December 18 coronavirus news

By Emma Reynolds, Hannah Strange, Helen Regan, Adam Renton and Meg Wagner, CNN

Updated 0421 GMT (1221 HKT) December 22, 2020
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2:25 a.m. ET, December 18, 2020

US reports more than 233,000 new Covid-19 cases and 3,200 deaths

From CNN's Artemis Moshtaghian

The United States reported 233,271 Covid-19 cases and 3,270 new deaths on Thursday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

The total number of confirmed infections in the US stands at 17,212,496 and at least 310,782 people have died, per JHU data.

The totals include cases from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and other US territories, as well as repatriated cases. 

CNN is tracking the US cases:

2:11 a.m. ET, December 18, 2020

Oxford University researchers say their Covid-19 vaccine candidate is most effective as two shots

From CNN Health’s Jessica Firger

This undated file photo issued by the University of Oxford on November 23, shows a vial of coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, in Oxford, England.
This undated file photo issued by the University of Oxford on November 23, shows a vial of coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, in Oxford, England. John Cairns/University of Oxford via AP

Researchers at Oxford University say the coronavirus vaccine they developed with AstraZeneca works best as a two-shot sequence, just as Moderna’s and Pfizer’s vaccines do.

In a separate study, they found the vaccine, which is in advanced clinical trials, produces a broad immune response that doctors hope could provide strong immune protection against infection.

In one study, the researchers checked to make sure two doses were really necessary, and if so, both had to be two full doses. 

"A booster dose of vaccine induced stronger antibody responses than a dose-sparing half-dose boost, although the magnitude of T-cell responses did not increase with either boost dose. These data support the two-dose vaccine regime that is now being evaluated in phase 3 clinical trials,” they wrote in their report, published in the journal Nature Medicine.

Half dose or full dose: The study was conducted before AstraZeneca released confusing data that indicated giving a half dose as the first shot might provide better protection. It was a small group of volunteers who got the half-dose and AstraZeneca has indicated the dosing was a mistake, so this study doesn’t shed light on those findings.

How it differs from other vaccines: The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is different from the Pfizer vaccine now being rolled out in the US and Britain, and the similar Moderna vaccine being considered by the US Food and Drug Administration. Those vaccines use genetic material known as messenger RNA. 

The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine uses an adenovirus -- a common virus that causes cold-like symptoms -- that has been genetically altered to carry a gene for a coronavirus protein that trains the immune system to recognize the invader. 

1:59 a.m. ET, December 18, 2020

Germany reports more than 33,000 new Covid-19 cases in fresh daily record

From CNN's Frederik Pleitgen in Berlin

Germany’s disease control agency reported 33,700 virus cases for Thursday, a record number of new infections recorded in a single day. 

Official data from the Robert Koch Institute published on Friday shows 33,777 new Covid-19 cases and 813 deaths within the past 24 hours.

That’s about 3,900 more cases than the previous daily record, which was set on December 11, with 29,875 infections.

Germany has imposed a hard national lockdown in a bid to contain the latest surge of Covid-19 infections, hospitalizations, and deaths.

1:33 a.m. ET, December 18, 2020

Hundreds of Covid-19 patients are waiting for hospital beds in South Korea

From CNN's Jake Kwon in Seoul

Park Yoo-mi, a senior quarantine official at the Seoul city government, announces anti-Covid-19 steps and new restrictions at Seoul City Hall in Seoul, South Korea, on November 18.
Park Yoo-mi, a senior quarantine official at the Seoul city government, announces anti-Covid-19 steps and new restrictions at Seoul City Hall in Seoul, South Korea, on November 18. Yonhap/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

As of Friday, 227 Covid-19 patients needing hospital beds in Seoul city have waited more than a day for one, according to Seoul city health official Park Yoo-mi.

"Recently as the positive cases are exploding, the number of patients waiting for a bed had greatly increased," Park said in a regular briefing Friday.

Park said the city is working to expand the number of available coronavirus-dedicated beds and increase monitoring of patients who are waiting for a bed from home. 

Nationwide, South Korea has 45 remaining intensive care unit (ICU) beds available for patients, according to its Health Ministry Friday.

The government will secure 160 more ICU beds to treat Covid patients by early January, Health Ministry official Son Young-rae said in the briefing.

Son said 496 people in the country are currently waiting for a hospital bed and have waited more than a day. 

1:24 a.m. ET, December 18, 2020

US says it's waiting for confirmation on additional 20 million doses of Pfizer's Covid-19 vaccine

From CNN’s Sara Murray

The US federal government said that Pfizer has promised 20 million doses of vaccine by the end of December but the company has yet to confirm this number.

In a statement on Thursday, the Health and Human Services Department accounts for about 10 million doses. Close to 3 million of them have been distributed.

“We thank Pfizer for its partnership resulting in no delayed shipments of the first 2.9 million doses this week, and we are grateful that it has on hand, to the best of our knowledge, more than seven million doses for the U.S. vaccination effort," the statement said.

Here's a rundown of those Pfizer doses in the US:

  • 2.9 million will be shipped as a second dose in three weeks.
  • 500,000 doses as safety stock.
  • Over 4 million doses for next week’s allocation.
  • Approximately 2 million of which will be delivered, at states’ direction, to sites starting on Monday.
  • The other 2 million being held as a second dose.

"Although Pfizer announced earlier this year it was reducing its global production estimates for 2020 from 100 million doses to 50 million doses, it assures us the United States is on track to receive at least 20 million doses by the end of December, although we await final confirmation," the statement continued.

The statement comes after states expressed confusion that they were being told to expect fewer vaccines than they were initially promised. 

