December 3 coronavirus news

By Ben Westcott, Adam Renton, Meg Wagner and Melissa Macaya, CNN

Updated 0508 GMT (1308 HKT) December 4, 2020
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6:02 a.m. ET, December 3, 2020

UK to receive Pfizer vaccine in "hours, not days," says England's deputy chief medical officer

From CNN's Mia Alberti

A health worker in Hollywood, Florida, injects a person during clinical trials for a Pfizer coronavirus vaccine on September 9.
A health worker in Hollywood, Florida, injects a person during clinical trials for a Pfizer coronavirus vaccine on September 9. Eva Marie Uzcategui/Bloomberg/Getty Images

The UK is set to receive its first batch of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine in the coming hours, England's deputy chief medical officer said Thursday.

"We expect to receive [the Pfizer vaccine] very shortly in the UK, and I do mean hours, not days," Jonathan Van-Tam told the BBC’s Five Live radio show.

On Wednesday, the UK Department of Health said up to 800,000 doses of the vaccine -- enough to inoculate 400,000 people -- are being made available next week. 

Van-Tam also said he believes US and European regulators will approve the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine in the coming "days or weeks," during a separate interview with BBC Breakfast.

I don't expect other regulators, like the US regulators, to be far behind this vaccine. I think this will be solved in the next few days," Van-Tam said.

His comments come after Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, claimed British health regulators who authorized Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine on Wednesday did not scrutinize the trial data as carefully as the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is doing in its review.

“The way the FDA is, our FDA is doing it, is the correct way,” Fauci said in an interview on Fox News. “We really scrutinize the data very carefully to guarantee to the American public that this is a safe and efficacious vaccine,” he said.

Van-Tam explained the UK’s vaccination program will prioritize older people in care homes and its workers, and then "everybody aged 80 and over" and "those with risk conditions."  

"There are more vaccines coming, we've invested in seven others and they should start coming in by spring," Van-Tam added.

The lead epidemiologist also told the BBC that pregnant women should not get vaccinated at this point: "We don't have the data at this point. There may be no problem at all, but safety first."

As for children, Van-Tam added that they are not a priority at the moment, but that manufacturers are "now thinking of doing trials in children."

The deputy chief medical officer also urged those in the priority groups to accept the call for vaccination, saying the success of the immunization program and subsequent lifting of restrictions depends on the public's adherence to the plan.

It's not my job to give you a magic number because it all depends on how quickly the vaccine is rolled out, whether the people called forward to get the vaccine come forward. If it turns out to be 10%, this vaccine, even if it's perfect, won't have any public health effect at a population level," he added.

As for the duration of the immunity provided by the Pfizer vaccine, Van-Tam said there are still no certainties for "how long it is going to last."

"We have some data that these vaccines are going to stimulate T cell and antibodies which could be long lasting. But we don't know how long it will last. I'm confident it will be quite a few months as an absolute minimum," he added.

Van-Tam said there are still some "challenges in terms of storage conditions" regarding the Pfizer vaccine, which must be stored at minus 70 degrees, but there's also a limited number of times the vaccine can "transit through ambient air temperature."

He added he is hopeful that the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine, which "should be a whole lot easier and more deployable in multiple NHS [National Health Service] settings," could be "as easy as the flu vaccine" to handle.

Van-Tam also added he is "hopeful" the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine might be ready by Christmas. 

5:24 a.m. ET, December 3, 2020

European countries to prioritize elderly and health care workers for Covid-19 vaccine

From CNN's James Frater in London

A survey by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) found 31 EU/EEA countries and the United Kingdom are considering prioritizing “older age groups, healthcare workers and persons with underlying conditions” to receive Covid-19 vaccines first.

Of those countries, nine: Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and the UK have already published more detailed plans of which groups of citizens will be prioritized.

This could however be modified as more evidence becomes available about the virus "epidemiology and characteristics of vaccines, including information on vaccine safety and efficacy by age and target group," the report found.

It also noted that with a limited supply of vaccines in the first round of inoculations, “it is expected that most countries will refine their priority groups as Austria, France and Spain have done.”

