December 29 coronavirus news

By Julia Hollingsworth, Adam Renton, Amy Woodyatt, Harry Clarke-Ezzidio and Veronica Rocha, CNN

Updated 12:00 a.m. ET, December 30, 2020
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10:03 a.m. ET, December 29, 2020

To better control coronavirus, Fauci encourages everyone to wear masks in Biden's first 100 days

From CNN’s Naomi Thomas

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's leading infectious disease expert, speaks during an interview on December 29.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's leading infectious disease expert, speaks during an interview on December 29. CNN

Asked on Tuesday what President-elect Joe Biden needs to do to turn the coronavirus pandemic around, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's leading infectious disease expert, told CNN’s Jim Sciutto that if everybody follows Biden's plan to wear masks for the first 100 days that he is in office, and if people “put aside the nonsense” of masks being political, the curve will come down and the US will get better control of coronavirus.

“I think what he is actually doing, showing leadership from the top and talking about the importance of essentially pleading with Americans, 'let's do this, let’s take 100 days' — it’s going to be more than 100 days — but what he’s saying is that let’s take at least 100 days and everybody — every single person — put aside this nonsense of making masks be a political statement or not," said Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

Fauci added: “We know it works, we know social distancing works, we know avoiding congregate setting works. For goodness sakes, let’s all do it, and you will see that that curve will come down and we will get better control. There is no doubt about it, that if we do that, so let’s just do it.”

About Biden's plan: In an interview with CNN's Jake Tapper, the President-elect said he will ask Americans to wear masks for the first 100 days after he takes office. 

Biden pledged to sign a mask mandate on his first day in office. While the President can't unilaterally require every American to wear a mask, under the law Biden said he could require masks in places like federal buildings and on planes, trains and buses for interstate travel.


9:11 a.m. ET, December 29, 2020

Scientific adviser urges further coronavirus restrictions to prevent "catastrophe" in England

From CNN's Sharon Braithwaite

A government message about the coronavirus tier 4 restrictions is seen urging people to stay home in London on December 29.
A government message about the coronavirus tier 4 restrictions is seen urging people to stay home in London on December 29. Tolga Akmen/AFP/Getty Images

Further coronavirus restrictions are needed in England to prevent a "catastrophe" at the start of 2021, a member of the UK government's New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG) said Tuesday.

"I think we are entering a very dangerous new phase of the pandemic and we're going to need decisive, early, national action to prevent a catastrophe in January and February," Andrew Hayward, a professor of infectious disease epidemiology at University College London, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"A 50% increase in transmissibility means that the previous levels of restrictions that worked before won't work now, and so Tier 4 restrictions are likely to be necessary or even higher than that," Hayward added.

His comments come as figures from NHS England released on Monday showed 20,426 Covid-19 hospitalizations in England – more than the almost 19,000 at the peak of the first wave in April. The number of new cases continues to rise, with the UK recording its highest daily figure so far on Monday. 

The government is set to carry out its review of the current coronavirus tiers on Wednesday. 

"I think we're really looking at a situation where we're moving into near lockdown, but we've got to learn the lessons from the first lockdown," Hayward warned.

He added that the increase of coronavirus cases is "largely driven by the new variant."

"We've had, you know, control measures that were previously controlling the old variant that are not enough for this variant. And so if we want to control the new variant we're going to need much tighter restrictions."

Asked about the impact of schools reopening on the spread of the virus, Hayward said, "I think we're going to have to get schools back. Maybe a little bit later, but we're going to have to have increased strict restrictions in other areas of society to pay for that."

"We need to be more or less in a similar sort of message of stay at home unless you really, really have to, so there's that combined with incentivisation of testing, incentivisation of isolation – those sorts of things that will carry us through the next few months while we get as many people as possible vaccinated."

9:02 a.m. ET, December 29, 2020

Relief package will get American Airlines pilots paid — but only 60 will return to the skies, memo says

From CNN's Josh Replogle and Gregory Wallace

American Airlines planes are pictured at Miami International Airport on December 24, in Miami, Florida.
American Airlines planes are pictured at Miami International Airport on December 24, in Miami, Florida. Daniel Slim/AFP/Getty Images

American Airlines is informing most of its employees now returning from furlough because of the stimulus bill that they do not yet need to actually report for duty, CNN has learned. They will, however, be paid with federal funds.  

The stimulus aid package means American and other airlines are putting furloughed employees including pilots and flight attendants back on its payroll. But even though the number of people flying picked up over the holiday period, the airline is still operating a significantly smaller flight schedule – and does not need the influx of thousands more employees in its facilities, cockpits and cabins.    

