December 21 coronavirus news

By Julia Hollingsworth, Steve George, Meg Wagner and Melissa Mahtani, CNN

Updated 12:00 a.m. ET, December 22, 2020
31 Posts
Sort byDropdown arrow
9:53 a.m. ET, December 21, 2020

US official says there's no recommendation yet on UK travel restrictions because of new variant

From CNN's Andrea Diaz and Jeremy Diamond

Admiral Brett Giroir, assistant secretary for health, on December 21.
Admiral Brett Giroir, assistant secretary for health, on December 21. CNN

Assistant Secretary for Health, Admiral Brett Giroir, told CNN’s John Berman that as of this morning, there isn't any information on a possible UK travel restriction to or from the United States over a new variant of coronavirus. 

"I think we're waiting for CDC kind of recommendations. So last night, talking to Dr. (Robert) Redfield, there was not a recommendation for that. Again, every hour we get more information, I think, is we have done and we need to do we need to listen to the best experts ... we have a task force meeting today so we'll make sure that everyone has updates, but as of now I have no new updates based on that," Giroir said. 

"So, I think everything is possible we just need to put everything on the table, have an open scientific discussion and make a best recommendation."

Meanwhile, Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN he would advise against additional restrictions on UK travel if the matter arises in a task force meeting planned for later in the day.

The US must "without a doubt keep an eye on it," Fauci said Monday, but he warned that "we don't want to overreact." 

Fauci said that while he wasn't criticizing other countries that have suspended flights to the UK, he would not at this time recommend the US take those same steps.

"Follow it carefully, but don't overreact to it," Fauci said.


9:58 a.m. ET, December 21, 2020

Viruses mutate often, and research is underway to determine what new UK variant means, WHO official says

From CNN's Naomi Thomas

Maria Van Kerkhove, the World Health Organization’s technical lead for Covid-19, on December 21.
Maria Van Kerkhove, the World Health Organization’s technical lead for Covid-19, on December 21. CNN

A new coronavirus variant discovered in the UK has prompted a new lockdown and travel bans.

But a World Health official says viruses mutate and change all the time, and there are processes in place "to really evaluate what these mutations are and what they mean."

Maria Van Kerkhove, the World Health Organization’s technical lead for Covid-19, told CNN’s Erica Hill Monday:

"So far, we don’t see any increase in disease severity, or clinical picture, but those studies are underway."

"We don’t anticipate any impact on the vaccine and on vaccination," she added. "And I think that’s really important as well, but the studies need to be done. We need to make sure we follow the science, and we will report, the UK and WHO will report information as soon as we learn it."  

Van Kerkhove explained that the variant under investigation was detected through routine surveillance activities. There was increasing transmission in the southeast of England as it moved from Tier 2 to Tier 3 restrictions. It was retrospectively identified that some had the lineage back in September.

WHO was alerted of the variant on Dec. 14 and over the last week it has been working with scientists in the UK through their regional office in Europe and the European Centers for Disease Control to understand, Van Kerkhove said. 


8:52 a.m. ET, December 21, 2020

A new Covid-19 variant was discovered in the UK. Here's what we know so far.

A new coronavirus variant discovered in the UK — which has prompted a new lockdown and travel bans — is "out of control," Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on Sunday.

Here's what we know so far about the new variant and the pandemic in the UK:

  • How it started: The new variant of Covid-19 originates in southeast England and has been identified in Denmark, the Netherlands and in Australia, World Health Organization Covid-19 technical lead Maria Van Kerkhove said on Sunday.
  • Will vaccines work against it? Walter Reed scientists in the US still expect the vaccine will be effective against this new variant, said Dr. Nelson Michael, director of the Center for Infectious Diseases Research at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research. The Walter Reed scientists said they expect to know in the next few days if there's a concern that the coronavirus vaccines might not work against it.
  • New lockdown in parts of the UK: After the discovery of the variant, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a series of stricter coronavirus restrictions, tightening rules around household mixing that were due to be relaxed over Christmas in England, while leaders in Scotland and Wales also introduced more stringent measures.
  • How other countries are reacting: Countries — including Canada, Argentina, and France among others — across the world are halting travel from the UK.


8:11 a.m. ET, December 21, 2020

US futures slump as new Covid-19 variant spoils the stimulus party

From CNN's Julia Horowitz

Dusk falls over the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on December 20.
Dusk falls over the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on December 20. Samuel Corum/Getty Images

Investors had hoped to celebrate the moment US lawmakers agreed on a new stimulus package to help America's ailing economy. Instead, the emergence of a new variant of the Covid-19 virus in the United Kingdom has sent markets plunging, as anxiety about the pandemic again comes to the fore.

