November 27 coronavirus news

By Jessie Yeung, Adam Renton, Melissa Macaya and Veronica Rocha, CNN

Updated 2:08 a.m. ET, November 28, 2020
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9:07 a.m. ET, November 27, 2020

What’s happening across Europe today

From CNN's Amy Cassidy, Sarah Diab, Sharon Braithwaite, Nada Bashir, Zahra Ullah, Anna Chernova, Kara Fox and Tim Lister

Medical personnel in Moscow work in a temporary hospital for coronavirus patients on November 9.
Medical personnel in Moscow work in a temporary hospital for coronavirus patients on November 9. Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP/Getty Images

Santa is deemed an essential worker. The British government edges closer to approving the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. Russia's death toll soars.

If you're just joining us, here's the latest coronavirus news from across the continent to get you up to speed.

UK

The British government has announced a “significant first step” in getting the AstraZeneca vaccine “approved for deployment,” formally referring the company’s experimental vaccine candidate to the medicines regulator for assessment. The British-Swedish drugmaker is developing the vaccine in conjunction with the UK's Oxford University.

If it gains regulatory approval, the UK will be one of the first countries in the world to receive it, according to the country's Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).

AstraZeneca expects to have up to 4 million doses ready for the UK by the end of the year, with 40 million more by the end of March, it added.

The news has arrived at a critical moment for the company, which has been pushing back against criticism about a lack of transparency behind its data. 

Northern Ireland has begun a two week “circuit-breaker” lockdown in an attempt to get infections down before Christmas. Schools will remain open, but some businesses in the retail, leisure and hospitality sector have been forced to close.

Meanwhile, regions in England could see their coronavirus risk-category de-escalated before Christmas, as part of a mid-December review period. The national lockdown will end on December 2, after which London will be placed in the Tier 2 "High Alert" risk category, while cities including Greater Manchester, Birmingham, Leicester and Bristol will be placed in the Tier 3 "Very High Alert" category.

Ireland

The Irish government is set to announce its exit plan from Level Five restrictions that have seen businesses close and social gatherings forbidden since October.

According to state broadcaster RTE, restaurants and pubs will likely reopen on Monday, but it is expected that household gatherings will not be permitted until December 18. It also reports that hairdressers will reopen on Wednesday, and people will be able to travel within their county and attend religious services.

Deputy premier Leo Varadkar told RTE this week the government is considering allowing three households to gather for up to two weeks during the Christmas period. “We know people are going to do it anyway, so it's better we provide for it in a safe way,” he said.  

Meanwhile, Santa will be exempt from coronavirus restrictions over the holiday period.

Ireland’s Foreign Minister Simon Coveney told members of parliament yesterday that he had been “working on the Santa Claus issue for a number of weeks," noting that as Santa is an essential worker, "he is exempt from the need to self-quarantine for 14 days and should able to come in and out of Irish airspace, and indeed in and out of Irish homes, without having to restrict his movements."

He added that children shouldn't stay up at night to greet Santa, as he will still be required to social distance.  

Germany

Germany reached a grim milestone Friday when it logged its one millionth coronavirus case. Once deemed a symbol of hope in Europe’s Covid-19 chaos, the country has struggled to cope with a second wave.

This comes after Chancellor Angela Merkel announced that the country's coronavirus restrictions and partial national lockdown would last until December 20 and could be extended into 2021. “It is up to us. We are not powerless,” she said on Thursday in the German Bundestag.

In the past 24 hours, data released by the Robert Koch Institute shows 22,806 new recorded cases, bringing Germany’s total number of coronavirus cases to 1,006,394.

Germany has also recorded its highest single day death toll since the start of the pandemic. In the past 24 hours, 426 virus-related deaths occurred, raising the total fatalities to 15, 586.

 

Russia

Also hitting records is Russia, with 27,543 new cases recorded on Friday, taking the total recorded number since the start of the pandemic to 2,215,533.  

According to data from the country’s coronavirus response center, this is the highest number of cases ever reported there in a single day -- 2000 more than the previous record. A further 496 fatalities were recorded, bringing the overall death toll so far to 38,558. 

Moscow alone accounted for 7,918 new cases. Mayor Sergey Sobyanin on Thursday extended some new restrictions in the city until January 15. As the worst-affected city, the capital beat its own record too on Friday.

It is important to keep in mind that official Russian death figures may grossly understate the real toll by excluding people who are presumed to have Covid-19 post mortem and even those with pre-existing conditions that proved fatal due to the infection, a CNN investigation revealed.

 

Spain 

Health Minister Salvador Illa formally outlined Spain’s three-phase vaccine roll-out strategy, with fifteen population categories created to establish who would have precedence in receiving a vaccine.  

At the top of the list is the elderly, and people with disabilities who live in residences and the staff who care for them. Illa estimated that 2.5 million people would be vaccinated in the first phase, which would run from January to March. 

