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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12:46 a.m. ET, December 22, 2020

Seoul works to add more hospital beds for Covid-19 patients

From CNN's Jake Kwon and Paula Hancocks in Seoul

A makeshift medical facility using containers is installed on the grounds of the Seoul Medical Center in Seoul, South Korea, on Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2020.
A makeshift medical facility using containers is installed on the grounds of the Seoul Medical Center in Seoul, South Korea, on Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2020. SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg/Getty Images

The greater Seoul area has added 1,100 hospital beds and 112 intensive care unit (ICU) beds for Covid-19 patients since last week, Health Ministry official Yoon Tae-ho said in a briefing Tuesday.

This comes after two people with Covid-19 died while waiting for a hospital bed in Seoul city earlier this month.

Yoon added that the number of available ICU beds will increase this week as the patients are relocated and more wards are converted to ICU. 

There are 44 ICU beds available for Covid-19 patients nationwide and 10 in the Seoul metropolitan area as of Tuesday.

As of midnight, 248 patients in the Seoul metropolitan area had been waiting for more than a day for a bed. On December 17, this figure was at 595. Yoon said the situation is improving and expected to be resolved this week.

The situation in South Korea: More than 51,000 cases have been reported in the country, including 722 deaths.

12:37 a.m. ET, December 22, 2020

Malaysia signs agreement with AstraZeneca for 6.4 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine

From CNN's Chandler Thornton

A fire and rescue department member helps disinfect the facilities at Zoo Negara, near Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on December 19.
A fire and rescue department member helps disinfect the facilities at Zoo Negara, near Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on December 19. Chong Voon Chung/Xinhua/Getty Images

Malaysia has signed an agreement with pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca for 6.4 million doses of its Covid-19 vaccine, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said Tuesday, state news agency Bernama reported.

The country has now secured 40% of the supply needed to vaccinate its entire population of more than 32 million people.

Malaysia had previously signed agreements with COVAX and Pfizer for enough supply to vaccinate 30% of the population, according to Bernama.

The government is also negotiating with Sinovac, CanSino and Gamaleya to secure enough vaccines for 80% of the population -- or around 26.5 million people, Muhyiddin added in a video address. 

Vaccine timeline: The prime minister said the government expects 1 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine will be rolled out to target groups as early as February. Muhyiddin will be among the first individuals to receive Covid-19 vaccine injections, followed by frontline workers and high-risk groups, Bernama reported.

Malaysia has reported 95,327 total cases of Covid-19 and 438 deaths as of Monday, according to Johns Hopkins University.

12:27 a.m. ET, December 22, 2020

Trinidad and Tobago updates requirements for travelers coming from the UK

From CNN’s Tatiana Arias in Atlanta

The Ministry of Health of Trinidad and Tobago updated its health protocols on Monday for travelers coming into the islands from the UK due to the new coronavirus variant, according to a statement published by the ministry Monday.

The new guidance requires UK travelers to spend 14 days of mandatory quarantine in a “state supervised facility,” up from seven previously.

All travelers entering Trinidad and Tobago are still required to provide a negative PCR test completed within 72 hours prior to traveling, the statement says.

Several countries, including Argentina, Chile, Colombia, El Salvador, Peru and Panama have already banned travel from the UK due to the new coronavirus variant.

12:10 a.m. ET, December 22, 2020

Congress approves long-awaited $900 billion Covid rescue package, overcoming months of gridlock

From CNN's Clare Foran and Manu Raju

The US Capitol in the late afternoon before lawmakers voted to pass a $900 billion coronavirus relief bill on December 21, in Washington, DC.
The US Capitol in the late afternoon before lawmakers voted to pass a $900 billion coronavirus relief bill on December 21, in Washington, DC. Cheriss May/Getty Images

Congress voted Monday evening to approve a far-reaching $900 billion Covid relief package that promises to accelerate vaccine distribution and deliver much-needed aid to small businesses hit hard by the pandemic, Americans who have lost their jobs during the economic upheaval and health care workers on the front lines of the crisis.

