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The latest on the coronavirus pandemic and vaccines

US sets another coronavirus record ahead of Christmas holiday
02:41

What you need to know

  • More than 1 million Americans have received their first shot of a Covid-19 vaccine as the pandemic rages into the holiday season.
  • A CDC ensemble forecast now projects there will be up to 419,000 coronavirus deaths in the United States by Jan. 16.
  • Dozens of countries have banned travel from the UK in an effort to contain a new Covid-19 variant first reported in England.

Our live coverage has ended for the day. Read more about the pandemic in the US here.

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It's Dr. Fauci's birthday, and he had an emotional Zoom birthday party to celebrate

Dr. Anthony Fauci speaks with CNN on Thursday, December 24. 

During an Instagram live interview on Thursday with the Washington Post, Dr. Anthony Fauci said that he became very emotional while talking to his daughters on Zoom to celebrate his 80th birthday.

“But we ended it on a happy note because we know that sooner or later, very likely sooner, as we get into 2021 and things get better and vaccines help us, that this time next year, that we’ll be back again with the Fauci family celebrating Christmas Eve and my birthday for my 81st birthday,” he added.

Fauci has three daughters, who are in their late 20s and 30s, and last night he told CNN that this is the first time he has spent the holidays without them since they were born. 

Some kids sent Christmas letters to Pfizer about its vaccine. Here's how the company's CEO responded.

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

Each year, children around the world write Christmas letters to Santa, but this year, some chose to send their letters to the pharmaceutical company Pfizer. Coronavirus vaccines are at the top of their holiday wish lists. 

“Dear Pfizer, I heard you made a new vaccone for corenavirus. Good job. Can you please send some to the North Pole for Santa and his elves please. We want to save Christmas and make all the kids happy,” one child wrote.

Another child’s message went straight to the point, “Here is what my leter to you sase. All I want for Chrismis is for them to have anuf corora valtsens for arry won please.” 

So, Pfizer’s CEO Albert Bourla responded.

“Letters like these – from children brimming with compassion and hope – remind us of why the work we do every day is so important. Pfizer’s purpose – breakthroughs that change patients’ lives – is more urgent than ever,” Bourla said on a post shared on Linkedin on Wednesday. 

“To Finn and Callum, who sent these letters, you are kind, compassionate and thoughtful young boys, and I want you to know that we are doing everything we can to help bring hope to people around the world. And we will make sure to take care of Santa and his elves, too.”

But don’t worry kids: On Saturday Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN that he took a trip up to the North Pole to vaccinate Santa and he is “good to go” to deliver holiday cheer.

Pfizer CEO says he's "cautiously optimistic" coronavirus vaccine will work against new variant

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla testifies before the Senate Finance Committee on February 26 in Washington, DC.

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said that he is optimistic that the company’s vaccine will protect against the new coronavirus variant detected in the United Kingdom. 

“We are doing specific studies that will be completed within 10 days from now or something like that let’s say two weeks, that we are testing to see if this new strain is equally sensitive to our vaccine and also would be neutralized by the vaccine.”

Bourla explained during the town hall that adverse reactions to the vaccine were “very rare” in clinical trials. Now that the vaccine is being distributed to millions of people, a few will experience allergic reactions. Fewer than 10 have been reported in the United States. 

“Very rare, they are not common,” he said of the allergic reactions. “One out of hundreds of thousands of people.”

Bourla said everyone, especially those with preexisting conditions, should get the vaccine to protect themselves and their families. 

“Vaccines have been the most important health care intervention since clean water,” Bourla explained. “Since the time that people were able to secure water, there is nothing that has saved more life. There is nothing that has created more scientific medical breakthroughs than vaccinations.”

More than 600,000 people in the UK have gotten their first dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine

Staff deliver injections of the first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine to patients at a drive-in vaccination center in Hyde, Greater Manchester, England on December 17.

More than 600,000 in the United Kingdom have received the first dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine, according to a statement released Thursday by the Department of Health and Social Care. 

The latest data shows that 616,933 people in the UK received the first dose between Dec. 8 and Dec. 20.

“In line with advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), vaccines have been administered to care home residents, those aged 80 and over and health and social care staff through over 500 vaccination sites across the UK. The vaccination programme will continue at pace over Christmas,” the statement said.