Over the weekend, the United Kingdom reversed plans to loosen restrictions over Christmas and announced strict lockdowns across much of the country, citing concerns about a variant of the coronavirus believed to be much more infectious. In the past 24 hours, the country has become increasingly isolated, with Canada, France and Israel among those banning UK travelers while they assess the situation.

S&P 500 futures were 1.6% lower as of 7:15 am ET. Dow futures were down 1.3%, or more than 400 points, while Nasdaq futures were off 0.9%.

The FTSE 100 (UKX) in London was down more than 2%. France's CAC 40 (CAC40) was off 2.6%, and Germany's Dax (DAX) dropped 2.7%. Airline and hospitality stocks were among those hit hard, with shares of EasyJet (ESYJY) and British Airways owner IAG both down 9%.

"Only masochists or the blindly ambitious look forward to early Monday wake-up calls, but that's what is being delivered to financial markets," Oanda market analyst Jeffrey Halley told clients.

The virus developments overshadowed a long-awaited breakthrough in US stimulus talks. Congressional leaders announced Sunday night that they'd secured a deal for a $900 billion rescue package to deliver much-needed relief for small businesses, unemployed Americans and health care workers.

Read the full story:

8:32 a.m. ET, December 21, 2020

More countries suspend flights with UK

From CNN's Mary Ilyushina in Moscow, Fanny Bobille in Paris, Swati Gupta in Delhi, Kareem Khadder in Jerusalem and Sharif Paget in Atlanta

Morocco, Russia and India have joined the growing list of countries suspending flights with the United Kingdom after a new variant of the coronavirus was detected.

"This decision is part of the emergency measures undertaken to preserve the health of the population and curb the spread of the pandemic," the Moroccan government said in a statement, according to the state news agency.

All flights between India and the UK will be suspended until the end of 2020, the Indian Ministry of Civil Aviation said on Monday. Those passengers arriving before December 22 will be required to take a mandatory RT-PCR test, the ministry added.

Russia is suspending flights to and from the UK for a week starting midnight Moscow time on December 22, state-run news agency RIA Novosti reported citing Russian coronavirus response headquarters.

"The situation regarding the emergence of a new strain of coronavirus in the UK is being carefully studied by the coronavirus response headquarters,” the statement says. “Based on the results of its review, further decisions will be made."

Alarm over the new variant, which was first identified in England, has resulted in British travelers being cut off from much of Europe and other parts of the world as countries imposed restrictions on travel from the UK.

By Monday, dozens of countries across Europe, the Middle East and the Americas had announced travel bans for the UK. Others, such as Greece and Spain, have imposed restrictions that require travelers arriving from Britain to undergo coronavirus tests or quarantine.

8:32 a.m. ET, December 21, 2020

Hauliers in the UK and France express concerns over Dover-Calais situation

From CNN's Fanny Bobille and Amy Cassidy

The Port of Dover in England is closed on December 21.
The Port of Dover in England is closed on December 21. Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

British traders are calling for rapid testing of truck drivers amid growing concerns that European truck drivers could stop delivering goods to the UK to avoid being “stranded.” It comes after France announced a 48-hour ban on UK travellers due to a new variant of coronavirus, prompting the Port of Dover and Eurotunnel to close. 

Richard Burnett, head of the UK Road Haulage Association said on BBC Radio Monday this could be a "deterrent" for European hauliers who don’t want to end up "stranded" in the UK so close to Christmas. 

"I think that the retailers have done a very good job in terms of stock building [...] there will be plenty of stock but the fresh food supply, where it's short shelf life and there will be product on its way now -- that's where the challenge [...] comes from," he said.

Meanwhile, the spokeswoman for the French National Road Haulage Federation (FNTR), Vanessa Ibarlucea, told CNN Monday the Dover-Calais truck situation is "catastrophic."

"On a human level as well as an economic one. On a human level because we have drivers stuck in the UK that are not being taken care of, who must be sleeping in their lorry. We are in very bad sanitary conditions."

"And on an economic level, because we have our drivers who do not want to go to the UK because of fear to not be able to come back as the borders are closed. It is going to cause an issue regarding the flows which are likely to stop, and therefore cause a drying-up of supply across the Channel ahead of the Brexit day," she added.

