California Cases Surging; Canada Clears Vaccine: Virus Update

(Bloomberg) — The U.K.’s vaccination campaign hit a stumbling block after two people with allergies experienced reactions to the Pfizer shot. Canada’s health authorities approved the vaccine, while France and Germany battled worsening virus numbers despite weeks of curbs.


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Chancellor Angela Merkel urged Germans to make an additional sacrifice over the holidays to contain the coronavirus as the country’s soft shutdown fails to slow its spread.

California’s average rate of positive tests over 14 days reached 8.8%, the highest since the spring as cases surged to another record. U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar warned Americans to avoid crowded indoor social gatherings.

Key Developments:

Global Tracker: Cases exceed 68 million; deaths top 1.55 millionU.S. Hot Spots: December smashes records as deaths near 300,000U.S. ranks No. 32 in vaccine buys, pledges to make up groundThe U.K. starts mammoth task vaccinating a nationBudget airlines will benefit most from vaccines: chartTracking coronavirus vaccines that will end the pandemic

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map: Covid-19 Vaccine Tracker

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Covid-19 Vaccine Tracker

California Breaks Record Again (3 p.m. NY)

California reported 30,851 new virus cases, topping the record of 30,075 set over the weekend. The average rate of positive tests over 14 days reached 8.8%, the highest since the spring.

Hospitalizations jumped 3.8% in the past 24 hours to a record to 11,965 patients. With cases soaring, much of the state is now in lockdown as officials warn of intensive-care units becoming overwhelmed.

First Shipments of Pfizer Shots Will Be 2.9M Doses (2:52 p.m. NY)

Less than half of the available 6.4 million doses of Pfizer Inc.’s Covid-19 vaccine will be initially sent out to states, and 500,000 will be held separately in reserve by the government, according to a top official at Operation Warp Speed.

Gustave Perna, the army general who serves as Warp Speed’s chief operating officer, said on a call with reporters Wednesday that the U.S. plans to distribute 2.9 million doses in the first round of shipments following authorization of Pfizer’s still-experimental vaccine. The rest will be held back to be distributed to states and other jurisdictions when the first people vaccinated are due for their second dose 21 days later.

The half a million shots in reserve will be ready for unforeseen circumstances, Perna said, calling the move “good army general officer planning.”

Pfizer Says Documents Accessed in Cyberattack (2:02 p.m. NY)

Pfizer Inc. said some documents it had submitted to Europe’s top drug regulator regarding its Covid-19 vaccine had been accessed in a cyberattack on the agency.

The drugmaker and partner BioNTech SE said in a statement that they had been told by the European Medicines Agency that some documents relating to the regulatory submission for their vaccine and that had been stored on the EMA server had been unlawfully accessed.

The companies said that none of their systems had been breached in connection with the incident and that “we are unaware that any study participants have been identified through the data being accessed.”

The companies said EMA informed them that the attack would have no effect on the timing of the vaccine review.

N.J. Hospitalizations Could Exceed Earlier Peak (2 p.m. NY)

Two projections of New Jersey’s second-wave hospitalizations paint a dire picture, with hundreds of more people needing in-patient care than during the April peak.

In a worst-case scenario — no masks and people not social distancing — New Jersey hospitals would have 8,747 patients on Jan. 14, according to a model by the state health department. The state innovation office came up with 8,689 patients on Feb. 5. Last April 14, the pandemic’s height, 8,270 people required hospitalization in New Jersey.

In a moderate scenario, with people continuing to follow the precautions recommended by Governor Phil Murphy, the state would have 6,333 in-patients, according to the health department. The innovation office predicted 5,752.

“It is the numbers in our hospitals which are the greatest concern,” Murphy said at a virus news conference in Trenton.

Whether people take precautions or not, the models suggested 1,600 people in intensive-care units, with about 1,000 using ventilators. That’s far better than on April 14, when 2,051 intensive-care units and 1,876 ventilators were in use by Covid-19 patients.

Canada Approves Pfizer Vaccine (11:51 a.m. NY)

Canada’s public health authorities approved Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE’s coronavirus vaccine, the first such authorization in a country that’s secured more doses per person than any other around the world.

The approval paves the way for Justin Trudeau to begin a government campaign to vaccinate Canadians against Covid-19, which has killed more that 12,800 people in the country so far. The prime minister said last month that a majority the population should be able to get their shots by September.

Arizona Sees Most Deaths Since August (11:20 a.m. NY)

Arizona on Wednesday reported 108 new Covid-19 deaths, the biggest daily tally since mid-August, bringing the state’s toll to 7,081. The spike in fatalities came a day after Arizona recorded a record 12,314 new cases as the state struggles with a surge rivaling the one it faced in the summer.