The second phase would include other Spaniards older than 64 and those in higher risk groups. Those who live or work in closed communities as well as people vulnerable because of their social surroundings would also be prioritized, he said, with the general population beginning to get the vaccine in June on a free and voluntary basis. 

 

Finland

The country hailed as recently having one of the lowest infection rates in Europe, according to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, is now seeing cases rise at "alarming speed,” the Health Ministry said Thursday.

According to the Health Ministry, the number of cases "increased sharply, and new infections were reported in all hospital districts” between November. 16-22. Within that period, a total of 2,541 new cases were reported, representing an increase of 906 from the previous week. 

Infection rates are particularly high in the Greater Helsinki area, it added.

The Health Ministry confirmed that new restrictions and recommendations are to be introduced, but it did not outline the details of the proposed measures. So far, the country has reported a total number of 22,652 cases and 388 coronavirus related deaths.

Italy

Italian premier Giuseppe Conte hinted that many of Italy’s red zones “will turn orange or yellow, as the latest Covid-19 surveillance report, to be published later on Friday, is hoped to reveal the country’s R number has reduced to 1.   

Speaking to Italy’s Channel 5 news Thursday, Conte said “this would mean that the citizens of those territorial communities could benefit from less restrictive, less penalizing measures." But he cautioned that sacrifices must still be made to avoid a third wave in January: "We can't let our guard down. Italians are aware that it will be a different Christmas.”

Daily deaths in Italy continue to be reported in staggering heights, with 822 fatalities recorded Thursday. However, for the first time in seven weeks, the number of patients in ICU decreased. 

8:29 a.m. ET, November 27, 2020

More than 400,000 Russian servicemen will get the Sputnik V vaccine, state media says

From CNN's Anna Chernova and Zahra Ullah in Moscow

More than 400,000 servicemen in Russia will be vaccinated against coronavirus, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Friday according to state news agency TASS.

More than 2,500 servicemen have been vaccinated so far, with vaccinations of 80,000 members of the armed forces scheduled for the year’s end, TASS reported, citing Shoigu.

"In accordance with the instructions of the president, vaccination of the personnel of the armed forces against the new coronavirus infection has begun. In total, it is planned to vaccinate more than 400,000 servicemen,” he said.

Meanwhile, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin hasn't been vaccinated against the coronavirus himself, months after he announced his country's Sputnik V as the "world's first" approved Covid-19 vaccine.

Putin has said that his own daughter had gotten it.

The Kremlin said Tuesday that Putin cannot get a vaccine that has not yet finished the final stage of trials, even though the jab has already been given to servicemen, some Russian frontline health care workers, teachers and several top level officials outside the clinical trials.

"The president cannot use an uncertified vaccine," Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said during a call with reporters.

Peskov did not explain the difference between the vaccine being "certified" and "approved," but said: "Mass vaccination has not started yet. And, of course, the head of state cannot take part in vaccination as a volunteer. It's impossible."

2:08 a.m. ET, November 28, 2020

North Korea reportedly executes two as Covid-19 and economic pressure angers Kim Jong Un

 From CNN’s Yoonjung Seo in Seoul

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ordered the executions of at least two people, according to a South Korean lawmaker briefed by the country’s spy agency.

Ha Tae-keung told reporters on Friday that a North Korean customs official was killed in August for allegedly continuing the importation of goods from China without following Covid-19 prevention rules and measures.

The official had worked at Sinuiju, a city on the border between North Korea and China.

South Korea’s spy agency sees North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as making “unreasonable responses regarding Covid-19 prevention measures,” Ha told reporters, according to his office.

Ha also said that a North Korean foreign exchange dealer was executed in October after the US dollar plunged in value against the North Korean won, according to his office.

CNN has not been able to independently verify the reported killings.

This post has been updated.

8:52 a.m. ET, November 27, 2020

Italy's Covid-19 commissioner says that storage of the Pfizer vaccine will not be a problem

From CNN's Antonia Mortensen

The first patient enrolled in Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine clinical trial is pictured at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore on May 4.
The first patient enrolled in Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine clinical trial is pictured at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore on May 4. Courtesy University of Maryland School of Medicine/AP

Domenico Arcuri, Italy's coronavirus commissioner, spoke on Italian TV Channel TGCOM Thursday night outlining how Italy is planning the storage and administration of vaccines.

Arcuri said that the question being asked by everyone was how they were planning to handle the storage of the Pfizer vaccine which needs to be kept at -70 degrees Celsius.

"The first vaccine, which is Pfizer, will have characteristics of distribution and conservation that are different than the others, I want to say again that the distribution of the Pfizer vaccine will be done by the manufacturing company and so we won’t need to worry about finding places to store the vaccine."

