The latest on the coronavirus pandemic and vaccines

By Nectar Gan, Jenni Marsh and Tara John, CNN

Updated 0455 GMT (1255 HKT) December 21, 2020
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5:47 a.m. ET, December 20, 2020

UK Health Secretary says new Covid-19 variant is "out of control"

From CNN’s Arnaud Siad in London

UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said Sunday that the new variant had to be controlled.
UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock said Sunday that the new variant had to be controlled. Tolga Akmen/PA Media

The new strain of Covid-19, which prompted the UK government to impose a renewed Tier 4 lockdown in London and southeastern England over the festive period, is “out of control,” Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on Sunday.

Hancock said the new variant, which can spread faster than other strains but is not more dangerous, had to be controlled.

The only way you can do that is by restricting social contacts and essentially, especially in Tier 4 areas, everybody needs to behave as if they may well have the virus and that is the way that we can get it under control and keep people safe,” he said.

The Health Secretary called it “an awful end to what has been a difficult year.”

When asked about the time-frame of the Tier 4 restrictions, Hancock said: "Given how much faster this new variant spreads, it's going to be very difficult to keep it under control until we have the vaccine rolled out."

Hancock added what really mattered "is that people not only follow [the new Tier 4 measures], but everybody in a Tier 4 area act as if you have the virus to stop spreading it to other people... We just know that this new variant, you can catch it more easily from a smaller amount of the virus being present.”

“All of the different measures we have in place, we need more of them to control the spread of the new variant than we did to control the spread of the old variant,” he added, in response to whether current measures to protect people, such as the use of masks and the 2-meter rule (6.5 feet), was enough to protect people from the new strain.

5:34 a.m. ET, December 20, 2020

The US reports more than 196,000 new Covid-19 cases

From CNN's Hollie Silverman

The United States reported 196,295 new coronavirus cases and 2,517 related deaths on Saturday, according to Johns Hopkins University.

The country's Covid-19 caseload now stands at 17,655,591, with 316,159 deaths, according to the university's tally

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 cases here:

5:32 a.m. ET, December 20, 2020

Illinois hospital to resume Covid-19 vaccinations after four workers have adverse reactions

From CNN's Hollie Silverman and Travis Nichols

A hospital in a suburb of Chicago will resume a Covid-19 vaccination program for frontline personnel on Sunday, a day after it paused immunizations when four workers experienced reactions, according to a press release from Advocate Aurora Health.

CNN previously reported that four workers at Advocate Condell Medical Center, in Libertyville, Illinois, experienced tingling and elevated heart-rate symptoms shortly after receiving the vaccine.

The hospital decided to resume vaccinations after a "review confirmed the quality of the vaccine batch" and the hospital's protocols for distribution, the release said.

The release said the post-vaccination evaluation period will now be extended to 30 minutes for all individuals following the adverse reactions, which exceeds recommendations made by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Advocate Aurora Health reported the adverse reactions to the CDC, according to the release.

What happened: One of the health care workers who had an adverse reaction to the vaccine suffered what "appears to be a severe allergic reaction," the release said. 

"That individual is doing well and was discharged today after being monitored overnight. The other three individuals were at home yesterday and doing well after experiencing reactions that can happen with vaccination," the release said.

4:59 a.m. ET, December 20, 2020

Londoners flee capital ahead of tougher Covid-19 restrictions that came into force on Sunday

People wait on the concourse at Paddington Station in London on December 19 ahead of the introduction of tougher new restrictions.
People wait on the concourse at Paddington Station in London on December 19 ahead of the introduction of tougher new restrictions. Stefan Rousseau/PA/AP

Londoners piled on to trains and motorways on Saturday night as they rushed to leave the capital ahead of new restrictions announced by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Johnson announced that London and large parts of south-eastern England will enter Tier 4 Covid-19 restrictions on Sunday.

Tier 4 is the highest possible level of restrictions in England, effectively renewing the lockdown seen in Spring.

By 7 p.m. on Saturday evening, there were no free seats on trains leaving London from several stations in the capital, PA News Agency reports. Passengers complained about not being able to socially distance themselves within the train carriages.

The scenes were condemned by politicians and public health experts. London Mayor Sadiq Khan called the introduction of the restrictions "devastating" in an interview with the BBC, adding that scenes at London train stations "was a direct consequence of the chaotic way the announcement was made, and the late stage it was made.

I understand why people want to return to see their mums, dads, elderly relations, but I think it’s wrong," he said.

Speaking directly to Londoners who left London, he said that while they may have not broken the rules, they may have taken the virus out of London and potentially put “your mum, dad, elderly relations" at risk.

Dr. Chaand Nagpaul, British Medical Association (BMA) council chair, said that such scenes would not have been seen "in east Asian countries that have managed pandemics well in the past," adding that the government should have made sure there were crowd control measures.

“Whilst Christmas is obviously going to be ruined for many, the worst thing we could be doing is infecting our loved ones," he told Sky News.

UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock defended the government's actions on Sky, saying they had no choice to act after being presented with new scientific evidence that a new strain of the virus was spreading more quickly than others in the UK.
"It was our duty to act,” he said. "We acted very quickly and decisively with the announcements the Prime Minister set out yesterday."

New strain: England's chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, warned Saturday that a newly identified variant of Covid-19 "can spread more quickly" than previous strains of the virus.

"This is now spreading very fast," Johnson warned. "It is with a very heavy heart that I say we cannot continue with Christmas as planned."

As with other new variants or strains of Covid-19, this one carries a genetic fingerprint that makes it easy to track, and it happens to be one that is now common. That does not mean the mutation has made it spread more easily, nor does it not necessarily mean this variation is more dangerous.

Read more here.

