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The latest on the coronavirus pandemic and vaccines

Who CDC advisers voted to prioritize in next vaccine phases

What you need to know

  • The US FDA authorized Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine for emergency use in the United States as the country reported a record number of new cases.
  • The US remains “on track” to allocate 20 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine to states nationwide by the end of the year, chief operating officer of Operation Warp Speed said.
  • Parts of Britain will go back into lockdown during Christmas after a newly identified strain of Covid-19 has proved to spread more quickly than previous strains of the virus. In response, some European countries, like the Netherlands, have banned flights from the UK.

Our live coverage of the coronavirus pandemic has ended for the day.

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CDC advisers vote to prioritize older adults and frontline workers to receive Covid-19 vaccines in next phase

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices has voted 13-1 to prioritize adults ages 75 and older and frontline essential workers to receive Covid-19 vaccines in phase 1b of allocation.

The committee vote also included prioritizing adults ages 65 to 75, people ages 16 to 64 who have high-risk medical conditions, and other essential workers in Phase 1c of allocation.

“They really serve to address the current lack of vaccine supply and address those individuals with the highest risk for disease,” Dr. José Romero, the ACIP chair and secretary of the Arkansas Department of Health, said about the new recommendations.

The committee met on Sunday to discuss phases 1b and 1c of vaccine distribution. In a previous meeting earlier this month, the group voted on phase 1a, which advised giving the first round of vaccines to health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities.

Some context: There are now two Covid-19 vaccines – Pfizer/BioNTech’s and Moderna’s – authorized for emergency use in the United States.

Here's the latest on the stimulus negotiations

The two sides are still going back-and-forth over a handful of outstanding issues, including how private schools should be treated in the more than $80 billion in aid outlined for schools and education providers.

Republicans had been pushing for $5 billion in aid for private schools, but Democrats had tried to cut that to be about $2.5 billion, according to a source with direct knowledge of the talks. 

Sen. Roy Blunt, a member of the GOP leadership, confirmed that how to “treat private schools” is one of the final issues to iron out.

Enhanced jobless benefits at $300 per week would begin on Dec. 27 and go on for about 11 more weeks, according to a source with knowledge of the discussions. That is less than what many Democrats wanted but more than what many Republicans were willing to support.

Also, direct payments would indeed be capped at $600 per person for an individual earning less than $75,000. The proposal would provide an additional $600 per person in the family, meaning a family of five could get $3,000 assuming they’re under the requisite income threshold.

What’s happening now: The relevant committees of jurisdiction are finalizing the bill text and are getting official cost estimates with the Congressional Budget Office. That’s a process that takes time to play out.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi still wants a vote tonight, as does Sen. Chuck Schumer, but Republicans believe another stop-gap will be needed to avoid a midnight shutdown and they should vote Monday instead.

Biden's surgeon general nominee says vaccine may reach general population by mid-summer

Dr. Vivek Murthy, President-elect Joe Biden’s pick to be US surgeon general, speaks during a news conference at the Queen Theater December 8 in Wilmington, Delaware.

A “realistic” vaccine timeline may mean that high-risk populations start getting vaccinated in late spring, and that a Covid-19 vaccine may be available to the general public “closer to mid-summer” said Vivek Murthy, President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee for surgeon general.

Speaking to NBC, Murthy presented a timeline different from the one proposed by members of the Trump administration.

Officials working on Covid-19 response under the current administration have presented a timeline that would put the United States at 200 million vaccines distributed by June. However, this timeline has changed over the course of this month, with the goal of 20 million initial doses getting pushed later and later.

“If everything goes well, we my see a circumstance whereby late spring, people who are in lower risk categories can get this vaccine,” said Murthy, “but that would really require everything to go exactly on schedule. I think it’s more realistic to assume that it may be closer to mid-summer, early fall when this vaccine makes its way to the general population.”

Biden has set a goal of distributing 100 million Covid-19 vaccines in his first 100 days in office, which Murthy called “doable.”

“Is it doable? Yes, I think we can do it, but what we’ve got to do is we’ve got to prepare and be ready to execute,” he said.

CDC director accepts advisory committee’s recommendation for Moderna Covid-19 vaccine

Boxes containing the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine are prepared to be shipped at the McKesson distribution center in Olive Branch, Mississippi, on December 20.

