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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11:01 p.m. ET, December 16, 2020

Mystery Covid-19 cluster sparks Sydney testing rush

From journalist Angus Watson in Sydney, Australia 

Health authorities in Sydney, Australia have issued a Covid-19 public health alert after diagnosing the first cases of community transmission since December 3.

Five community cases of Covid-19 have been discovered in Sydney since Wednesday, according to New South Wales' health department.

Just one of the five cases can be traced -- a 40-year-old bus driver who ferried airline crews to and from their hotels. 

The four mystery cases are all located in Sydney’s Northern Beaches area. Two were diagnosed on Wednesday and a further two on Thursday.

Residents in the area responded to a call for increased testing with long queues at clinics on Thursday morning.

“We encourage everybody who lives on the Northern Beaches with the mildest of symptoms to come forward and get tested," New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian said Thursday. "We really want to get on top of this."

The Berejiklian government took the added step on Thursday of canceling visits for elderly care homes on the Northern Beaches.

"We're recommending no visitors until we identify the source of infection and feel more confident that we have it under control," she said.

New South Wales has recorded a total of 4,477 cases of Covid-19 since the beginning of the pandemic, according to the local health department.

10:23 p.m. ET, December 16, 2020

New Mexico throws out dozens of Covid-19 vaccine doses due to shipping error

From CNN’s Andy Rose

New Mexico's Department of Health had to discard 75 doses of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine Tuesday amid concerns that it was not being transported at the proper temperature, according to the governor’s office. 

“We did have a minor incident with one of our 18 shipments when we observed a possible temperature change during transit,” governor’s spokesman Matt Nerzig said.

The state disposed of the 15 vaccine vials “in the interests of safety,” Nerzig said. Each vial carries five doses of vaccine.  

Officials are reviewing the thermometers they use to alert them when there is an unexpected drop in temperature. 

Nerzig said 75 replacement doses were shipped out Wednesday without incident.

Pfizer's vaccines need to be stored in ultra-cold freezers at minus 70 degrees Celsius, or 94 degrees Fahrenheit below zero.

9:55 p.m. ET, December 16, 2020

South Korea reports most deaths in a single day since pandemic began

From CNN’s Jake Kwon in Seoul

South Korea reported 22 deaths related to Covid-19 on Wednesday, the highest single-day total of the pandemic, according to the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA).

For the second consecutive day, the country also reported more than 1,000 new Covid-19 infections, with 1,014 cases, the KDCA said in a news release.

Of those, 993 were local cases and 21 were imported.

The vast majority of the new infections -- 784 -- were in the Seoul metropolitan area. 

The latest tally brings total cases in the country to 46,453 and 634 deaths.

9:25 p.m. ET, December 16, 2020

Brazil announces Covid-19 vaccination rollout plan

From CNN’s Tatiana Arias and Florencia Trucco

Brazilan President Jair Bolsonaro, right, talks with his Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello during a ceremony presenting Brazil's National Vaccination Plan Against Covid-19 at Planalto presidential palace in Brasilia, Brazil, on Wednesday, December 16.
Brazilan President Jair Bolsonaro, right, talks with his Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello during a ceremony presenting Brazil's National Vaccination Plan Against Covid-19 at Planalto presidential palace in Brasilia, Brazil, on Wednesday, December 16. Eraldo Peres/AP

Brazil’s Ministry of Health on Wednesday announced its national vaccination rollout plan to counter Covid-19, set to start early next year.

During a ceremony at the Planalto Palace in Brasilia, with President Jair Bolsonaro in attendance, the country’s Health Minister Eduardo Pazuello gave what he called a “macro-view” of the strategy to vaccinate Brazilians. 

The plan consists of four phases based on priority groups. The first three phases will constitute the vaccination of nearly 50 million people and should start in February, according to health authorities.

The priority groups will include health and educational workers, the indigenous population, elderly people aged over 75, those with pre-existing health conditions, members of the security forces, transport officials and inmates, among others.

According to a statement published Wednesday by the Health Ministry, Brazil has already negotiated deals for more than 300 million vaccine doses for 2021, “through agreements with Fiocruz/AstraZeneca (100.4 million doses) and the COVAX Facility (42.9 million doses).”

“In addition, a memoranda of understanding was done with the pharmaceutical company Pfizer to acquire 70 million doses -- 8.5 million doses by June 2021, with 2 million doses expected for the first quarter -- and with the pharmaceutical company Janssen, for the acquisition of 38 million doses, of these, 3 million doses for the second quarter of 2021,” the statement said.

ANVISA, Brazil’s health regulatory agency, has yet to officially authorize the use of any Covid-19 vaccine in Brazil. 

