December 28 coronavirus news

By Ben Westcott, Adam Renton, Melissa Macaya and Melissa Mahtani, CNN

Updated 12:00 a.m. ET, December 29, 2020
33 Posts
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10:06 a.m. ET, December 28, 2020

Iceland receives first shipment of Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine

From CNN’s Arnaud Siad

Iceland has received its first shipment of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed to CNN on Monday.

According to the spokesperson, an aircraft carrying Iceland’s first shipment of the vaccine landed at Keflavík International Airport Monday morning. It arrived from Amsterdam in the Netherlands.

The shipment included 10,000 doses of the vaccine, which are expected to be rolled out from Tuesday.

Earlier on Monday, Pfizer told CNN that it had had to reschedule a limited number of deliveries of the vaccine due to "minor logistical issues," with some countries in Europe now expected to receive their deliveries on Tuesday, rather than Monday. 

10:03 a.m. ET, December 28, 2020

Coronavirus variants from UK and South Africa detected in Finland

From CNN’s Arnaud Siad

Two new variants of coronavirus first detected in the UK and in South Africa have been identified in Finland, the Finnish Institute for Health said in a statement Monday. 

According to the statement, two people in Finland have tested positive for the variant of Covid-19 first detected in the UK, while a third patient has tested positive for the variant detected in South Africa. All patients had recently returned to Finland after traveling abroad. 

The Institute for Health says the infected patients are currently in good condition and are being treated in isolation. People who may have been exposed to the three patients have since been quarantined and asked to take a coronavirus test. 

On Dec. 23, Finland announced it would recommend all UK travelers arriving in the country on or after Dec. 7 to undergo testing, regardless of whether they are symptomatic. 

The detection of the new variants in Finland comes just days after neighboring Sweden’s Public Health Agency announced it had identified a case of the new Covid-19 variant from the UK in the region of Sörmland, on the outskirts of Stockholm.

9:59 a.m. ET, December 28, 2020

Number of ICU patients with Covid-19 in the US continues to grow, HHS data shows

From CNN’s Deidre McPhillips

Clinicians care for a COVID-19 patient in the Intensive Care Unit at Providence St. Mary Medical Center on December 23 in Apple Valley, California.
Clinicians care for a COVID-19 patient in the Intensive Care Unit at Providence St. Mary Medical Center on December 23 in Apple Valley, California. Mario Tama/Getty Images)

The share of intensive care unit patients with Covid-19 in the US has been steadily increasing each week since the end of September, according to a CNN analysis of data published Monday by the US Department of Health and Human Services.

About 16% of ICU patients had Covid-19 at the end of September, 22% at the end of October and 35% at the end of November. 

Last week, nearly 40% of patients in ICUs across the country had Covid-19, the data shows.

The United States reported Sunday the fourth highest number of hospitalizations since the pandemic began, according to the Covid Tracking Project (CTP). 

This was the twenty-sixth consecutive day that the US has remained above 100,000 current hospitalizations.

More on the data: The Health Department dataset aggregates hospital utilization data each Friday through Thursday and reports weekly averages for each facility.

The data is preliminary and excludes hospitals for which data was suppressed due to small counts.

9:49 a.m. ET, December 28, 2020

France's health minister says country cannot rule out possibility of third national lockdown

From Fanny Bobille in Paris 

French Health Minister Olivier Veran speaks during a press conference in Paris on December 3.
French Health Minister Olivier Veran speaks during a press conference in Paris on December 3. Benoit Tessier/Pool/AFP/Getty Images

France’s health minister says he cannot rule out the possibility of a third national lockdown.

"We never rule out measures that might be necessary to protect populations," Olivier Véran told Le Journal du Dimanche newspaper on Sunday. 

"This does not mean that we have decided, but that we are observing the situation hour by hour," he added. 

While the French government had previously announced its aim to reduce the daily increase in new coronavirus cases to 5,000, this goal has yet to be achieved. 8,822 new coronavirus cases were recorded Sunday. 

"The target of 5,000 [daily cases] is moving away," Véran said.

"We will be attentive to what we will observe in the next few days," he added. 

