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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8:18 a.m. ET, December 30, 2020

TSA records fourth straight day of more than 1 million screenings at US airports 

From CNN's Greg Wallace

For the fourth consecutive day after the Christmas holiday, more than 1 million people passed through airport security checkpoints on Tuesday, according to the Transportation Security Administration.  

It is also the eighth of the last 12 days where checkpoint traffic exceeded 1 million people. 

Sunday was the single busiest day of the pandemic at airports, with nearly 1.3 million people screened.  

Tuesday’s tally was at least 1,019,347 people, the agency said.  

The numbers represent a spike in pandemic era travel and raise public health concerns.  

8:01 a.m. ET, December 30, 2020

US lags behind some other countries in Covid-19 vaccinations

From CNN Health's Elizabeth Cohen and Deidre McPhillips

A Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine is prepared for staff at a skilled nursing and rehabilitation center in Acton, Massachusetts, on December 28.
A Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine is prepared for staff at a skilled nursing and rehabilitation center in Acton, Massachusetts, on December 28. Suzanne Kreiter/The Boston Globe/Getty Images

The United States is lagging behind several other countries in its Covid-19 vaccination efforts, according to an analysis by CNN of the most recent government data.

In the US:

  • 2,127,143 doses were administered from December 14 through December 28 at 9 a.m.
  • That’s 151,939 shots per day, or a daily rate of 46 shots per 100,000 people in the country.

That is significantly lower than the daily vaccination rates for Israel, the UK, and Bahrain.

The daily rate per 100,000 in Israel is 608, for Bahrain it’s 263, and for the UK it’s 60, according to data supplied by those governments.

The US is vaccinating quicker than Canada, where the daily rate is 10 doses per 100,000 people, according to researchers at the University of Toronto.

So far, 11,445,175 doses of the vaccine have been distributed to US states, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

US Assistant Secretary of Health Admiral Brett Giroir said the 2 million number for doses administered is likely an “underestimate” because reporting of shots “is delayed three to seven days, so we certainly expect that to be a multiple of two million.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, however, said that even if the 2.1 million is an underestimate, it’s still lower than what had been hoped for.

“Even if you undercount, two million as an undercount, how much undercount could it be,” Fauci said. “So, we are below where we want to be.”

8:15 a.m. ET, December 30, 2020

UK health regulators say there were "no corners cut" in Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine approval

From CNN's Nada Bashir

Dr. June Raine, MHRA chief executive, speaks at a press briefing in London on December 30.
Dr. June Raine, MHRA chief executive, speaks at a press briefing in London on December 30. PA/Getty Images

The head of the UK’s medicines regulatory agency MHRA has said that “no corners whatsoever have been cut” in the authority’s assessment of the newly-approved coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford, asserting that the safety of the public is a priority. 

“Our teams of scientists and clinicians have very carefully, methodically and rigorously reviewed all the data on safety, effectiveness and on quality as soon as they have become available, and have done so around the clock, looking at all the tests and trials,” MHRA Chief Executive Dr. June Raine said Wednesday during a televised briefing at Downing Street. 

“These are difficult times for so many of us, but vaccines such as this one will have the potential to save many lives and will see us come through. Having an effective vaccine is the best way to protect us and may save tens of thousands of lives,” Raine added. 

Speaking alongside Dr. Raine, the chair of the UK Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), Professor Wei Shen Lim, said that while the newly-approved vaccine comes with fewer logistical challenges than the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, both will be administered in the UK as part of the country’s mass vaccination programme. 

“The committee’s advice is that for individuals eligible for vaccination in the phase 1 programme in the UK, both vaccines may be used, with no preference for one vaccine above the other,” Lim said. 

“To facilitate rapid deployment within a mass vaccination programme, and to avoid substantial vaccine wastage, it may be that in certain settings, one vaccine is offered in preference over another,” he continued, adding that the deployment of both vaccines will allow for “rapid and high levels of vaccine uptake” across the country.  

“This will allow the greatest number of eligible people to receive the vaccine in the shortest time possible, and that will protect the greatest number of lives,” Lim said. 

During the briefing, Professor Sir Munir Pirmohamed, chair of the UK Commission on Human Medicines Expert Working Group, also noted that two doses of the Oxford-Astra-Zeneca vaccine should be given at an interval of between 4-12 weeks, stressing that members of the public should continue to follow government guidelines during this period. 

“You have to wait until day 22 before you get partial immunity after the first dose, and so it is really important that people continue to follow all the government guidelines,” Pirmohamed said. 

7:54 a.m. ET, December 30, 2020

Former Harvard professor calls for a domestic travel ban after first case of the UK Covid-19 variant found in Colorado

From CNN’s Joe Sutton

After the first case of the UK Covid-19 variant was identified in the US, former Harvard professor William Haseltine has said that it's imperative to take "more serious measures" to control its spread.