French Resistance to Covid Vaccine Growing (11:20 a.m. NY)

More than half of the French don’t plan to get a shot against Covid-19, according to a survey by pollster Elabe for BFM TV published on Wednesday. Of those surveyed, 52% said they certainly or probably won’t get vaccinated, up 4 points from two weeks earlier. That’s even as 70% of respondents said they’re worried about the coronavirus. Resistance to the vaccine is greatest in political groups opposed to the government of Emmanuel Macron, the survey found.

Covid Was in Italy in November 2019: CDC (11:15 a.m. NY)

The coronavirus was circulating in Italy as soon as the end of November 2019, according to a new report published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, lending weight to other studies that have suggested an earlier appearance of the disease in Europe.

Michigan Lawmakers Infected After Giuliani Visit (10:55 a.m. NY)

An outbreak of Covid-19 in the Michigan House infecting at least eight members and 21 staffers has forced the cancellation of voting sessions on Wednesday and Thursday.

The infections come roughly a week after President Donald Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani appeared, unmasked, for marathon testimony before a House committee probing unsubstantiated claims of large-scale fraud in Michigan’s presidential election. Giuliani later tested positive for the virus.

House Speaker Lee Chatfield, a Republican, issued a statement Tuesday saying that several members “requested time to receive results” from Covid-19 tests. Chatfield spokesman Gideon D’Assandro declined to provide the names of those infected, and said those cases were “cumulative for the year.”

Giuliani’s visit to Arizona last week also led to a cancelation of legislative sessions this week to prevent spread of the virus.

U.S. in Talks With Merck for New Treatment (10:08 a.m. NY)

Operation Warp Speed, the U.S. program to accelerate drugs and vaccines to thwart the pandemic, is in negotiations with Merck & Co. to secure supply of a treatment for the deadliest cases of Covid-19.

As hospitalizations top all-time highs in the U.S., Warp Speed’s chief scientific officer, Moncef Slaoui, told Bloomberg that talks with Merck for the under-the-radar drug, CD24Fc, ensued after the drug giant acquired a 10-person biotechnology company that had spent decades developing it. Within months, patients with severe and critical cases of Covid-19 could get access to the intravenous treatment that appears to halve the risk of both respiratory failure and death.

Slaoui, a former drug industry executive himself, was in fact at the crux of Merck’s deal for OncoImmune and CD24Fc. After scouring promising trial data from the little-known biotech, the Warp Speed chief turned to his network of industry scientists and executives from around the globe: A quick marriage that would join the production might of a large pharmaceutical company with the innovation of OncoImmune was absolutely necessary to ramp up supply of the treatment, and get it to patients quickly, he said.

The breakneck pace at which the deal was clinched shows how Operation Warp Speed earns its name.

U.S.’s Azar Warns About Indoor Meetings (9:48 a.m. NY)

The U.S.’s Azar said it’s important to wear a face covering and avoid indoor gatherings as the holiday season approaches.

“Please look out for those overcrowded indoor gatherings,” he said on CNN. “Whether it’s restaurants or bars or multi-household gatherings, just please be careful.”

Luxembourg Extends Curbs, No Holiday Exception (9:18 a.m. NY)

Luxembourg’s new virus infections are still too high, which is why the partial lockdown in place since Nov. 26 will be extended until Jan. 15, Prime Minister Xavier Bettel said at a press conference. Restaurants and cafes will remain closed and people aren’t allowed to invite more than two people from the same household to their home. No exceptions will be made for the holiday period. “I know this is difficult, but this is not the time to loosen the curbs,“ Bettel said.

U.K. Says Those With Allergies Should Avoid Pfizer Shot (6:01 a.m. NY)

The U.K.’s National Health Service warning about allergies came a day after the U.K. became the first western nation to begin a Covid vaccination program.

Both patients, who were staff members of the NHS, are recovering well, according to the health service.

Iran Cases Drop to Lowest in a Month (6:54 p.m. HK)

Iran reported 10,223 new cases of coronavirus overnight, the lowest in a month and down 17% compared with the seven-day average. The death toll rose by 295 in the last 24 hours, the Health Ministry reported.

Dutch Government Expands Corporate Support (5:32 p.m. HK)

The Dutch government announced 3.7 billion euros in additional state aid to help companies weather the pandemic, with support for firms that have seen most of their sales dry up as a result of the outbreak continuing. The new measures come in addition to the 33.7 billion euros that aid and recovery measures have cost so far, according to a government statement.

Officials have said recent case numbers remain too high, with Prime Minister Mark Rutte saying late Tuesday that partial lockdown measures will be extended during the holiday season.

Israel’s Netanyahu Will Be First to Get Vaccine to Show Trust (4:32 p.m. HK)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he’s going to demonstrate his faith in Pfizer’s and BioNTech’s vaccine by being the first in the country to be inoculated.

Netanyahu disclosed his plan following the delivery of the first shipment of the vaccine to Israel on Wednesday.

