December 30 coronavirus news

By Julia Hollingsworth, Adam Renton, Melissa Macaya and Mike Hayes, CNN

Updated 0502 GMT (1302 HKT) December 31, 2020
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2:41 a.m. ET, December 30, 2020

UK government says regulator authorizes Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine

From CNN's Mick Krever

In this June 24 file photo, a volunteer receives an injection at the Chris Hani Baragwanath hospital in Soweto, Johannesburg, as part of Africa's first participation in a Covid-19 vaccine trial developed at the University of Oxford in conjunction with AstraZeneca.
In this June 24 file photo, a volunteer receives an injection at the Chris Hani Baragwanath hospital in Soweto, Johannesburg, as part of Africa's first participation in a Covid-19 vaccine trial developed at the University of Oxford in conjunction with AstraZeneca. Siphiwe Sibeko/Pool/AP

The UK government says its regulator has authorized the use of the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine.

"The Government has today accepted the recommendation from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) to authorise Oxford University/AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine for use," a statement from the UK government said Wednesday.
"This follows rigorous clinical trials and a thorough analysis of the data by experts at the MHRA, which has concluded that the vaccine has met its strict standards of safety, quality and effectiveness."
2:09 a.m. ET, December 30, 2020

Chinese drugmaker says its Covid-19 vaccine is more than 79% effective

From CNN's Beijing bureau

A health worker prepares a syringe to inoculate a volunteer with Sinopharm's Covid-19 vaccine during its trial at the Cayetano Heredia University in Lima, Peru on December 9.
A health worker prepares a syringe to inoculate a volunteer with Sinopharm's Covid-19 vaccine during its trial at the Cayetano Heredia University in Lima, Peru on December 9. Ernesto Benavides/AFP/Getty Images

A coronavirus vaccine developed by Chinese state-owned pharmaceutical giant Sinopharm has 79.34% efficacy, the drugmaker announced on Wednesday.

A statement released online by Sinopharm subsidiary Beijing Biological Products Institute said that interim analysis of data from the Phase 3 clinical trial shows that all participants who received two doses of the vaccine produced high levels of antibodies.

The results reached the relevant technical standards of the World Health Organization and regulations issued by the National Medical Products Administration, the statement said. 

The statement added that the company has formally submitted an application to China's National Medical Products Administration for conditional approval. 

2:00 a.m. ET, December 30, 2020

US adds record number of Covid-19 deaths recorded in a single day

From CNN's Joe Sutton in Atlanta

A person sits in a personal bubble while charging devices at a Link Wi-Fi station in New York City on December 29.
A person sits in a personal bubble while charging devices at a Link Wi-Fi station in New York City on December 29. Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images

The United States reported 3,725 additional coronavirus deaths on Tuesday -- a record high for a single day since the pandemic began, according to Johns Hopkins University's tally.

JHU also recorded 247,646 new Covid-19 cases nationwide on Tuesday.

At least 19,557,147 total cases and 338,563 deaths have now been recorded in the US, according to JHU.

The totals include cases from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and other US territories, as well as repatriated cases.  

At least 11,445,175 vaccine doses have been distributed and at least 2,127,143 doses administered, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

CNN is tracking US cases:

1:16 a.m. ET, December 30, 2020

Panama announces deals with 4 Covid-19 vaccine makers to begin rollout in next 90 days

From CNN’s Kiarinna Parisi

Panama announced that it has signed agreements with four Covid-19 vaccine producers to supply some 5.5 million doses of vaccine, according to a statement tweeted by the country's Health Ministry late Tuesday.

Those vaccines will impact some 80% of the country’s population, the ministry said.

The statement did not specify which vaccine companies the country had reached agreements with.

Panama’s President Laurentino Cortizo announced Tuesday that the nation’s vaccination process will begin in the next 90 days.

Panama is home to around 4 million people. The country has reported more than 233,000 coronavirus cases, including at least 3,933 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.