7:16 a.m. ET, December 21, 2020

AstraZeneca and Russian vaccine makers sign cooperation deal

From CNN's Mary Ilyushina in Moscow

Participants join a video conference on December 21, chaired by Russia's President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, to sign a coronavirus vaccine memorandum of cooperation between AstraZeneca and the Gamaleya Research Institute.
Participants join a video conference on December 21, chaired by Russia's President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, to sign a coronavirus vaccine memorandum of cooperation between AstraZeneca and the Gamaleya Research Institute. Alexei Nikolsky/Russian Presidential Press and Information Office/TASS/Getty Images

UK-Swedish pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca has signed a memorandum of cooperation with Russian makers of Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine during a video conference chaired by President Vladimir Putin on Monday.

Joint clinical trials to test the combination of AZD1222, the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, and Sputnik V, developed by Russia's Gamaleya Research institute, will be part of this cooperation.

"In the nearest future, basically as we speak, the clinical trials are to begin. They will not require, as far as I understand it, large investments and won't take long, for the simple reason that the two technological platforms on which the AstraZeneca and Sputnik V vaccines are build are fundamentally similar," the head of Gamaleya institute Alexander Gintsburg said in the video conference.

Russia's Sputnik V is an adenovirus-based vaccine, while AstraZeneca's AZD1222 is based on a chimpanzee viral vector.

Russia registered Sputnik V in August ahead of key large-scale phase III trials necessary to establish the vaccine's efficacy and safety. While phase 3 trials are currently ongoing, the country is already moving towards mass vaccination.

Kirill Dmitriev, head of the Russian Direct Investment Fund, which sponsored the development of Sputnik V, also announced that Belarus became the first foreign country to register the Russian vaccine.

First doses of the vaccine will be distributed among Belarussians in January 2021, the country's health minister Dmitry Pinevich said, according to Russian state-run news agency RIA Novosti.

8:32 a.m. ET, December 21, 2020

UK businesses warn of impact of travel restrictions on supply chains

From CNN's Mark Thompson

UK business groups have warned of the impact of new Covid-19 travel restrictions on their supply chains.

Industry groups and leading firms have said they don’t expect food shortages in the days leading up to Christmas, but they warned of major disruption if the situation is not resolved quickly. Major UK ports have closed after France blocked trucks from travelling out of the UK because of fears of a new Covid-19 variant.

Other European countries have also imposed various travel restrictions on the UK. Brexit means the current trade arrangements between the UK and European Union are due to end on December 31, which could cause further disruption.

“Retailers have stocked up on goods ahead of Christmas which should prevent immediate problems. However, any prolonged closure of the French border would be a problem as the UK enters the final weeks before the transition ends on 31st December," the British Retail Consortium said.

Sainsbury's, one of the UK’s leading supermarket chains, said if nothing changes the UK will start to see gaps over the coming days on lettuce, some salad leaves, cauliflowers, broccoli and citrus fruit -- all of which are imported from the continent at this time of year.

Shane Brennan, the CEO of the Cold Chain Federation, which deals with moving frozen and chilled goods, said “Whilst we face no shortages now, we do need urgent agreements between the UK and EU Governments to find a way to safely allow freight movements to continue. This has been possible at every other stage through the pandemic. An extended period of stopped movement now will cause significant problems for supply chains in January.”

6:06 a.m. ET, December 21, 2020

Seoul says it will double number of Covid-19 dedicated ICU beds by end of 2020

From CNN’s Jake Kwon in Seoul. Alert written by Eric Cheung in Hong Kong 

A makeshift medical facility using containers is installed on the grounds of the Seoul Medical Center in Seoul, South Korea, on December 8.
A makeshift medical facility using containers is installed on the grounds of the Seoul Medical Center in Seoul, South Korea, on December 8. SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Seoul will double the number of Covid-19 dedicated intensive care unit (ICU) beds by the end of 2020 amid the latest surge in infections, acting mayor of Seoul Seo Jeong-hyup said on Monday. 

Around 85% of hospital beds dedicated to infectious disease in the city are occupied, Seo said -- and 87 out of 91 ICU beds are currently occupied. 

To cope with the latest outbreak, Seoul will add 105 more Covid-19 ICU beds by the end of the year, which will double the capacity, he said. Nine ICU beds will be added Monday. 

Seo added that two patients so far have died while waiting for hospital beds. 

In a statement on Monday, the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency said they are closely monitoring the news of a new coronavirus variant emerging out of the United Kingdom. 

South Korea has yet to discover the reported variant in travelers arriving from the UK, KDCA said. Health authorities are reviewing whether to begin conducting whole-genome analysis of viruses sampled from UK travelers.