December 21 coronavirus news

By Julia Hollingsworth, Steve George, Meg Wagner and Melissa Mahtani, CNN

Updated 12:00 a.m. ET, December 22, 2020
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12:50 p.m. ET, December 21, 2020

NYC mayor wants a temporary ban on travelers from Europe

From CNN's Laura LY

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks during a press briefing in New York on December 21.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks during a press briefing in New York on December 21. NYC Media

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said he believes that a temporary travel ban on travelers from Europe should be instituted in light of a new Covid-19 variant having been discovered in southeast England, echoing sentiments expressed by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo over the weekend. 

"Here you have a new strain, apparently even more infectious…I think the best solution is at least a temporary travel ban from all incoming flights from Europe and the UK to protect us against an exacerbation of a second wave," De Blasio said Monday, adding that at the very least, a requirement for a negative Covid-19 test before boarding a plane should be established.

De Blasio said the authority to institute travel restrictions lies with the federal government.

"I do not believe we have the independent ability, unfortunately, to turn people back or I would be doing it right this minute," de Blasio said.
12:43 p.m. ET, December 21, 2020

UK PM says "no reason" to think new variant is any more dangerous

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a virtual press conference inside 10 Downing Street in central London on December 21.
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a virtual press conference inside 10 Downing Street in central London on December 21. Tolga Akmen/Pool

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said there is "no reason to think that this new variant of the virus is any more dangerous than the existing strain."

During a Downing Street press conference Monday, the UK government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, Patrick Vallance, said there are three questions surrounding the new variant: does it transmit more readily? Does it alter the disease’s course? And does it alter the immune system’s ability to tackle it in in people who’ve already been exposed to Covid-19 or vaccinated?

Vallance said evidence shows transmission is "substantially" increased, although it is not yet clear exactly by how much. 

However, he said there is no evidence that it alters the disease’s course and there is nothing to suggest the variant won’t have the same susceptibly to antibody attack from a vaccine or pre-existing infection exposure.

"The vaccine looks as though it should be as effective and that’s obviously being looked at," Vallance added. 

12:41 p.m. ET, December 21, 2020

Federal Aviation Administration "monitoring" situation with coronavirus variant in the UK

From CNN's Pete Muntean

The Federal Aviation Administration says it is “monitoring closely” the new coronavirus variant in the United Kingdom.

“This is a developing situation that we are monitoring closely,” the FAA said in a statement to CNN. “We will continue to work with our government partners as the situation evolves.”

On Sunday, Canadian aviation officials posted a bulletin prohibiting flights from the UK.

It is not yet clear if airlines will act in the absence of guidance from the federal government. United Airlines told CNN that it is issuing travel waivers “for customers ticketed with travel between the US and (Heathrow airport in London),” but that it is not making additional changes and continuing “to monitor the situation.”

In December, United is operating four daily flights to London Heathrow. That number will be scaled back to two flights next month, United said. 

American Airlines operates a once-daily flight from Dallas to London Heathrow.

12:31 p.m. ET, December 21, 2020

UK PM says vast majority of food and medicine coming and going as normal

From CNN’s Sarah Dean

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a virtual press conference inside 10 Downing Street in London on December 21.
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a virtual press conference inside 10 Downing Street in London on December 21. Tolga Akmen/Pool/AFP/Getty Images

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson tried to allay fears of food and medicine shortages after the announcement of a new coronavirus variant prompted a chaotic border shutdown for the island nation.

Speaking at a Downing Street press conference on Monday, Johnson said it was vital to stress that border restrictions imposed by the French government on UK freight crossings to France "only affect human handled freight and that’s only 20 per cent of the freight arriving too and from the European continent."

He said the "vast majority of food and medicine supplies are coming and going as normal" to the UK. 

Johnson said he has spoken to French President Emmanuel Macron and the UK is "working with our friends across the Channel to unblock the flow of trade."

He added that the risk of transmission of a solitary driver sitting in a cab alone is "very low" and called British supermarket supply chains "strong and robust."

On the Pfizer vaccine, Johnson said half a million people have now received their first dose in the UK. 

He gave the press briefing after chairing an emergency COBRA meeting at Downing Street to address the fallout of the new international travel restrictions. 

Speaking alongside the PM, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said there were around 500 lorries queuing on a motorway near the port of Dover last night but that’s now down to about 170.

12:22 p.m. ET, December 21, 2020

Chile announces first doses of Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine will arrive this week 

From CNN's Florencia Trucco 

The first doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine will arrive in Chile this week, Chilean President Sebastián Piñera announced Monday.  

"Our intention is to vaccinate the bulk of the critical population during the first quarter of next year and the entire target population or the bulk of the target population during the first half of next year," Piñera said while touring a vaccine storage and distribution center in Chile's capital of Santiago. 

The Ministry of Health confirmed 587,488 cases of coronavirus and 16,197 deaths as of Monday. 