Due to the challenge of delivering a large-scale vaccination program the EU health authority found, “some countries mentioned the need for a bigger pool of skilled workforce to administer the vaccines as more doses will become available.”

Twelve countries surveyed by the ECDC said they were planning to mobilize and train other medical staff such as: nurses, midwives, medical students, general practitioners, other medical staff, “in order to ensure sufficient capacity of vaccination services to deliver Covid-19 vaccines.”

Most countries reported that Covid-19 vaccines will be provided free of charge to their citizens.

The EU regulator, the European Medicines Agency has begun the process of approving vaccines by BioNTech/Pfizer and Moderna and aims to provide a decision by December 29 on BioNTech/Pfizer and January 12 next year for Moderna.

Once approved the European Commission will work with EU countries to formally sign off in a process that they expect to take a couple of days.

4:33 a.m. ET, December 3, 2020

Thailand contact traces 700 people after infected nationals entered the country illegally

From CNN's Kocha Olarn in Bangkok and Pauline Lockwood in Hong Kong 

Thailand has contact traced 700 people after 10 Thai nationals illegally crossed into the country from Myanmar, according to Thailand's Ministry of Public Health.

Opas Karnkawinpong, Director-General of Thailand's Disease Control Department, said during a news conference that the 10 Thai citizens tested positive for Covid-19 after they went to hospitals and clinics in Thailand following their return.

The 10 individuals entered Thailand between Nov. 24 and 28 through a natural border in Mae Sai district, in the northern Chiang Rai province.

“Most of them went out for trips and then returned to their homes before their symptoms showed,” Opas said.

Nearly 700 people have been exposed to these infected cases at various degrees.

Among them, 175 are considered high-risk as they spent time in close proximity, and in some cases, were not wearing masks. Everyone in the high-risk group has tested negative so far.

“We have tracked 175 people in high-risk groups, after tests were done, the results were negative. However, all of them have to undergo more tests until the incubation period is over,” Opas added.

Thailand’s last locally transmitted coronavirus case was reported in September.

4:21 a.m. ET, December 3, 2020

US buys 650,000 more doses of Lilly's monoclonal antibody for Covid-19

From CNN's Maggie Fox

Lilly’s coronavirus treatment won emergency use authorization from the US Food and Drug Administration in November.
Lilly’s coronavirus treatment won emergency use authorization from the US Food and Drug Administration in November. Source: Eli Lilly and Co

The US federal government has bought 650,000 additional doses of Eli Lilly and Co’s monoclonal antibody treatment for coronavirus, bringing the total US purchase to 950,000 treatment courses. 

Lilly’s treatment, an engineered version of a human immune system protein, won emergency use authorization from the US Food and Drug Administration last month after clinical trials showed it could help prevent severe disease. 

“With Covid-19 cases on the rise, treating people with mild or moderate infections can help prevent hospitalizations, which will reduce that burden on healthcare systems,” Health and Human Services (HHS) Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response Dr. Robert Kadlec said in a statement.

The HHS’s Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority said that each treatment course was a single dose.

"Under the agreement announced October 28 and to meet Operation Warp Speed goals, the company is in the process of delivering the first 300,000 doses, and on November 10, HHS began allocating these doses to state and territorial health departments which, in turn, are determining which healthcare facilities receive the infusion drug,” the authority said.

In a separate statement, Lilly said that the purchase agreement was for $812.5 million worth of doses which would be delivered “through January 31, 2021, with at least 350,000 of the additional doses delivered in December 2020."

3:56 a.m. ET, December 3, 2020

Russia reports more than 28,000 Covid-19 cases in new daily high

From CNN's Zahra Ullah

Russia reported 28,145 new Covid-19 cases Thursday, the highest number in a single day, according to data from the country’s coronavirus response center.

The total number of infections confirmed in Russia is now at least 2,375,546, with an overall death toll of 41,607.

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.

