December 23 coronavirus news

By James Griffiths, Adam Renton, Melissa Macaya, Meg Wagner and Mike Hayes, Eoin McSweeney, CNN

Updated 12:00 a.m. ET, December 24, 2020
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9:44 a.m. ET, December 23, 2020

Data on new Covid-19 variant and its transmissibility in children “still very early,” NIH director says

From CNN's Naomi Thomas

Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, on December 23.
Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, on December 23. CNN

Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, told CNN’s Erica Hill on Wednesday that the data on the new coronavirus variant and its transmissibility in children is “still very early.”

He said he is “not yet convinced that the discussion about children is necessarily undergirded by rigorous science.” 

Collins added that he thinks he believes that the variant is more transmissible among adults, but “we need more data on the kids to be sure that that signal is there.” 

If it is, he said, it wouldn’t be surprising, “if this is a virus that’s particularly good at transmitting in adults, why not with kids as well.” 

He pointed out that very importantly, “nobody has seen any evidence that this causes more severe illness, only that it spreads more rapidly. Very important distinction.” 

Some context: Experts in the UK suggested this week there was a “hint” that the new coronavirus strain could have “a higher propensity to infect children,” compared with earlier strains, although it has not been shown to be more dangerous than others strains, or more dangerous for children than adults.

More information is needed, the experts said.


9:18 a.m. ET, December 23, 2020

Incoming CDC director says stimulus vaccine distribution funding is “just a down payment”

From CNN Health’s Andrea Diaz

When asked about the Trump administration's deal to purchase an additional 100 million doses of Covid-19 from Pfizer, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, incoming director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said this is a "good thing," but more money will be needed to get the country vaccinated. 

"I certainly think more vaccine is better than less vaccine … but we can't let up on the measures that we have right now," Walensky told CNN's John Berman Wednesday. 

Walensky said money for vaccine distribution in the coronavirus relief bill passed by Congress this week is just a "just a down payment" for what’s actually needed.

 "I am really enthusiastic about this bill that Congress passed that will allow $8.75 billion towards vaccine distribution assuming it will go through ... but I also want to convey that I believe that that's just a down payment to what needs to happen in order to get, you know, to every corner of the country," said Walensky.

Remember: 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.

Read more about what is in the second stimulus package here.

9:30 a.m. ET, December 23, 2020

Trump signaled he may not sign the Covid-19 relief bill. Here's what that means. 

From CNN's Phil Mattingly

President Donald Trump boards Air Force One on December 12 at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland.
President Donald Trump boards Air Force One on December 12 at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland. Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

President Trump's surprise Tuesday night video cataloging his complaints about the massive — and painstakingly negotiated — $900 billion coronavirus relief bill immediately raised the specter of a government shutdown and economic turmoil at a time when aid is desperately sought for millions of Americans.

The President didn't explicitly threaten to veto the bill, and his White House said earlier in the night that he would sign it, but in a video released on Twitter, he added a layer of confusion to a delicate process that includes not only Covid-19 relief but a $1.4 trillion omnibus spending package that funds the federal government.

Here are some key things to know:

First, some facts: The White House explicitly told Senate Republicans weeks ago that it supported pursuing the omnibus (all 12 appropriations bills tied into a single big package) and those negotiations took place for weeks.

The White House was fully aware of what was in the bill and what was agreed upon, though White House officials acknowledged late Tuesday that Trump himself had not received a detailed briefing on the package before its passage.

Most of the items the President listed off as problematic in his Tuesday night video weren't from the Covid relief piece of the package. They were from the omnibus. Most, if not all, of those items were similar to items in past spending packages the President has signed.

Most notably, two people involved with the matter say, the President is fired up about the foreign aid in the package. Again, that has been part of each spending package he's previously signed — but Trump was riled up in part by commentators on conservative media who complained about the aid, according to people familiar.

There is no appetite for changes on Capitol Hill: As for his request to "amend" the bill, well, both chambers have passed the legislation, and at this point, aides on both sides say, there's no plan to make any move to acquiesce to the President's request on the cleared package. Early talk is that both sides may just ignore it and see if he cools off. The government is operating under a seven-day continuing resolution, so there's some time here. The real deadline is December 28.