US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Robert Redfield has accepted the recommendation of the agency’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices that Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine should be given to people ages 18 and older in the United States.

The move paves the way for Moderna’s vaccine to be administered in the US, which is expected to add millions of doses to the country’s vaccine supply.

On Saturday, ACIP committee members voted in favor of the recommendation.

On Friday, the US Food and Drug Administration granted an emergency use authorization for Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine.

Moderna began shipping its vaccine on Sunday, with first shots in arms expected Monday morning.

Senate majority leader says he expects Covid-19 stimulus deal "in a matter of hours"

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell heads to the floor of the Senate from his office on December 20 in Washington, DC.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Sunday, “I’m relieved that we appear to be just hours away” to finalizing an agreement on a $900 billion coronavirus relief package.

“Discussions on another major pandemic rescue package continued all night and this morning. We’re winnowing down the remaining differences. I believe I can speak for all sides when I say, I hope and expect to have a final agreement nailed down in a matter of hours,” McConnell said in remarks on the Senate floor.

He reiterated that Democrats and Republican Sen. Pat Toomey came to an agreement late Saturday night on a key sticking point: The role of the Federal Reserve to intervene in the US economy.

“These new emergency lending facilities were always intended to sunset at the end of this year,” McConnell said of the provision. “Senator Toomey and our Democratic colleagues have landed on compromise language that ensures this will, in fact, happen.”

When could they vote: Walking off the floor, when asked about potential vote timing in the Senate Sunday, McConnell replied, “We’ll see.”

Meanwhile, top Republican Sen. John Cornyn told reporters he thinks “it’s doubtful” the Senate will vote Sunday on a stimulus – and they’ll likely need to pass a continuing resolution to extend the government funding deadline, which expires at midnight. Adding, “I hear the text may not even be available until later on.”

More than a million people in the US have traveled by air over the past two days

People check in at Washington Reagan National Airport on December 18 in Arlington, Virginia.

The Transportation Security Administration said 1,073,563 people passed through security checkpoints on Saturday.

On Friday, 1,066,747 people flew. The TSA said this is the first time since the pandemic began that more than a million people were screened on consecutive days.

The numbers hint at an early rush for holiday air travel, something the CDC warned against the week prior to Thanksgiving. On Nov. 29, the Sunday after Thanksgiving, 1,176,091 people flew— an air travel record during the pandemic that still stands. 

UK breaks daily coronavirus case record for the second time in 4 days

Rebecca Jackson processes a rapid Covid-19 test on December 15 in Redcar, England.

The United Kingdom has again broken its daily coronavirus case record, having recorded 35,928 new cases on Sunday, according to the UK government coronavirus dashboard.

This is the highest daily case number recorded by the UK according to CNN’s tally.

This tops the previous record of 35,383 cases reported on Thursday. 

A further 326 deaths were recorded in the UK on Sunday. 

Medical Director for Public Health England Yvonne Doyle said in a statement on Twitter that the “sharp and sudden increase is of serious concern.”

Doyle said most of the new cases “reported today are concentrated in London and the South East” although it is “too early to tell if this is linked to the new variant.”

This number comes as nearly 20 million people in the UK are placed under the highest level of restrictions. 

US leadership should get the Covid-19 vaccine, HHS official says

Influential leadership, including the President, should get vaccinated against Covid-19 to help public confidence in the available vaccines, Assistant Secretary for Health Admiral Brett Giroir told ABC on Sunday.

“I think any leader who is influential over groups of individuals should have the vaccine,” he said, “obviously, President-Elect Biden, Vice President-Elect Harris, the President.”

More on this: Vice President Mike Pence was vaccinated on Friday. Members of Congress are also eligible for vaccination. Both House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have received the vaccine.

“I think leadership, like the Vice President, the surgeon general, should get vaccines because they will inspire confidence with the people who believe in them and trust them,” said Giroir.

“I would encourage the President to get a vaccine for his own health and safety,” he said, “and also generate more confidence among the people who follow him so closely.”

Some context: Earlier this week, a White House official told CNN that President Trump wouldn’t be vaccinated until it was recommended by the White House medical team.

People who have been infected with Covid-19 should be vaccinated, Operation Warp Speed lead says

People who have been infected with Covid-19 should still get vaccinated against the virus, Operation Warp Speed head Moncef Slaoui told CNN on Sunday.