12:53 p.m. ET, December 21, 2020

South African variant of coronavirus is different from UK variant, WHO says

From CNN’s Andrea Kane

The World Health Organization’s technical lead for Covid-19, Maria van Kerkhove, speaks during a WHO briefing on December 21.
The World Health Organization’s technical lead for Covid-19, Maria van Kerkhove, speaks during a WHO briefing on December 21. WHO

The coronavirus variant reported in South Africa is different than the variant causing so much concern in the United Kingdom, the World Health Organization’s technical lead for Covid-19, Maria van Kerkhove, said Monday.

"There was another variant that was identified in South Africa, and it has one of the same mutations – this 501 Y mutation – but it's a different variant. They've arisen at the same time so it sounds like they're linked, but that's actually a separate variant," she said during a news briefing.

She said that preliminary results by South African researchers have been shared with the WHO’s virus evolution working group. 

"They're currently growing the virus in South Africa so that more studies can be done similar to the studies that I just mentioned about the UK, so it does sound confusing that they're the same virus, but these are actual different variants," she said. 

Remember: There is no evidence the new coronavirus variants are any more virulent, meaning they do not cause more severe disease. They do not appear to impact the effects of treatments or the protection offered by vaccines

Watch:

12:15 p.m. ET, December 21, 2020

The first wave of Moderna vaccines will go to more sites than the Pfizer vaccine

From CNN's Naomi Thomas

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

The Moderna Covid-19 vaccine will be going to more sites than the Pfizer vaccine, partly due to the fact that it can be accommodated in more places, US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said during an Operation Warp Speed news briefing Monday. 

"This first wave of Moderna shipments will be sent to more than 3,500 sites, a greater number than the Pfizer vaccine was sent to, in part because the Moderna vaccine can be accommodated in more sites, including harder-to-reach and more rural places," Azar said. 

"As we move forward, states will continue to adjust where they want these doses shipped to meet their needs," he added. 

Azar also spoke about recommendations from the US Centers for Disease Control and Preventions Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, which made more recommendations about who should get the vaccine next. 

The committee voted 13-1 on Sunday 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. 

"Those recommendations are there for states and other public health jurisdictions to use," Azar said. "We believe that these jurisdictions and their leaders are in the best position to understand their specific needs and allocate vaccines in these early days to save the most lives possible."

12:08 p.m. ET, December 21, 2020

US Health Secretary says he looks forward to receiving Moderna vaccine in coming days 

From CNN Naomi Thomas

US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar speaks during an Operation Warp Speed briefing on December 21.
US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar speaks during an Operation Warp Speed briefing on December 21. HHS

US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar says he looks forward to receiving the Moderna vaccine in the coming days. 

During an Operation Warp Speed briefing Monday, Azar said approximately two million more doses of the Pfizer vaccine have been allocated for states and jurisdictions to order, and 5.9 million doses of Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine have been allocated.

"I look forward to receiving this vaccine myself in the coming days as part of our efforts to demonstrate to Americans that these vaccines are safe and incredibly effective at preventing Covid-19," Azar said.

11:54 a.m. ET, December 21, 2020

Health official estimates 1 in 64 L.A. residents has Covid-19

From CNN's Cheri Mossburg

Vehicles line up to enter a COVID-19 testing site at Dodger Stadium on December 7 in Los Angeles.
Vehicles line up to enter a COVID-19 testing site at Dodger Stadium on December 7 in Los Angeles. Mario Tama/Getty Images

As Covid-19 tightens its grip on California, one in every 64 Los Angeles County residents is infected with the virus and is "actively infecting others," L.A. County Health Services Director Christina Ghaly estimates. 

In an interview with Poppy Harlow on CNN’s Newsroom, Ghaly said because of the widespread infections, the county’s hospitals are full. About half of all ICU patients are suffering from Covid-19, and about a third of regular beds are filled with Covid patients. ICU Capacity in Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley remains at zero, with just 2.1% of ICU beds availability statewide. 

At this point, Los Angeles hospitals are not turning away patients, nor are they rationing care.

"Obviously that's a situation nobody wants to be in and we're not there in Los Angeles County and we're not there in California, but the hospitals are under stress," said Ghaly. She expressed concern that holiday gatherings will lead to another surge in two to three weeks.

Guidelines on how L.A. County hospitals could prioritize patients by rationing care have been circulated among doctors at some area hospitals, according to a report from the Los Angeles Times. Without enough staff to save every patient, doctors may soon be faced with just trying to save as many as possible.

"It's heartbreaking really to see where we're at, at this point in the pandemic. We're so close to the end with the very same time that we're battling this scourge in Los Angeles County," Ghaly lamented.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom is under quarantine for the second time, as he was recently in contact with staffer who has tested positive for Covid-19, and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti is quarantining after his nine-year-old daughter tested positive for the virus last week. Both politicians have tested negative