The latest on the coronavirus pandemic and vaccines

By Nectar Gan, Jenni Marsh and Tara John, CNN

Updated 11:55 PM ET, Sun December 20, 2020
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11:25 a.m. ET, December 20, 2020

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

From CNN’s Virginia Langmaid

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

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.

11:00 a.m. ET, December 20, 2020

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

From CNN’s Melissa Alonso 

Boxes containing the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine are prepared to be shipped at the McKesson distribution center in Olive Branch, Mississippi, on December 20.
Boxes containing the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine are prepared to be shipped at the McKesson distribution center in Olive Branch, Mississippi, on December 20. Paul Sancya/Pool/AFP/Getty Images

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.  

9:52 a.m. ET, December 20, 2020

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

From CNN’s Nadia Kounang

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.
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. Patrick T. Fallon/AFP/Getty Images

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.

8:50 a.m. ET, December 20, 2020

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

From CNN’s Arnaud Siad in London

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

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.

8:26 a.m. ET, December 20, 2020

Belgium to block travellers from UK for 24 hours from midnight

From CNN’s James Frater

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. 

As a precautionary measure, we have decided to stop flights from the UK from midnight for a period of 24 hours, and just as importantly for our country, to do the same for the Eurostar (train) -- because that's actually the main way that people from the UK come into our country,” he said, speaking to CNN affiliate VRT's Sunday morning news program "De Zevende Dag." 

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:

7:20 a.m. ET, December 20, 2020

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

From Emma Reynolds, CNN

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.
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. UK National Crime Agency

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:

6:46 a.m. ET, December 20, 2020

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

From CNN's Krystina Shveda, Byron Manley, Henrik Pettersson, Susanne Gargiulo and Mark Oliver

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

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:

6:39 a.m. ET, December 20, 2020

South Korea records new high in daily Covid-19 cases

From CNN’s Yoonjung Seo in Seoul

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.
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. Simon Shin/SOPA Images/Sipa USA

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.

5:47 a.m. ET, December 20, 2020

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

From CNN’s Arnaud Siad in London

UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said Sunday that the new variant had to be controlled.
UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said Sunday that the new variant had to be controlled. Tolga Akmen/PA Media

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 only way you can do that is by restricting social contacts and essentially, especially in Tier 4 areas, everybody needs to behave as if they may well have the virus and that is the way that we can get it under control and keep people safe,” he said.

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.