The latest on the coronavirus pandemic and vaccines

By Nectar Gan, Adam Renton, Kara Fox and Harry Clarke-Ezzidio, CNN

Updated 8:51 p.m. ET, December 31, 2020
26 Posts
Sort byDropdown arrow
8:40 a.m. ET, December 31, 2020

Another 787,000 Americans filed first-time claims for jobless benefits last week

From CNN's Anneken Tappe

Another 787,000 Americans filed first-time claims for jobless benefits during the Christmas week, factoring in seasonal adjustments, the Labor Department reported Thursday.

It marked a decrease from the prior week. Overall, unemployment claims remain elevated well above historic norms, signaling ongoing pain in the job market during the coronavirus pandemic.

In addition to regular jobless claims, another 308,262 workers filed for aid under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which provides benefits to people who aren't eligible for regular state aid, such as the self-employed and gig workers.

Together, 1.1 million Americans filed initial claims for unemployment benefits, not adjusted for seasonal swings.

PUA payments will be extended by the new stimulus deal that President Trump signed into law on Sunday. The bill will also expand regular state benefits by $300 a week.

Meanwhile, 5.2 million workers filed continued claims, for their second week or more of benefits, in the week ending Dec. 19.

9:45 a.m. ET, December 31, 2020

Fauci disappointed that 20 million people in the US weren't vaccinated by today, the end of the year

From CNN's Naomi Thomas

A person receives the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine at a hospital in New York on December 21.
A person receives the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine at a hospital in New York on December 21. Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Pool/AFP/Getty Images

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on Thursday it is "disappointing" that 20 million people were not vaccinated in the US by today, the end of 2020.

"We would have liked to have seen it run smoothly and have 20 million doses into people today by the end of the 2020, which was the projection,” Fauci told NBC's Today Show. “Obviously, it didn't happen. And that's disappointing.”

Fauci said he hopes vaccinations in the US will gain momentum as the country gets into the first couple of weeks in January.

“There really has to be a lot more effort in the sense of resources for the locals, namely the states, the cities, the counties, the places where the vaccine is actually going into the arms of individuals,” he said. “We have to support the local groups, the states and the cities, to help them to get this task done, which is a very prodigious task.”

 When asked whether it would be better if the federal government stepped in and took over the effort to vaccinate Americans, Fauci said “rather than stepping in and taking over, I think it would be maybe better to give more resources and to work with them, in tandem with them.” 

He noted, “In other words, not saying we’re taking over, we’re going to do your job, but saying we’re going to really help you to do your job, particularly by giving you many more resources."

8:32 a.m. ET, December 31, 2020

Fauci says "it was inevitable" that UK variant of coronavirus would be found in the US

From CNN's Christina Maxouris

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Thursday said "it was inevitable" that the variant of the coronavirus that was first identified would be in the United States, given its spread to other European countries and Canada.

"You’re going to be hearing about reports from other states and more cases in the states that have already reported," Fauci told NBC’s Today Show. “That’s just the reality of the way these viruses spread.”

Fauci said the variant does not appear to make people more sick or lead to more deaths. He also said it does not seem to evade the protection that is afforded by Covid-19 vaccines that are currently in use.

He said the fact that it spreads more efficiently underscores the need to be vigilant against the virus by practicing public health measures.

"Those are the kind of things that will prevent this new strain from spreading even further," Fauci said.

Remember: Two US states have now found the Covid-19 variant that was first identified in the UK. Health officials announced Wednesday the variant had been detected in a 30-year-old San Diego man, who is not hospitalized and had very few social interactions during his potential contagious period.

The first known case of the UK variant in the US was in Colorado, state officials said earlier this week. At least 27 countries have now reported cases of the variant, per CNN reporting.

8:16 a.m. ET, December 31, 2020

Fauci says spreading out first doses of Covid-19 vaccine to more people "under consideration"

From CNN's Naomi Thomas

Dr. Anthony Fauci is pictured before receiving his first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine on December 22 in Bethesda, Maryland.
Dr. Anthony Fauci is pictured before receiving his first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine on December 22 in Bethesda, Maryland. Patrick Semansky/Pool/Getty Images

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said Thursday, that spreading out the first doses of Covid-19 vaccine to more people is "under consideration."

The Pfizer shot requires a second dose 21 days later and the Moderna shot requires a second dose 28 days later. Currently, those second doses have been held back by the federal government, so they will be available and administered when they are needed to provide those second doses.

What's under consideration is dispensing those doses now, to vaccinate more people with their first shot. But there is risk involved. By not initially holding back the second doses, more vaccine doses will need to be produced and distributed by the time the required second doses are needed. 

“I still think, if done properly, you can do a single dose, reserve doses for the second dose, and still get the job done,” he said on NBC’s the Today Show, “but there’s a lot of discussion about whether or not you want to spread out the initial vaccination by getting more people vaccinated on the first round.”

Fauci said it could be debated either way, but one of the problems with doing it would be if a person didn’t get the second dose in time and there is a lag period.

He said that it’s known from the clinical trials “the optimal time is to give it on one day and then for Moderna 28 days later and for Pfizer 21 days later, that’s what the data tells us is the best way to do it.”

If you want to stick with the data, that’s how it should be done, he said, “but you can make an argument, and some people are, about stretching out the doses by giving a single dose across the board and hoping you’re going to get the second dose in time to give to individuals.”

Here's a look at how the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines compare.

8:08 a.m. ET, December 31, 2020

It's been a grim year. But Europe's problems won't be going away in 2021

Analysis from CNN's Luke McGee in London

You'd struggle to find anyone in Europe who will be unhappy to see the back of 2020.

Covid-19, Brexit and the international political carnage of this year have hammered the continent and exacerbated tensions that have blighted the European Union for years.

But those problems are not going anywhere in 2021.

With no pandemic, fraught talks with the UK or an American president as anti-European Union as Donald Trump, Brussels might finally find space to address issues that have long undermined the bloc -- though it won't be easy.

To some extent, the crises of 2020 have masked a debilitating lack of unity across the EU.

For all Brussels' lofty ambitions of greater integration and becoming a global force in its own right, it faces pushback on issues ranging from internal adherence to the rule of law to a coordinated strategy for dealing with China.

And whether it has the political will or talent to do so in 2021 without widening those cracks is another matter entirely.

Read the full analysis here: 

7:55 a.m. ET, December 31, 2020

Pope Francis will not lead New Year masses

From CNN's Barbie Nadeau and Nicola Ruotolo in Rome

Pope Francis celebrates Christmas Eve Mass in St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican on December 24.
Pope Francis celebrates Christmas Eve Mass in St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican on December 24. Vatican Pool/Getty Images

Pope Francis will not lead the Vatican’s New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day celebrations due to sciatic pain, the Vatican said on Thursday.

The Pope will be replaced by Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, Dean of the College of Cardinals, for Thursday afternoon’s year-end Vespers service.

Mass on New Year’s Day will be celebrated by Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin.

Pope Francis will still lead the Angelus prayer on Friday, as planned.

It’s the first time the Pope has missed New Year’s Eve or Christmas celebrations, but not the first time he has skipped an event.

On February 27, Pope Francis, who is 84, canceled a scheduled mass for what the Vatican press office described as a “slight imposition,” denying rumors that the pontiff could’ve contracted Covid-19.

He was later seen coughing, sneezing and speaking with a hoarse voice.

Pope Francis first revealed he had sciatica -- a painful, and sometimes debilitating condition originating from the herniation of spinal disk -- during an inflight press conference while on a visit to Brazil in 2013.

“The worst thing that happened -- excuse me -- was an attack of sciatica -- really! -- that I had the first month, because I was sitting in an armchair to do interviews and it hurt,” Francis said at the time, when asked what the worst part of being the Pope was.

“Sciatica is very painful, very painful! I don't wish it on anyone,” he said.

On August, 10, 2017, he announced he was able to deal with the condition.

The Vatican later confirmed the Pope had undergone treatment, including massages and injections twice a week to reduce pain in his leg.

