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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8:20 a.m. ET, December 17, 2020

Second health care worker in Alaska hospital system had a reaction after getting Covid-19 shot

From CNN Health's Nadia Kounang

A second Alaska health care worker has suffered an allergic reaction after receiving the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine. 

Although there have been no widespread reports of adverse reactions nationwide, this marks the second in the same hospital system. It is unclear if there is any other connection between the two incidents.

According to a statement from Bartlett Regional Hospital in Juneau: “A second staff member experienced eye puffiness, light headedness, and scratchy throat 10 minutes after being injected with the vaccine.” The hospital added that the reaction “was not considered anaphylaxis.” 

The statement added that the worker was taken to the emergency room and given epinephrine, Pepcid and Benadryl. “He felt completely back to normal within an hour and was released," it said.

The hospital system previously reported a reaction in a female health care worker who “showed signs of an anaphylactic reaction, with increased heartbeat, shortness of breath and skin rash and redness,” about 10 minutes after receiving the vaccine. She had no known history of having any allergic reactions to vaccines, according to the hospital.

She was given epinephrine and Benadryl, and remained in the hospital overnight for observation, said Dr. Lindy Jones, Bartlett’s Emergency Department Medical Director.

Both incidents were reported to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state health authorities.

 

8:15 a.m. ET, December 17, 2020

Covid infections hit daily record in Gaza, as Strip enters “difficult wave”

From Elliott Gotkine and Abeer Salman

The number of coronavirus cases recorded in Gaza hit a new high on Wednesday, as an additional 1,015 Palestinians came down with Covid-19 over 24 hours. There were 12 more deaths, bringing the total to 232 since the pandemic hit the enclave in March. 

According to the Ministry of Health in Gaza, 31,161 people have now been infected with the virus. This includes 9,109 active cases, out of a total population of 2 million.

“We have entered a very difficult wave of Covid in Gaza,” says Yousif AlAqqad, Head of the European Hospital for Coronavirus in the Strip. He expressed concern about the lack of oxygen available for patients, saying they only had enough for 200 serious cases. Staff, he said, were being stretched to the limit.  

In the West Bank, the Palestinian Ministry of Health said there were 1,262 new cases on Wednesday, out of almost 7,000 tests -- meaning that almost one in five tests came back positive. In Gaza, positivity rates remain even higher, standing currently at just over 30%. 

8:13 a.m. ET, December 17, 2020

Coronavirus victims might stay infectious after  death, German study finds

From CNN's Maggie Fox

The bodies of coronavirus victims can stay infectious for days after their death, German researchers reported Wednesday.

It’s a small study involving very sick patients, the team at University Medical Center Hamburg reported, and further research is needed.

The team tested the bodies of 11 people who died of Covid-19 at their hospital, and swabbed the noses looking for coronavirus at regular intervals from 12 hours after death up to seven days later.

We consistently detected SARS-CoV-2 RNA at constant levels at all time points analyzed,” the researchers wrote in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.

“We demonstrated maintained infectivity of SARS-CoV-2 in tissues of deceased patients. SARS-CoV-2 RNA persisted over time at constantly high titers," they added. "Taken together, our data indicate potentially high infectivity of human corpses, requiring hazard assessments in professional fields concerned and careful and conscious handling.”

8:07 a.m. ET, December 17, 2020

Tokyo reports highest single-day rise in cases since the start of the pandemic

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

Japan’s capital, Tokyo, reported 822 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, marking the highest single-day rise in cases since the start of the pandemic, according to the Tokyo metropolitan government (TMG).

The increase also marks the second consecutive day that the city topped its daily case record. Of the total 822 cases, 122 case are elderly, aged 65 or older, TMG added.

Separately, Tokyo's expert panel for monitoring the pandemic said it has raised the alert level on the medical system to Level 4, the highest category, signaling that the medical system is under strain.

"It is now difficult to run the medical service for both coronavirus infection and ordinary medical needs as the coronavirus infection keep increasing" said Masataka Inoguchi, Deputy Chairman of the Tokyo Medical Association.

Earlier in the week, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga expressed "remorse" for attending a group dinner with celebrity friends in apparent breach of his own government's coronavirus guidelines.

Suga appeared to disregard those guidelines on Monday by attending a gathering with seven guests, who were all over the age of 70, at a high-end steak restaurant in Tokyo's Ginza district.

7:48 a.m. ET, December 17, 2020

Pope renews call for universal access to Covid-19 vaccines

From CNN's Delia Gallagher in Rome

Pope Francis celebrates Holy Mass for the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe in St. Peter's Basilica on December 12.
Pope Francis celebrates Holy Mass for the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe in St. Peter's Basilica on December 12. Grzegorz Galazka/Mondadori Portfolio/Getty Images

Pope Francis has renewed his appeal for universal access to Covid-19 vaccines and called for a “culture of care” in 2021.

The Pope made the comments in a message published Thursday for the World Day of Peace, celebrated January 1.

“I renew my appeal to political leaders and the private sector to spare no effort to ensure access to Covid-19 vaccines and to the essential technologies needed to care for the sick, the poor and those who are most vulnerable,” the Pope wrote.

The document, entitled “A Culture of Care as a Path to Peace,” says that the events of the past year “have taught us how important it is to care for one another and for creation.”

Francis says that alongside the solidarity we have seen this year, “we have also seen a surge in various forms of nationalism, racism and xenophobia and wars and conflicts that bring only death and destruction in their wake.”

The Pope also renewed his appeal for a “Global Fund” in which the “money spent on weapons and other military expenditures” would instead go to helping to eliminate hunger and assist developing countries.

7:36 a.m. ET, December 17, 2020

European leaders quarantine after French President tests positive for coronavirus

From Pierre Bairin, Saska Vandoorne, Mia Alberti and James Frater

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez is going into quarantine until December 24 after French President Emmanuel Macron tested positive for coronavirus Thursday, Spain's foreign ministry told CNN.

The two men had lunch on Monday.

"After hearing the information given by the Elysee Palace that ... Macron tested positive for Covid-19, the head of the government, Pedro Sanchez will suspend all his activities programmed for the next few days, according to health guidelines," a ministry spokeswoman said.

French Prime Minister Jean Castex also said he was planning to quarantine for seven days.

European Council President Charles Michel is going into quarantine “as a precaution,” the Council's spokesperson Barend Leyts said.

Michel attended a lunch on Monday with Macron but “was informed by the French authorities that he is not considered to be a close contact,” Leyts said.

Michel “is tested regularly and tested negative on Tuesday,” the spokesperson added.

Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa is going into quarantine and canceling events that require his presence after meeting Macron on Wednesday, a statement from his office said.

Costa took a pre-scheduled Covid-19 test on Thursday and is awaiting results. He is showing no symptoms and is continuing to perform his duties virtually, the statement added.

French first lady Brigitte Macron is protectively going into quarantine but has “presented no symptoms” and tested negative for Covid-19 on Tuesday, her office said in a statement sent to French media.

Other European leaders have taken to social media to pass on their good wishes.

 

"I wish you a quick recovery. I am wholeheartedly with you," said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Twitter. "This pandemic, we are going to defeat it together. We will continue to work hand in hand to immunize and protect our citizens."

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.

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