December 17 coronavirus news

By Helen Regan, Adam Renton, Eoin McSweeney, Ed Upright and Meg Wagner, CNN

Updated 12:04 a.m. ET, December 18, 2020
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7:48 a.m. ET, December 17, 2020

Melbourne towers lockdown “breached human rights,” finds official report

From Akanksha Sharma in Hong Kong

Police surround Flemington public housing flats in Melbourne, Australia, on July 4.
Police surround Flemington public housing flats in Melbourne, Australia, on July 4. Asanka Ratnayake/Getty Images

An official investigation has found that a “hard lockdown” of nine public housing towers in Melbourne, Australia “breached human rights,” according to a report tabled in Victoria state parliament on Thursday.

The report from the Victorian Ombudsman, the official investigator into government complaints, found that the “timing of the lockdown of North Melbourne and Flemington public housing towers on July 4 was not based on direct health advice and violated Victorian human rights laws.”

The hard lockdown impacted around 3,000 people in nine public housing towers in Australia's second largest city.

These residents were not allowed to leave their homes for any reason due to Covid-19 outbreaks in the densely populated buildings.

The hard lockdown orders came from Victorian state Premier Daniel Andrews.

In her probe into the restrictions, Victorian Ombudsman, Deborah Glass found that senior health officials agreed on the morning of Saturday, July 4 that the towers should be locked down to control the outbreak.

However, she noted that the senior health officials anticipated “a next-day start to allow planning for food supplies and other logistics.”

But Andrews held a media conference at 4 p.m. that day and announced an immediate lockdown, Glass said in the report.

"Many residents knew nothing of the lockdown or the reason for it when large numbers of police appeared on their estate that afternoon," Glass said.

She added that her investigation found that "initially there was chaos. Some people were without food and medicines.”

Glass added that the lockdown was lifted at eight of the nine towers after five days. But residents at the remaining tower, 33 Alfred St., where infection rates were highest, were detained for another nine days.

Some residents in that tower waited more than a week to be allowed outside under supervision for fresh air, Glass noted in her report.

"The rushed lockdown was not compatible with the residents' human rights, including their right to humane treatment when deprived of liberty," she added.

The Ombudsman recommended the Victorian Government apologize to the residents, acknowledging the “impact of their immediate detention on their health and wellbeing”.

“In my opinion, based on the evidence gathered by the investigation, the action appeared to be contrary to the law," Glass said. The Victorian Ombudsman has no legal power.

7:02 a.m. ET, December 17, 2020

German town is using mobile refrigerated units as morgues are overwhelmed by Covid death surge

From CNN's Frederik Pleitgen in Berlin

Claus Kaminsky, mayor of Hanau, speaks during a memorial event on February 4 in Hanau, Germany.
Claus Kaminsky, mayor of Hanau, speaks during a memorial event on February 4 in Hanau, Germany. Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images

For the first since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, a German town has acknowledged it has had to activate mobile refrigerated containers after hospital morgues became overwhelmed by an increasing number of deaths.

“We are forced for the first time to use the cooling container for coronavirus deaths because the clinics in Hanau are overwhelmed,” Claus Kaminsky -- the mayor of the town of Hanau near Frankfurt -- wrote on his Twitter feed.

“It is extremely sad that we are in this horrible situation,” Kaminsky added. 

According to a statement from the city, Hanau has been renting the unit since April but has never had to activate it until now.

“Mayor Claus Kaminsky regrets a further escalation of the pandemic situation," the statement added. "This has led to the cooling container at the main cemetery in Hanau having to be used for the first time for two COVID-19 fatalities.”

Germany is currently seeing a major surge in coronavirus infections and deaths.

On Tuesday the country’s center for disease control recorded its highest ever single-day death toll, with 952 fatalities reported.

6:26 a.m. ET, December 17, 2020

Vaccinating long-term care residents is urgent, but it may also raise tricky ethical issues 

From CNN's Judith Graham, Kaiser Health News

About 3 million people -- most of them elderly -- live in nursing homes, assisted living centers and group homes, where more than 105,000 residents have died of Covid-19. They should be among the first Americans to receive vaccines, along with health care workers, according to recommendations from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and various state plans.