12:28 p.m. ET, December 28, 2020

What Trump's delay in signing the stimulus bill means for millions of Americans

President Donald Trump departs on the South Lawn of the White House, on December 12 in Washington, DC.
President Donald Trump departs on the South Lawn of the White House, on December 12 in Washington, DC. Al Drago/Getty Images

President Donald Trump reversed course on Sunday, signing into law a massive $2.3 trillion coronavirus relief and government funding bill that he had objected to at the last minute.

That signature does two important things for the US economy: It averts a government shutdown that was set to begin on Tuesday, and extends billions of dollars in coronavirus aid to struggling Americans.

However, because Trump did not sign the bill on Saturday, those in the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation programs will likely not receive a payment for the final week of the year. Their payments could also be delayed several weeks while state agencies reprogram their computers.

Additionally, the $300 federal enhancement may only last 10 weeks instead of 11 weeks for most folks. That's because states can't provide benefits for weeks that start before programs are authorized, but the legislation calls for the extra payments to end on March 14.

Some background: The Covid-19 relief legislation was passed by Congress last Monday and was flown to Mar-a-Lago on Thursday to await Trump's signature. But after sitting on the sidelines during the negotiations, Trump emerged with an eleventh-hour complaint that a separate provision in the deal, which the President's own White House helped broker, would only provide up to $600 in direct payments.

Trump wanted to send out $2,000 checks. 

Trump signaled in a statement Sunday night that he signed the coronavirus relief bill only after securing a commitment for the Senate to consider legislation to increase stimulus checks from $600 to $2,000. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, however, did not reference that commitment in his own statement Sunday night praising the President for signing the relief bill.

9:28 a.m. ET, December 28, 2020

Southwest Airlines will avoid furloughs thanks to stimulus bill

From CNN's Pete Muntean and Greg Wallace

Passengers wait at the Southwest Airlines counter at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport on July 10 in Arlington, Virginia.
Passengers wait at the Southwest Airlines counter at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport on July 10 in Arlington, Virginia. Daniel Slim/AFP/Getty Images

Southwest Airlines said the just-signed stimulus bill will allow it to avoid employee furloughs – which would have been a first in the company’s approximately 50-year history.    

CEO Gary Kelly wrote in memo to employees on Sunday that the law extending the Payroll Support Program, known as PSP, "means we can stop the movement towards furloughs and pay cuts that we previously announced."  

A copy of the memo was obtained by CNN.

Southwest was planning on furloughing 6,828 employees in the spring, which would have been a first in the company’s 50-year history. The airline had offered the unions representing its employee groups a choice: either take a pay cut to preserve jobs, or furloughs. 

The law means "we can breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that we will not be forced to follow through with those steps that are so foreign to all of us," Kelly wrote.

The new stimulus gives airlines another $16 billion for worker payroll support and bars any new furloughs until March 31, 2021.  

American Airlines also said prior to the bill’s passage that if it did become law, American would bring back all furloughed employees.

10:30 a.m. ET, December 28, 2020

Novavax announces start of Phase 3 Covid-19 vaccine trial in the US and Mexico

From CNN's Naomi Thomas

A vial with a potential COVID-19 vaccine is lifted at Novavax labs in Gaithersburg, Maryland on March 20.
A vial with a potential COVID-19 vaccine is lifted at Novavax labs in Gaithersburg, Maryland on March 20. Andrew Caballero-Renyolds/AFP/Getty Images

Phase 3 clinical trials of the Novavax Covid-19 vaccine are set to start in the United States and Mexico, the company announced on Monday. 

The trial for the vaccine candidate, known as NVX-CoV2373, will evaluate safety, efficacy and immune response in up to 30,000 people age 18 and older. It builds on Phase 1 and 2 studies that demonstrated the vaccine provoked an immune response and appeared to be safe.

The trial is examining whether the vaccine prevents moderate Covid-19 symptoms, as well as severe Covid-19 symptoms. 

Two-thirds of participants will be assigned to randomly receive two injections of vaccine administered 21 days apart, the remaining one-third will receive a placebo. The trials sites are in locations that currently have high transmission rates "to accelerate the accumulation of positive cases that could show efficacy," a statement said.