4:22 a.m. ET, December 20, 2020

Two more Alaska health care workers suffer adverse reactions to Covid-19 vaccine

From CNN's Hollie Silverman

Two health care workers at Providence Health Alaska suffered adverse reactions to a Covid-19 vaccine late last week, Mikal Canfield, a spokesman for Providence Alaska, told CNN on Saturday night.

Five adverse reactions to the vaccine have now been reported in Alaska. Last week, three health care workers in the state had allergic reactions after receiving doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine, CNN previously reported.

Providence Alaska is not releasing the location where the two health care workers are employed, but the network has locations in Anchorage, Valdez, Seward and Kodiak, according to Canfield.

The health care workers who received the vaccine are "frontline caregivers involved directly with patient care," Canfield said.

They suffered mild and non-life-threatening reactions but have not consented to additional information on their conditions being released, Canfield said. 

Canfield told CNN Providence Alaska has reported the adverse reactions to the state health department and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS).

CNN also reported Saturday that an Illinois hospital paused its Covid-19 vaccinations after four workers experienced reactions. 

CNN has reached out to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, as well as Pfizer, for comment. 

4:04 a.m. ET, December 20, 2020

Japan's winter Covid-19 wave worsens

From CNN’s Yoko Wakatsuki in Tokyo

A nurse collects a nasal swab sample from a car driver at a Covid-19 PCR testing center at Fujimino Emergency Hospital in Miyoshi-machi, Japan, on December 18.
A nurse collects a nasal swab sample from a car driver at a Covid-19 PCR testing center at Fujimino Emergency Hospital in Miyoshi-machi, Japan, on December 18. Carl Court/Getty Images

Japan recorded 2,985 new coronavirus infections and 45 related deaths on Saturday, the Japanese health ministry said on Sunday.

The country's total Covid-19 caseload now stands at 196,592, with 2,886 deaths.

Hospitals across Japan are currently caring for 26,169 Covid-19 parents, among whom 598 are under intensive care. 

Over the past weeks, a resurgent winter wave has seen daily case numbers climb to their highest levels since the beginning of the pandemic.

The surge in cases is being fueled by a worsening situation in capital Tokyo, where 739 new cases were recorded Saturday.

Another hard-hit prefecture, Osaka, recorded 311 new patients Saturday.

Some context: Japan, along with its neighbor South Korea, is seeing a rise in Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations as cold winter temperatures set in. Winter was always expected to bring a spike in cases, as cold weather sends people indoors to poorly ventilated spaces -- conditions likely to make coronavirus spread more easily.

In Japan, cases have been rising steadily since the start of last month. On November 1, just over 600 cases were reported. Twenty days later there were more than 2,500 daily infections.

2:06 a.m. ET, December 20, 2020

Australian states close off to Sydney residents

From CNN's Angus Watson in Sydney

An empty Bridge street is seen in the Central Business District of Sydney, on December 19.
An empty Bridge street is seen in the Central Business District of Sydney, on December 19. James D. Morgan/Getty Images

Residents of Australia’s most populous city, Sydney, are no longer able to travel interstate without quarantining as a mystery Covid-19 cluster spreads in the city.

All Australian states and territories will require travellers from Sydney to undergo a 14-day quarantine on arrival, according to state governments.

On Saturday, 30 new locally transmitted cases of Covid-19 were detected in Sydney, all located in the Northern Beaches municipality.

The cluster has now grown to 68 cases, with its source still unknown.

Residents of the Northern Beaches have been told to stay in their homes until 11:59pm on Wednesday.

“It’s been done largely instinctively up there on the Northern Beaches,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Sunday, “I know that they’re looking to see things change in the not too distance future and they know that compliance can only help with getting that outcome.”
1:00 a.m. ET, December 20, 2020

US Congress on brink of deal on $900 billion relief package after resolving key dispute

From CNN's Manu Raju and Clare Foran

A deal on a long-awaited rescue package to deliver much-needed aid to struggling Americans suddenly was within reach after a major breakthrough Saturday night over a key sticking point: the role of the Federal Reserve to intervene in the US economy.

After days of tense negotiations over a provision pushed by Sen. Pat Toomey to pare back the role of the central bank's emergency lending authority, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and the Pennsylvania Republican reached a deal in principle over the provision, aides said. Now, the two sides will draft the legislative language to ensure it reflects the outlines of the deal.

Read the full story:

2:28 a.m. ET, December 20, 2020

More than 16 million people in England will be subject to stricter coronavirus restrictions

From CNN’s Luke McGee and Lindsay Isaac in London

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a news conference inside 10 Downing Street in London, on December 19.
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a news conference inside 10 Downing Street in London, on December 19. Toby Melville/WPA Pool/Getty Images

More than 16 million people in England -- or 31% of the British population -- will spend their Christmas holiday under stricter coronavirus regulations, which are set to go into effect on Sunday, according to the UK government's Covid-19 task force.

The Tier 4 measures will be imposed on London and southeast England. They amount to a lockdown and will severely curtail movement over the Christmas holiday.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the new restrictions on Saturday. He said the Tier 4 lockdown was needed in affected areas after a newly identified strain of Covid-19 has proved to spread more quickly than previous strains of the virus. 

"The spread is being driven by the new variant of the virus," Johnson said in a hastily called press conference. "It appears to spread more easily and may be up to 70% more transmissable than the earlier strain."

Johnson outlined that in Tier 4 areas under the toughest restrictions, there will be no possibility for household mixing over Christmas. In areas under lower alert levels in England, Scotland and Wales, mixing will now be permitted only on Christmas Day.

According to the country's Covid-19 task force, 19.7 million people, or 37% of the UK population, will live under Tier 3 guidelines, 16.1 million or 30% will live under Tier 2 and 856,000 or 2% will live under Tier 1 restrictions.