“The vaccine roll out in care homes in England began on Wednesday 16 December, with hundreds of residents vaccinated across seven care homes… Larger care homes with 50-70 beds will be prioritised at first, with around 2,900 care homes of this size in England,” the statement added. “Over the coming weeks and months the rate of vaccination will increase as more doses become available and the programme continues to expand, with more vaccines being delivered direct to care homes.”

British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said, “In just over three weeks, the NHS in every part of the UK has already set up hundreds of vaccination sites to ensure those most in need can receive their jab as quickly as possible. This is just the beginning and we are continually expanding our vaccination programme to help everyone get back to normal in the future.”

Mexico will begin its 1st stage of vaccination against Covid-19

Hospital nurse María Irene Ramírez receives the first of two Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine injections at the General Hospital in Mexico City on December 24.

Mexico, the first country in Latin American, will begin its coronavirus vaccination campaign today, according to officials in a Twitter post. 

Hospital nurse María Irene Ramírez in Mexico City was the first person to get the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine as part of the government’s strategy to focus on healthcare workers first before moving on to the elderly, who are considered most at risk.

“We will pull through. Well yes, we’re very afraid, but we have to pull through because someone has to lead this effort and I am willing to continue on the battle front,” she added

New York reports more than 12,500 new cases of Covid-19

Health care workers tend to patrons who arrive for rapid COVID-19 tests at ProHealth Care on December 3 in Jericho, New York.

New York reported 12,568 new cases of Covid-19 as of Dec. 23, according to the state’s Covid-19 dashboard

The state has 6,928 total Covid-19 hospitalizations, according to a tweet from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. 

New York reports a 5.55% test positivity rate, according to the tweet. 

“Sadly, there were 129 fatalities,” according to the tweet.

New Jersey will require negative Covid-19 test from United Airline flights originating in the UK

United Airlines airplanes sit on the tarmac at London Heathrow Airport in London on March 16.

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy is requiring all United Airlines passengers with flights originating in the UK and flying into Newark Liberty International Airport to have a negative Covid-19 test before arriving in the state, according to a release from the governor’s office.

This comes after the UK announced the discovery of a new variant of Covid-19 in the country. 

Passengers will be required to test negative for Covid-19 within 72 hours of their flight. 

“In effort to strengthen existing travel protocols with our partners at United, beginning Monday, December 28, all United customers with flights originating in the U.K. will be required to present proof of a negative COVID-19 test obtained within 72 hours of departure for incoming flights to Newark Liberty International Airport. As we continue to experience a second wave of COVID-19 cases, it’s critical that we take any and all precautions to mitigate the potential for further transmission,” the release said in part. 

Earlier this week, three other airlines agreed to test all passengers coming from the UK into New York for Covid-19.

Arizona's Covid-19 hospitalizations set record for the second day in a row

Arizona reported the highest day of hospitalizations for the second day in a row, a graph tweeted by Republican Gov. Doug Ducey shows.

The number of inpatient Covid-19 patients hospitalized in Arizona increased to at least 4,221 from 4,163 yesterday, the governor said in a tweet Thursday.

Intensive care unit beds in use by Covid-19 patients decreased Thursday from 972 to 965 and the number of ventilators in use decreased to 620 from 673, Ducey said in a tweet.

The percentage of patients with Covid-like illness seen in Arizona hospitals is now at 16.6%, the governor tweeted.

There were at least 7,046 new Covid-19 cases and 115 new deaths reported Thursday for a total of 480,319 cases and 8,294 deaths since the pandemic began, according to the Arizona Department of Health Service dashboard.

A total of 3,107,007 Covid-19 tests have been reported in the state of Arizona, with 23,378 of those test results being reported Thursday, the ADHS website shows.

The safest way to celebrate New Year’s Eve is with your household or virtually, CDC says

A 2021 sign is seen in Times Square on December 23 in New York City.

The safest way to celebrate the new year during the pandemic is at home with the people you live with, or online with friends and family, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in guidance posted to its website on Wednesday.

For those that host a celebration, CDC suggests staying outside, limiting the number of guests, making extra masks available and keeping background music low to avoid shouting. 

When attending a celebration, the agency says masks should be worn indoors and outdoors and alcohol and drugs that can alter judgement should be avoided. 

“While it is possible that some people may receive COVID-19 vaccines before New Year’s Eve, continue taking steps to protect yourself and others for some time to come,” the CDC says.