12:54 a.m. ET, December 30, 2020

India extends suspension of flights to and from UK until Jan. 7

From CNN's Swati Gupta in New Delhi

Indian municipal workers in personal protective equipment watch as passengers arrive from the United Kingdom, at Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport in Mumbai on December 22.
Indian municipal workers in personal protective equipment watch as passengers arrive from the United Kingdom, at Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport in Mumbai on December 22. Rafiq Maqbool/AP

India has extended the suspension of all flights to and from the United Kingdom until January 7.

The Minister of Civil Aviation, Hardeep Singh Puri announced the decision in a tweet Wednesday morning:

“Decision has been taken to extend the temporary suspension of flights to and from the UK till 7 January 2021. Thereafter strictly regulated resumption will take place for which details will be announced shortly," the minister said.

India had ordered a suspension of all flights between the two countries on December 21 as a precaution against the spread of the new variant of coronavirus, which appears to be more contagious. 

State and federal authorities have been testing and tracking the 33,000 passengers who travelled to India from the UK between November 25 and December 22. According to the Health Ministry, 114 of them have so far tested positive for Covid-19.

On Tuesday, India announced that six cases of the new Covid-19 variant had been detected so far in the country.

12:18 a.m. ET, December 30, 2020

Christmas beach party sparks "backpacker" deportation threat from Australian minister

From CNN's Ben Westcott in Melbourne, Australia

In this still image taken from a social media video, people wearing Santa hats gather at Bronte Beach, in Sydney, Australia, amid the coronavirus outbreak on December 25.
In this still image taken from a social media video, people wearing Santa hats gather at Bronte Beach, in Sydney, Australia, amid the coronavirus outbreak on December 25. @stucrabb/Instagram/Reuters

Australia's Minister of Immigration, Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs has threatened to cancel the visas of any visitors caught breaking rules designed to prevent the spread of Covid-19 in the country, after hundreds of people attended a beach party in Sydney's Bronte Beach on Christmas Day.

Only 100 people were allowed to gather at an outdoor event in Greater Sydney on December 25 after a new outbreak of Covid-19 in the city's Northern Beaches region led to tightened restrictions over the Christmas period.

But witnesses said the crowd at Bronte Beach on the afternoon of Christmas Day was in its "hundreds," many of whom were drinking alcohol and not wearing face masks. Brad Hazzard, Health Minister for the state of New South Wales (NSW), warned the party could be a "superspreader event."

Local journalist Peter Hannam, who walked by the event at 5 p.m., said a number of people in attendance were talking loudly in British accents.

"These are the same people who would every summer gather at Bondi Beach or Bronte or somewhere else because they want to show off to their northern hemisphere friends that it's Christmas and we're in summer," he said.

It's not immediately clear how many of the crowd were residents or visitors on temporary visas. Australia's borders have been closed to anyone except citizens and residents since March, but the government announced in April that temporary visa holders -- including backpackers -- could extend their visas.

But now, Immigration Minister Alex Hawke has warned that any foreign citizens caught breaching public health orders could have their visas reviewed or even canceled.

"Visitors to Australia need to be very clear that if they breach public health orders they are threatening the health and safety of Australians and the federal government will look at their visas," he said in an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation on December 29.

Read more here.

12:01 a.m. ET, December 30, 2020

GOP official says he tested positive for Covid-19 days after attending a White House party

From CNN's Kristina Sgueglia and Betsy Klein with reporting from Alec Snyder

Tom Mountain, vice-chairman of the Massachusetts Republican State Committee, appears in an interview with CNN affiliate WCVB.
Tom Mountain, vice-chairman of the Massachusetts Republican State Committee, appears in an interview with CNN affiliate WCVB. WCVB

The vice-chairman of the Massachusetts Republican State Committee was hospitalized with Covid-19 days after attending a White House Hanukkah party, he said in an interview with CNN affiliate WCVB.

Massachusetts GOP official Tom Mountain said he felt fine when he went to the December 9 event. Mountain said that earlier in the pandemic he "felt as though (he) was invincible" and didn't "have to wear a mask the entire time."

