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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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.

2:25 a.m. ET, December 18, 2020

US reports more than 233,000 new Covid-19 cases and 3,200 deaths

From CNN's Artemis Moshtaghian

The United States reported 233,271 Covid-19 cases and 3,270 new deaths on Thursday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

The total number of confirmed infections in the US stands at 17,212,496 and at least 310,782 people have died, per JHU data.

The totals include cases from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and other US territories, as well as repatriated cases. 

CNN is tracking the US cases:

2:11 a.m. ET, December 18, 2020

Oxford University researchers say their Covid-19 vaccine candidate is most effective as two shots

From CNN Health’s Jessica Firger

This undated file photo issued by the University of Oxford on November 23, shows a vial of coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, in Oxford, England.
This undated file photo issued by the University of Oxford on November 23, shows a vial of coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, in Oxford, England. John Cairns/University of Oxford via AP

Researchers at Oxford University say the coronavirus vaccine they developed with AstraZeneca works best as a two-shot sequence, just as Moderna’s and Pfizer’s vaccines do.

In a separate study, they found the vaccine, which is in advanced clinical trials, produces a broad immune response that doctors hope could provide strong immune protection against infection.

In one study, the researchers checked to make sure two doses were really necessary, and if so, both had to be two full doses. 

"A booster dose of vaccine induced stronger antibody responses than a dose-sparing half-dose boost, although the magnitude of T-cell responses did not increase with either boost dose. These data support the two-dose vaccine regime that is now being evaluated in phase 3 clinical trials,” they wrote in their report, published in the journal Nature Medicine.

Half dose or full dose: The study was conducted before AstraZeneca released confusing data that indicated giving a half dose as the first shot might provide better protection. It was a small group of volunteers who got the half-dose and AstraZeneca has indicated the dosing was a mistake, so this study doesn’t shed light on those findings.

How it differs from other vaccines: The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is different from the Pfizer vaccine now being rolled out in the US and Britain, and the similar Moderna vaccine being considered by the US Food and Drug Administration. Those vaccines use genetic material known as messenger RNA. 

The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine uses an adenovirus -- a common virus that causes cold-like symptoms -- that has been genetically altered to carry a gene for a coronavirus protein that trains the immune system to recognize the invader. 

1:59 a.m. ET, December 18, 2020

Germany reports more than 33,000 new Covid-19 cases in fresh daily record

From CNN's Frederik Pleitgen in Berlin

Germany’s disease control agency reported 33,700 virus cases for Thursday, a record number of new infections recorded in a single day. 

Official data from the Robert Koch Institute published on Friday shows 33,777 new Covid-19 cases and 813 deaths within the past 24 hours.

That’s about 3,900 more cases than the previous daily record, which was set on December 11, with 29,875 infections.

Germany has imposed a hard national lockdown in a bid to contain the latest surge of Covid-19 infections, hospitalizations, and deaths.

1:33 a.m. ET, December 18, 2020

Hundreds of Covid-19 patients are waiting for hospital beds in South Korea

From CNN's Jake Kwon in Seoul

Park Yoo-mi, a senior quarantine official at the Seoul city government, announces anti-Covid-19 steps and new restrictions at Seoul City Hall in Seoul, South Korea, on November 18.
Park Yoo-mi, a senior quarantine official at the Seoul city government, announces anti-Covid-19 steps and new restrictions at Seoul City Hall in Seoul, South Korea, on November 18. Yonhap/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

As of Friday, 227 Covid-19 patients needing hospital beds in Seoul city have waited more than a day for one, according to Seoul city health official Park Yoo-mi.

"Recently as the positive cases are exploding, the number of patients waiting for a bed had greatly increased," Park said in a regular briefing Friday.

Park said the city is working to expand the number of available coronavirus-dedicated beds and increase monitoring of patients who are waiting for a bed from home. 

Nationwide, South Korea has 45 remaining intensive care unit (ICU) beds available for patients, according to its Health Ministry Friday.

The government will secure 160 more ICU beds to treat Covid patients by early January, Health Ministry official Son Young-rae said in the briefing.

Son said 496 people in the country are currently waiting for a hospital bed and have waited more than a day. 

1:24 a.m. ET, December 18, 2020

US says it's waiting for confirmation on additional 20 million doses of Pfizer's Covid-19 vaccine

From CNN’s Sara Murray

The US federal government said that Pfizer has promised 20 million doses of vaccine by the end of December but the company has yet to confirm this number.

In a statement on Thursday, the Health and Human Services Department accounts for about 10 million doses. Close to 3 million of them have been distributed.

“We thank Pfizer for its partnership resulting in no delayed shipments of the first 2.9 million doses this week, and we are grateful that it has on hand, to the best of our knowledge, more than seven million doses for the U.S. vaccination effort," the statement said.

Here's a rundown of those Pfizer doses in the US:

  • 2.9 million will be shipped as a second dose in three weeks.
  • 500,000 doses as safety stock.
  • Over 4 million doses for next week’s allocation.
  • Approximately 2 million of which will be delivered, at states’ direction, to sites starting on Monday.
  • The other 2 million being held as a second dose.

"Although Pfizer announced earlier this year it was reducing its global production estimates for 2020 from 100 million doses to 50 million doses, it assures us the United States is on track to receive at least 20 million doses by the end of December, although we await final confirmation," the statement continued.

The statement comes after states expressed confusion that they were being told to expect fewer vaccines than they were initially promised. 

Pfizer has said there were no production issues, and there are millions more doses in its warehouse, but that the company has “not received any shipment instructions for additional doses.”