The airline told pilots in an internal email obtained by CNN that only 60 of the 1,247 pilots it furloughed will soon return to flying – and those 60 are expected to resume flight duties in March.  

The airline did not comment directly on those numbers. Spokesperson Matt Miller told CNN the airline plans “to bring team members back to work as we get through the administrative processes (training, etc.) and based on operational need.”   

But Miller acknowledged that American has “recalled everyone for purposes of reinstating their pay and benefits.” The first paychecks for previously-furloughed employees went out on Christmas Eve, the airline said.   

Previously-furloughed employees who are not needed in the workplace will be paid with federal funds through March 31 under the stimulus act. 

8:45 a.m. ET, December 29, 2020

About 500 doses of Covid-19 vaccine discarded at medical center in Wisconsin 

From CNN's Andrea Diaz

About 500 doses of Moderna's Covid-19 vaccine had to be discarded on Saturday at the Aurora Medical Center in Grafton, Wisconsin, due to a storage error, according to a spokesperson for the facility.

"We learned that about 50 vials of Moderna vaccine were inadvertently removed from a pharmacy refrigerator overnight," according to a statement from the medical center. "Our internal review determined that as a result of unintended human error, the vials were not replaced in the refrigerator after temporarily being removed to access other items."

The medical center said it was able to vaccinate some members of its staff within the approved 12-hour post-refrigeration window, but most of the vaccine had to be discarded.

"Unfortunately, most of it had to be discarded due to the temperature storage requirements necessary to maintain its viability," the statement read. "We are clearly disappointed and regret this happened."

According to the statement, the medical center has vaccinated about 17,000 staff members over the last 12 days.

8:35 a.m. ET, December 29, 2020

Preliminary tests show new UK Covid-19 strand detected in Pakistan

From CNN's Sugam Pokharel

Pakistan says it might have detected three cases of the new UK Covid-19 strand, according to Pakistan's Sindh province health department.

"Samples of 3 UK returnees show a 95% match to the new Corona Virus variant from UK in the first phase of Genotyping," Sindh Health Department said in a tweet Tuesday.

The health department tested 12 UK returnees for genotyping. Of the 12 people, six tested positive for Covid-19 and three cases showed the new UK variant.

The three cases will undergo another phase of genotyping, the health department added.

If confirmed, these will be the first detected cases of the new Covid-19 variant in Pakistan.

8:44 a.m. ET, December 29, 2020

Fauci says children should be in school wherever possible

From CNN's Naomi Thomas

Dr. Anthony Fauci is pictured at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, on December 22.
Dr. Anthony Fauci is pictured at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, on December 22. Patrick Semansky/Pool/AFP/Getty Images

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN’s Jim Sciutto Tuesday that his advice for schools coming out of the holidays is that children should be in school wherever possible, but the safety of them and their teachers must be the primary thing. 

“You can’t have one size fits all,” Fauci said. “But the bottom line, what I call default position, should be that we should, wherever we are, try as best as we can to get the children back to school and to keep them in school and to have a plan to try and keep them as safe as possible.”

He said that looking at the data, as it’s evolved over the last several months, transmission in the context of a school is “considerably lower than what we had though, so it may be that the children are more safe in school than we would have thought they are.”

Fauci said that the primary thing has to be “the safety and the health and the welfare of the children and the teachers.” 

He said that hopefully as teachers get vaccinated as essential personnel, “and we ultimately get to the people who are taking care of the children,” there will be less of a burden of transmission within the context of the school, he said.

“But, again, we’ve got to try as best as possible to keep the children at school,” he said. “But, don’t be so rigid as to say every single thing must be done this way, we have to have flexibility.”

8:23 a.m. ET, December 29, 2020

Spain will keep a registry of people who refuse coronavirus vaccine

From CNN's Al Goodman in Madrid 

Spanish Health Minister Salvador Illa is seen during a press conference in Madrid, Spain, on December 28.
Spanish Health Minister Salvador Illa is seen during a press conference in Madrid, Spain, on December 28. Emilio Naranjo/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

People who decline to be vaccinated against coronavirus in Spain will be listed in a new registry that will be shared with European Union Member states, Spain’s Health Minister Salvador Illa said in a television interview on Monday.

Speaking to Spain’s La Sexta TV, Illa stressed that the information will not be made public, in line with Spain’s data protection laws, and vaccinations will not be made compulsory. 

