December 18 coronavirus news

By Emma Reynolds, Hannah Strange, Helen Regan, Adam Renton and Meg Wagner, CNN

Updated 11:21 PM ET, Mon December 21, 2020
25 Posts
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6:59 a.m. ET, December 18, 2020

Germany to vaccinate over-80s and care home residents in first phase with nation under strain

From CNN's Nadine Schmidt in Berlin

German Health Minister Jens Spahn arrives for a news conference on Friday, December 18, in Berlin, Germany.
German Health Minister Jens Spahn arrives for a news conference on Friday, December 18, in Berlin, Germany. Steffi Loos/Getty Images

German Health Minister Jens Spahn on Friday said priority for vaccination would go to over-80s and care home residents and staff as he called on citizens to be patient with the vaccine roll out.

Speaking at a news conference in Berlin, Spahn added that ''every second person who dies [in Germany] is over 80 years old.'' 

He said it could take “up to two months'' to complete this first wave of vaccinations. 

The winter is going to be long and hard," he added.

Germany aims to start using the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine by December 27, subject to the EU granting regulatory approval when its medicines regulatory authority meets next week.

The country on Friday reported a record-high 33,777 new daily coronavirus infections in 24 hours, while fatalities rose to 813.

Germany's second wave of coronavirus has put its health system under strain. 

The worst hit areas are the eastern states of Saxony and Thuringia. The interior ministry of Saxony-Anhalt on Thursday evening announced that transfers of Covid-19 patients from these areas were underway. 

Germany entered a hard lockdown on Wednesday to bring down high infection numbers and curb the spread of the virus.

6:14 a.m. ET, December 18, 2020

Australia's Victoria state bans some travelers from Sydney and institutes travel permits ahead of Christmas

From CNN's Carly Walsh

Travelers are seen at Sydney's Kingsford Smith domestic airport on December 18, in Sydney, Australia.
Travelers are seen at Sydney's Kingsford Smith domestic airport on December 18, in Sydney, Australia. James D. Morgan/Getty Images

Australia’s state of Victoria will ban visitors from parts of Sydney starting Saturday and institute travel permits for those coming from the state of New South Wales (NSW), where a cluster of Covid-19 cases is raising concern.

“In response to the coronavirus outbreak in NSW, anyone travelling into Victoria from New South Wales will now require a permit from 11:59pm Friday 18 December," Victoria’s State Services website reads.

On Friday, New South Wales reported that the cluster stemming from Sydney’s Northern Beaches area stood at 28 cases.

A notice posted Friday about the new restrictions on Victoria’s coronavirus website reads: “Anyone trying to enter Victoria from the Northern Beaches and other NSW exposure sites (red zone) from midnight tonight will not be permitted to enter. If passengers are arriving from a red zone after midnight tonight, they will be transferred to Hotel Quarantine where they will be required to remain for 14 days. “

Victoria is also encouraging travelers from other parts of Greater Sydney to get tested on arrival and self-quarantine until they receive a negative result. 

The state government says it is working with airlines to check for permits and will have public health teams meet incoming flights from NSW. “The Department of Health and Human Services will look to set up testing sites at the domestic terminal in the coming days,” the government statement read.

Police are also expected to start patrolling land borders.

Victoria previously instituted a travel permit system with another neighboring state, South Australia, during a previous Covid-19 outbreak.

5:39 a.m. ET, December 18, 2020

Milwaukee doctor livestreams Covid-19 vaccination in hopes of easing anxiety among Native Americans

From CNN’s Artemis Moshtaghian

A Native American doctor in Milwaukee was among the first people in the city to get the first dose of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine on Tuesday.

He decided to livestream his vaccination procedure on Facebook to ease apprehension felt among members of the Native American community in Wisconsin about getting vaccinated. 

“I’m a little nervous but I’m happy to be able to get the vaccine,” Dr. Lyle Ignace of the Gerald L. Ignace Indian Health Center says on the livestream as he’s about to get the shot. 

Ignace said that he felt confident in getting the vaccine and felt that it was the right thing to do.

“I’ve been following what Pfizer, Moderna and all the other biotech companies have been doing for the last five months,” Ignace tells the audience watching the livestream.

He said that he understood the trials that have taken place and the data that has come out as a result and he felt “extremely confident” in the vaccine’s effectiveness.