"Maybe he'll become obsessed with something else and forget about this whole episode," one senior Democratic aide told CNN. "Or maybe he'll just blow the thing up. Perfect coda to his time in office."

But at the moment, aides on both sides of the aisle are mostly just dumbstruck.

"It's a weird thing where I'm not at all surprised because of course he'd do this, but also kind of stunned because he's been so preoccupied with everything else that this seemed in a good place," one senior Republican aide told CNN.

Read the full story here.


8:46 a.m. ET, December 23, 2020

Another 803,000 Americans filed for unemployment benefits last week

From CNN’s Anneken Tappe

Another 803,000 Americans filed for first-time unemployment benefits last week on a seasonally adjusted basis, the Labor Department said Wednesday.

That was a drop off from the week before but still a high number and yet another sign that the US job recovery has run into serious trouble.

On top of that, 397,511 workers filed for benefits under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which provides aid to groups that aren't usually eligible for jobless benefits, such as the self-employed. That number is not adjusted for seasonal swings.

Added together, 1.3 million Americans filed initial jobless claims last week on an unadjusted basis.

Continued claims, which count workers who have applied for benefits for at least two weeks in a row, stood at 5.3 million, up from the prior week.

Congress agreed on a new round of stimulus to combat the fallout from the pandemic over the weekend. It would include an extension of the unemployment benefits that millions of Americans need to make ends meet.

However, President Trump's complaints about the bill, delivered on video via Twitter on Tuesday, raised the risk of more economic turmoil, not to mention a government shutdown. Trump asked Congress to amend the bill and up the amounts paid in stimulus checks.

9:27 a.m. ET, December 23, 2020

Incoming CDC director says she plans to go back to holding regular briefings

From CNN's Andrea Diaz

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, incoming director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on December 23.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, incoming director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on December 23. CNN

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, incoming director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said on Wednesday that communication is key and she is “very much” planning to go back to having regular CDC briefings. 

“I think communication has to be key here. The public needs to know what we know. They need to know the good and they, there will be some bad news, I’m certain of it, they need to know that too. And so yes, I very much plan to do so,” Walensky told CNN’s John Berman when he asked about regular CDC briefings.

During past major health events, CDC has typically provided regular updates to the media. During the coronavirus pandemic, briefings from experts at the United States’ major public health agency have been rare.

Walensky also told CNN that said she hasn't had much contact with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention since being nominated by President-elect Joe Biden to be the agency’s next director.

 "I had a very pleasant conversation with the current CDC director the night I was named, and I've had no, no yet conversations with anybody in the CDC, so far. Our transition team has been working toward that and has been updating me and briefing me on a regular basis as to what they have learned," Walensky told CNN Wednesday. 

9:27 a.m. ET, December 23, 2020

"We need to be limiting our mobility, period," incoming CDC director says

From CNN's Naomi Thomas

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, incoming director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on December 23.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, incoming director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on December 23. CNN

Dr. Rochelle Walensky told CNN’s John Berman Wednesday there have already been "numerous meetings" around a new coronavirus variant identified in the UK.

If Walensky, the incoming director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, were advising the President today, she said the conversation would involve limiting mobility.

“One thing I should really just mention is we have been saying loud and clear to the entire American people, we need to be limiting our mobility, period. And whether we think about it from the UK, from European countries, from South Africa, we need to be limiting our mobility,” said Walensky, chief of infectious diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital. 

The real question now, she said, if there is concern about a specific strain, is what is the best way to control it so that it doesn’t explode in other places?

One way “might be to ban travel,” Walensky said, but there are other strategies as well, including quarantines upon arrival, testing around arrival or some combination.

I think it’s really important to understand which of those strategies or combinations of those strategies is going to limit the spread,” she said. “It’s not clear yet that banning travel is going to be the one, especially since we’ve been saying limit your mobility already.” 

