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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9:00 a.m. ET, December 16, 2020

Costa Rica authorizes emergency use for Pfizer/ BioNtech vaccine against Covid-19

From CNN's Djenane Villanueva and Mohammed Tawfeeq

A vial of Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine.
A vial of Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine. Justin Tallis/Pool/Getty Images

Costa Rica has authorized the emergency use of the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine against Covid-19 after the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave the vaccine emergency use authorization on Friday, according to a statement released by Costa Rica’s Ministry of Health on Tuesday.

Through social media, Costa Rica's president, Carlos Alvarado, said the agreement with the company guarantees coverage for 1.5 million people.

In October, Costa Rica announced an agreement with Pfizer/BionNtech for the purchase of 3,000,000 doses.

Costa Rica’s Ministry of Health announced that vaccinations in the country could start during the first quarter of 2021, without mentioning an exact date, according to the same statement.

8:57 a.m. ET, December 16, 2020

Hill leaders are closing in on a stimulus deal. Here's how the process could unfold. 

From CNN's Manu Raju and Clare Foran

Al Drago/Getty Images
Al Drago/Getty Images

Congressional leaders, after months of a bitter stalemate and as millions of Americans have been eager for relief, are finally indicating they're nearing a deal on a new rescue package that could pass both chambers within days.

But first they need to unveil the details, sell it to their caucuses and try to ram it through Congress quickly — all with the threat of a shutdown looming at the end of the week.

It won't be an easy task. But top Democrats and Republicans expressed confidence Tuesday evening after the big four leaders met for the first time in months, emerging to say that a deal is finally in sight. But they refused to share any details.

Here's how the legislative process could play out:

  • Negotiators are likely to introduce a $1.4 trillion government funding package later Wednesday. Then, when the House Rules Committee meets to tee up a House vote, an amendment will be offered to tack on the Covid relief deal before sending the full package to the floor.
  • Once a vote takes place in the House, there will be little time left on the calendar before a potential shutdown is triggered.
  • With such a narrow margin for error, get ready for rank-and-file members to attempt to exert influence on the process in an effort to win concessions. Ultimately, leadership is likely to shut down such efforts, but that won't stop lawmakers from trying. Take, for example, a tweet from prominent progressive Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York on Tuesday evening, calling for stimulus checks, which is uncertain to be included in the final deal. Other progressives are echoing that sentiment — as are Sens. Bernie Sanders and GOP Sen. Josh Hawley.
  • If a quick Senate vote is blocked, there could be a brief government shutdown over the weekend. And if lawmakers fail to imminently finalize a massive government spending bill for a new fiscal year, there is also a chance they could be forced to revert to a short-term funding patch instead, though lawmakers in both parties have made clear they don't want that to happen.

Read more about the stimulus negotiations here.

8:36 a.m. ET, December 16, 2020

WHO warns "high risk of further resurgence" of Covid-19 across Europe in early 2021

From CNN's Jacqueline Howard

A healthcare worker conducts antigen rapid tests for COVID-19 during a mass coronavirus screening at a hospital in Barcelona, on December 14.
A healthcare worker conducts antigen rapid tests for COVID-19 during a mass coronavirus screening at a hospital in Barcelona, on December 14. Lluis Gene/AFP/Getty Images

The World Health Organization's European office has warned that "there is a high risk of further resurgence" of Covid-19 across Europe early next year.

"Annually across Europe, we see a massive increase in gatherings that bring together people of all ages, including families, religious groups and friends. This brings a significant risk of increased COVID-19 transmission during the upcoming holiday season," according to a WHO Europe announcement on Wednesday.

"Despite some fragile progress, COVID-19 transmission across the European Region remains widespread and intense," the announcement notes. "There is a high risk of further resurgence in the first weeks and months of 2021, and we will need to work together if we are to succeed in preventing it." 

The announcement urges people to take precautions during the winter holidays to minimize the risk of Covid-19, such as by postponing or reducing gatherings, keeping gatherings outdoors if possible, wearing masks, maintaining physical distancing and avoiding any transportation that might be crowded.

The announcement says: "During the upcoming holidays, WHO recommends that countries carefully consider adapting the setup of seasonal activities to remove the possibility of crowding, especially in confined or closed settings, including during travel."

7:26 a.m. ET, December 16, 2020

Actor Tom Cruise scolds "Mission: Impossible 7" crew members for violating social distancing measures -- The Sun

From CNN’s Chandler Thornton and Mick Krever 

Actor Tom Cruise looks on during the shooting of the movie "Mission Impossible: Lybra" in Venice, Italy, on October 20.
Actor Tom Cruise looks on during the shooting of the movie "Mission Impossible: Lybra" in Venice, Italy, on October 20. Andrea Pattaro/AFP/Getty Images

Tom Cruise, lead actor of the upcoming film "Mission: Impossible 7," was heard reprimanding crew members for reportedly not adhering to social distancing measures, the UK's Sun reported, citing an exclusive audio tape from the set.

"I don’t ever want to see it again, ever! And if you don’t do it you’re fired, if I see you do it again you’re f**king gone. And if anyone in this crew does it -- that’s it, and you too and you too," Cruise can be heard saying in The Sun's exclusive audio tape. 

The rant comes after two crew members reportedly were standing within two meters (about six feet) of one another while on set for the film, the British tabloid reported.

 "We are the gold standard. They’re back there in Hollywood making movies right now because of us! Because they believe in us and what we’re doing," Cruise can be heard saying in the audio recording. "We are creating thousands of jobs you m*ther f**kers. I don't ever want to see it again!" 

Paramount Pictures is producing the film. It is currently being shot at Warner Bros. Studio in Leavesden, Hertfordshire, outside of London, where the recording was allegedly made. Warner Bros., like CNN, is owned by WarnerMedia.

"Mission: Impossible 7" had previously faced delays from the Covid-19 pandemic. In February, a three-week shoot was set to take place in Venice, Italy, but the country had a surge of coronavirus cases, putting the production on hold. British media reported that 12 members tested positive for Covid-19 on set in Italy in October.

British media also reported that Cruise has tried to ensure there are no more delays, even paying 500,000 British pounds ($676,000) out of his own pocket for a ship that cast and crew could isolate on during film production.

“You can tell it to the people who are losing their f**king homes because our industry is shut down. It’s not going to put food on their table or pay for their college education," Cruise continued in the audio obtained by The Sun. "That’s what I sleep with every night – the future of this f**king industry!”

"Mission: Impossible 7" is currently being filmed in the UK and is set to release in November 2021.

CNN has contacted Cruise's publicist and Paramount Pictures for comment. The New York Times reports that Paramount declined its request for comment.

8:26 a.m. ET, December 16, 2020

It's been seven days since the UK started its vaccine program. Here's how it's going so far.

From CNN's Kara Fox

Olive Talender receives an injection at a COVID-19 vaccination center in Chertsey, England on December 16.
Olive Talender receives an injection at a COVID-19 vaccination center in Chertsey, England on December 16. Leon Neal/Getty Images

It’s been a week since the UK became the first country in the world to deploy Pfizer/BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine.

So far, a total of 137,897 people in the UK have been vaccinated, according to Nadhim Zahawi, who is overseeing the coronavirus vaccine rollout.

On Wednesday, Zahawi tweeted that the vaccine program had gotten off to a "really good start" and gave a breakdown of the numbers.

Here's those numbers.

Wales: 7,897
Northern Ireland: 4,000.

Zahawi added that the number of vaccinated people would continue to rise as distribution in primary care networks takes effect.

But its possible that only around half of the population in England will be able to get vaccinated next year, according to a new report from the National Audit Office.

The report estimates that only 25 million people -- less than half of England's population of around 56 million -- could be vaccinated in 2021. That's if, and when, sufficient vaccines are available.

The UK government has signed five contracts for potential Covid-19 vaccines, including Pfizer/BioNTech's offering, which is currently being deployed.

The contracts will provide access to 267 million potential doses at an expected cost of £2.9 billion (US $3.9bn), according to a report released Wednesday by the National Audit Office.

They include:

  • 100 million doses from Astra Zeneca/Oxford
  • 60 million doses from Valneva
  • 40 million doses from Pfizer/BioNTech
  • 60 million doses from Novavax
  • 7 million doses from Moderna

The report also said an estimated 46,000 staff may be needed to support the deployment of the vaccines, noting the challenge of current staff shortages.

7:13 a.m. ET, December 16, 2020

Saudi Arabia receives its first shipment of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine

From CNN’s Mostafa Salem in Abu Dhabi

Saudi Arabia received the first shipment of the coronavirus Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine on Wednesday morning, with more than 100,000 people registered to receive the vaccine so far, Health Minister Tawfiq Al Rabiah told Saudi state TV.

The Kingdom’s Food and Drug Authority approved the registration of the Pfizer/BioNtech coronavirus vaccine last week in preparation for importing and distributing, state news agency SPA said.

Al Rabiah showed a vial of the vaccine on Saudi TV and said: "I am happy to bring the positive news to the citizens and residents [of Saudi Arabia] that the first batch of the coronavirus vaccine has arrived this morning."

Saudi Arabia opened registration for those willing to receive the vaccine on Tuesday, with the number of people signing up surpassing 100,000 so far, Al Rabiah said.

The vaccine will be administered for free and will be prioritized for those above the age of 65, those with chronic illnesses and frontline medical workers, he added.