5:46 a.m. ET, December 18, 2020

Eight religious sisters die of Covid-19 at Wisconsin care home within a week

From CNN's Christina Maxouris

Eight nuns at the Notre Dame of Elm Grove in Wisconsin died of Covid-19 in a week. From top left: Sister Cynthia Borman, Sister Rose M. Feess, Sister Joan Emily Kaul, Sister Lillia Langreck; from bottom left: Sister Dorothy MacIntyre, Sister Mary Alexius Portz, Sister Mary Elva Wiesner, Sister Michael Marie Laux
Eight nuns at the Notre Dame of Elm Grove in Wisconsin died of Covid-19 in a week. From top left: Sister Cynthia Borman, Sister Rose M. Feess, Sister Joan Emily Kaul, Sister Lillia Langreck; from bottom left: Sister Dorothy MacIntyre, Sister Mary Alexius Portz, Sister Mary Elva Wiesner, Sister Michael Marie Laux SSND Central Pacific

Eight religious sisters living at a Wisconsin care facility died from Covid-19 within a week, the School Sisters of Notre Dame has confirmed.

The Catholic institute told CNN affiliate WTMJ that the sisters died from complications caused by the virus. 

"Every one of our sisters is really important," Sister Debra Sciano, the provincial leader of the School Sisters of Notre Dame Central Pacific Province, told the news station. "Not only to us, but we feel they have touched thousands of lives we'll never be aware of."

The facility, Notre Dame of Elm Grove, was first established as an orphanage but later became a home for elderly and ill sisters, according to the School Sisters of Notre Dame website. The organization said it has confirmed cases among the sisters living in the facility, but did not release the number of infections, according to WTMJ.

The deaths come several months after six religious sisters died of Covid-19 at Our Lady of the Angels Convent, in Greenfield, Wisconsin, which cares for retired religious sisters from the School Sisters of St. Francis and the School Sisters of Notre Dame.

Among those lost to the virus was Sister Lillia Langreck, who had been "heavily involved in racial and social justice efforts" for the past 60 years, according to the affiliate. Another was Sister Rose Feess, who was known for her grammar and writing skills, her sharp wit and her love of cats, the Notre Dame School of Milwaukee wrote in a Facebook post.

Read the full story here:

5:27 a.m. ET, December 18, 2020

The EU is plagued with divisions. Covid-19 vaccines are a golden chance to redeem the European project

From CNN's Kara Fox

In the name of "science and solidarity," the European Commission has secured over 2 billion doses of coronavirus vaccines for the bloc since June. 

Now, as European Union regulators edge closer to approving two of those vaccines, the commission is asking its 27 nations to get ready to work together to roll them out.

If it all goes to plan, the EU's vaccine program could go down as one of the greatest achievements in the history of the European project. 

The EU has suffered a sustained battering in recent years, fueled by the UK's departure, a surge in nationalist parties, and Euroskeptic attitudes across the continent.

And so far, the coronavirus crisis has only exacerbated existing tensions. 

But when it comes to the EU's vaccine strategy, all member states -- along with Norway and Iceland -- have jumped on board, marking a step toward greater European unity.

The commission says its aim is to ensure equitable access to a coronavirus vaccine across the EU -- and given that the virus knows no borders, it is crucial that countries across the bloc cooperate and coordinate.

But a collective approach will be no small feat for a region that encompasses disparate socio-political landscapes as well as wide variants in public health infrastructure and anti-vaccine sentiments. And some are already forging ahead with their own plans.

Read the full story here:

4:51 a.m. ET, December 18, 2020

Americans have converted to mask culture, survey finds

From CNN Health’s Maggie Fox

People wearing masks visit the Bank of America Winter Village in Bryant Park in New York City, on December 13.
People wearing masks visit the Bank of America Winter Village in Bryant Park in New York City, on December 13. Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images

Most Americans now accept the benefits of wearing masks when around others and say they do so, according to a survey published Friday.

Most also say they can keep up the social distancing until the pandemic has eased or until there’s a vaccine -- and most think they’ll need to. The Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) survey found that just over half think the worst of the coronavirus pandemic is yet to come.

The survey of more than 1,600 adults, conducted by the nonpartisan foundation, found that deep partisan divides persist, but more people than ever worry the pandemic will affect them personally.

“The share of the public who say they are worried that they or someone in their family will get sick from coronavirus is at its highest point since KFF began tracking this question in February (68%),” the Foundation said in a statement.

These fears may have motivated people to accept public health advice about wearing masks and staying away from other people.

Survey question: How often, if at all, do you wear a protective mask when you leave your house and might be in contact with other people?

  • 96% of those polled said some, most or all of the time
  • 23% felt wearing a mask is a personal choice
  • 73% felt mask use “is part of everyone’s responsibility to protect the health of others.”
“While an overwhelming majority of Democrats (93%) and a large majority of independents (70%) say wearing a mask is everyone’s responsibility to protect public health, Republicans are more divided on this issue with half (50%) saying it is everyone’s responsibility and a similar share saying it is a personal choice (45%),” Kaiser said.

“Republican denialism mirroring President Trump, even in the face of a growing epidemic in red states, has become a real public health challenge that the incoming administration will need to take on,” Kaiser Family Foundation President and CEO Drew Altman said in a statement.