“We know that infection doesn’t induce a very strong immune response, and it wanes over time,” Slaoui said.

Slaoui said it is safe for people who were infected with Covid-19 to get a vaccine.

“That has happened in the clinical trials,” he said. “People participating in the trial had experienced, or actively had, a viral infection at the time they started being vaccinated, so it’s safe.”

Covid-19 vaccinations are underway for health care workers and residents of long term care facilities. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expected to discuss the next groups recommended to be vaccinated at a meeting Sunday afternoon.

Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine may provide more doses than originally thought, FDA says

A pharmacist prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at Torrance Memorial Medical Center on December 19 in Torrance, California.

Dr. Doran Fink, deputy director-clinical of the Division of Vaccines and Related Products Applications at the US Food and Drug Administration, on Sunday said that the FDA is working with Pfizer to update the prescribing information and fact sheets about its Covid-19 vaccine, to make sure health care providers get the most vaccine doses from each vial.

The company has overfilled the vials, and with careful administration, instead of the five doses indicated on the label, it will usually yield six, or possibly even seven, doses, Fink told the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.

Fink said that the FDA has posted the information on its website.

“In order to optimally address the pandemic,” Fink said. “We do want health care providers to be using every full dose that can be obtained from each vial.”

Here's where things stand in Congress with the stimulus negotiations

Congressional leaders are still trying to hammer out the $900 billion Covid-19 relief deal and believe it could take much of the day to iron out the last remaining disagreements before finally unveiling the text to the rest of Congress shortly before votes occur, aides said Sunday.

Lawmakers also have not yet seen the text of the $1.4 trillion omnibus spending package that leaders are trying to push through to fund the government through next September. The goal is to tie the Covid-19 relief bill to the massive omnibus package.

If finalizing the bill drags on today, as many expect, Congress may — for the fourth time since September — be forced to pass another stopgap spending bill to avoid a government shutdown. It’s possible, one source said, they may have to pass a 1-2 day stopgap.

What happens next: Once the text is unveiled, the House Rules Committee will have to consider the package - a meeting that could take several hours. Then, they will have to schedule House floor debate and set up votes in the chamber. 

The Senate is more complicated because it requires consent of all 100 members to schedule a vote, and it’s uncertain if that will happen if any member is unhappy with the bill or the process. If they can’t get an agreement for a quick vote, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will be forced to take procedural steps to up a vote, a process that could take several days.

Long-term care facilities in New York state will begin receiving Covid-19 vaccines on Monday

Long-term care facilities across New York state will begin receiving Covid-19 vaccines on Monday, according to a New York state official.

There are 618 New York long-term care facilities enrolled in a state program where employees working with CVS and Walgreens will go to the facilities and administer the vaccines to residents and staff, Gareth Rhodes, special counsel to the state Department of Financial Services, said during a news briefing Friday. 

The program starts on Monday. About three weeks after administering the first dose, Walgreens and CVS employees will return to the long-term care facilities to administer the second dose, Rhodes said. 

Rhodes said that both pharmacies will split vaccination duties. CVS plans to complete their portion of the first-dose vaccinations within the first two weeks. Rhodes said the state is still working with Walgreens on establishing a schedule, but that he expects a “similar timetable.”

First Moderna shots likely to happen Monday morning, Operation Warp Speed lead says

Boxes containing the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine are prepared to be shipped at the McKesson distribution center in Olive Branch, Mississippi, on December 20.

The first shots of Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine are “most likely” going to be administered Monday morning, Operation Warp Speed lead Moncef Slaoui told CNN on Sunday.

“It’s going to be slightly easier to distribute,” said Slaoui, “because it doesn’t require as low temperature as Pfizer.”

Slaoui said he was “thrilled” that Moderna and Pfizer were able to come out with “exceptionally effective” vaccines so close together.

Operation Warp Speed chief says "low" chance the vaccine does not work on new Covid-19 variants

Operation Warp Speed head Moncef Slaoui speaks with CNN on Sunday, December 20.

It is “very unlikely” that the vaccines currently available will not be effective on the reported new variant of Covid-19 in the United Kingdom, Operation Warp Speed head Moncef Slaoui told CNN on Sunday.