3:34 a.m. ET, December 3, 2020

US states will make decisions about Covid-19 vaccines based on their own circumstances, former FDA chief says

From CNN Health’s Shelby Lin Erdman

Dr. Scott Gottlieb testifies during a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on April 5, 2017 on Capitol Hill in Washington.
Dr. Scott Gottlieb testifies during a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on April 5, 2017 on Capitol Hill in Washington. Zach Gibson/Getty Images

When states begin receiving their share of the limited Pfizer Covid-19 vaccines, perhaps as soon as this month, they’re going to make some decisions about vaccinations based on their own circumstances, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the former head of the US Food and Drug Administration, said Wednesday.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices voted Tuesday to recommend giving the limited number of initial vaccines to healthcare workers and residents in long-term care facilities, but Gottlieb said states still have some leeway.

“States are going to do some things that are distinct to their state,” Gottlieb told CNBC.
“I’ve talked to a number of governors. You’ll see some states that deploy the vaccine in certain communities that are particularly hard hit where they have epidemics that they feel are under less control ... So, there will be decisions made by some states that are very particular to different states,” he added.

When it comes to distributions to healthcare workers, Gottlieb said the majority will be sent to hospitals, which will have to decide which staff get vaccinated first, “based on their exposure to Covid, their proximity to the virus.”

He said he expects the 3 million residents of long-term care facilities and staff there to get the vaccine quickly, given the high risk that they face.

3:07 a.m. ET, December 3, 2020

US reports more than 200,000 new Covid-19 cases

From CNN’s Artemis Moshtaghian

At least 200,070 new coronavirus cases were reported in the United States on Wednesday, according to Johns Hopkins University.

An additional 3,157 virus-related fatalities -- the highest number in a single day since the pandemic began -- were also reported Wednesday.

A total of 13,924,956 Covid-19 infections, including 273,835 deaths, have now been confirmed nationwide, according to JHU's tally.

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

See CNN's tracker:

2:55 a.m. ET, December 3, 2020

Germany extends coronavirus restrictions until Jan. 10 

From CNN's Nadine Schmidt in Berlin

German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks to the media following her virtual meeting with the leaders of Germany's 16 states in Berlin, on Dec. 2.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks to the media following her virtual meeting with the leaders of Germany's 16 states in Berlin, on Dec. 2. Pool/Getty Images

Germany has extended restrictive measures designed to curb the spread of coronavirus until Jan. 10, Chancellor Angela Merkel announced late Wednesday following a meeting with the country's state leaders.  

"The states will extend their measures from Dec. 20 until Jan. 10," Merkel told reporters at a news conference, adding that another round of consultations would be held on Jan. 4.  

"In principle things will remain as they are," she said.  

Merkel said that infection rates throughout the country remain too high to allow reopening of restaurants, bars and leisure facilities. The nationwide partial lockdown also includes private gatherings to be kept to a minimum of only five people from two households. 

Last week Merkel announced that restrictions will be eased over the Christmas period in most parts of Germany to allow for people to meet in groups of up to 10 people, not counting children. 

Germany is struggling to contain an ongoing surge in Covid-19 infections. On Wednesday, the country's infectious disease agency, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), reported 487 deaths due to the virus --- the highest daily death toll since the beginning of the pandemic. 

According to data published by the RKI Thursday morning, 22,046 new coronavirus infections were recorded in the past 24 hours. A total of 479 coronavirus fatalities also occurred in the past day -- the second-highest count since the pandemic began, bringing the total number of deaths to 17,602.

2:24 a.m. ET, December 3, 2020

Japan reports highest increase of Covid-19 deaths since early May

From CNN’s Junko Ogura in Tokyo and Sophie Jeong in Hong Kong

Japan recorded 41 new coronavirus deaths on Wednesday, its highest daily increase of new deaths since May 8, the country’s Health Ministry announced today.

The country's death toll now stands at 2,226. 

The Health Ministry also reported 2,434 new Covid-19 cases in the past 24 hours, bringing Japan's nationwide total to 153,539.

Japan reported there were 488 people in intensive care and on respirators on Wednesday, down five from the previous day when it had the highest such number since the pandemic began. 

Tokyo reported 500 new cases on Wednesday, bringing the capital's total number of infections to 41,811. 

Last Thursday, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga described the next three weeks as an extremely crucial period and asked the public to cooperate with anti-virus measures.