But long-term care residents' participation in the fastest and most extensive vaccination effort in US history is clouded by a significant complication: More than half have cognitive impairment or dementia.

This raises a number of questions. Will all older adults in long-term care understand the details of the vaccines and be able to consent to getting them? If individual consent isn't possible, how will families and surrogate decision-makers get the information they need on a timely basis?

And what if surrogates don't agree with the decision an elderly person has made and try to intervene?

"Imagine that the patient, who has some degree of cognitive impairment, says 'yes' to the vaccine but the surrogate says 'no' and tells the nursing home, 'How dare you try to do this?" said Alta Charo, a professor of law and bioethics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Law School.

Read the full story:

5:58 a.m. ET, December 17, 2020

Seoul records first case of a Covid-19 patient dying while waiting for a hospital bed

From CNN’s Jake Kwon in Seoul and Akanksha Sharma in Hong Kong

South Korea’s capital, Seoul, has recorded its first case of a Covid-19 infected patient dying while waiting for a hospital bed on Tuesday, as the city faces a shortage, officials said on Thursday.

The deceased was a man in his sixties who had tested positive for the coronavirus on Saturday and reported mild symptoms, which included an itchy throat, Seoul's Dongdaemun district office said.

Seoul city had around 30 new cases arising from the Dongdaemun district on Saturday.

Based on his symptoms, he was low priority for a transfer to a hospital bed and was left at home to recover, the Dongdaemun district office said.

But, his symptoms worsened on Monday and the Dongdaemun district once again requested Seoul city for his hospitalization.

Apart from having the coronavirus, he also had pre-existing conditions which included diabetes and high blood pressure.

While waiting for a bed, the man died in the early hours of Tuesday morning.

Seoul city officials say they are looking into why the deceased wasn't given a bed on Monday.

Seoul city added two more beds to accommodate rising coronavirus cases after announcing on Wednesday that 77 out of the total 78 beds were occupied.

Despite the addition, now 79 out of 80 Covid-19 dedicated ICU beds in the city are currently occupied, Seoul authorities said Thursday.

Though this case is a first for Seoul city, the nation’s Health Ministry says this is not the first for the country. The ministry also confirmed it is looking into recording how many patients may have died while waiting for a transfer to a hospital.

6:05 a.m. ET, December 17, 2020

Putin still hasn't taken Russian vaccine but says mass vaccination is necessary to end the pandemic

From CNN’s Mary Ilyushina in Moscow

Russian President Vladimir Putin holds via video his annual press conference at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow on December 17.
Russian President Vladimir Putin holds via video his annual press conference at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow on December 17. Alexey Nikolsky/Sputnik/AFP/Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is 68, said Thursday he still hasn't been vaccinated with a Russian coronavirus vaccine Sputnik V as it's not yet advised for people older than 60.

"The vaccines that are being circulated among the general population today are intended for people in a certain age group, and the vaccines have not yet reached people like me," Putin said during his annual press conference. "I'm a law-abiding citizen in that matter, I listen to the recommendations of our specialists and so far haven't taken it. But I will do it as soon as it becomes a possibility."

Russia registered Sputnik V in August ahead of key large-scale Phase 3 trials necessary to establish the vaccine's efficacy and safety, drawing skepticism both in Russia and internationally. According to the product description, the vaccine is recommended to people aged 18-60 and is not advised to people with a number of chronic diseases and health conditions.

"I think it's necessary to [have mass vaccination], specialists across the world say that mass vaccination is one of the very few ways to overcome this pandemic, it should create population immunity," Putin said. "And I repeat that our vaccine is effective and safe so I see no reason not to vaccinate."

Sputnik V's Phase 3 trials are currently ongoing, but the country is already moving towards mass vaccination with the Russian Direct Investment Fund, which sponsored the vaccine's development, saying that over 200,000 Russians have been inoculated as of December 14.

During the press conference, Putin also touched upon production challenges that Russia is facing, saying the country so far does not have enough "hardware" to manufacture the necessary amount of the vaccine and is working to increase the number of capable production sites.