The Italian government is working closely with the European Commission on vaccine procurement. The Commission plans to bulk buy Covid-19 vaccines on behalf of member states and then to distribute them fairly.

On Wednesday, Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, reassured member states:

"There is also good news, the European Commission by now has secured contracts on vaccines with six pharmaceutical companies and the first European citizens might already be vaccinated before the end of December, and there's finally light at the end of the tunnel."

Arcuri explained that there will be 300 centers in Italy where vaccines will be administered and that he was optimistic about storage capabilities.

"60% of these locations already have refrigerated storage compatible with storing the vaccine for a longer time than we originally thought. We are now discussing with the regions if we will store all the vaccines in these refrigerated cells and then distribute them where they do not have this refrigeration, and we are considering at the moment if we should purchase the other 40% of needed refrigerated cells that are missing."
7:38 a.m. ET, November 27, 2020

Berlin says no to lifting restrictions for Christmas as other parts of Europe hope to ease holiday lockdowns

From CNN's Nadine Schmidt in Berlin

People walk on Kurfürstendamm avenue in Berlin on November 24.
People walk on Kurfürstendamm avenue in Berlin on November 24. Maja Hitij/Getty Images

Germany’s capital Berlin will not ease restrictions during the festive season because it is currently a coronavirus hotspot, its mayor Michael Müller said on Thursday.

Infection rates in Berlin are ''still alarming'' with 200 new infections per 100,000 inhabitants within one week, he said, adding that coronavirus restrictions should be tightened even further. 

Berlin’s rules over the Christmas holiday are: 

  • 5 people from up to 5 households may gather, not counting children
  • From December 1, masks will be required in public areas, including streets with many shops and many people -- as well as in waiting lines and inside stores 
  • Berlin will not ban fireworks and firecrackers everywhere, however, there will be special zones where they will not be allowed

On Friday, Germany became the latest country to surpass 1 million coronavirus infections since the pandemic began. This news was topped off by a second consecutive record daily death toll.

In a nationwide bid to curb the rate of infections in time for Christmas, German chancellor Angela Merkel announced new measures to beef up the recently-extended light lockdown this week.

They came into force today and will last until at least December 20, with the likelihood of being further extended into January.

Across Europe, governments are also making plans to "save" Christmas.

France's lockdown will begin to ease this weekend and restrictions could be lifted further on December 15, if the daily number of cases drops under 5,000 and there are only 2,000-3,000 in hospital ICUs.

In Northern Ireland, tougher coronavirus restrictions came into force today in a bid to find some form of normalcy around the holiday. First Minister Arlene Foster said during a press briefing on Thursday that the two-week “circuit-breaker” lockdown is "crucial in getting our rates down so that we can all have the safest and the happiest Christmas possible in these exceptional circumstances,” she added. 

Earlier this week, the UK government announced it would temporarily relax coronavirus restrictions to allow up to three households to celebrate together in "Christmas bubbles."

Elsewhere, leaders in Italy and Germany have urged the public to obey rules now to enjoy the festive season later.

7:19 a.m. ET, November 27, 2020

Spain's new vaccine strategy: divide the country into 15 population groups

Salvador Illa, Spain's health minister, speaks at a press conference in Madrid on November 27.
Salvador Illa, Spain's health minister, speaks at a press conference in Madrid on November 27. Pool/Europa Press/AP

Spanish Health Minister Salvador Illa has given more details of the vaccination campaign against Covid-19 that will begin in the country in January next year. 

The Spanish government had created fifteen population categories to establish who would have precedence in receiving a vaccine. The health minister confirmed that at the top of the list would be the elderly and people with disabilities who live in residences and the staff who care for them. Also in the first phase would be health workers. 

He estimated that 2.5 million people would be vaccinated in the first phase, which would run from January to March. 

The second phase would include other Spaniards older than 64 and those in higher risk groups. Those who live or work in closed communities as well as people vulnerable because of their social surroundings would also be prioritized, he said. 

Illa confirmed the roll-out of vaccination would occur in three phases next year, with the general population beginning to get the vaccine in June. He said the strategy was flexible, depending on the views of experts and when there is more data on the vaccines and their availability. Vaccination would be free and voluntary.

Illa reiterated that the government had contracts to purchase about 140 million doses, enough to vaccinate about 80 million people. "There will be vaccines for all citizens of the country," he said.

Illa said that in the meantime, widespread testing would continue. He said that currently more than 2,000 tests were being carried out per 100,000 inhabitants to detect coronavirus infection. 

The nationwide plan for the Christmas period is still to be decided by the Spanish government.

In a further sign that rates of infection in Spain are slowing, the Community of Madrid is relaxing restrictions on mobility and the operation of some businesses in 13 districts.

On Thursday in Spain there were 5,073 new Covid-19 cases and 337 deaths in the last 24 hours, taking the total to 1,617,355 cases and 44,374 deaths so far.

