December 22 coronavirus news

By Julia Hollingsworth, Adam Renton, Melissa Macaya and Melissa Mahtani, CNN

Updated 12:00 a.m. ET, December 23, 2020
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3:48 p.m. ET, December 22, 2020

UK scientists say new Covid-19 strain likely more transmissible and may impact children more than other variants

From CNN's Amy Cassidy in Glasgow, Zamira Rahim and Naomi Thomas

Scientists from the UK’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG) say they are now “highly confident” the new variant of coronavirus is more infectious than others, with a “hint” that it could be more transmissible in children. 

According to NERVTAG, the new variant — which is believed to have originated in southeast England — could be around 71% more transmissible than other variants. 

“As of last Friday, we felt we had moderate confidence because the data was coming in, but some of the analysis had been done very quickly,” Peter Horby, professor of emerging infectious diseases at the University Oxford and chair of NERVTAG, said during a virtual press briefing on Monday.

“We now have high confidence that this variant does have a transmission advantage over other virus variants that are currently in the UK,” he added. 

Speaking alongside Horby, Professor Neil Ferguson from Imperial College London noted that there is a “hint” that this variant “has a higher propensity to infect children,” compared with earlier strains. But he cautioned that “we haven’t established any sort of causality on that, but we can see that in the data,” he added.  

Another NERVTAG member, Wendy Barclay, head of the Department of Infectious Disease at Imperial College London, said earlier strains of the virus may have had a “harder time” getting into human cells using a receptor called ACE2. Adults, who have a lot of this receptor in their noses and throats, are “easy targets” compared to children. But under this hypothesis, a virus that can more readily use this receptor to enter cells may make children just as susceptible to the virus as adults, she said. 

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some research suggests the UK strain may "bind more tightly” to the ACE2 receptor, but "it is unknown whether that tighter binding, if true, translates into any significant epidemiological or clinical differences.”


2:55 p.m. ET, December 22, 2020

White House coronavirus coordinator Deborah Birx says she plans to retire

From CNN's Andrea Diaz

Doug Mills/Pool/Getty Images
Doug Mills/Pool/Getty Images

Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator of the White House coronavirus response, said on Tuesday that she plans to retire, but she's willing to help President-elect Joe Biden's team as needed. 

In a tweet shared by reporter Amber Strong from the news site Newsy, Birx said she would serve as a resource to the Biden administration as needed.

"I will be helpful in any role that people think I can be helpful in, and then I will retire. I will have to say as a civil servant, I will be helpful through a period of time," she said.

Additionally, Birx said that she wants the "Biden administration to be successful." 

Her comments come days after The Associated Press reported that she traveled out of state for the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, even though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and many health officials warned the American public to not travel or attend any gatherings if possible. 

"I will have to say that this experience has been a bit overwhelming, it's been very difficult on my family. I think what was done in the last week to my family, you know, they didn't choose this for me, you know they've tried to be supportive but to drag my family into this," Birx said regarding the reports of her recent travel.  

CNN has reached out to the White House for more details. 

2:12 p.m. ET, December 22, 2020

Germany extends UK travel ban despite EU recommendation  

From CNN’s Sarah Dean and Fred Pleitgen

Germany has extended its travel ban from the UK until January 6 – despite the European Commission on Tuesday recommending member states scrap the ban. 

“From December 22nd, 2020 until January 6th, 2021 inclusive, there is a transport ban for travelers from the United Kingdom to Germany, i.e. transport companies are prohibited from transporting travelers to Germany," the updated travel advisory said on Tuesday.

The advisory clarified that "a German citizen who wants to enter Germany at the border will not be refused."

“From January 1, 2021, people with residence and right of residence in Germany can be transported again. The federal government must approve the flights individually. The airline will obtain this approval. Travelers do not need individual permits,” the note added.

Earlier on Tuesday, the European Commission said: “While it is important to take swift temporary precautionary action to limit the further spread of the new strain of the virus and all non-essential travel to and from the UK should be discouraged, essential travel and transit of passengers should be facilitated.”

2:12 p.m. ET, December 22, 2020

Massachusetts tightens some statewide Covid-19 restrictions as cases rise

From CNN's Laura Ly

Jim Davis/The Boston Globe/Getty Images
Jim Davis/The Boston Globe/Getty Images

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker announced new statewide restrictions on capacity for businesses and lowered limits for indoor and outdoor gatherings amid rising Covid-19 cases numbers. 

Beginning on December 26, businesses in “most industries” will need to limit their capacity to 25%, Baker said, calling the decision to institute the new measures “enormously difficult.”

Additionally, indoor gatherings are now limited to 10 people and outdoor gatherings are limited to 25 people, Baker said. 

The new restrictions will be in place for at least two weeks and do not affect K-12 schools, Baker said. 

Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito said the aim is to keep the new measures temporary and said the 25% capacity restriction applies to industries including restaurants and personal services, theaters and event venues, casinos, offices, places of worship, retail stores, libraries, fitness centers, museums, indoor recreation, driving and flight schools, indoor golf facilities, and lodging common areas. 

The latest numbers: On Tuesday, Baker announced that the state had at least 3,760 new cases, with 1,991 people hospitalized and 410 people in the ICU, stating that the state’s hospitals “are now under significant pressure.”

The Massachusetts Department of Health also released updated guidance on Tuesday to hospitals, directing them to “postpone or cancel all nonessential inpatient elective invasive procedures in order to maintain and increase inpatient capacity” beginning on December 26, according to a statement from the governor’s office. 

1:47 p.m. ET, December 22, 2020

First senior citizens not in nursing homes receive doses of Covid-19 vaccine in Florida 

From CNN's Rosa Flores and Sara Weisfeldt

The first senior citizens who are not living in long-term care facilities were vaccinated in Florida on Tuesday during a news event hosted by Gov. Ron DeSantis at UF Health in the Villages. 