“Up to now, I don’t think there has been a single variant that would be resistant to the vaccine,” Slaoui said. “We can’t exclude it, but it’s not there now.”

Slaoui said that Covid-19 may be prone to variance, as the RNA process the virus uses is more prone to mistakes. He added that critical aspects of the virus, like the spike protein involved in a vaccine, are very specific to Covid-19 and unlikely to mutate much.

“Because the vaccines are using antibodies against many different parts of the spike protein, the chances that all of them change, I think, are low,” said Slaoui.

First shipment of Moderna Covid-19 vaccine leaves distribution facility in Mississippi

Boxes containing the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine are prepared to be shipped at the McKesson distribution center in Olive Branch, Mississippi, on December 20.

A truck carrying Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine departed from the McKesson facility in Olive Branch, Mississippi, on Sunday. 

“After months of preparation and close planning with McKesson, Operation Warp Speed and state and local officials, the Covid-19 vaccines will begin moving to dosing centers throughout the United States,” said a FedEx press release. 

FedEx SenseAware ID, a Bluetooth low-energy sensor device, will be affixed to vaccine shipments, which was also done to the Pfizer vaccine shipments distributed across the US last week, according to the delivery services company. 

The SenseAware ID will ensure the “temperature-sensitive deliveries move swiftly and safely through the FedEx Express US network with FedEx Priority Overnight service,” said the release.  

CDC issues new recommendations on getting Covid-19 vaccine for people with allergies

Syringes and vials of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine are prepared to be administered to health care workers in Reno, Nevada, on December 17.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new recommendations on getting a Covid-19 vaccine for those with a history of allergies.

The recommendations, published on the CDC’s site on Saturday, suggest that people who have ever had a severe allergic reaction, also known as anaphylaxis, to any ingredient in a Covid-19 vaccine should not get that vaccine.

The CDC considers a reaction severe if it requires the person to be treated with epinephrine or they need to be hospitalized. Symptoms of anaphylaxis can include shortness of breath, a closing of the throat, nausea, and dizziness.

The agency added that people with a history of anaphylaxis to other vaccines or injectable medications should consult their doctor on getting the Covid-19 vaccine.

In corresponding guidance issued to vaccine providers, the agency said the “CDC considers a history of severe allergic reaction such as anaphylaxis to any vaccine or to any injectable therapy (e.g., intramuscular, intravenous, or subcutaneous) as a precaution, but not contraindication, to vaccination.”

For people with a personal or family history of severe reactions unrelated to vaccines or injectable medicines, the CDC says, they may still get the Covid-19 vaccine. The agency added that individuals who have a history of allergies to any oral medications or people with milder reactions to vaccines may also still get vaccinated.

If an individual does experience anaphylaxis after their initial covid-19 shot, the CDC says they should not get the second shot.

More details: The agency recommends that vaccine providers monitor all people for 15 minutes after getting the vaccine; those with a history of severe allergic reactions should be monitored for 30 minutes. In the event that a reaction does occur, the CDC says all vaccine providers should have epinephrine, antihistamines, stethoscopes, blood pressure cuffs, and timing devices on hand to treat and monitor reactions.  

They also note that reports of severe reactions need to be sent to the national Vaccine Adverse Reporting System.

On Saturday: During a CDC advisory committee meeting reviewing the use of Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine, CDC’s Tom Clark said of the more than 272,001 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine administered as of Saturday there have been six serious allergic reactions.

WHO: England’s new Covid-19 variant picked up in Denmark, the Netherlands, Australia

World Health Organization (WHO) Covid-19 Technical Lead Maria Van Kerkhove is concerned about the virus spreading

The new Covid-19 variant, originating from south-east England, has been identified in Denmark, the Netherlands and as far as Australia, World Health Organization (WHO) Covid-19 technical lead Maria Van Kerkhove said on Sunday.

“We understand that this variant has been identified also in Denmark, in the Netherlands and there was one case in Australia and it didn’t spread further there,” she told the BBC in a pre-recorded interview. 

Asked whether it was her understanding that the new variant originated or evolved from southeastern England, she said: “It is, yes. From the information that [the UK] shared with us in either south-east England or in London, yes.”

She added that “the UK had picked [the existence of the new variant] up in September and seen that this had been circulating in south-east England since September.”