Speaking on CNN's New Day program on Wednesday, Haseltine said that implementing a domestic travel ban that would include air, bus and train travel would be "highly controversial, but it's what we need to do."

"We know the virus is much more transmissible -- and we know we've got to take more serious measures to control what's inevitably going to be an increased rate of infection in our population," Haseltine said.

On Wednesday, US health officials in Elbert County, Colorado said they were monitoring at least two cases of the new UK Covid-19 variant.

The county has one confirmed case and now has a second suspected case, Dwayne Smith, director of public health for Elbert County, told CNN.

Both of the individuals who tested positive for the new variant are men who were working at the Good Samaritan Society assisted living facility in Simla, approximately 45 miles northeast of Colorado Springs. 

Neither of the cases are residents of Elbert County and they are currently isolating in a location outside of the county, Smith said. He added that there was “no indication at this point” that virus had spread beyond the facility and into the larger community.  

7:30 a.m. ET, December 30, 2020

Calls for a Premier League 'circuit break' amid rising Covid-19 cases

From CNN's Ben Morse

It's a season that's so far delivered one of the more intriguing title races -- just six points separate the top nine teams -- but as the UK grapples with a significant spike in Covid-19 cases, the English Premier League is facing a major challenge in how it navigates the remainder of the 2020/2021 campaign.

On Tuesday, the Premier League announced 18 new positive Covid-19 tests among players and club staff in its latest round of testing. That's the highest number of positive results recorded since the league began weekly testing at the start of the current season.

On Monday, the match between Everton and Manchester City was postponed because of a Covid-19 outbreak at the latter club, which included positive tests for players Gabriel Jesus and Kyle Walker on Christmas Day.

Monday's postponement was the second match to be have been affected by Covid-19 this season -- Newcastle's game at Aston Villa was also postponed after a number of players and staff at the north-east club returned positive test results.

According to a number of reports, Wednesday's game between Tottenham Hotspur and Fulham is also in doubt. Fulham has recorded a number of positive tests at the club.

New West Bromwich Albion manager Sam Allardyce, who was appointed earlier in December, has called for a temporary halt to the Premier League season amid the rising number of positive test results.

Everyone's safety is more important than anything else. When I listen to the news the variant virus transmits quicker than the original ... we can only do the right thing which is have a circuit break," Allardyce told reporters on Tuesday.

"I'm 66 and the last thing I want to do is catch Covid. I'm very concerned for myself and football ... We had one positive this week and it seems to be creeping around no matter how hard we try."

The UK is currently battling a new variant of the virus which spreads more quickly than the others and has forced increased restrictions over the holiday season.

53,135 new coronavirus cases were recorded in the UK on Tuesday, breaking a daily record since the pandemic began -- for a second day in a row. A further 414 people have died, according to the British government.

Read the whole story here:

6:38 a.m. ET, December 30, 2020

Indonesia secures vaccine deals with AstraZeneca and Novavax

From CNN's Carly Walsh

Indonesia’s foreign minister announced Wednesday that the country has signed deals with AstraZeneca and Novavax to secure 100 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines, state news agency Antara reported Wednesday.

Antara reported each company will supply 50 million doses but no details were given on when the shipments will arrive.

Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi also said in the press conference Wednesday that an additional 1.8 million doses of the Chinese company Sinovac's vaccine would arrive on Thursday, following on from the 1.2 million doses that arrived earlier in December.

6:23 a.m. ET, December 30, 2020

UK to follow ‘one-dose start-up’ immunization strategy with Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine

From CNN's Nada Bashir and Mia Alberti

A volunteer in Oxford, England, is administered a coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University.
A volunteer in Oxford, England, is administered a coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University. John Cairns/University of Oxford/AP

The British government has announced that it will follow a new immunisation strategy for the newly-approved Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, which will prioritize giving the first of two vaccine doses to as many people as possible, before administering the second dose 12 weeks later.

According to UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock, scientists and regulators have found that the first dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine offers “very effective protection” from coronavirus, allowing for people to be protected for a longer period of time before receiving a second dose. 

Speaking on Sky News on Wednesday, Hancock said that the regulator's announcement was important as it "means that we can get the first dose into more people more quickly and they can get the protection that the first dose gives you."

In contrast, the prescribed two doses of the coronavirus vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech – which comes with greater logistical demands – must be administered three weeks apart. 

UK government scientific advisor Professor Calum Semple welcomed the new “sophisticated approach,” telling Sky News on Wednesday that a “one-dose approach to start with will protect a great many people.”