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

An allergic reaction is "a small price to pay" for protection against Covid-19, Biden adviser says

From CNN Health’s Lauren Mascarenhas

The hospitalization of an Alaska health care worker due to an adverse reaction to Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine must be put into context, a member of US President-elect Joe Biden’s coronavirus advisory board said.

Michael Osterholm said that while no one wants any sort of adverse reaction to receiving a shot, “we have to remember that these vaccines are to prevent people from dying and from becoming seriously ill.”

The health care worker was treated with epinephrine and is now stable.

“To me this is a small price to pay,” Osterholm, who is also head of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, told CNN’s Erin Burnett. “I'm willing to get my sore arm, I'm willing to potentially have a reaction, to get protected.”
9:18 p.m. ET, December 16, 2020

Japanese Prime Minister Suga expresses remorse for attending group dinner

From CNN's Yoko Wakatsuki in Tokyo

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga speaks during a news conference in Tokyo on Friday, December 4.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga speaks during a news conference in Tokyo on Friday, December 4. Hiro Komae/AP

Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has expressed "remorse" for attending a group dinner with celebrity friends while encouraging people to dine out in small numbers to curb the spread of Covid-19. 

"There was sufficient social distance with other participants, but I seriously express remorse for inviting the public skepticism," Suga said when he addressed reporters at the Prime Minister's residence on Wednesday.

Suga attended a gathering of seven guests who were all over the age of 70 at a high-end steak restaurant on Monday.

Tokyo's metropolitan government has asked that the number of people dining in restaurants be limited to five and has urged senior citizens to adhere to this guidance. 

“We have been taking precautions, but the number of infections remains at a high level with 3,000 new infections confirmed in the last weekend. We are taking this very seriously. Experts pointed out that group dining has higher risks," a spokesperson from the Tokyo metropolitan government said. 

7:19 p.m. ET, December 16, 2020

US hits record number of Covid-19 hospitalizations

From CNN’s Haley Brink

Respiratory therapist Shaun Fernandez treats a COVID-19 patient in the COVID unit at Sharp Coronado Hospital onMonday, December 14, in Coronado, California.
Respiratory therapist Shaun Fernandez treats a COVID-19 patient in the COVID unit at Sharp Coronado Hospital onMonday, December 14, in Coronado, California. Mario Tama/Getty Images

The United States reported 113,069 Covid-19 hospitalizations on Wednesday, setting a new record high since the pandemic began, according to the Covid Tracking Project (CTP).

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

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

  1. Dec. 16: 113,069
  2. Dec. 15: 112,814
  3. Dec. 14: 110,549
  4. Dec. 13: 109,298
  5. Dec. 12: 108,461
7:06 p.m. ET, December 16, 2020

FDA says it's OK to squeeze out extra doses of Pfizer vaccine from vials

From CNN's Maggie Fox

People administering Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine may squeeze out extra doses from the vials if there is leftover solution in them after giving the standard five doses, the US Food and Drug Administration said Wednesday.

Pfizer vaccine is shipped as a frozen solution, which is diluted with saline before it is given to people. 

Politico first reported that some pharmacists had found they could get six and possibly even seven doses of vaccine out of the vials, which are designed to provide five doses of vaccine each. 

“FDA is aware of the issue and working with Pfizer to determine the best path forward, and will share additional updates as we have them,” an FDA spokesperson told CNN.

“At this time, given the public health emergency, FDA is advising that it is acceptable to use every full dose obtainable (the sixth, or possibly even a seventh) from each vial, pending resolution of the issue. However, since the vials are preservative-free, it is critical to note that any further remaining product that does not constitute a full dose should not be pooled from multiple vials to create one.”

US health officials say they have shipped out more than 2.9 million doses of Pfizer’s vaccine this week. They are giving it to frontline health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities.

Pfizer is working to make vaccine as it is rolled out and the US government has estimated it will have about 20 million doses of Pfizer vaccine by the end of the month.

7:03 p.m. ET, December 16, 2020

Announcement on Covid relief deal will likely wait until at least Thursday

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

Congressional sources tell CNN that language for the stimulus bill is not expected to come out tonight, as negotiations between the leadership continue.

House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have both left the Capitol. 

It is likely that any deal would wait until at least tomorrow to be announced, according to sources.  

About the deal: The price tag for a stimulus deal could be close to $900 billion, a source familiar tells CNN.

The deal is expected to include a new round of stimulus checks at $600 per individual, but no money for state and local aid, a priority Democrats had pushed for, and no lawsuit protections, which Republicans wanted.

The measure is also expected to include an additional $300 a week in jobless benefits as well as up to $330 billion for small business loans and money for vaccine distribution.

But there are still provisions drawing pushback, including a Democratic push to include $90 billion in aid to states that would be administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.