A quarter of those surveyed said “The worst is behind us” when it comes to the pandemic, while 51% said the worst is yet to come. But 19% said “The coronavirus is or will not be a major problem in the U.S.”

Survey question: Starting today, how much longer do you think you can follow social distancing in order to limit the spread of coronavirus in your community?

  • 75% said they could tough it out another four to six months at least
  • 70% said they could wait until a vaccine was widely available, even if that means six more months of restrictions
  • 9% said they won’t follow social distancing restrictions at all.
4:51 a.m. ET, December 18, 2020

Sydney closes more than 20 beaches following emergence of mystery Covid-19 cluster

From CNN's Angus Watson

An empty parking lot is seen at Palm Beach in Sydney, on December 18.
An empty parking lot is seen at Palm Beach in Sydney, on December 18. Jenny Evans/Getty Images

Nearly two dozen beaches in Australia's New South Wales are closing after a mystery Covid-19 cluster linked to the area emerged on Wednesday.

"Northern Beaches Council and Surf Life Saving NSW have lowered the red and yellow flags at the 21 beaches from North Palm Beach through to Manly today and are maintaining a surveillance capability only in case of emergencies until Monday," a news release from Surf Live Saving New South Wales said Friday.

Surf Life Saving NSW CEO Steven Pearce said they were backing the government’s call for residents of the Northern Beaches to stay at home for the next few days.

“Please don’t go to the beach, both to limit the risk of spreading the virus, along with staying safe because beaches will not be patrolled, however, lifeguards are maintaining surveillance capability," he said.

The cluster, with 28 confirmed Covid-19 cases as of Friday, marked the first locally-transmitted cases in New South Wales since December 3.

NSW also "urgently" called on all residents, not just beach residents, to test for Covid-19 on Friday.

"Anyone in the state with even the mildest symptoms such as headache, fatigue, cough, sore throat or runny nose, is asked to come forward immediately for testing, then isolate until a negative result is received. The source of these infections remains under investigation, though genome sequencing points to the strain being of US origin," the release added.
3:40 a.m. ET, December 18, 2020

India prepares for Covid-19 vaccine rollout as authorities await approval

From CNN's Swati Gupta in New Delhi

India is preparing several task forces to oversee implementation of the country's Covid-19 vaccination program in anticipation of regulators granting an emergency use authorization for at least one vaccine candidate.

Some states hope to start mass inoculations as early as January in the vast nation of more than 1.3 billion people.

Three vaccines are currently being evaluated for authorization by Indian regulators, including the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine. 

“We have established a multi-level governance mechanism which will oversee the vaccination process and provide assistance,” said Rajesh Bhushan, senior official, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. 

To transport and store the vaccines, India will use:

  • 29,000 cold chain points.
  • 240 walk-in coolers.
  • 70 walk-in freezers.
  • 45,000 ice-lined refrigerators.
  • 41,000 deep freezers.
  • 300 solar refrigerators

State governments have begun prepping the infrastructure required for the vaccination program, which is expected to begin in January.

“In mid-January, we are hoping that the vaccine program will be rolled out and within a few days, we will be ready to cover about 8 million beneficiaries with the first dose," G. Srinivasa Rao, the director of public health for the state of Telangana told an Indian TV news outlet earlier this week. 

The southern state of Kerala announced over the weekend that it would provide the Covid-19 vaccine free of charge to its entire population and that the registration process for the vaccine is in the final stages. 

The Indian government said that initially, the vaccine will be provided to health care and frontline workers, and after that, people in the 50-plus age group, subject to availability of the doses. 

India has recorded nearly 10 million coronavirus cases since the start of pandemic, including more than 144,000 deaths. 

2:55 a.m. ET, December 18, 2020

South Korea plans to vaccinate more than 80% of its population by November next year

From CNN's Jake Kwon in Seoul

A restaurant worker carries a tray of food through Namdaemun market in Seoul, South Korea, on December 1.
A restaurant worker carries a tray of food through Namdaemun market in Seoul, South Korea, on December 1. Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images

South Korea plans to complete vaccination for 80% of its population against coronavirus by November next year, Health Ministry official Yang Dong-gyo said in a briefing on Friday.

The ministry said last week that the country would import doses for 44 million people from developers including AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Janssen, and Moderna.

"Doses for 44 million people is enough for more than 80% of our population. We can reach herd immunity," Health Ministry official Im In-taek said Friday.

Buying vaccines: In a news release, the ministry said that AstraZeneca vaccines will be deployed in the country starting from February or March. The health authority is aiming to sign contracts with Pfizer and Janssen in December and Moderna in January. The purchasing terms and supply confirmation are already signed with vaccine developers and they are legally binding like the contract, the release added.

Im said South Korea's Ministry of Food and Drug Safety would process approval of the vaccines independently of the US FDA's decision. 

The vaccine will be given to seniors, those in nursing facilities, and medical workers first.