CDC also suggests other activities, such as having a virtual celebration with loved ones, planning a New Year’s party for the people who live in a household, reaching out to friends, family and neighbors, watching live streamed fireworks or planning an outdoor activity. 

“It’s okay if you decide to postpone or cancel your gathering. Do what’s best for you,” the guidance says.

If celebrating with people outside of your household, CDC suggests wearing a mask – even under a scarf when outside – and staying at least 6 feet apart, avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated spaces, washing hands, staying home if sick and getting a flu shot as soon as possible. 

Holiday travel may also increase a person’s chance of getting and spreading Covid-19, and CDC continues to recommend postponing travel.

Lebanon reports highest Covid-19 daily increase for two consecutive days

Lebanon reported at least 2,708 new cases of Covid-19 in the past 24 hours, which is the highest number of daily infections recorded since the beginning of the pandemic, the country’s Ministry of Public Health said Thursday.

On Wednesday, Lebanon set a previous record of 2,246 new cases.

The country now has a total of 165,934 cases. There were also 20 new deaths recorded in the past 24 hours, raising the national death toll to 1,353, the ministry added.

Italy surpasses 2 million Covid-19 cases

A medical worker in Rome administers a Covid-19 swab test on December 19.

On Christmas Eve, Italy surpassed 2 million coronavirus cases.

The country reported at least 18,040 new cases bringing the total to 2,009,317, according to the health ministry.

There were an additional 505 deaths in the last 24 hours, bringing the total to 70,900 deaths.

There are at least 2,589 people in intensive care — that’s down from 35 patients the previous day.

For the first time all season, an NFL coach will miss a game due to Covid-19 protocols

Darrell Bevell, interim head coach of the Detroit Lions, looks on before a game on December 13 in Detroit.

Players, assistant coaches and coordinators have all missed National Football League games this season under league Covid-19 protocols, but never has a head coach been absent from the sidelines.

But – according to a statement from the Detroit Lions Thursday – that will change this weekend when the team’s interim head coach Darrell Bevell will be forced to sit out Detroit’s game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers because he is a close contact of someone who tested positive for Covid-19.

In addition to the team’s head coach, the Lions also announced four other coaches – defensive coordinator Cory Undlin, defensive line coach Bo Davis, defensive backs coach Steve Gregory and linebackers coach Ty McKenzie – will also miss the game due to NFL Covid-19 protocols.

The 5-9 Lions host the 9-5 Buccaneers Saturday at 1 p.m. ET.

More than 326,400 people have died from coronavirus in the US

There have been at least 18,479,054 cases of coronavirus in the US and least 326,495 people have died, according to Johns Hopkins University’s tally.

So far today, Johns Hopkins has reported 20,681 new cases and 371 reported deaths.

With regards to vaccines, at least 9,465,725 doses have been distributed across the country and at least 1,008,025 doses of the vaccine have been administered, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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

Here’s a look at how the US’ figures compare to other countries:

Why some communities in the US may have trouble receiving the Covid-19 vaccine

Workers talk residents through a Covid-19 self-administered test on June 23 at a mobile testing site set up on a vacant lot in Chicago's Austin neighborhood.

Chicago is among the cities across the country that could face roadblocks to vaccine access due to a lack of major pharmacy and grocery chains in their poorest Black and brown neighborhoods.

Public health experts identify these communities as “pharmacy deserts” — areas where a substantial number of residents have limited access to retail or independent pharmacies. The problem is largely found in areas with low income residents who have barriers to transportation.

Civil rights leaders and health advocates fear the disparity could leave underserved communities scrambling to figure out how to vaccinate everyone as the federal government says pharmacies will play a key role in vaccine distribution.

“It’s going to be a mad scramble particularly if this vaccine is seen as safe and effective,” said Rev. Marshall Elijah Hatch Sr., of New Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church on Chicago’s west side. “It’s very difficult to imagine that there’s going to be some kind of egalitarian distribution. We are going to have to fight.”

The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced on Nov. 12 that the US government was partnering with large chain pharmacies and networks that represent independent pharmacies and regional chains to expand access to future Covid-19 vaccines.

The list of pharmacies included CVS, Walgreens, Rite Aid and large grocery chains with pharmacies such as Walmart, Kroger, Costco and Publix.