"The fact of the matter is, I was basking in the glow of a major White House event, to which I was invited, and three nights later I'm in the hospital in the emergency room," he told WCVB.

“Once you get into the main ballroom people -- they’re eating, they’re mingling, they’re getting pictures taken with the celebrities that are there. So very few people were wearing masks.” 

It's not certain that Mountain contracted the virus at that event. Health experts say the typical incubation period for Covid-19 is up to 14 days, and patients typically show symptoms within five days of exposure. Research shows people are most contagious in the days before they show symptoms -- if they show them at all.

What the White House says: Neither the White House nor the East Wing responded to CNN’s request for comment. In a statement earlier in December, East Wing chief of staff Stephanie Grisham said attending the White House holiday events would be a “very personal choice.”

Grisham said the Christmas and Hannukah celebrations would have smaller guest lists, masks would be provided, and social distancing would be encouraged. But images from multiple parties viewed by CNN showed that many attendees did not wear masks.

What happened to Mountain: Mountain said he was hospitalized twice after contracting the virus, telling WCVB he came close to being put on a ventilator.

The experience has given him a new outlook. “When you go in with the Covid, you don’t know if you’re going to come out.”

“This is not the flu, this is not the common cold. This is something which is deadly serious, and it can have deadly consequences.”

According to WCVB, four members of Mountain's family were also infected.

CNN has made multiple attempts to reach Mountain and the Massachusetts GOP. 

10:40 p.m. ET, December 29, 2020

Congressman-elect Luke Letlow dies aged 41 after battling Covid-19

From CNN's Jim Acosta, Jamie Gangel and Paul LeBlanc

Congressman-elect Luke Letlow, a Republican, has died aged 41 after being diagnosed with Covid-19, CNN confirmed Tuesday night.

In a statement released on Twitter, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards wrote, "It is with heavy hearts that @FirstLadyOfLA and I offer our condolences to Congressman-elect Luke Letlow's family on his passing after a battle with COVID-19."

Two Republican sources also confirmed Letlow's passing to CNN.

The News-Star in Monroe, Louisiana, was first to report Letlow's death.

Letlow had announced his diagnosis on his Facebook page on December 18, writing that he was "at home resting, following all CDC guidelines, quarantine protocols, and the recommendations of my doctors."

Days later, Letlow posted that he was undergoing treatment at St. Francis Hospital in Monroe before a statement from his office on December 23 said he had been transferred to Ochsner LSU Heath Shreveport Academic Medical Center.

Dr. G.E. Ghali, the chancellor of LSU Health Shreveport, said in a statement at the time that Letlow was in "stable condition in the Intensive Care Unit" and was receiving the drug Remdesivir and steroids as part of his treatment.

Read the full story:

8:48 p.m. ET, December 29, 2020

Here's what we know about the new Covid-19 variant found in Colorado

From CNN's Amir Vera

The first known case of the new Covid-19 variant in the United States was discovered in Colorado Tuesday, according to state health officials. 

The variant, called B.1.1.7, has been linked to the United Kingdom. The Colorado man who was infected is in his 20s, is isolating in Elbert County and appears to have no travel history, according to Gov. Jared Polis.

No close contacts of the man have been identified yet, but health officials are working on contact tracing, Polis said.

Here's what we know about the new Covid-19 variant:

  • It came from the UK: The new variant is believed to have originated in southeast England, according to the World Health Organization.
  • It spreads quicker: Scientists advising the UK government have estimated the variant could be up to 70% more effective at spreading than others. Peter Horby, chair of the UK's New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG), said last week that scientists were "confident" the new variant is "spreading faster than other virus variants."
  • It raises questions about vaccines: But there are no signs yet that the current vaccine front-runners won't work against this new variant, experts and drugmakers have said.
  • It's appeared in other countries: The variant has already spread globally. Aside from the US, it has also been detected in several countries, including Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands and Australia, according to WHO.

Read more: