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
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8:24 p.m. ET, December 17, 2020

Mystery cluster in New South Wales grows to 28 as officials say source might be from overseas

From CNN's Paul Devitt in Hong Kong

A new mystery cluster of Covid-19 cases in Australia's New South Wales continues to grow after 10 new cases were added overnight, according to the NSW Health Department.

The total number of cases related to the cluster from Sydney's Northern Beaches is now at 28. Health officials believe the source may have been from overseas.

"NSW Health can now confirm the viral genome sequencing of the Avalon Covid-19 cluster does not match the virus strains seen in recent clusters in Australia. The virus is likely of overseas origin," the health department said in a news release Friday.
"The source of infection is still being investigated."

Health officials are asking Northern Beaches residents to stay home as much as possible Friday and through the weekend.

"This includes working from home where possible, not visiting friends or family in aged care facilities or hospitals unless essential, avoiding unnecessary gatherings and high-risk venues such as clubs, restaurants, places of worships and gyms, and avoiding unnecessary travel outside of or to the Northern Beaches area," the health department said.

What we know: The first cases of the cluster were reported Wednesday -- the first locally-transmitted cases in the state since December 3.

One case identified from Wednesday was a 40-year-old bus driver who took airline crews to and from their hotels. The health department said the driver's strain does not match the strain seen in recent clusters in Australia.

"This virus may be of United States origin and linked to international aircrew, however investigations are continuing. No confirmed cases of Covid-19 have been linked to this case," the health department said.

New South Wales has recorded a total of 4,493 virus cases since the beginning of the pandemic, according to NSW Health.

7:35 p.m. ET, December 17, 2020

US FDA panel recommends Moderna's vaccine for the country

From CNN's Christina Maxouris and Jason Hanna

As the United States on Thursday surpassed 17 million official Covid-19 cases, a US Food and Drug Administration advisory panel recommended a second coronavirus vaccine for the country.

The developments come as the US, after starting distribution of its first authorized vaccine this week, is dealing with record rates of daily cases, daily deaths and numbers of Covid-19 patients in hospitals.

The FDA is widely expected to grant emergency use authorization for Moderna's vaccine candidate -- as it did for Pfizer's vaccine last week -- after its vaccine advisory panel voted to recommend it.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would need to greenlight the vaccine before shots can be administered -- and a CDC advisory panel is expected to meet on the matter Saturday, raising the possibility that the Moderna vaccine could be used next week.

The recently authorized Pfizer vaccine, meanwhile, has been administered to hundreds of US health care workers this week, and drug store chains CVS and Walgreens are helping to get shots to long-term care residents and staff members.

The Pfizer vaccine requires each patient to receive two doses about 21 days apart, and the Moderna vaccine also would require two doses. Assuming the Moderna vaccine is authorized, the two products could combine for an availability of 40 million doses, for 20 million people, by the end of December, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has said.

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9:03 p.m. ET, December 17, 2020

France's Emmanuel Macron tests positive for Covid-19, sending other European leaders into quarantine

From CNN's Pierre Bairin and Emma Reynolds

French President Emmanuel Macro has a "fever" and is "tired [and] coughing" after testing positive for Covid-19 on Thursday, according to an Élysée spokesperson.

Macron will self-isolate for a week, his office said. The 42-year-old French leader has traveled from Paris to the presidential residence La Lanterne in Versailles for his seven-day quarantine, according to the spokesperson.

French First Lady Brigitte Macron, 67, remains at the Élysée Palace in Paris and has protectively gone into quarantine though she "presented no symptoms," her office told French media.

"(Macron) is isolated all the while being able to continue working," the spokesperson said, adding that the President had received messages of support from leaders around the world on Thursday.

His diagnosis sent ripples through the French and European political sphere, with multiple figures now forced to quarantine.

Prime Minister Jean Castex has gone into quarantine, despite testing negative on Thursday morning. President of the National Assembly Richard Ferrand is also quarantining for seven days.

Macron's planned trip to Lebanon next week has been canceled.

The French President had meetings with a number of other top European leaders in recent days, several of whom announced they would quarantine in the wake of Macron's diagnosis.

Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, European Council President Charles Michel and OECD Secretary General Angel Gurria said they would go into quarantine as a precautionary measure.

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