“It is of concern that the virus is spreading and that it has so many mutations,” she said.  

She also added: “We understand that the virus does not cause more severe disease from the preliminary information that [the UK] shared with us, although again those studies are underway to look at hospitalized patients with this variant.”

Van Kerkhove said that doing more sequencing will be helpful in determining whether this variant is circulating elsewhere.

“The longer this virus spreads, the more opportunities it has to change. So we really need to do everything we can right now to prevent spread,” she added.

Belgium to block travellers from UK for 24 hours from midnight

Belgium is the latest European country to block travelers from the United Kingdom due to a new coronavirus variant.

From Monday, flights and trains from the UK will be blocked for a 24-hour period, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said Sunday morning. 

He said the initial ban would last a day “because the scientific consultation is still ongoing,” on the variant – which British health officials say can spread faster than other Covid-19 variants but is not more dangerous.

“We do not have a conclusive answer there yet. As a precautionary measure I think it is appropriate. Of course it could be extended yes, if that proves necessary,” he added.

“We are now in consultation with France - and that is important because you also have a number of people who come by car from the United Kingdom,” he added. “We are already doing preventive checks on the road at the border between France and Belgium.”

The Netherlands earlier announced similar restrictions on people entering from the UK.

Read more:

Christmas travellers at a busy  Terminal 5 Heathrow airport as many people have made preparations to leave prior to the governement announcement new  tier 4  coronavirus restrictions.
Christmas travellers at Heathrow airport, Heathrow, London, UK - 20 Dec 2020

Flights to UK canceled as health minister says new coronavirus variant is 'out of control'

Lockdowns have stopped people moving. And fugitives are running out of hiding places

David John Walley, left, and Arshid Ali Khan are among the fugitives detained in the UK as law enforcement ramped up efforts during the pandemic.

As Covid-19 restrictions tightened in China early this year, a fugitive who had been on the run for four years after allegedly stealing a corpse was running out of places to hide.

Qiu Binhua, from Shenmu City, Shaanxi Province, was believed to have sold the body for a ritual, making 5,000 yuan ($760) profit, according to police.

Qiu had fled to Hulestai Sumu, in the western part of Inner Mongolia, where officers had begun trying to contain the coronavirus by scanning QR codes of passers-by and setting up checkpoints.

“Qiu, who had been in a panic for a long time, was under pressure and finally turned himself into the Hulestai Police on February 11,” police said in an announcement after his arrest.

Without an ID card, he had no means of escape, they said.

Less movement, more surveillance

Fugitives are encountering new challenges when it comes to hiding out during a global pandemic, with movement restricted in many countries. Some have been forced to hand themselves in, while others have been caught as they traveled.

But as law enforcement ramps up its efforts to locate wanted criminals, the most astute have tried to capitalize on changes to daily life to continue their game of cat and mouse.

Read the full story:

When people desert normally busy areas such as 42nd Street in New York City, pictured here on May 12, it presents new challenges for fugitives trying to hide out.

Lockdowns have stopped people moving. And fugitives are running out of hiding places

Europe's coronavirus crisis is resurging. For months, 3 Nordic nations kept it under control — without lockdowns

Medical workers take samples from patients at a coronavirus drive-in test center in Espoo, Finland in April.

Covid-19 vaccines are coming, but in most of Europe, winter is coming faster. In several countries, cases are surging again — after many countries seemed to be turning the tide.

Politicians are desperate to find a balance of restrictions that flatten the curve without flattening the economy or upsetting residents who are eager to reunite for the holidays.

“The key question now is to determine what is the optimal package of policies to maximize the health benefit at least cost,” said Thomas Hale, an associate professor of public policy at the University of Oxford. “However, this ‘magic formula’ will likely differ across different countries and populations, and of course over time as the virus surges or recedes.”

It’s a complicated and ever-changing calculus, and every country is different.

But the approaches of three nations — Finland, Norway and Denmark — in recent months stand out, a CNN analysis shows. The analysis, which looked at data from the University of Oxford and Johns Hopkins University, found that while all three countries implemented some of the continent’s most relaxed combinations of restrictions, they still managed to keep average daily deaths low — below one per million — for the three-month period between September 1 and November 30.