“Pharmacy vaccinators are crucial public health partners for increasing access and convenience of Covid-19 vaccines,” HHS said in a news release. “By working with these partners, the federal government will rapidly expand access to Covid-19 vaccines.”

But relying on pharmacies to expand vaccine access could be challenging.

A study from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 2014 showed that pharmacy deserts — which were defined as a low-income community that either has low-vehicle access and is more than half a mile from a pharmacy or is more than a mile from a pharmacy regardless of vehicle access — were more prevalent in predominately Black neighborhoods in Chicago than in White ones.

Between 2000 and 2010, there was a 20% increase in the number of pharmacies in White communities, with no expansion in minority communities, the study found.

Read the full story here.

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House Majority Leader says talks continue between Pelosi and Mnuchin over Covid-19 relief bill

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer attends a news conference in Washington, DC, on November 18.

At a news conference following the House’s adjournment until Dec. 28th, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin are still engaged in ongoing discussions over the Covid-19 relief package — despite the fact that Mnuchin helped negotiate the very deal that President Trump surprisingly, and publicly, threw into doubt earlier this week.

Hoyer said he did not think it was a mistake to tie the Covid-19 relief package to the $1.4 trillion spending bill. Hoyer added that the only “mistake” they made was believing Trump would sign the bipartisan passed legislation.

Hoyer also called it “an anomaly,” citing previous examples of Pelosi/Mnuchin brokered budget deals that were signed by the President.

Hoyer also noted that Trump “did not say I’m going to veto the bill.”

In response to CNN’s Kristin Wilson’s question regarding what could be accomplished, Hoyer punted to Monday, when the full House returns, as an opportunity to get all members on the record on Covid-19 stimulus direct checks.

Hoyer noted that because today was a “pro forma” session, not a legislative session, all he could do was ask for unanimous consent to get something done, which was quickly shot down by his Republican colleague.

“We can only do what we can do,” Hoyer said.

House fails to pass measure to increase Covid-19 stimulus checks to $2,000

Dusk falls over the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on December 21.

The House of Representatives on Thursday failed to advance a measure that would increase direct payments to Americans under a certain income level to $2,000 — up from the $600 level passed earlier this week — bringing lawmakers back to square one as they search for a way to appease President Trump’s demands.

House Democrats tried to quickly pass the bill by a unanimous consent request Thursday morning, but Republicans rejected the move, leaving the future of the $900 billion stimulus package — and whether any changes will be added to it — in doubt.

That stimulus package was attached to a spending bill for the entire federal government, and a deadline for government funding expires Monday at midnight.

What comes next: Democrats will now move to pass the bill on the floor with a full up-or-down vote on Dec. 28, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced.

“Hopefully by then the President will have already signed the bipartisan and bicameral legislation to keep government open and to deliver coronavirus relief,” Pelosi said in a statement.

Some context: Earlier this week, Congress passed the massive Covid-19 relief bill, which included up to $600 payments to all Americans making under certain income levels.

Single people who earn up to $75,000 would receive the full $600 direct payment, and couples earning up to $150,000 would receive $1,200.

But on Tuesday, Trump signaled he wouldn’t sign the bill if Congress doesn’t amend the legislation and raise the “ridiculously low” $600 stimulus checks to $2,000 or $4,000 per couple.

“If the President is serious about the $2,000 direct payments, he must call on House Republicans to end their obstruction,” Pelosi said.

Republicans countered the Democratic effort Thursday with a proposal to strip out a piece of the spending package that included foreign aid — an area Trump attacked after Congress cleared the bill. Those provisions, however, were largely in line with Trump’s own budget request and were supported by the vast majority of Republicans. That effort was rejected by Democrats.

US stocks open slightly higher despite Covid-19 stimulus bill concerns 

US stocks opened a bit higher Thursday morning despite concerns that the $900 billion stimulus deal may be in jeopardy after President Trump on Tuesday said he is asking for changes to the bill passed by Congress.

Here’s where things stood at opening:

  • The Dow was up 62 points or 0.2%
  • The S&P 500 was up 0.2%
  • The Nasdaq was up 0.2%

Trading volume has been extremely low during the holidays. Thursday’s market session will end early at 1 p.m. ET.

Brazil bans all flights to and from UK amid new coronavirus strain

Brazil announced a ban on all flights to and from the UK late Wednesday, as well as the temporary closure of land and sea borders to foreigners.