“The first dose actually gives adequate protection in order to have, as a public health policy, a one-dose start-up regime, and then follow it 12 weeks later with a second dose, because we know that anyone that has had one single dose of this [vaccine] has not suffered severe disease and hasn’t had to go into hospital,” Semple said. 
“What the JCVI (UK Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation) are saying is that one dose is good enough to get started, so it’s better to maximise the first dose across the population and catch up 12 weeks later with the second dose,” he added. 

According to Semple, evidence from vaccine trials has shown that a single dose not only prevented people from getting severe disease, but also prompted a “very good immune response” in frail and elderly people. 

“That’s quite a significant change, and it’s quite important. That’s what is game-changing about this vaccine,” Semple said.

Andrew Pollard, director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, told BBC Radio 4 on Wednesday that the second dose “will be really important” because it “will be critical for the durability of the immune response” to help prevent further waves of the disease. 

Pollard also confirmed that, at the moment, there is “no evidence" that the new vaccine won’t be effective against the new variant of coronavirus detected in in the UK. 

“We can't be complacent with this or other variants, so now we have to monitor the virus that is around and make sure the vaccines are still effective against it,” Pollard said.

“If in the future it is necessary to tweak the vaccines, that's entirely possible to do,” he added. 

Millions of people are expected to be vaccinated by the end of the first quarter of 2021, the CEO of AstraZeneca said Wednesday.  

“We already have millions of doses we'll be filling over the next period of time,” Pascal Soriot told BBC Radio 4, adding that the British-Swedish company has capacity to produce and deliver two million doses of the new vaccine per week, with the first doses expected to be distributed across the UK over the next few days.

“We're lining deliveries with the government so we can progressively ramp up the vaccination program….in January we'll possibly already be injecting several million people and, in the second quarter, we'll be in the tens of millions of people,” he added.

6:08 a.m. ET, December 30, 2020

Taiwan will tighten border restrictions in New Year after confirming first case of UK Covid-19 variant

From CNN's Jadyn Sham in Hong Kong

Taiwan will tighten its border restrictions for foreign nationals beginning January 1, 2021, after detecting its first case of the new UK Covid-19 variant, the country's orhealth and welfare minister said in a press conference Wednesday. 

The person tested positive for the new variant after returning from the UK and is in hospital care with mild symptoms, Minister Chen Shih-chung said. 

The new border measures will be in effect from January 1 to January 15 and will ban entry to foreigners that do not hold Taiwan residency or permits for diplomatic services, business contracts, or humanitarian purposes, or are spouses or children of Taiwan nationals, Taiwan's CDC said.

Inbound travelers eligible to enter Taiwan will also have strengthened quarantine measures, the CDC added.

5:58 a.m. ET, December 30, 2020

Hundreds of Hong Kong residents say they have been stranded in the UK after borders closed due to new virus variant

From CNN's James Griffiths in Hong Kong

A group representing some 400 Hong Kong citizens and residents currently in the United Kingdom have written to the city’s government begging for it to rescind a ban on entry from the country introduced after a new, potentially more infectious variant of the coronavirus was detected in the UK

In a letter to the Hong Kong government, seen by CNN, the group said the “regulatory amendments, announced at understandably short notice, have severely impacted many of us.”

“The ban has impacted our family lives, work lives, and mental and financial health,” the letter said. “Some Hong Kong residents are now stuck with very little means of support, having traveled to the UK for a range of reasons, including family emergencies.”

They requested that the Hong Kong government publicly announce a date for the ban to be rescinded, giving them a degree of certainty on when to book flights and hotel accommodation for quarantine stays, or to open a travel window to allow those currently overseas who hold Hong Kong residence to return to the city. 

In the letter, the group quoted a statement by Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam in March in which she said “when we talk about who must be allowed entry ... Hong Kong residents have [constitutional] freedom of movement. Put simply, as long as they have a Hong Kong ID card, they are Hong Kong residents, we have to let them in.”
“We urge the Hong Kong SAR Government to stand by the Chief Executive’s March statement and allow us to return home in accordance with the Basic Law,” the letter said, referring to the city’s de facto constitution. 

The Chief Executive’s Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment from CNN. 

In an email seen by CNN to the group, a spokeswoman for the Chief Executive said the new variant in the UK had forced the government “to make a resolute move to halt further importation.” 

“We understand the disruption that may be caused by the measures and appeal to you for your understanding,” the response continued. “Please be assured that the HKSAR Government will continuously review the situation taking into account development of the local and global situation of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Multiple governments around the world have temporarily banned entry from the UK over the new coronavirus variant. A ban in France -- which has now been eased -- caused chaos earlier this month when thousands of heavy duty vehicles were stranded at the UK’s border on the English Channel.