The White House has said that President Donald Trump will sign the legislation once it reaches his desk.

Final passage of the aid package came after Hill leaders announced Sunday evening they had finally reached a deal after months of bitter partisan stalemate and days of contentious negotiations that created uncertainty over whether an agreement could be reached at all or if talks would collapse. 

What the package includes: The rescue package, which was negotiated on a bipartisan basis, was combined with a massive $1.4 trillion government spending bill to fund federal agencies for the new fiscal year in a 5,593-page bill. 

It will include direct payments of up to $600 per adult, enhanced jobless benefits of $300 per week, roughly $284 billion in Paycheck Protection Program loans, $25 billion in rental assistance, an extension of the eviction moratorium and $82 billion for schools and colleges.

"We can finally report what our nation has needed to hear for a very long time: More help is on the way," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Sunday night announcing the deal.

Opposition: A deal was reached only after both parties relinquished some of their key demands along the way to make it happen. 

Faced with Republican opposition, Democrats were forced to abandon a push for roughly $160 billion in aid to cash-strapped states and cities, while Republicans dropped a demand for liability protections after Democrats signaled that was a red line. 

Democrats are already signaling that they want to see more relief passed in the next session of Congress after President-elect Joe Biden takes office. 

"I consider this a first step and again, more needs to be done," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said at a news conference Sunday evening. 

Read the full story:

12:02 a.m. ET, December 22, 2020

Japanese doctors call for "medical emergency" as Covid-19 cases top 200,000

From CNN's Yoko Wakatsuki in Tokyo

A nurse prepares to collect a nasal swab sample at a Covid-19 PCR testing centre at Fujimino Emergency Hospital on December 18 in Miyoshi-machi, Japan.
A nurse prepares to collect a nasal swab sample at a Covid-19 PCR testing centre at Fujimino Emergency Hospital on December 18 in Miyoshi-machi, Japan. Carl Court/Getty Images

Eight medical associations of doctors and nurses in Japan declared "a medical emergency" on Monday.

They called for the Japanese government to alert the public to the severity of the pandemic and add resources to the medical front line.   

"If things go as is, the public will not be able to receive the usual medical service, and we cannot provide the necessary medical service nationwide," a statement issued by the associations of doctors, nurses, and hospitals read. 

"The medical system nationally is getting strained day-by-day, becoming like a candlelight in the wind," Toshio Nakagawa, the chairman of Japan Medical Association, added.

"We would like the government to take every measure they can take now."

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga responded to the call for a state of emergency in an interview with Japanese TV network TBS late Monday, saying the government is taking advice from medical experts and will not impose such measures yet.

Cases in Japan: Japan's Ministry of Health reported 1,804 new coronavirus infections and 44 deaths from Monday, pushing up total cases past 200,000.

The country's total number of cases stands at 201,380 and the death toll at 2,957. 

Tokyo accounted for 392 of the new cases from Monday. Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike asked all residents of the capital to stay home during the new year holiday season to prevent the escalation of infections. 

"I would like you all to put the priority on life for this new year holiday season. I would like you to protect the lives of your family, friends, and yourselves," Koike said in a news conference Monday. 
11:55 p.m. ET, December 21, 2020

Pfizer and Moderna are testing their vaccines against UK coronavirus variant 

From CNN Health’s Elizabeth Cohen

A vial of Pfizer's Covid-19 vaccine is seen at George Washington University Hospital on December 14 in Washington DC.
A vial of Pfizer's Covid-19 vaccine is seen at George Washington University Hospital on December 14 in Washington DC. Jacquelyn Martin/Pool/Getty Images

Pfizer and Moderna are testing their coronavirus vaccines to see if they work against the new mutated version of the virus that’s recently been found in the United Kingdom and other countries, according to company statements.  

