He said the initial number of vaccines will be limited and that high-risk groups should be prioritized.

“For others beyond those high-risk groups: we may be looking for another 12 to 24 months before the majority of people have received the vaccine. And even then, there is some uncertainty and some unknowns,” he added.
“We must stick to the individual actions and behaviors, which protect not only ourselves, but also those around us. Hand washing, wearing a mask, physical distancing, avoiding a place with a higher risk.”

While the Americas and Europe were facing challenging Covid-19 situations, Kasai said the Western Pacific had fared “comparatively well” but should “keep preparing for the worst case scenario."

Younger people are getting infected: Dr. Babatunde Olowokure, WHO Western Pacific regional emergency director, added that the trend of infections had shifted from older generations to the 20-29 age group because of “increased mobility” following the relaxation of restrictions, and also because of a “low level of perceived threat in young people” leading to "complacency."

Olowokure added that the death toll remained highest for people aged over 80.

Although the Western Pacific was doing well in global terms, Olowokure also said that the “seven-day moving average is showing upward trends in our region” with the most notable increases of infections in South Korea, Japan and Malaysia. 

1:07 a.m. ET, December 17, 2020

Hawaii reduces quarantine time for out-of-state travelers

From CNN’s Andy Rose

The southern shore of the island of Oahu is seen on October 22, in Honolulu.
The southern shore of the island of Oahu is seen on October 22, in Honolulu. Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

People flying to Hawaii without proof of a negative Covid-19 test will have their quarantine time cut starting Thursday.

Gov. David Ige ordered that the mandatory quarantine be reduced from 14 days to 10 days.

“A 10-day self-quarantine period allows us to control the spread of Covid-19 in the community while balancing the need to address the mental and emotional health issues caused by isolation, to improve compliance, and to lessen the economic hardship for those unable to return to work,” Gov. Ige said in a statement Wednesday.

Travelers from the US mainland and a few foreign countries can avoid the quarantine if they obtain a negative coronavirus test from an approved health care provider within 72 hours before travel.

12:56 a.m. ET, December 17, 2020

2021 Australian Open delayed by 3 weeks to allow tennis players time to quarantine

From journalist Angus Watson in Sydney, Australia 

A general view of fans at Rod Laver Arena watching the men's singles final match between Novak Djokovic of Serbia and Dominic Thiem of Austria at the Australian Open Grand Slam tennis tournament in Melbourne, Australia, on February 2.
A general view of fans at Rod Laver Arena watching the men's singles final match between Novak Djokovic of Serbia and Dominic Thiem of Austria at the Australian Open Grand Slam tennis tournament in Melbourne, Australia, on February 2. Roman Pilipey/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

One of the biggest tournaments in the tennis calendar -- the Australian Open -- will begin on February 8, three weeks later than planned, the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) confirmed today.

The delay of the grand slam comes after weeks of intense negotiations between the state government of Victoria and tournament organizers, Tennis Australia, over Covid-19 safety and quarantine requirements.

On Thursday, the ATP announced that players would have to quarantine for 14 days on arrival in Melbourne, in compliance with Australian travel rules.

However a “controlled environment” will allow players to prepare for their matches while quarantining, the ATP said.

Players will travel to Melbourne between January 15 and 31 after the Australian Open qualifying rounds are played in Doha, Qatar. 

“The reconfigured calendar for the start of the 2021 season represents a huge collaborative effort across tennis, under challenging circumstances,” ATP chairman Andrea Gaudenzi said in a statement.

The Australian Open was originally scheduled to start on January 18.

1:32 a.m. ET, December 17, 2020

Interior Secretary David Bernhardt tests positive for Covid-19

From CNN's Kyle Feldscher

Secretary of Interior David Bernhardt speaks during a dedication ceremony for The Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial in Washington, DC, on September 17.
Secretary of Interior David Bernhardt speaks during a dedication ceremony for The Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial in Washington, DC, on September 17. Alex Wong/Getty Images

Interior Secretary David Bernhardt tested positive for Covid-19 on Wednesday, becoming the latest prominent member of President Donald Trump's administration to contract the coronavirus.

"Secretary Bernhardt did test positive for COVID-19 today. He is currently asymptomatic and will continue to work on behalf of the American people while in quarantine," said Nicholas Goodwin, a spokesman for the Interior Department, in an email to CNN.

Bernhardt's positive test was first reported by The Washington Post.

Bernhardt is the latest member of the President's Cabinet to test positive for the virus, joining Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, who was hospitalized last month. The interior secretary was not present at a Cabinet meeting with Trump on Wednesday.