Novavax says it aims for at least 25% of the study population to be age 65 or older, at least 15% to be Black, at least 10 to 20% Latinx and 1-2% American Indian.

The trial is being funded with up to $1.6 billion from Operation Warp Speed.

Some background: Novavax is also currently conducting a Phase 3 clinical study in the United Kingdom, a Phase 2b trial in South Africa and a Phase 1/2 continuation in the US and Australia, data from which are expected as soon as early first quarter 2021. 

Two coronavirus vaccines, those made by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, have received emergency use authorization from the US Food and Drug Administration. Two more vaccines, those from Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca, are in Phase 3 trials in the United States.

Watch Dr. Carlos Del Rio:

8:55 a.m. ET, December 28, 2020

Trump finally signed the coronavirus relief bill last night. Here's what happens next. 

From CNN's Kevin Liptak, Kate Bennett, Tami Luhby, Kaitlan Collins, Jason Hoffman, Phil Mattingly and Jeremy Diamond

The Lincoln Memorial, left, Washington Monument, center, and U.S. Capitol Building are seen from Arlington, Virginia, on December 27.
The Lincoln Memorial, left, Washington Monument, center, and U.S. Capitol Building are seen from Arlington, Virginia, on December 27. Oliver Contreras/Bloomberg/Getty Images

President Trump signed the massive $2.3 trillion coronavirus relief and government funding bill into law last night, averting a government shutdown that was set to begin on Tuesday, and extending billions of dollars in coronavirus aid to millions.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had seized on Trump's call for $2,000 checks last week and brought to the floor a standalone bill that would have boosted the amount for relief checks on Thursday. House Republicans, however, objected to the bill over deficit concerns.

The Democratic-led House is set to vote on the expansion of the direct payments today.

Here are key things to know about the bill and what happens next:

  • Trump's signature of the $900 billion Covid relief package extends unemployment benefits for millions of jobless gig-workers and independent contractors, as well as the long-term unemployed. The estimated 12 million people in two key pandemic unemployment programs, who were facing their last payment this weekend, will now receive benefits for another 11 weeks. Plus, all those collecting jobless payments will receive a $300 weekly federal boost through mid-March.
  • However, because Trump did not sign the bill on Saturday, those in the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation programs will likely not receive a payment for the final week of the year. And the $300 federal enhancement may only last 10 weeks instead of 11 weeks for most folks. That's because states can't provide benefits for weeks that start before programs are authorized, but the legislation calls for the extra payments to end on March 14.
  • Trump signaled in a statement Sunday night that he signed the coronavirus relief bill only after securing a commitment for the Senate to consider legislation to increase stimulus checks from $600 to $2,000. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, however, did not reference that commitment in his own statement Sunday night praising the President for signing the relief bill.

Some more context: The Covid-19 relief legislation was passed by Congress last Monday and was flown to Mar-a-Lago on Thursday to await Trump's signature. But after sitting on the sidelines during the negotiations, Trump emerged with an eleventh-hour complaint that a separate provision in the deal, which the President's own White House helped broker, would only provide up to $600 in direct payments.

Trump wanted to send out $2,000 checks. 

Read more here.

9:01 a.m. ET, December 28, 2020

US air travel on Sunday was the highest of the pandemic

From CNN's Pete Muntean

Passengers walk through a terminal at Dulles International airport in Virginia on Sunday, December 27.
Passengers walk through a terminal at Dulles International airport in Virginia on Sunday, December 27. Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images

The Transportation Security Administration said it screened a record number of people at US airports nationwide on Sunday, breaking a pandemic air travel record set only last Wednesday. 

At least 1,284,599 people passed through security checkpoints Sunday, the TSA said. That is the highest level air travel has reached since March 15th. 

The new figure is about one half of the number of fliers from the same day a year ago.

That is a sign that some people are staying home, but not as many as health experts and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would like. Earlier this month, the CDC urged Americans to stay home to avoid spreading coronavirus. 

Air travel has spiked, according to the TSA, with US air travel numbers hitting more than a million passengers for six of the past ten days.