December 26 coronavirus news

By Nectar Gan, Brett McKeehan, Zamira Rahim, Ed Upright and Melissa Macaya, CNN

Updated 4:15 p.m. ET, December 26, 2020
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2:53 p.m. ET, December 26, 2020

What we know about the UK coronavirus variant

From CNN's Zamira Rahim and Kara Fox

Dozens of countries have banned travel from the UK in an effort to contain a new Covid-19 variant first reported in England.

In a statement on Saturday, the Japanese foreign ministry said the country will ban foreign nationals from entering the country starting Monday through the end of January after several cases of Covid-19 variant were recorded in the country.

The new mutation is being called VUI-202012/01 — the first "Variant Under Investigation" in the UK in December 2020. While scientists hunt for more information about the variant, its impact is already being felt, with dozens of countries imposing restrictions on travelers from the UK.

Here's what we know so far about the Covid-19 variant:

What is a variant and why are officials concerned about this one? A variant occurs when the genetic structure of a virus changes. All viruses mutate over time and new variants are common, including for the novel coronavirus.

Like other variants, this one carries a genetic fingerprint that makes it easy to track, and it happens to be one that is now widespread in southeast England. That alone does not necessarily mean a variant is more contagious or dangerous.

But scientists advising the UK government have estimated that this variant could be up to 70% more effective at spreading than others. Peter Horby, chair of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG), said Monday that experts "now have high confidence that this variant does have a transmission advantage" over other variants.

The World Health Organization said Tuesday that the changes to the variant include 14 key mutations, and that some of them "may influence the transmissibility of the virus in humans," though it added that further laboratory investigations were needed.

Where did the variant originate and how has it taken hold? The new variant is believed to have originated in southeast England, according to the WHO. Public Health England (PHE) says backwards tracing, using genetic evidence, suggests the variant first emerged in England in September. It then circulated in very low levels until mid-November.

Chris Whitty, England's chief medical officer, said Saturday the variant was responsible for 60% of new infections in London, which have nearly doubled in the last week alone.

Multiple experts have also suggested that this new variant could have been amplified because of a superspreader event, meaning the current spike in cases could also have been caused by human behavior.

Is the new variant more deadly? There is no evidence as of now to suggest that the new variant is more deadly, according to Whitty and the WHO, though it is too early to tell.

Several experts have noted that in some cases, virus mutations that increase transmissibility are accompanied by a drop in virulence and mortality rates.

"As viruses are transmitted, those that allow for increased virological 'success' can be selected for, which changes the properties of the virus over time. This typically leads to more transmission and less virulence," Martin Hibberd, professor of emerging infectious disease at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, told the SMC.

Learn more about the UK coronavirus variant here.

2:05 p.m. ET, December 26, 2020

The US has administered nearly 2 million coronavirus vaccine doses, according to CDC

From CNN's Virginia Langmaid

Nearly 2 million coronavirus vaccine doses have been administered in the United States, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

The CDC Covid Data Tracker says that as of 9 a.m. Saturday, 9,547,925 vaccine doses have been distributed and 1,944,585 doses have been administered. 

Totals of distributed doses and administered doses now include both Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna Covid-19 vaccines.

In an update on Wednesday, the CDC said at least 9,465,725 vaccine doses have been distributed and at least 1,008,025 doses of the vaccine have been administered.

Federal officials have said the number of people who have received their first vaccine dose is likely higher, and there are a number of reasons why doses distributed appears to be outpacing doses administered.

There are lags in data reporting, and while doses are considered distributed as soon as they leave a facility, administration doesn’t happen all at once.

Many hospitals are just setting up their vaccine processes, and are staggering vaccinations among staff and the federal effort to vaccinate people in long-term care facilities is only just getting underway.

1:59 p.m. ET, December 26, 2020

Here's why health officials are bracing for a Covid-19 surge in the US after the Christmas holiday

From CNN's Dakin Andone

With Christmas in the rear view mirror, public health experts are bracing for yet another surge in Covid-19 cases, similar to those seen after other US holidays in recent months.

"We've just seen these amplification events, and that's what's happened at the end of this year in the US," said Erin Bromage, an associate professor of biology at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.

"We had Thanksgiving, we had Labor Day, we had Halloween, and each one of these events brought lots of people together and just gave the virus more fuel to move through the population," Bromage said. "Christmas is going to do a similar thing."

Despite warnings by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to postpone travel and stay home, more than 7.1 million people were screened at TSA checkpoints over the last week, according to the agency's numbers.

Nearly 1.2 million people were screened at airports on Wednesday alone, an air travel record for the pandemic. While the number of travelers screened on Christmas Day — 616,469 people — represents just 23% of the total screened on the same day a year ago, the figure remains worrying for officials because it doesn't signal the end of the holiday travel rush, but a lull before travelers begin to return home.

For weeks, health experts and officials have urged Americans to be safe this holiday season, and that guidance extends to New Year's Eve, with the CDC urging revelers to celebrate at home or virtually. If they host an in-person celebration, the agency suggests staying outside, limiting the numbers of guests, making extra masks available and keeping background music low to avoid shouting.

Read the full story here.

1:36 p.m. ET, December 26, 2020

These are the CDC's recommendations for celebrating a safe New Year's Eve 

From CNN's Naomi Thomas

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.

“Staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others,” it says, echoing guidance for other winter holidays.

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.

1:08 p.m. ET, December 26, 2020

More than 330,300 people have died from coronavirus in the US

From CNN's Melissa Alonso 

There have been at least 18,771,885 cases of coronavirus in the US and at least 330,345 people have died, according to Johns Hopkins University's tally of cases.

So far today, Johns Hopkins has reported 15,525 new cases and 99 reported deaths. 

At least 9,465,725 vaccine doses have been distributed 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 the states with the highest number of cases:

12:38 p.m. ET, December 26, 2020

New CDC testing guidelines going to have “no effect” on spread of Covid-19 variant, health expert says

From CNN’s Virginia Langmaid, Jessica Firger, Elizabeth Cohen and Eric Levenson,

New testing requirements for travelers entering the US from the United Kingdom have not been implemented quickly enough to be effective against a reported Covid-19 variant in the UK, said Dr. Richina Bicette, medical director with the Baylor College of Medicine, on Saturday.

“It makes sense that for any place that’s experiencing a regional spike in cases that we put new measures in place,” Bicette told CNN. “But if they’re trying to make sure that the virus isn’t imported to the United States, these measures are going to have no effect on that whatsoever.”

“The CDC requirements don’t take place until Monday,” she said. “Until that time, there have been thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people that have traveled into the U.S. from the U.K. So there’s a high probability that the new variant is already in the United States and we just don’t know.”

Remember: The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced late Thursday that passengers arriving in the United States from the United Kingdom must test negative for Covid-19 before departure, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced late Thursday.

Passengers will be required to have a negative PCR or antigen test within 72 hours of boarding their flight from the UK to the US. Passengers are also required to provide documentation of their laboratory results, either as a hard copy or electronic.

Airlines are required to confirm the test results before the flight, and passengers will not be permitted to board if they refuse a test or do not provide documentation.

The order is in response to a new coronavirus variant that is said to have originated in the UK and is potentially more transmissible. Since the discovery of the variant, more than 40 countries have restricted travel from the UK, and in some cases, also travel from other countries that have documented cases with the variant.

12:35 p.m. ET, December 26, 2020

Global coronavirus cases surpass 80 million

From CNN's Hande Atay Alam 

The number of known cases of the novel coronavirus globally surpassed 80 million on Saturday at 12:20 pm ET, according to data held by the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center.

JHU reports the current number of known cases around the world is now at least 80,027,056. At least 1,753,313 have died globally.

The United States leads with the most deaths and the most confirmed cases worldwide. There are at least 18,771,885 coronavirus cases in the US and at least 330,345 have died. 

India, Brazil, and Russia following the US have the highest number of recorded coronavirus cases in the world.  

In terms of deaths, the US, Brazil, India, and Mexico have the highest Covid -19 related mortality rates.  

Here's a look at the countries with the highest number of cases:

12:27 p.m. ET, December 26, 2020

Biden urges Trump to sign Covid-19 relief bill: "This abdication of responsibility has devastating consequences"

From CNN's Annie Grayer and Tami Luhby

Getty Images
Getty Images

President-elect Joe Biden released a statement calling on President Trump to sign the Covid-19 relief bill that was passed by Congress, saying that any further delay has “devastating consequences.”

“It is the day after Christmas, and millions of families don’t know if they’ll be able to make ends meet because of President Donald Trump’s refusal to sign an economic relief bill approved by Congress with an overwhelming and bipartisan majority,” Biden said in the statement. "This abdication of responsibility has devastating consequences."

Biden continued: "And while there is hope with the vaccines, we need funding to be able to distribute and administer them to millions of Americans, including frontline health care workers. This bill is critical. It needs to be signed into law now."

The President-elect said the latest Covid-19 bill is a "first step and down payment on more action that we’ll need to take early in the new year to revive the economy and contain the pandemic  — including meeting the dire need for funding to distribute and administer the vaccine and to increase our testing capacity."

Some context: Though Congress has passed a $900 billion Covid relief package, millions of Americans are in danger of losing important benefits just after the holidays if Trump continues to refuse to sign the bill.

The legislation would extend two pandemic unemployment programs and provide the jobless with a $300 weekly federal boost through mid-March. It would send direct payments of up $600 per person. It would reopen the Paycheck Protection Program so that some of the hardest-hit small businesses can apply for a second loan.

The package, which would be the second-largest relief deal after the $2 trillion CARES Act that Congress approved in March, also would extend eviction protection and enhance food stamp benefits.

12:15 p.m. ET, December 26, 2020

South Carolina reports over 3,100 new Covid-19 cases

From CNN's Kay Jones and Natasha Chen

Over 3,100 new cases of Covid-19 are being reported in South Carolina today.

The numbers released by the South Carolina Department of Health are through 11:59 p.m. on Wednesday, according to the state's website. The 3,111 new cases reported today bring the state's total to 266,678. 

The department of health is also reporting 74 new deaths related to Covid-19 for a total of 4,763. 

South Carolina reported over 3,000 new cases six times in the month of December so far.

Prior to December, the highest daily reported new case total was 2,321 on July 18, according to the state's dashboard. 

Note: These numbers were released by the South Carolina Department of Health and may not line up exactly in real time with CNN’s database drawn from Johns Hopkins University and the Covid Tracking Project