DeSantis did not provide a timeline for when more senior citizens will have access to the vaccine, but said it “is coming soon.”

Where things stand: So far, tens of thousands of senior citizens and frontline health workers in the state of Florida have been vaccinated against Covid-19, per DeSantis.

That includes seniors in 100 long-term care facilities in Broward and Pinellas counties and health care workers in five hospitals across the state.

DeSantis said Florida received 179,400 doses of Pfizer last week and 127,000 additional doses this week. And by the end of the day, DeSantis expected the arrival of 367,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine.

The Moderna vaccine — which does not require ultra-cold storage — will be distributed more widely, at 173 hospitals throughout the state, DeSantis said.

As for who will be the first in line to get the vaccine as more doses become available, DeSantis said elderly will have priority.

”In Florida we’ve got to put our parents and grandparents first,” DeSantis said. “And we are going to work like hell to be able to get all the vaccine out to the elderly who want it.”
1:53 p.m. ET, December 22, 2020

Furloughed American Airlines workers will get paid by Christmas

From CNN’s Pete Muntean

Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images
Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

American Airlines is telling workers who were furloughed because of the pandemic that they will get retroactive pay by Christmas.

In a new letter to employees on Tuesday, American Airlines CEO Doug Parker and President Robert Isom say that American’s 19,000 furloughed workers will be re-hired over time.

The $900 stimulus bill in Congress includes $16 billion for commercial airlines that have been struggling in the pandemic. It also bars them from making any new furloughs until March 31, 2021. 

“With this support, we will be recalling furloughed team members in order to reinstate pay and benefits effective Dec. 1, 2020,” says the letter. “We have taken steps to expedite payments to all furloughed team members.”

US airlines furloughed roughly 50,000 employees when restrictions attached to the first round of emergency coronavirus relief expired October 1. 

“Bringing nearly 19,000 team members back to work is a complex process and will take time,” American says. “While pay and benefits will be restored right away, people will be asked to return to the operation in phases.”

1:36 p.m. ET, December 22, 2020

CDC accepts vaccine advisers’ recommendation for next phases of Covid-19 vaccination

From CNN's Jamie Gumbrecht

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has accepted the recommendation of its Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices to prioritize older adults and frontline essential workers to receive Covid-19 vaccines in the next phase of allocation. 

On Sunday, ACIP members voted 13-1 to prioritize adults ages 75 and older and frontline essential workers to receive Covid-19 vaccines in phase 1b of allocation.

The committee vote also included prioritizing adults ages 65 to 75, people ages 16 to 64 who have high-risk medical conditions, and other essential workers in phase 1c of allocation.

The recommendations were published Tuesday in CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

1:32 p.m. ET, December 22, 2020

French citizens can return from UK starting tomorrow, prime minister says

From Jim Bittermann and Sandrine Amiel in Paris

French citizens can return from Britain starting Wednesday providing they can show proof of a negative Covid-19 test, French Prime Minister Jean Castex's office said on Tuesday. 

The communique said that people living in France or the EU can also enter the country with a negative test result.

Some background: It comes after France closed its border with Britain on Sunday following the emergence of a new Covid-19 variant in the UK.

The specific procedures for resuming road freight traffic will be detailed in the coming hours, the communique said.

This arrangement will apply until at least January 6, except if a possible bilateral or European review takes place by then, it added.

“Planes, boats and Eurostars will resume service tomorrow morning. French nationals, residents in France and those who have a legitimate reason must present a negative test,” France’s Transport Minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari tweeted.

1:57 p.m. ET, December 22, 2020

Ireland will tighten restrictions over fears of new Covid-19 strain

From CNN's Sanam Mahoozi

In this November 23, 2020 file photo, a closed sign is seen in a shop window in Dublin's city centre.
In this November 23, 2020 file photo, a closed sign is seen in a shop window in Dublin's city centre. Artur Widak/NurPhoto/Getty Images

The Irish government has agreed to return the country to level 5 restrictions, Micheál Martin, the Irish Prime Minister (Taoiseach), said on Tuesday.

With several specific adjustments, from Dec. 24 until Jan. 12, the people of Ireland will be facing tougher measures in response to the rising cases and the increasing threat of the new Covid-19 strain, currently circulating in the United Kingdom. 

“Figures suggest that we may now be seeing a daily growth rate of approximately 10%. This is very obviously, a source of serious concern, and is simply not sustainable,” Martin said.

Here's a look at the new restrictions:

  • The new restrictions, which will go into effect on Christmas Eve, will see maximum disruptions made to the retail, hospitality, leisure, and the travel sectors, with additional measures taken to limit social contact between people.
  • Nonessential retail can stay open, but the retail sector is asked to postpone January sales events.
  • Restaurants and pubs must close and can only provide take away and delivery.
  • Gyms, leisure centers, and swimming pools may remain open, but only for individual training.
  • Schools, early learning and childcare services will remain open, but higher education should remain primarily online.
  • Socially, up to two other households can visit someone’s else’s home up to and including Dec. 26. After that, this number decreases to one household up to and including the Dec. 31. Starting on Jan. 1, no visits can take place in private homes/gardens aside from exemptions set by government guidelines.

While acknowledging that the tougher measures are difficult, especially in this usually festive season, the prime minister assured the nation that the measures are necessary, and preventive.

He went on to say that even though there is no hard evidence that the new strain of the virus has arrived in Ireland, the “safest and the most responsible thing to do is to proceed on the assumption that it is already here”.

These measures are to be reviewed on Jan. 12, 2021.