5:07 a.m. ET, December 17, 2020

Singapore and Vietnam aim to finalize "green lane" travel arrangement by early 2021

From CNN's Akanksha Sharma in Hong Kong

Singapore and Vietnam are set to finalize a "green lane" travel arrangement by early next year, the Singapore Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) said in a press release on Tuesday.

Representatives from the two countries held the 13th Singapore-Vietnam Bilateral Consultations via videoconference on December 15 and discussed “resuming air connectivity and facilitating travel between both countries,” among other pandemic related issues, the press release stated.

“Both sides agreed to expeditiously conclude ongoing discussions to facilitate essential business and official travel through a Green Lane arrangement,” the release added.

The MFA said officials from both countries have been tasked to finalize the “Green Lane agreement” by early 2021.

Singapore will be among the first few countries with which Vietnam will resume regularized essential business and official travel, the MFA added.

Read more about Singapore's travel plans here:

4:45 a.m. ET, December 17, 2020

French President Emmanuel Macron tests positive for Covid-19

From Pierre Bairin in Paris

Emmanuel Macron, the French President, has tested positive for coronavirus, the Elysee Palace said in a statement Thursday. 

“The President of the Republic has been diagnosed positive for Covid-19 today,” the statement said.

“This diagnosis was made following an RTPCR test performed at the onset of the first symptoms,” it added.

“In accordance with current health regulations applicable to all, the President of the Republic will isolate himself for 7 days. He continues to work and carry out his activities remotely.”

4:29 a.m. ET, December 17, 2020

The pandemic raging in the US is still far from over

From CNN's Christina Maxouris

The United States on Wednesday reported record numbers for Covid-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths, ahead of a key meeting for what could be the country's second coronavirus vaccine to get the green light. 

The first vaccinations and possible emergency use authorization for Moderna are all good news. But the pandemic raging in the US is still far from over -- and more brutal than ever.

Rising cases: While there's been some progress in slowing the spread of the virus in the northern and central US, according to the White House coronavirus task force, cases are still surging in more populated states. 

"Stabilization in the Northern Plains, Upper Midwest, and some Rocky Mountain and Heartland states is being offset by significant deterioration in more populous states (82% of the population)," reports sent to states by the task force and obtained by CNN said.

Travel decisions: Americans have important choices to make: the upcoming holidays could help drive another surge of cases, hospitalizations and, inevitably, deaths, if people opt to travel and gather again. 

California: As Los Angeles County health officials continue to report exploding case numbers, health services director Dr. Christina Ghaly attributed the surge to residents gathering over the Thanksgiving holiday despite repeated pleas to stay home. 

And the worst is yet to come, Ghaly added, saying "we are still in for a very rough few weeks at least, and potentially through January."

Northeast and Midwest: Governors across these regions issued a video message this week encouraging residents to "double down" on safety measures and reconsider their holiday plans.

"If you are planning to travel or gather with other households for the holidays -- we urge you to reconsider," the governors said. "Just one infection can cause an outbreak in your community, which could overwhelm our hospitals and put you and your loved ones at risk."

Curfews: In hopes of helping curb the spread around the holidays, El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego announced curfews from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. lasting from December 23 to December 26 and from December 30 to January 4. 

Read more about the outbreak in the US:

3:54 a.m. ET, December 17, 2020

Saudi Arabia begins Covid-19 vaccination drive

From CNN's Mostafa Salem in Abu Dhabi 

Saudi Arabia's health minister received a dose of Covid-19 vaccination on Thursday, kicking off the kingdom's mass vaccination drive. 

Tawfiq Al Rabiah, the Minister of Health, appeared on state television receiving his shot.

At-risk groups will be the first in line for the vaccine, including frontline workers, those aged over 65, and people with pre-existing chronic conditions.

The country's Health Ministry announced that the vaccination effort would take place in three stages, targeting specific groups, and inoculation would be free for all citizens and residents.

On Wednesday, 150,000 people had signed up to take the vaccine via an app, according to the Health Ministry.

Saudi Arabia’s Food and Drug Authority approved the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine registration on December 10, according to state news agency SPA.