"Based on the data to date, we expect that the Moderna vaccine-induced immunity would be protective against the variants recently described in the UK," Moderna said in a statement.
"We will be performing additional tests in the coming weeks to confirm this expectation."

Pfizer said it is now “generating data” on how well blood samples from people immunized with its vaccine “may be able to neutralize the new strain from the UK.” 

Pfizer and Moderna make the only two coronavirus vaccines that have been authorized by the US Food and Drug Administration. 

The novel coronavirus has mutated before, and both companies say they’ve found that their vaccines worked against other variations of the virus. 

Some researchers who are examining the genome of the UK variant told CNN they have concerns that this variant’s mutations might possibly somewhat diminish the effectiveness of the vaccine. 

“You could imagine some modest hit in vaccine efficacy, which wouldn’t be good, but I don’t think it would break the vaccine,” said Trevor Bedford, an associate professor in the vaccine and infectious disease division of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. 

Read more about the UK coronavirus variant:

11:55 p.m. ET, December 21, 2020

Fauci: I wouldn't be surprised if new UK Covid-19 mutation is already in US

From CNN Health’s Shelby Lin Erdman

Dr. Anthony Fauci appeared on PBS Newshour on December 21.
Dr. Anthony Fauci appeared on PBS Newshour on December 21. PBS

A new Covid-19 variant linked to a surge of cases in the United Kingdom is probably already in the United States, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Monday.

“You have to make that assumption,” Fauci told PBS Newshour’s Judy Woodruff. “When you see something that is pretty prevalent in a place like the UK, there are also mutations that we're seeing in South Africa, and given the travel throughout the world, I would not be surprised if it's already here."

He added that "when we start to look for it we're going to find it."

“Certainly it's not yet the prevalent one, the way it seems to have assumed that prevalent nature in the UK, but we're going to be looking for it right now, and I'm sure sooner or later we're going to run into it and find it."

Fauci said since the novel coronavirus that causes Covid-19 is an RNA virus it tends to mutate a lot.

“Most of the mutations have no functional relevance,” he said. “This one has a suggestion that it might allow the virus to spread more readily.”

Fauci said researchers are still trying to determine if the variant is more transmissible, but he said it doesn’t seem to have any impact on the deadliness of the virus.

“It doesn't make people more sick and it doesn't seem to have any impact on the protective nature of the vaccine that we're currently using,” the chief medical adviser for the incoming Biden administration said.

Fauci said researchers need to keep an eye on it to determine if “there’s more functional relevance."

He said he thinks a UK travel ban is premature because there’s not enough evidence to warrant “essentially a travel lockdown.”

Fauci said he prefers considering the possibility of mandatory testing of travelers from the UK.

8:04 p.m. ET, December 21, 2020

US hits record number of Covid-19 hospitalizations

From CNN’s Virginia Langmaid

The United States reported 115,351 current Covid-19 hospitalizations on Monday, setting a new record high since the pandemic began, according to the Covid Tracking Project (CTP).

This is the 20th consecutive day that the US has remained above 100,000 current hospitalizations.

The highest hospitalization numbers according to CTP data are:

  1. Dec. 21: 115,351 people hospitalized
  2. Dec. 17: 114,459 people hospitalized
  3. Dec. 18: 113,955 people hospitalized
  4. Dec. 19: 113,929 people hospitalized
  5. Dec. 16: 113,278 people hospitalized
7:58 p.m. ET, December 21, 2020

US surpasses 18 million Covid-19 cases

From CNN's Haley Brink and Virginia Langmaid

There have been at least 18,011,449 cases of coronavirus in the United States and at least 319,255 people have died from Covid-19, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University

It took the US 284 days to reach 9 million Covid-19 cases, according to university data. It only took the nation 52 days to reach the second 9 million cases.

Johns Hopkins recorded the first case of coronavirus in the US on Jan. 21.