7:17 a.m. ET, November 27, 2020

UK health regulator to assess the AstraZeneca vaccine, marking a 'first step' towards roll out

From CNN’s Kara Fox, Sharon Braithwaite and Nada Bashir

A researcher in Oxford, England, works on the coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University.
A researcher in Oxford, England, works on the coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University. John Cairns/University of Oxford/AP

The UK government has announced a “significant first step” in getting the AstraZeneca vaccine “approved for deployment.”

On Friday, it formally referred AstraZeneca’s experimental vaccine candidate to the UK’s medicines regulator for assessment. The British-Swedish drugmaker is developing the vaccine in conjunction with the UK's Oxford University.

If it gains regulatory approval, the UK will be one of the first countries in the world to receive it, according to the country's Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).

AstraZeneca expects to have up to 4 million doses ready for the UK by the end of the year, with 40 million more by the end of March, it added.

The news has arrived at a critical moment for the company, which has been pushing back against criticism about a lack of transparency behind its data.

On Monday, AstraZeneca announced that its vaccine had shown an average efficacy of 70% in large-scale trials. 

In one group, 2,741 participants received a half-dose of the vaccine and then a full dose at least a month later. This group was 90% protected against Covid-19.
In the second group, 8,895 participants received a full dose followed by another full dose at least a month later. This group was only 62% protected.
That's why AstraZeneca says their vaccine is 70% effective, on average.

But some scientists are questioning why the company would report on a pooled result of two different trials, as it deviates from standard reporting on clinical trials.

And in the days following AstraZeneca's announcement, another point of confusion emerged: a lab error was the reason why some volunteers had received a smaller dose.

In a call with reporters on Wednesday, the US vaccine czar Moncef Slaoui said that the group that got the mistakenly lower dose that yielded the 90% efficacy had been a younger group, with no one older than 55.

That could potentially affect the strength of AstraZeneca's findings, given that young people typically produce stronger immune responses to vaccines.

In a statement on Friday, the UK Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency Chief Executive Dr. June Raine said that the body will “rigorously assess the latest data and evidence to be submitted of the vaccine’s safety, quality and effectiveness.”

“The safety of the public will always come first. Our role is to work to the highest standards and safety is our watch word,” she added. 

Related coverage: AstraZeneca hopes the world can focus on its positive vaccine news. But experts fear a lack of transparency has clouded that

6:50 a.m. ET, November 27, 2020

Analysis: Trump's continued rhetoric over election hampers nation's recovery in the depths of crisis

Analysis from CNN's Maeve Reston

US President Donald Trump finally confirmed Thursday that he will vacate the White House in January -- but he largely ignored the mounting challenges his successor is facing as he exits.

In a gaggle with reporters, he continued to push his false narrative that the US is rounding the corner on the pandemic but acknowledged that he will be gone next year, lecturing reporters not to "let Joe Biden take credit" for the development on coronavirus vaccines "because the vaccines were me and I pushed people harder than they've ever been pushed before."

The remarks at once reflected the President's breathtaking narcissism and his inability to confront the anxiety and financial pain that so many Americans are facing this holiday week, as lines at food banks stretched for blocks and hospitals were once again facing down capacity limits.

The inability of leaders to work together in Washington is being sharply felt by small business owners and workers who are once again seeing their livelihoods jeopardized as cities and jurisdictions around the country place new limitations on businesses to try to get a handle on the skyrocketing number of Covid-19 cases.

"We can't keep taking on these blows, especially with no federal relief or aid from anyone else," said restaurateur Tom Sopit in Los Angeles. "This just can't keep going on without help."

Read the full analysis:

4:34 a.m. ET, November 27, 2020

Russia reports more than 27,000 new Covid-19 cases in fresh daily high

From CNN’s Zahra Ullah and Anna Chernova in Moscow 

Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin attends the opening of the Khovrino station in Moscow, on November 23.
Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin attends the opening of the Khovrino station in Moscow, on November 23. Anton Novoderezhkin/TASS/Getty Images

Russia confirmed 27,543 new Covid-19 cases on Friday, the highest number of infections it has reported in a single day, according to data from the country’s coronavirus response center.

This is more than 2,000 cases higher than the previous record reported yesterday.

Moscow, the country's worst-affected city, accounted for 7,918 new cases -- also a new record for the capital. On Thursday, Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin, extended some remote work and self-isolation restrictions in the city until Jan. 15. 

The total number of coronavirus cases in Russia now stands at 2,215,533. 

The number of deaths due to the virus in the country increased by 496, bringing the total to 38,558. A CNN investigation previously revealed that official Russian coronavirus death figures may grossly understate the real toll by excluding people who are presumed to have Covid-19 post mortem and even those with pre-existing conditions that proved fatal due to the infection.