Watch the interview:

10:50 a.m. ET, December 23, 2020

Trump administration will purchase an additional 100 million Pfizer vaccine doses

From CNN's Jamie Gumbrecht

A nurse practitioner from Broward Health Medical Center prepares a Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine on December 17 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
A nurse practitioner from Broward Health Medical Center prepares a Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine on December 17 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The Trump administration will purchase an additional 100 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine from Pfizer, the US Department of Health and Human Services announced Wednesday.

Pfizer will deliver at least 70 million doses by June 30, and the rest will be delivered no later than July 31, according to a news release.

With this agreement, the total doses of Pfizer vaccine purchased by the federal government is 200 million for $4 billion. 

The agreement includes an option for an additional 400 million doses of the vaccine, the release said. 

“As part of ongoing coordination, the government and Pfizer are also continuing to discuss potential approaches to further strengthen our partnership and safely expand output and accelerate production,” the release said.

8:16 a.m. ET, December 23, 2020

The pandemic is forcing older workers to retire early

From CNN's Anneken Tappe

America has gone from having the strongest job market in decades to the very opposite during the pandemic. For older workers who have lost their jobs this year, the state of the labor market makes it harder to get rehired as the economy recovers, forcing many Americans to retire early.

The US economy shed more than 22 million jobs in the spring but recovered more than half of them in the following months. But just like the economic recovery, the job market's bounce-back has been uneven.

"Young workers' participation in the labor force has nearly fully recovered -- likely reflecting both lower health risks from the virus and a decline in college enrollment -- while the participation of older workers and women has recovered more slowly," wrote Joseph Briggs, economist at Goldman Sachs (GS), in a note to clients earlier this month.

Briggs estimates that there were some 830,000 "excess retirees" in October, representing about a quarter of the difference between the pre-pandemic workforce and the current workforce.

"We are not ready, financially or mentally, to retire," said Rachel E. from Virginia, who asked that her last name be omitted to protect her's and her husband's privacy.

The 66-year-old former government contractor was furloughed in April.

"Six figures a year to instant poverty with two words.... 'you're furloughed.' It's more like forced early retirement," Rachel told CNN Business in an email.

Returning to work is a daunting prospect because of the health risks for workers of advanced ages. Employers are also hesitant to hire older workers who could be more susceptible to getting the virus, Rachel added.

Read the full story:

7:55 a.m. ET, December 23, 2020

UK military to support coronavirus testing as business groups warn of food supply issues

From CNN's Salma Abdelaziz, Sharon Braithwaite and Robert North

Vehicles queue at the blocked entrance to the Port of Dover in England on December 23.
Vehicles queue at the blocked entrance to the Port of Dover in England on December 23. Frank Augstein/AP

British military personnel will be supporting efforts to carry out coronavirus tests, beginning Wednesday, for hauliers currently stranded in Kent, near the Port of Dover, the UK Ministry of Defense said Wednesday.

"Starting today, 170 personnel will support COVID-19 testing for hauliers travelling to France from Kent," the MOD said in a tweet. "The support from our Armed Forces personnel will help to get hauliers moving again."

Police at the port told a CNN team there that some form of mobile coronavirus testing is also expected to arrive at the port in the next few hours, however they could not confirm where the testing would take place. 

The announcement comes hours after the UK and France agreed to allow truck drivers to travel across the English Channel from the Port of Dover -- the UK’s main gateway to France and the Continent for freight transportation -- providing they have proof of a negative coronavirus test result.

Despite trucks now being allowed to cross, UK business groups are warning that there could still be shortages of fresh food in supermarkets.  

"It is good news for consumers as the French borders have now reopened, however it is essential that lorries get moving across the border as quickly as possible," said Andrew Opie, Director of Food and Sustainability at the British Retail Consortium. "Until the backlog is cleared and supply chains return to normal, we anticipate issues with the availability of some fresh goods."

The Chief Executive of the Food and Drink Federation, Ian Wright, said: “Even working extremely quickly and with Calais possibly shut for Christmas Day, it is clear it could take until the New Year to return to normal operations.”

Earlier on Wednesday, UK Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick said the government is hopeful that the situation will begin to ease, but cautioned that it could take some time.

“There's going to be quite a lot of work to do in the next few days and this isn't going to be an issue which will be resolved immediately,” he told Sky News.