7:36 a.m. ET, December 31, 2020

The UK Covid-19 variant is more transmissible and affects more people under 20, new research shows

From CNN's Vasco Cotovio and Kara Fox

The new Covid-19 variant first found in the UK is growing rapidly, is more transmissible than other variants, and affecting a greater proportion of people under 20, according to a study.

The research is a collaborative effort from scientists and researchers at Imperial College London, the University of Edinburgh, Public Health England, the Wellcome Sanger Institute, the University of Birmingham and the COVID-19 Genomics UK Consortium.

As of December 30, at least 27 countries, Hong Kong, and Taiwan have so far reported cases of the new strain, per CNN reporting. 

“There is a consensus among all analyses that the VOC [the Variant of Concern or new variant] has a substantial transmission advantage,” the study said. It added that the difference between the reproduction number of the mutation, in comparison to other variants of the virus, is 0.4 to 0.7 higher. The reproduction number reflects the number of individuals that one infected person transmits the virus to.

According to the study, the reproduction number for the new variant is currently between 1.4 and 1.8.

“These analyses, which have informed UK government planning in recent weeks, show that the new variant of concern, B.1.1.7, has substantially higher transmissibility than previous SARS-CoV-2 viruses circulating in the UK,” Professor Neil Ferguson of Imperial College London said.

The study also said that while people under the age of 20 years make up a greater proportion of cases of the new variant of the virus, it is too early to determine the reason why.

As the new variant is more easily transmissible, controlling it will be more difficult, said Ferguson, who emphasized the "urgency of rolling out vaccination as quickly as possible."

Imperial College's Dr. Erik Volz said that "all viruses evolve, and very rarely a virus will change in a way that requires us to re-evaluate public health policy," noting that experts had found "overwhelming evidence of a change in transmissibility of the B.1.1.7 variant that should be taken into account when planning our Covid-19 response in the new year.” 

On Monday, the UK will roll out the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, which was authorized for use on Wednesday.

6:52 a.m. ET, December 31, 2020

Police to spot check NYE parties around Sydney

From CNN's Carly Walsh

New South Wales police officers patrol near Sydney Opera House in Australia on December 31.
New South Wales police officers patrol near Sydney Opera House in Australia on December 31. Dean Lewins/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

In the shadow of the Covid-19 pandemic, today's New Year festivities around the world will be largely subdued and restricted. 

Police in the Australian state of New South Wales (NSW) say they will perform spot checks on New Year’s Eve gatherings to ensure Covid-19 restrictions are being adhered to, according to public broadcaster ABC.

NSW Police Assistant Commissioner Mick Willing told ABC: "You are going to see large numbers of uniformed police officers out and about."

"We'll be checking licensed premises, we'll be door-knocking when necessary, we'll be out and patrolling public areas to ensure people abide by the current health orders," he added.

Households are limited to five guests in Greater Sydney and surrounding areas, whilst outdoor gatherings are limited to a maximum of 30 people, according to ABC.

6:34 a.m. ET, December 31, 2020

China to provide free vaccines to all citizens

From CNN’s Beijing bureau

Zeng Yixin, a vice-minister of China's National Health Commission, leaves following a news conference in Beijing on Friday.
Zeng Yixin, a vice-minister of China's National Health Commission, leaves following a news conference in Beijing on Friday. Leo Ramirez/AFP/Getty Images

China will provide free coronavirus shots to all of its citizens, a top health official said in a news conference Thursday.

Zeng Yixin, a vice-minister of China’s National Health Commission said that vaccines provide a public benefit by their very nature and while their price may vary, "an important premise is that [they] will be provided to the public for free.”

On Thursday, China’s homegrown Sinopharm vaccine was approved for use by China’s regulator, the National Medical Products Administration.

Sinopharm subsidiary Beijing Biological Products Institute announced that its Covid-19 vaccine is more than 79% effective on Wednesday.

More than 4.5 million doses of the vaccine have already been administered to "key groups" and "high-risk groups" prior to the authorization of the vaccine as part of a controversial emergency use program that began in July.

Among those who have already been vaccinated, fewer than 0.1% developed a light fever, and about two people per million developed "relative serious adverse reactions" such as allergies, according to Zeng.