“What will be done is a registry…of those people who have been offered it and simply rejected it,” Illa told La Sexta. 

However, health care professionals have since weighed in, saying the idea presents potential dangers.

“The most important thing is to know how the registry will be used,” said Jose Luis Cobos, the deputy director of the Spanish General Council of Nursing. 

“If it’s for public health purposes to better understand COVID, and it’s anonymous, that’s one thing. But if it’s ‘I’m now on the list of the bad people,’ that’s another thing. We don’t think a registry should be used to infringe on liberties, or for employers against people,” he added.

Hours after Illa’s television interview Monday, the head of Spain’s Medicines Agency, Maria Jesus Lamas, told Spain’s SER radio that the new registry would be used “to understand the causes behind declining the vaccination…doubt or rejection.”

“The registry is anonymous. There’s no chance of identifying anyone in the registry,” she added. 

Spain’s 17 regional governments administer vaccines across the nation, and in the southern region of Andalusia, people currently appear in a registry only if they get a vaccine, including its batch number and who administered it for quality control, an Andalusia health department spokesperson told CNN.

The spokesperson also noted that there is no registry for members of the general public who decline vaccinations, although Andalusia health care workers must sign a document if they refuse a vaccination. 

Spain has the world’s ninth largest number of coronavirus cases, at more than 1.8 million, and the tenth highest number of deaths, at just over 50,000, according to Johns Hopkins University.

8:22 a.m. ET, December 29, 2020

Premier League records 18 new positive cases after the latest round of virus testing

From CNN’s Aleks Klosok

A notice announcing the postponement of the Premier League match between Everton and Manchester City in Liverpool, England, on December 28.
A notice announcing the postponement of the Premier League match between Everton and Manchester City in Liverpool, England, on December 28. Tony McArdle/Everton FC/Getty Images

The English Premier League has announced 18 new positive Covid-19 tests among its soccer players and club staff in its latest round of testing -- the highest amount of positive tests this season.

The news comes a day after Manchester City's Premier League fixture at Everton was postponed following multiple positive coronavirus test results within the City squad. 

It was the second English Premier League game this season to be called off due to a virus outbreak, after Aston Villa vs. Newcastle United earlier this month.

In a statement on Tuesday the League said that between 21 December and 27 December, 1,479 players and club staff were tested for Covid-19 of which 18 were new positive tests.

As per League protocol, specific details of individuals affected were not disclosed, but players or staff that did test positive must now self-isolate for 10 days.

The previous highest total of positive Covid-19 tests was recorded last month, when 16 individuals returned positive tests between 9 November and 15 November.

8:17 a.m. ET, December 29, 2020

Russian official acknowledges actual coronavirus death toll is much higher than official figures

From CNN’s Mary Ilyushina in Moscow

Russia's Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova gives a briefing in Moscow on December 28.
Russia's Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova gives a briefing in Moscow on December 28. Alexander Astafyev/TASS/Getty Images

A statement from a top Russian official indicates that the country's true coronavirus death toll is more than three times higher than the country's official statistics show.

New data from the country's statistics agency, Rosstat, shows that during the first 11 months of 2020, there was an increase of over 229,700 more deaths in Russia than during the same period of 2019.

Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova, who is in charge of the country's coronavirus response, said Monday that "more than 81% of this increase in mortality over this period is due to Covid." According to a CNN calculation, that means 186,000 Russians died from coronavirus in these months.

With an actual Covid-19 death toll of 186,000, Russia would have the third-highest number of any country in the world. Golikova's statement marks the first time a Russian official has acknowledged what critics have long suspected: that Russia's true coronavirus death toll is much higher than the official toll, which is under 56,000.

Russia has reported more than 3 million confirmed cases but maintained it has a comparatively low fatality rate thanks to how it's handled the pandemic.

Doubts over official toll: Critics have expressed overwhelming skepticism of Russia's official figures, saying that the issue lies with the counting method that permits ascribing deaths in coronavirus-infected patients to other causes and allows officials to claim a lower toll.

For instance, Rosstat said that 35,645 people with coronavirus or suspected coronavirus died in November but added that in about a third of fatalities Covid-19 was not considered to be the main cause of death or a major factor in the death at all.

Russia coronavirus task force, which publishes daily statistics on new cases and fatalities using a different methodology than Rosstat, reported only 12,229 coronavirus-related deaths in November.

This counting method differs from World Health Organization guidelines, which states that all deaths related to Covid-19 should be counted unless there is "a clear alternative cause that cannot be related" to the disease.