Read more:

12:02 a.m. ET, December 17, 2020

Peru lifts suspension of China's Sinopharm Covid-19 vaccine trials

From CNN’s Tatiana Arias and CNNE’s Florencia Trucco in Atlanta

Sinopharm’s Covid-19 vaccine trials can resume in Peru, the country's Health Minister Pilar Mazzetti announced Wednesday.

“The situation has been clarified and the suspension has been lifted today," Mazzetti said during a Cabinet news briefing.

On Saturday, Peru’s clinical trials of the Sinopharm vaccine were temporarily suspended by the Peruvian National Institute of Health after a 64-year-old patient, with a history of diabetes, reported a decrease in muscle strength in his legs.

German Malaga, the head of clinical trials at Sinopharm laboratories in Peru, said at the time that the reason for the symptoms had not yet been determined.

Mazzetti gave no further details on Wednesday as to whether or not the patient’s symptoms were linked to the vaccine candidate.  

10:32 p.m. ET, December 16, 2020

Mystery Covid-19 cluster sparks Sydney testing rush

From journalist Angus Watson in Sydney, Australia 

Health authorities in Sydney, Australia have issued a Covid-19 public health alert after diagnosing the first cases of community transmission since December 3.

Five community cases of Covid-19 have been discovered in Sydney since Wednesday, according to New South Wales' health department.

Just one of the five cases can be traced -- a 40-year-old bus driver who ferried airline crews to and from their hotels. 

The four mystery cases are all located in Sydney’s Northern Beaches area. Two were diagnosed on Wednesday and a further two on Thursday.

Residents in the area responded to a call for increased testing with long queues at clinics on Thursday morning.

“We encourage everybody who lives on the Northern Beaches with the mildest of symptoms to come forward and get tested," New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian said Thursday. "We really want to get on top of this."

The Berejiklian government took the added step on Thursday of canceling visits for elderly care homes on the Northern Beaches.

"We're recommending no visitors until we identify the source of infection and feel more confident that we have it under control," she said.

New South Wales has recorded a total of 4,477 cases of Covid-19 since the beginning of the pandemic, according to the local health department.

9:45 p.m. ET, December 16, 2020

South Korea reports most deaths in a single day since pandemic began

From CNN’s Jake Kwon in Seoul

South Korea reported 22 deaths related to Covid-19 on Wednesday, the highest single-day total of the pandemic, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).

For the second consecutive day, the country also reported more than 1,000 new Covid-19 infections, with 1,014 cases, the KDCA said in a news release.

Of those, 993 were local cases and 21 were imported.

The vast majority of the new infections -- 784 -- were in the Seoul metropolitan area. 

The latest tally brings total cases in the country to 46,453 and 634 deaths.

8:12 p.m. ET, December 16, 2020

Expect a quicker authorization of Moderna's coronavirus vaccine

From CNN's Maggie Fox

Vaccine advisers to the US Food and Drug Administration are scheduled to meet Thursday to discuss the second coronavirus vaccine aimed at the US market, this one made by biotechnology company Moderna.

The FDA has already telegraphed that a quick emergency use authorization can be expected and this one could go through even faster than the EUA for Pfizer last week -- itself a speedy process.

The Moderna vaccine is very similar to Pfizer's and BioNTech's vaccine. Both use a new approach involving genetic material known as messenger RNA or mRNA.

"It's based on the same technology," Dr. Elissa Malkin, co-investigator for the Moderna Clinical Trial at the George Washington University in Washington, DC, told CNN.
"Really, they do seem quite similar," added Malkin, who has studied both the Pfizer and the Moderna data.
"I think they are very likely to authorize it quickly."

The technology does not require the actual virus to make the vaccine -- simply the genetic code, which is used to trick the body into making little bits that look like the outside "spike" protein of the virus, prompting an immune response.

Both have shown about 95% efficacy in preventing disease, both appear very safe and both have been tested in tens of thousands of volunteers across the US and the world.

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci said Wednesday he hopes the FDA will issue an EUA Thursday.

"Tomorrow, the FDA will hopefully make a decision regarding whether or not the Moderna messenger RNA vaccine will get an emergency use authorization," Fauci said on CNBC.

Read the full story:

9:22 p.m. ET, December 16, 2020

US hits record number of Covid-19 hospitalizations

From CNN’s Haley Brink

The United States reported 113,069 Covid-19 hospitalizations on Wednesday, setting a new record high since the pandemic began, according to the Covid Tracking Project (CTP).

This is the 15th consecutive day that the US has remained above 100,000 hospitalizations.

According to CTP data, these days recorded the highest hospitalization numbers:

  1. Dec. 16: 113,069
  2. Dec. 15: 112,814
  3. Dec. 14: 110,549
  4. Dec. 13: 109,298
  5. Dec. 12: 108,461