7:07 a.m. ET, December 16, 2020

Indonesia's president says the Covid-19 vaccine will be free

From CNN's Eric Cheung in Hong Kong

Workers unload a shipment of the Covid-19 vaccine made by Sinovac, upon its arrival from Beijing at the Jakarta International Airport in Indonesia on December 6.
Workers unload a shipment of the Covid-19 vaccine made by Sinovac, upon its arrival from Beijing at the Jakarta International Airport in Indonesia on December 6. Handout/Indonesian Presidential Palace/AFP/Getty Images

Indonesian President Joko Widodo said the country will provide free Covid-19 vaccines for all, state-run Antara News Agency reported on Wednesday.

"After re-calculating the state's financial standing, I can confirm that the Covid-19 vaccine would be offered free of charge to the public," he said. "There is no reason for the public to not get vaccinated."

Antara reported that Widodo has instructed ministries and local governments to prioritize the vaccination program in the 2021 budget. 

Indonesia received 1.2 million doses of the vaccine from Chinese pharmaceutical firm Sinovac on December 6.

The country is expected to receive another 1.8 million doses by early January, Antara reported.

Indonesia has so far reported 629,429 Covid-19 cases and 19,111 deaths.

11:31 a.m. ET, December 16, 2020

Doctors in Northern Ireland treat patients from parked ambulances as hospitals pass full capacity

From CNN's Kara Fox

Medical staff attend to a patient in an ambulance at Antrim Area Hospital in Northern Ireland on Tuesday, December 15.
Medical staff attend to a patient in an ambulance at Antrim Area Hospital in Northern Ireland on Tuesday, December 15. Liam McBurney/PA/Reuters

Doctors from several hospitals across Northern Ireland were forced to treat patients in parking lots on Tuesday as the nation’s health service was pushed to the brink.

Across Northern Ireland, hospital capacity stood at 104%. 

At one point outside the Antrim Area Hospital, 17 ambulances containing patients were lined up outside the emergency department.

Wendy Magowan, director of operations at the Northern Trust -- a health and social care provider serving 470,000 people in the region -- said one patient waited 10 hours in an ambulance in County Antrim overnight.

43 people were waiting for an emergency bed at Antrim Area Hospital and 21 at the Causeway Hospital on Tuesday morning, Magowan told the UK’s PA Media.

She added that 100 of the Antrim hospital’s 400 beds were already occupied by Covid-19 patients.

“The pressure has been building, we are seeing our Covid figures here in Antrim hospital increasing,” she told PA.

Day in day we’re not seeing this second surge starting to abate at all.”

The worrying scenes took place as First Minister Arlene Foster engaged with other UK political leaders about the British government’s plan to relax coronavirus restrictions over the Christmas holiday. 

No decisions to reverse the plans have been taken, but the government is facing mounting criticism to do so from health experts who have warned that hospitalizations at New Year could match that of the pandemic’s peak in April, unless tighter measures are brought in. 

On December 11, Northern Ireland emerged from a “circuit breaker” lockdown -- where schools remained opened, but some businesses in the retail, leisure and hospitality sectors were forced to close.

The lockdown did not drive down infection rates.

Northern Ireland’s health minister, Robin Swann, said he would propose a series of new restrictions to executive colleagues on Thursday.

486 new cases of the virus were recorded in Northern Ireland over the last 24 hours, with the deaths of a further six people announced on Tuesday.

1,135 people have died from Covid-19 in Northern Ireland so far.

6:10 a.m. ET, December 16, 2020

Singapore says almost half of all migrant workers living in dorms were infected with Covid-19

From CNN's Eric Cheung in Hong Kong

A worker uses hand sanitizer at the entrance to the Westlite Mandai worker dormitory in Singapore, in August.
A worker uses hand sanitizer at the entrance to the Westlite Mandai worker dormitory in Singapore, in August. Wei Leng Tay/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Since the pandemic began, 47% of migrant workers living in dormitories across Singapore have been infected with Covid-19, according to a statement released by the Singaporean Ministry of Health on Monday.

A total of 152,794 migrant workers residing in dorms have returned positive results in PCR or serology tests for Covid-19. Approximately 323,000 migrant workers are living in dormitories across Singapore, the statement added.

PCR tests are used to diagnose current or new infections, the ministry said, while serology tests can detect the presence of Covid-19 antibodies in blood samples and allow health officials to identify people who had been infected in the past.

The vast majority of migrant workers who returned positive results were either asymptomatic or had very mild symptoms, it added.

The new statistics show that the number of infections in Singapore was much higher than previously thought. 

"For every Covid-19 infection in the dormitories detected through PCR testing, another 1.8 cases were untested and undetected at the time, and were identified subsequently only through serology testing," the ministry said. 

"This is not surprising as many migrant workers did not have any symptoms, and thus would not have sought treatment."

As of Wednesday, Singapore reported 58,341 cases and 29 deaths since the pandemic began.

The majority of those cases were reported in migrant workers' dormitories over the summer, prompting authorities to lock down the facilities and conduct testing to stem the outbreak.