The new measure, which was published in the country’s Official Diary, will also ban any non-Brazilian travelers who have been in the UK within the past 14 days.

The announcement comes after the United Kingdom confirmed it identified a new, more contagious coronavirus variant.

The ban will go into effect on Friday, Dec. 25.

Brazil is currently grappling with a second wave of Covid-19. More than 7.3 million cases have been confirmed in the South American country and nearly 190,000 deaths.

Catch up: Covid-19 hospitalizations continue to surge as the US hits a new pandemic air travel record

Clinicians care for patients in the former lobby of Providence St. Mary Medical Center, which has been converted into a space to treat suspected Covid-19 patients, in Apple Valley, California, on December 23.

Heading into the Christmas holiday, the US saw its third-highest day for reported deaths on Wednesday and a new record high in hospitalizations — 119,463. The US has remained above 100,000 current hospitalizations for 22 consecutive days. 

Dr. Anthony Fauci has urged Americans to avoid traveling and congregating this holiday season. Despite warnings from health experts and government officials, Americans continue to travel.

The TSA says it screened nearly 1.2 million people at airports on Wednesday, a new air travel record of the pandemic.  

This marks the sixth straight day of air travel numbers near or greater than one million people, stoking new fears from health the experts that there will be another spike in coronavirus infections like after Thanksgiving. 

Here’s a look at the latest Covid-19 figures in the US:

Vaccines:

  • So far, there have been at least 9,465,725 vaccines delivered across the US and 1,008,025 vaccines administered, according to the CDC

Hospitalizations:

  • There were 119,463 hospitalizations reported on Wednesday, according to The Covid Tracking Project’s data. This is a new record high.
  • The US has remained above 100,000 current hospitalizations for 22 consecutive days. 
  • The US is now averaging 115,503 hospitalizations over the last 7 days, this is up 4.06% since last week. This is the highest this metric has ever been.  

Cases:

  • On Wednesday, Johns Hopkins University tallied 228,131 cases of Covid-19 and 3,359 reported deaths.   
  • Right now, the US averages, 212,142 Covid-19 cases per day, which is a 2% decrease from last week. This is the first decrease in cases week over week since the days directly following Thanksgiving. Cases are in fact decreasing across 20 states. 
  • Despite the good news that cases appear to be on the decline, December has tallied the most cases for any month during the pandemic.  

Deaths:

  • Wednesday’s 3,359 reported deaths is the third highest single day death reporting since the pandemic began and only the sixth time the nation has reported over 3,000 deaths in a single day.  
  • The nation averages 2,669 reported deaths a day, according to Johns Hopkins University.  
  • December currently ranks as second in total deaths reported since the pandemic began and is likely to surpass April’s total deaths if not today, certainly tomorrow.  

Here’s where cases are rising across the country:

Serbian prime minister becomes first PM in Europe to receive Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine

Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic became the first prime minister in Europe to take the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine Thursday.

“I am honored to be the first PM in Europe to be vaccinated. Vaccination is a huge step in this fight,” she tweeted

Here’s her full tweet:

The European Commission granted a conditional marketing authorization (CMA) for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine earlier this week, making it the first Covid-19 vaccine authorized in the EU.

The authorization came after the European Medicines Agency (EMA) granted the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine a conditional marketing authorization, green lighting the drug for distribution.

TSA says almost 1.2 million people flew on Wednesday, a new pandemic record

Travelers pass through O'Hare International Airport in Chicago on December 23.

The TSA says it screened nearly 1.2 million people at airports on Wednesday, a new air travel record of the pandemic.  

At least 1,191,123 people passed through security checkpoints, more than the previous pandemic record set the Sunday after Thanksgiving.

This marks the sixth straight day of air travel numbers near or greater than one million people, stoking new fears from health the experts that there will be another spike in coronavirus infections like after Thanksgiving. 

"Every dose that these hospitals and clinics have is going into people’s arms," Nebraska doctor says

There are a couple of reasons for the difference between vaccine doses distributed and vaccine doses administered, Dr. Ali Khan, dean of the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s College of Public Health, told CNN’s John Berman Thursday.

The first is “just data gaps,” he said. “We don’t have good timely systems that are actually reporting how many doses are being administered as opposed to how many are delivered, so some of it is just the data gaps.”

The second, he said, are true delays. “It takes a while to unpack the vaccine, inventory the vaccine, thaw it and put it in people’s arms and it takes a while for clinics to get their logistics down,” he said.

However, from his personal experience in Nebraska and what he is hearing across the US, Khan said “there is no place in the US where this vaccines sitting in a clinic or hospital and it’s not being used. So every dose that these hospitals and clinics have is going into people’s arms.” 

Just over a week since the first Covid-19 vaccine was authorized, more than 1 million people have received their first shot.

The government has said it intends to distribute 20 million first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines in the coming weeks, slightly later than it had originally planned.

California has surpassed 2 million Covid-19 cases. Here's how other states compare. 

Health care workers in Long Beach, California, prepare and hand out Covid-19 self-administered tests on December 9.

Over two million people in California have tested positive for Covid-19, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, more cases than in all but a handful of countries.

The state’s grim new milestone comes as ICUs are near or at full capacity across the state.

California hit 1 million cases on November 12, and it has taken less than six weeks for the state to add another million cases. Given the state’s population of 39.5 million, about one out of every 20 people in California has tested positive for the virus.

In all, the US reported 228,131 new cases of the coronavirus and 3,359 new deaths on Wednesday, the third-most deaths in a single day. There were 119,463 hospitalizations reported on Wednesday, according to according to The Covid Tracking Project.  This is a new record high. 

Here’s a look at how California’s cases and deaths compare to other states:

Over 567,000 Americans will have died from Covid-19 by April, key virus model predicts

An update from an influential coronavirus model has upped its predictions of Covid-19 deaths in the US from 562,000 to 567,195 by April 1, 2021.

The impact of vaccines: 33,200 lives will be saved by a projected vaccine rollout, according to the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation model. A rapid rollout would save 45,000 lives.

Why masks are crucial: Mask wearing has increased to 74% in the US, but expanding mask wearing to 95% would reduce deaths by 49,000 by April 1.

If states ease coronavirus mandates, the model projects 731,000 deaths by April 1.

Even as daily deaths increase nationally, some states in the Midwest are seeing flat or declining cases or hospitalization, IHME notes.

“Daily deaths are expected to rise into mid-January and then begin declining if state governments impose mandates on gatherings, bar and restaurant openings, and other major locations for transmission,” the Institute of Health Metric and Evaluation (IHME) said.
“Daily deaths in the absence of concerted government action can reach over 5,000 by mid-February.”

French Health Authority approves Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine

French Health Minister Olivier Véran, right, looks at a box containing the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine while visiting a distribution center in Chanteloup-en-Brie, France, on December 22.

France’s National Authority for Health has approved authorization for the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine, according to a statement released on Thursday.

The Authority has confirmed that the vaccine “can be used for those aged 16 years old and above,” given its “satisfactory efficiency and safety profile.” 

The statement also confirmed the government’s strategy to prioritize high-risk members of the population, beginning with elderly people living in care homes. 

According to French Health Minister Olivier Véran, the vaccination process is expected to begin on Sunday in care homes across France, with vaccine deliveries expected to arrive on Saturday.

French President Macron ends self-isolation

French President Emmanuel Macron speaks to the press in Paris on December 16.

French President Emmanuel Macron is no longer exhibiting coronavirus symptoms and will now be able to leave self-isolation, the Elysée has confirmed in a statement. 

“The President is no longer exhibiting covid symptoms,” the statement said. 

“In accordance with health protocols, the President’s self-isolation can end after seven days,” the statement added. 

Macron tested positive for coronavirus on December 17 after experiencing symptoms, but has continued to carry out his duties while in self-isolation.

According to the Elysée, President Macron “wishes happy holidays to the French people in such special times, and knows he can rely on each and every person to stand together” against the coronavirus.

China suspends flights to and from the UK over new variant

Wang Wenbin, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson, speaks at a briefing in Beijing on November 9.

China has suspended flights to and from the United Kingdom due to the new coronavirus strain, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Wang Wenbin said Thursday.

Speaking to reporters at the daily press briefing, Wang said:

“Considering the nature of the mutated virus and its possible impact, in order to ensure that Chinese people and people from foreign countries travel safe and sound, after much consideration, China has decided to follow the example of other countries and suspend flights to and from UK. China will closely monitor relevant developments and dynamically adjust control measures depending on the situation.”

Outside the UK, this strain has been detected in countries such as Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy and Australia. A similar but separate variant also has been identified in South Africa.