Pfizer has said there were no production issues, and there are millions more doses in its warehouse, but that the company has “not received any shipment instructions for additional doses.”

12:56 a.m. ET, December 18, 2020

Hong Kong offers financial support for industries struggling in Covid-19 pandemic

From CNN's Jadyn Sham in Hong Kong

In this May 27 photo, Matthew Cheung speaks at a news conference in Hong Kong.
In this May 27 photo, Matthew Cheung speaks at a news conference in Hong Kong. Paul Yeung/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Hong Kong will provide $826 million in relief for struggling local industries in an effort to help businesses stay afloat through the Covid-19 pandemic this holiday season, according to the city's Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung.

Speaking to media on Thursday, Cheung said that many sectors have been hit hard by tighter restrictions during the city's fourth wave of cases, and the government is "responding to calls for a new round of financial relief package."

"We will focus on supporting the businesses that are directly impacted and had to close under the tighter anti-pandemic restrictions ... this latest wave of the coronavirus outbreak happened right before Christmas and the New Year. It is hammering consumers' spending during the peak holiday season. It is impacting numerous businesses," Cheung said. 

According to official documents, the fourth subsidy program will see $709.4 million injected into sectors including entertainment, catering, education and the beauty and massage industry. Meanwhile, $116 million will be set aside for emergency use.

The latest package comes after the government warned earlier that there would be no further financial help after it gave $40 billion in aid during three previous rounds of assistance earlier this year.

12:31 a.m. ET, December 18, 2020

Swedish King criticizes country's Covid-19 response as new cases rise at record pace

From CNN's Lindsay Isaac and Lauren Kent in London

Sweden’s King has condemned the country’s government response to the Covid-19 pandemic on a day when new cases hit a record number. 

"I believe we have failed. We have a large number who have died and that is terrible. It’s something we all share the suffering from," King Carl XVI Gustaf said in a Christmas interview with Swedish broadcaster SVT.  

It’s criticism that comes with Prime Minister Stefan Löfven under scrutiny for his coronavirus policy as new cases surge. 

Swedish state broadcaster (SVT) reported an all-time high of Covid-19 patients in hospital this week and some ICUs are reported to be at capacity.  

On Tuesday, Löfven acknowledged his strategy of achieving herd immunity had failed. “It is proof that it is a virus that we did not know about before and that behaves in a way that many would not have thought,” he said

No lockdown for Sweden: The country never went into a lockdown during the first wave and was well into the second when voluntary precautions were recommended at the regional level.

November restrictions: With case numbers rising in November, the Prime Minister imposed a national ban on public gatherings of more than eight people. More recently he ordered theaters and entertainment venues closed and advised students aged 13 to 15 to shift to online learning.

Christmas gatherings: But in private settings, people are only recommended to “interact with each other in smaller circles,” according to government guidelines. During Christmas festivities people are urged not to meet people outside their immediate circle. Mask wearing has not been advised.

High deaths in care homes: An independent report by a special commission this week attributed the high number of deaths in care homes to the “overall spread of the virus in the society." It claims that measures for care homes were late despite early information that older people were particularly vulnerable.

Some conclusions about where we could have been better have already been drawn,” Löfven said.  

On Thursday there were 8,815 new Covid-18 cases -- the highest number recorded in a 24 hour period since the beginning of the pandemic, according to Swedish Health Agency data, marking an increase of more than 2,000 cases from last week. Sweden has had 7,893 deaths from the virus, more per capita than other Scandinavian countries.

12:04 a.m. ET, December 18, 2020

Seoul city apologizes after man with Covid-19 dies while waiting for hospital bed 

From CNN's Jake Kwon in Seoul

The local government of the South Korean capital Seoul has apologized after a man in his 60s with Covid-19 died while waiting for a hospital bed, as the city faced a shortage.

The deceased man had tested positive for Covid-19 on December 12 after his wife tested positive the previous day. He had reported mild symptoms, which included an itchy throat, Seoul's Dongdaemun district office said.

"Seoul city expresses deep condolence to the patient who had died while waiting at home for hospital bed," the city government said in a news release Thursday night.

"We deeply feel a heavy responsibility."

The Dongdaemun district office said it will work with the country's Health Ministry to ensure an incident like this does not happen again.

"Since early December due to explosive increase of patients and the overloading of administrative/medical system, there was difficulty in allocation of beds within the team," the statement read.

Because the man had only reported mild symptoms, he "was low in priority," the district office added.

A bed was requested for the man on December 12, but not received. Two days later on December 14, he reported having phlegm mixed with blood. 

The district office then requested a hospital bed and later repeated the request with the city. While waiting for the bed, the man died in the early hours of Tuesday morning.

In a briefing Friday, the Health Ministry announced the greater Seoul area now has four available intensive care unit beds dedicated to Covid-19 patients and is working with private sector hospitals to add more beds, which will "expand quickly by end of year."

12:00 a.m. ET, December 18, 2020

Johnson & Johnson's Covid-19 vaccine trial is now fully enrolled

From CNN Health’s Jen Christensen

Johnson & Johnson said Thursday that its late stage Covid-19 vaccine trial is fully enrolled.

The vaccine, made by J&J subsidiary Janssen, comes in a single dose. The trial now has about 45,000 participants. 

The company said with the high rate of disease transmission among the general population in the United States, this number of volunteers should be enough to quickly get the data the company needs to determine if the vaccine works and to determine if it is safe.

J&J expects to have interim data by the end of January.

If the trial goes as expected, the company said it expects to submit the trial results to the US Food and Drug Administration for an emergency use authorization in February.