Support for Vaccine Drops in Finland, Survey Finds (4:48 p.m. HK)

The proportion of Finns willing to take a coronavirus vaccine has dropped to 64% from 70%, according to a survey published by the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare. A fifth of those surveyed said they would not want a shot while about 16% were undecided, according to the online survey.

U.K.’s Gove Says Curbs Could Ease Early Next Year (4 p.m. HK)

U.K. Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove said pandemic cubs could be eased from early next year as the country embarked on a vaccination campaign. “We can begin progressively to ease measures in the New Year,” Gove said in an interview with Sky News on Wednesday.

More doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will be arriving from Belgium and he said he hoped the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot would be available “soon.”

Germany Reports Record Death Toll (2:54 p.m. HK)

Germany’s daily coronavirus-related deaths rose the most since the outbreak began, highlighting the government’s struggle to contain the spread of the disease.

There were 568 fatalities in the 24 hours through Wednesday morning, taking the total to 20,002. “We need to make one more effort,” Angela Merkel said in a speech in Germany’s lower house of parliament. “We’ve already spent so many months with this virus, and we’ve learned that we can do something against it.”

Honda Parts Shortage Halts Production (2:43 p.m. HK)

Honda Motor Co. is partially halting operations at its Swindon plant in the U.K. because of a parts shortage caused by pandemic-related delays, the Nikkei newspaper reported.

The Japanese automaker is seeking to secure air cargo to make up for delays in shipping, according to the report, which cited unidentified sources. The Swindon facility produces the Civic series of automobiles and has an annual output of 110,000 vehicles, which are delivered to the U.S., U.K. and Japan.

UAE’s Sinopharm Vaccine Trials (2:19 p.m. HK)

The United Arab Emirates said China’s Sinopharm Group Co.’s Covid-19 vaccine has 86% efficacy against the coronavirus, state-run WAM reported. The UAE has been conducting Phase 3 trials for the vaccine since July, and granted emergency approval for its use by health workers in September.

Kenya May Opt for AstraZeneca Vaccine (1:46 p.m. HK)

Kenya may choose the Oxford–AstraZeneca vaccine as it can be kept using standard refrigeration rather than complex cold storage, the Daily Nation newspaper reported, citing the health department’s chief administrative secretary.

Iran’s Trouble Buying Vaccines (1:02 p.m. HK)

Iran’s attempts to procure vaccines to curb the worst outbreak of coronavirus in the Middle East are being hampered by U.S. sanctions, officials in Tehran said, as it is unable to use a payment system intended to ensure fair global access to the shots.

Iran had hoped to deploy funds worth billions of dollars locked up in South Korean won-denominated accounts. However, central bank Governor Abdolnaser Hemmati said U.S. banking sanctions were effectively preventing Tehran from using the COVAX facility that’s jointly managed by Geneva-based Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and the World Health Organization. Banks were unwilling to process transactions and convert the won into dollars, he said on Instagram.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Gavi said there was no “legal barrier” to Iran procuring vaccines through COVAX as the U.S. Treasury’s Office on Foreign Assets Control had issued a license covering coronavirus vaccine procurement.

Mongolia to Ease Curbs Next Week (11:35 a.m. HK)

Prime Minister Khurelsukh Ukhnaa announced plans to ease lockdown restrictions in the capital Ulaanbaatar from Dec. 14. Businesses including restaurants, cafes and shopping malls will be allowed to reopen from 6 a.m. local time Monday.

Alberta Bans all Social Gatherings (9:40 a.m. HK)

The Canadian province announced strict new limits in an attempt to control a surge in cases, banning all social gatherings for at least four weeks from Sunday and requiring masks in all indoor areas. Casinos, gyms, salons and entertainment facilities will close, while bars and restaurants are limited to takeout and delivery orders.

Retail stores, malls and religious houses will be limited to 15% of capacity, and people must work from home unless they’re physically required at their workplace.

Positive Case on Cruise to Nowhere (9:10 a.m. HK)

A Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. ship returned early to Singapore after a passenger tested positive for Covid-19. About 2,000 people are on the Quantum of the Seas vessel and they’ve been told to stay in their rooms as a precautionary measure.

“We know this isn’t exactly how you planned to spend your cruise, and we are terribly sorry,” Royal Caribbean said in a note to passengers. Breakfast was delivered to guests in their rooms and passengers were given permission to smoke in their bathrooms.

Hong Kong Mulls Travel Limits (9:08 a.m. HK)

Hong Kong officials have discussed limiting air passenger arrivals if there is a shortfall of hotels willing to serve as quarantine centers, the South China Morning Post reported, citing a government pandemic adviser. The cap would only be considered in “extreme conditions.”

Low Transmission in English Schools (7:45 a.m. HK)

Cases were low in schools that reopened in England after the first nationwide lockdown, suggesting there was little risk of spreading the disease, according to a study published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases journal.

The research covered nurseries and schools that reopened after implementing measures such as smaller classes and the formation of social bubbles. The virus was most often spread among staff, while student-to-student transmission was rare.

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