December 16 coronavirus news

By Kara Fox, Jessie Yeung and Adam Renton, CNN

Updated 1354 GMT (2154 HKT) December 17, 2020
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1:31 a.m. ET, December 16, 2020

South Korea warns of first potential lockdown as cases rise and ICU beds run out

From CNN's Jake Kwon, Gawon Bae and James Griffiths

A medical staff member takes a swab for a Covid-19 test at a temporary testing station in Seoul on December 16.
A medical staff member takes a swab for a Covid-19 test at a temporary testing station in Seoul on December 16. Jung Yeon-je/AFP/Getty Images

South Korean health officials have warned residents to take current restrictions seriously, as the country faces the possibility of entering into its first potential lockdown since the beginning of the pandemic.

South Korea has long been considered a model country for its effective Covid-19 response. Despite being among the first countries to be hit by the virus, it has managed to avoid the type of stringent lockdown measures seen elsewhere in the world, thanks largely to a combination of aggressive testing and sophisticated track and trace techniques.

But as the pandemic drags on into winter, the emergence of a so-called "third wave" has resulted in an apparently untraceable rise in new infections.

Rising cases: On Tuesday, South Korea reported 1,078 new cases -- the country's highest daily count yet -- bringing the national total to 45,442, according to the Health Ministry. The majority of the cases were locally transmitted.

Some 226 patients are in critical condition, while there were an additional 12 deaths Tuesday, increasing total fatalities to 612.

Speaking Wednesday, senior Health Ministry official Yoon Tae-ho urged people to follow social distancing measures in the Seoul metropolitan area, which accounts for around half of the country's 51 million population.

Officials are now debating whether to raise restrictions to a higher alert level, with many concerned it could harm small businesses and the self-employed.

Last ICU bed: Seoul now only has one single ICU bed dedicated to Covid-19 left in the city, the acting mayor said on Wednesday.

Some 77 of the total 78 dedicated beds are occupied by coronavirus patients. And 85.7% of total dedicated beds across hospitals are occupied, adding extra strain to health systems that are already struggling.

The city will secure 18 additional ICU beds by end of the year, authorities said.

Read more here:

5:15 a.m. ET, December 16, 2020

China's Fosun Pharma to buy 100 million BioNTech Covid-19 vaccines

From CNN's Pauline Lockwood in Hong Kong

Vials of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at a University Hospital Network (UHN) vaccination clinic in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, on December 15.
Vials of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at a University Hospital Network (UHN) vaccination clinic in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, on December 15. Cole Burston/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Chinese health care giant Fosun Pharma has secured a deal with BioNTech to buy 100 million doses of their coronavirus vaccine for use and distribution in mainland China.

The deal will be subject to Chinese regulatory approval, Fosun Pharma said in a statement on Wednesday.

“A local Phase 2 clinical trial of mRNA COVID-19 vaccine candidate BNT162b2 is on-going in Jiangsu, China,” the statement said.

The initial supply of these vaccines will be produced in BioNtech’s production facilities in Germany.

“We would like to thank the Chinese government and National Medical Products Administration for their commitment and trust in our vaccine development efforts to help address this global pandemic threat,” said BioNTech CEO Dr. Ugur Sahin.
“This joint development effort with Fosun Pharma is a testament to the importance of global cooperation and reflects our strategy to supply our vaccine globally. This agreement is an important step toward our shared goal of bringing a safe and efficacious vaccine to people worldwide.” 

The BioNTech vaccine, developed globally with Pfizer, has already received emergency use authorization in the United States and United Kingdom.

12:27 a.m. ET, December 16, 2020

Japan reports highest number of ICU patients since start of the pandemic

From CNN's Yoko Wakatsuki in Tokyo and Akanksha Sharma in Hong Kong

Japan has reported a new high for the number of patients in intensive care since the pandemic began.

Five additional new cases are in critical care as of Tuesday, bringing the total number of ICU patients to 592, according to the country's Ministry of Health.

The ministry also reported 2,410 new coronavirus infections and 45 virus-related deaths for Tuesday.

The new figures raise the country's total to 184,754 cases and 2,701 fatalities.

Tokyo and Osaka are big hotspots: Tokyo reported 460 new cases on Tuesday, and has 78 ICU patients. Meanwhile, Osaka reported 306 new cases and has 158 ICU patients.  

12:01 a.m. ET, December 16, 2020

College football "Bowl Season" opener canceled due to Covid-19

From CNN's Kevin Dotson

The Frisco Bowl, the first scheduled game of college football’s postseason “Bowl Season" in the US, has been canceled due to Covid-19.

The game was scheduled to be played this Saturday in Frisco, Texas, between Southern Methodist University and University of Texas San Antonio. The cancellation was due to coronavirus issues within the Southern Methodist football program.

“While we are disappointed in having to cancel the game, our top priority is the health and safety of all parties involved,” said Clint Overby, vice president of organizer ESPN Events.

UT San Antonio will now play in the First Responder Bowl on Dec. 26 against an opponent yet to be determined. The Frisco Bowl is the 11th bowl game of the 2020-21 schedule to be canceled.

11:40 p.m. ET, December 15, 2020

Hill leaders near deal on long-awaited Covid relief plan

From CNN's Clare Foran, Manu Raju, Ted Barrett and Kristin Wilson

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks during a news conference with other Senate Republicans on Capitol Hill in Washington on Tuesday, Dec. 15.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks during a news conference with other Senate Republicans on Capitol Hill in Washington on Tuesday, Dec. 15. Rod Lamkey/Pool via AP

Congressional leaders in both parties expressed growing confidence Tuesday evening that Washington will be able to cut a last-ditch deal to provide relief to Americans hit hard by the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic after setting aside months of partisan finger-pointing and bickering.