Read the full story here:


Europe's coronavirus crisis is resurging. For months, 3 Nordic nations kept it under control - without lockdowns

South Korea records new high in daily Covid-19 cases

A healthcare worker collects samples from a woman at a temporary Covid-19 testing site in front of Seoul Station in South Korea, on December 18.

South Korea recorded 1,097 new coronavirus cases on Saturday, the highest daily surge in infections since the beginning of the pandemic, the country’s Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) announced Sunday.

Among the new cases, 1,072 were locally transmitted while 25 were imported, according to the KDCA. 

The country also reported 15 virus-related deaths for Saturday.

Seoul recorded 470 new cases, while the surrounding province of Gyeonggi reported 244 infections.

South Korea has recorded a total of 49,665 coronavirus cases thus far, with 674 deaths. Currently, 278 coronavirus patients are considered to be in a severe or critical situation, according to the KCDA.

The South Korean government on Friday ordered hospitals to set aside 1% of all licensed beds for severe Covid-19 cases, the country’s Health Ministry’s told CNN.

The ministry said it will pay compensation to hospitals for the cost of the reserved beds and for any disruption to general patient care.

UK Health Secretary says new Covid-19 variant is "out of control"

UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said Sunday that the new variant had to be controlled.

The new strain of Covid-19, which prompted the UK government to impose a renewed Tier 4 lockdown in London and southeastern England over the festive period, is “out of control,” Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on Sunday.

Hancock said the new variant, which can spread faster than other strains but is not more dangerous, had to be controlled.

The Health Secretary called it “an awful end to what has been a difficult year.”

When asked about the time-frame of the Tier 4 restrictions, Hancock said: “Given how much faster this new variant spreads, it’s going to be very difficult to keep it under control until we have the vaccine rolled out.”

Hancock added what really mattered “is that people not only follow [the new Tier 4 measures], but everybody in a Tier 4 area act as if you have the virus to stop spreading it to other people… We just know that this new variant, you can catch it more easily from a smaller amount of the virus being present.”

“All of the different measures we have in place, we need more of them to control the spread of the new variant than we did to control the spread of the old variant,” he added, in response to whether current measures to protect people, such as the use of masks and the 2-meter rule (6.5 feet), was enough to protect people from the new strain.

The US reports more than 196,000 new Covid-19 cases

The United States reported 196,295 new coronavirus cases and 2,517 related deaths on Saturday, according to Johns Hopkins University.

The country’s Covid-19 caseload now stands at 17,655,591, with 316,159 deaths, according to the university’s tally

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 cases here:

Illinois hospital to resume Covid-19 vaccinations after four workers have adverse reactions

A hospital in a suburb of Chicago will resume a Covid-19 vaccination program for frontline personnel on Sunday, a day after it paused immunizations when four workers experienced reactions, according to a press release from Advocate Aurora Health.

CNN previously reported that four workers at Advocate Condell Medical Center, in Libertyville, Illinois, experienced tingling and elevated heart-rate symptoms shortly after receiving the vaccine.

The hospital decided to resume vaccinations after a “review confirmed the quality of the vaccine batch” and the hospital’s protocols for distribution, the release said.

The release said the post-vaccination evaluation period will now be extended to 30 minutes for all individuals following the adverse reactions, which exceeds recommendations made by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Advocate Aurora Health reported the adverse reactions to the CDC, according to the release.

What happened: One of the health care workers who had an adverse reaction to the vaccine suffered what “appears to be a severe allergic reaction,” the release said. 

“That individual is doing well and was discharged today after being monitored overnight. The other three individuals were at home yesterday and doing well after experiencing reactions that can happen with vaccination,” the release said.

Londoners flee capital ahead of tougher Covid-19 restrictions that came into force on Sunday

People wait on the concourse at Paddington Station in London on December 19 ahead of the introduction of tougher new restrictions.

Londoners piled on to trains and motorways on Saturday night as they rushed to leave the capital ahead of new restrictions announced by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Johnson announced that London and large parts of south-eastern England will enter Tier 4 Covid-19 restrictions on Sunday.

Tier 4 is the highest possible level of restrictions in England, effectively renewing the lockdown seen in Spring.

By 7 p.m. on Saturday evening, there were no free seats on trains leaving London from several stations in the capital, PA News Agency reports. Passengers complained about not being able to socially distance themselves within the train carriages.

The scenes were condemned by politicians and public health experts. London Mayor Sadiq Khan called the introduction of the restrictions “devastating” in an interview with the BBC, adding that scenes at London train stations “was a direct consequence of the chaotic way the announcement was made, and the late stage it was made.

Speaking directly to Londoners who left London, he said that while they may have not broken the rules, they may have taken the virus out of London and potentially put “your mum, dad, elderly relations” at risk.

Dr. Chaand Nagpaul, British Medical Association (BMA) council chair, said that such scenes would not have been seen “in east Asian countries that have managed pandemics well in the past,” adding that the government should have made sure there were crowd control measures.

“Whilst Christmas is obviously going to be ruined for many, the worst thing we could be doing is infecting our loved ones,” he told Sky News.

UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock defended the government’s actions on Sky, saying they had no choice to act after being presented with new scientific evidence that a new strain of the virus was spreading more quickly than others in the UK.
“It was our duty to act,” he said. “We acted very quickly and decisively with the announcements the Prime Minister set out yesterday.”

New strain: England’s chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, warned Saturday that a newly identified variant of Covid-19 “can spread more quickly” than previous strains of the virus.

“This is now spreading very fast,” Johnson warned. “It is with a very heavy heart that I say we cannot continue with Christmas as planned.”

As with other new variants or strains of Covid-19, this one carries a genetic fingerprint that makes it easy to track, and it happens to be one that is now common. That does not mean the mutation has made it spread more easily, nor does it not necessarily mean this variation is more dangerous.

Read more here.

Two more Alaska health care workers suffer adverse reactions to Covid-19 vaccine

Two health care workers at Providence Health Alaska suffered adverse reactions to a Covid-19 vaccine late last week, Mikal Canfield, a spokesman for Providence Alaska, told CNN on Saturday night.

Five adverse reactions to the vaccine have now been reported in Alaska. Last week, three health care workers in the state had allergic reactions after receiving doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine, CNN previously reported.

Providence Alaska is not releasing the location where the two health care workers are employed, but the network has locations in Anchorage, Valdez, Seward and Kodiak, according to Canfield.

The health care workers who received the vaccine are “frontline caregivers involved directly with patient care,” Canfield said.

They suffered mild and non-life-threatening reactions but have not consented to additional information on their conditions being released, Canfield said. 

Canfield told CNN Providence Alaska has reported the adverse reactions to the state health department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS).

CNN also reported Saturday that an Illinois hospital paused its Covid-19 vaccinations after four workers experienced reactions. 

CNN has reached out to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, as well as Pfizer, for comment. 

Japan's winter Covid-19 wave worsens

A nurse collects a nasal swab sample from a car driver at a Covid-19 PCR testing center at Fujimino Emergency Hospital in Miyoshi-machi, Japan, on December 18.

Japan recorded 2,985 new coronavirus infections and 45 related deaths on Saturday, the Japanese health ministry said on Sunday.

The country’s total Covid-19 caseload now stands at 196,592, with 2,886 deaths.

Hospitals across Japan are currently caring for 26,169 Covid-19 parents, among whom 598 are under intensive care. 

Over the past weeks, a resurgent winter wave has seen daily case numbers climb to their highest levels since the beginning of the pandemic.

The surge in cases is being fueled by a worsening situation in capital Tokyo, where 739 new cases were recorded Saturday.

Another hard-hit prefecture, Osaka, recorded 311 new patients Saturday.

Some context: Japan, along with its neighbor South Korea, is seeing a rise in Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations as cold winter temperatures set in. Winter was always expected to bring a spike in cases, as cold weather sends people indoors to poorly ventilated spaces – conditions likely to make coronavirus spread more easily.

In Japan, cases have been rising steadily since the start of last month. On November 1, just over 600 cases were reported. Twenty days later there were more than 2,500 daily infections.

Australian states close off to Sydney residents

An empty Bridge street is seen in the Central Business District of Sydney, on December 19.

Residents of Australia’s most populous city, Sydney, are no longer able to travel interstate without quarantining as a mystery Covid-19 cluster spreads in the city.

All Australian states and territories will require travellers from Sydney to undergo a 14-day quarantine on arrival, according to state governments.

On Saturday, 30 new locally transmitted cases of Covid-19 were detected in Sydney, all located in the Northern Beaches municipality.