Democrats and Republicans sounded upbeat following the conclusion of in-person talks on Tuesday between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer and House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy.

Nothing has been finalized yet and the details are scarce about what may be agreed to, but all signs are pointing to the likely announcement of a deal that will include provisions with widespread bipartisan support, including an extension of jobless benefits, loans for hard-hit small businesses and money for vaccine distribution. Lawmakers may also extend the federal eviction moratorium and defer student loan payments.

While Hill leaders would not confirm what they have agreed to, both sides are likely to have made some significant concessions including potentially dropping demands for money for states and cities -- a priority Democrats have been pushing -- and a liability shield that the GOP had been seeking.

Read more about the talks:

11:12 p.m. ET, December 15, 2020

CDC advisers set meetings to discuss Moderna vaccine and next phase of distribution

From CNN's Maggie Fox

A participant receives an injection in a Phase 3 Covid-19 vaccine clinical trial sponsored by Moderna at Accel Research Sites on August 4, in DeLand, Florida.
A participant receives an injection in a Phase 3 Covid-19 vaccine clinical trial sponsored by Moderna at Accel Research Sites on August 4, in DeLand, Florida. Paul Hennessy/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Vaccine advisers to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have scheduled meetings for this weekend to discuss Moderna’s candidate coronavirus vaccine and the next phases of vaccine distribution.

On Thursday, vaccine advisers at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will meet to discuss Moderna's application for emergency use authorization. The application could be granted as soon as Friday.

If the Moderna vaccine receives authorization, on Saturday the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) will meet to discuss the candidate vaccine, and whether to recommend that the CDC allows distribution. If that recommendation is accepted, the vaccine could begin delivery starting next Monday.

On Sunday, ACIP has a second meeting, to discuss the next phases of vaccine distribution.

  • Phase 1a advised giving the first round of vaccines to health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities.
  • Phases 1b and 1c are expected to include essential workers and people at highest risk from infection, such as those aged over 65 or with underlying chronic conditions.
8:21 p.m. ET, December 15, 2020

US hits record number of Covid-19 hospitalizations

From CNN’s Virginia Langmaid

The United States reported 112,816 Covid-19 hospitalizations on Tuesday, setting a new record high since the pandemic began, according to the Covid Tracking Project (CTP).

This is the 14th consecutive day that the US has remained above 100,000 hospitalizations.

According to CTP data, these are the days with the highest hospitalization numbers:

  • Dec. 15: 112,816 people hospitalized
  • Dec. 14: 110,549 people hospitalized
  • Dec. 13: 109,298 people hospitalized
  • Dec. 12: 108,461 people hospitalized
  • Dec. 11: 108,108 people hospitalized
9:27 p.m. ET, December 15, 2020

Covid vaccines may not reach a quarter of the world's people until 2022, study finds

From CNN’s Maggie Fox

Just over half of all planned doses of coronavirus vaccines have been bought up by high-income countries such as the United States, Japan and Australia, which means as much as a quarter of the world’s population will be unable to get vaccinated until 2022, researchers reported Tuesday.

These rich countries have pre-ordered close to 7.5 billion doses of Covid-19 vaccines, enough to vaccinate 3.76 billion people, Anthony So of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and colleagues found.

“Just over half (51%) of these doses will go to high income countries, which represent 14% of the world’s population,” they wrote in their report, published in the BMJ.

At the time the report was written, the US accounted for one-fifth of all global Covid-19 cases but had reserved 800 million doses of vaccine. Japan and Australia accounted for fewer than 1% of cases but had options on 1 billion doses.

The researchers projected that the 13 major vaccine manufacturers working on coronavirus vaccines had the potential capacity for close to 6 billion courses of vaccine by the end of 2021. 

“High income countries have reserved just over half of these vaccine doses from 13 leading vaccine manufacturers. Low and middle income countries have the remainder, despite these countries comprising more than 85% of the world’s population,” they wrote.

“Even if all 13 of these vaccine manufacturers were to succeed in reaching their maximum production capacity, at least a fifth of the world’s population would not have access to vaccines until 2022.”

There’s one effort that is trying to get around this -- COVAX, coordinated by the World Health Organization, global vaccines initiative Gavi and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI). The group is trying to build manufacturing capacity for 2 billion doses of coronavirus vaccine. 

“The COVAX Facility could play a key role in ensuring access to Covid-19 vaccines. However, its target of two billion doses by the end of 2021 is still short on premarket vaccine commitments and financing to deliver on this goal,” So’s team noted.

8:29 p.m. ET, December 15, 2020

Nearly one third of Black Americans remain hesitant to get Covid-19 vaccine, study finds

From CNN's Nicquel Terry Ellis

As the first Covid-19 vaccinations are being administered across the country this week, Black Americans remain among the groups that have the least confidence in the vaccine, according to a study from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The findings come as the nation's top health leaders urge Black people to trust the vaccine, by hosting live events where Black health professionals are among the first to receive and administer it.

The Kaiser study found that 35% of Black Americans would probably or definitely not get the vaccine if it was determined to be safe by scientists and widely available for free.

Of the Black Americans who are hesitant to get the vaccine, the majority, or 71%, said they were concerned about possible side effects; half were worried they would get Covid-19 from taking the vaccine; and 48% said they have a general distrust in vaccines.

Other studies have noted that Black and Latino people cite distrust in the federal government and the nation's history of racism in medical research as key reasons for their hesitancy.

Read the full story: