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Dec. 14 Coronavirus updates: First federally approved vaccine administered

An estimated 2.9 million doses will be distributed within the first week.

Live coverage on this blog has ended, please click here for NBC News' latest coverage of Covid-19.

The first federally approved coronavirus vaccine was set to arrive at 145 locations across all 50 states Monday, a landmark moment as the nation struggles to contain a virus that's killed 300,000 Americans.

The vaccine, developed by German company BioNTech and its United States partner Pfizer, was given emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration on Friday night.

Trucks departed Pfizer's plant in Portage, Michigan, on Sunday and the company expects to deliver 2.9 million doses to 636 locations by the end of this week.

Still, the vaccine will not be given to the vast majority of Americans until well into next year. And it will take some time to make even a dent in a pandemic that is killing thousands of people across the U.S. every day — more than ever before.

U.K. government's Christmas Covid plan 'will cost many lives,' medical journals warn

Two of the U.K.’s leading medical journals delivered a stark warning to the government on Tuesday: Do not relax coronavirus restrictions for Christmas.

In a joint editorial, only the second the British Medical Journal and the Health Service Journal have written together in more than 100 years, the editors warned that the government is “about to blunder into another major error that will cost many lives.” 

The British government has said that it would relax restrictions between Dec. 23 and 27, and allow up to three families to form a “bubble” so they can spend the holiday together. However, cases are rising and on Monday the government announced London would face the harshest level of restrictions, with restaurants and pubs banned from serving food and gym classes prohibited.

Criticizing the government’s delay in implementing the first lockdown in the spring, the editors called on the government to “reverse its rash decision” for the holiday relaxation and impose new restrictions over the holiday period to bring numbers down ahead of a likely third wave.

Santa's 'immune' to Covid-19 and will still be coming to town, WHO says

There may be a pandemic, but Santa Claus is still coming to town, according to the World Health Organization.

“I understand the concern for Santa because he is of older age,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO's technical lead on COVID-19, at a press conference on Monday. “I can tell you that Santa Claus is immune to this virus.”

Despite the travel restrictions in place around the globe, world leaders have relaxed measures just for him, she said, adding that both he and his wife, Mrs. Claus, are doing well during their busy season.

In her message to kids, she did get in a health warning, mentioning the importance of Covid-19 precautions — one that will likely be music to parents' ears.  

Physical distancing by Santa Claus and of the children themselves must be strictly enforced, so it is really important that the children of the world still listen to their moms and dads and guardians and make sure they go to bed early on Christmas Eve,” she said.

Image: People demonstrate outside the Torentje, the office of prime minister, during his speech announcing a five-week national lockdown in The Hague.
People demonstrate outside the Torentje, the office of prime minister, during his speech announcing a five-week national lockdown on Monday in The Hague.Bart Maat / AFP - Getty Images

People demonstrate outside the Torentje, the office of prime minister, during his speech announcing a five-week lockdown, on Monday in The Hague.

Complaint: Caterers at Dave Ramsey's holiday party told not to wear masks

Workers who catered the company Christmas party of Tennessee-based personal financial guru Dave Ramsey were instructed not to wear gloves and masks to the event — even though hundreds were expected to attend and coronavirus cases in the state have been steadily rising in recent weeks, according to a complaint obtained by NBC affiliate WSMV.

The complaint, which was filed Dec. 12 with the city of Franklin, Tenn. — where Ramsey’s company, Ramsey Solutions, is based — was confirmed Monday by city administrator Eric Stuckey.

The vendor who filed the complaint, whose name was redacted by WSMV, said Ramsey Solutions told workers to ditch the protective gear so as not to "scare those in attendance.”

Between 700 and 900 people were expected to attend the Dec. 12 party, according to the complaint.

Read the full story here. 

History spurs distrust between Black community and Covid vaccine

Hunger study predicts 168,000 pandemic-linked child deaths

The Associated Press

PARIS — Economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic has set back decades of progress against the most severe forms of malnutrition and is likely to kill 168,000 children before any global recovery takes hold, according to a study released Monday by 30 international organizations.

The study from the Standing Together for Nutrition Consortium draws on economic and nutrition data gathered this year as well as targeted phone surveys. Saskia Osendarp, who led the research, estimates an additional 11.9 million children — most in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa — will suffer from stunting and wasting, the most severe forms of malnutrition.

Women who are pregnant now “will deliver children who are already malnourished at birth, and these children are disadvantaged from the very start,” said Osendarp, executive director of the Micronutrient Forum. “An entire generation is at stake.”

The fight against malnutrition had been an unheralded global success until the coronavirus pandemic struck.

Before the pandemic, the number of stunted children declined globally each year, from 199.5 million in 2000 to 144 million in 2019. The number of children suffering from wasting stood at 54 million in 2010 and had dropped to 47 million last year. It's expected to rise again to 2010 levels, according to the study.

Biden addresses loved ones of 300,000 Americans who have died of Covid

Sharon Osbourne says she had been in hospital with Covid

Sharon Osbourne, one of the hosts of "The Talk" and the wife of Black Sabbath frontman Ozzy Osbourne, revealed Monday that she has tested positive for Covid-19 and had been hospitalized.

Vaccine shipments equipped with Bluetooth sensor to ensure delivery, correct temp

Morgan Chesky

Alabama loosens licensing rules for doctors as virus rages

The Associated Press

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Regulators have loosened rules to make it easier for out-of-state doctors to work in Alabama as the coronavirus pandemic both fills hospital beds and strains medical staff by sickening doctors and nurses, officials said Monday as the first doses of vaccine arrived.

With an average of more than 2,100 people hospitalized daily over the last week with the illness caused by the virus, COVID-19, the Alabama Board of Medical Examiners and the Medical Licensure Commission decided to let qualified physicians from other states and Canada seek temporary emergency licenses to work in the state.

The Alabama Hospital Association has reported staffing shortages caused by both an inadequate number of beds in places and a lack of staff to treat patients, partly because medical workers are among the ill.

Under an emergency rule adopted by regulators during a weekend meeting, doctors licensed in other states or Canada can seek a license to work in an Alabama hospital for 180 days or until Gov. Kay Ivey ends the state’s public health emergency.

More than 213,000 cases reported Monday in U.S.

On the same day that the first people in the United States began receiving the first injections of a Covid-19 vaccine, more than 200,000 cases of the disease were reported.

There were more than 213,000 cases reported Monday and at least 1,400 deaths, according to an NBC News count of reports.

Overall, more than 16.5 million people have been diagnosed with Covid-19 in the U.S. and more than 301,000 have died, according to NBC News' count.

Georgia man who lied to employer about having Covid pleads guilty

An Atlanta man who earlier this year falsely claimed to his employer that he had been diagnosed with Covid-19 pleaded guilty to a wire fraud charge Monday, federal prosecutors said.

The claim cost the company about $100,000 because the company had temporarily close its facility and have four co-workers quarantine, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Georgia said.

Santwon Antonio Davis, 35, who was charged in May, pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud.

Davis "caused unnecessary economic loss to his employer and distress to his coworkers and their families," Byung J. “BJay” Pak, U.S. attorney for the district, said in a statement.

Read the full story here. 

Inside Tennessee's only children's Covid ICU ward

A 'moral and ethical struggle': California nurses threaten strike

A nurses strike scheduled to begin on Christmas Eve threatens operations at three Southern California hospitals as the nurses allege that work conditions put staff safety at risk.

The Hospital Corporation of America on Monday received a 10-day notice of the intent to strike by about 2,450 registered nurses and licensed professionals across three of its hospitals, according to the SEIU Local 121 union chapter, which represents them. The strike would begin Dec. 24 and continue through Jan. 3 at Riverside Community Hospital, Los Robles Regional Medical Center, and West Hills Hospital & Medical Center.

Registered nurses have taken issue with “dangerously low staffing levels” and lack of adequate personal protective equipment that have put them at risk for infection as the coronavirus pandemic continues to overwhelm frontline workers, according to the union.

The Hospital Corporation of America said it a statement that it has bargained in "good faith" to secure a new labor agreement and that the union's push to have nurses "abandon the beside" was "unconscionable."

Read the full story here.

Gov. Gavin Newsom: California received as many Covid vaccines as new cases recorded

A 'constant flow' of vaccine: Pfizer's Covid-19 shots begin massive rollout

As the first Covid-19 vaccines were given in the United States on Monday, millions more doses entered the queue for nationwide distribution.

An additional 581 shipments are scheduled for delivery later this week, Army Gen. Gustave Perna, the chief operating officer of Operation Warp Speed, said during a media briefing Monday. Those deliveries will follow a previously announced 636 shipments, set to arrive by Wednesday. Each shipment contains about 1,000 doses.

And Operation Warp Speed officials have already planned for the widespread distribution of a second vaccine, made by Moderna, though it has not yet been granted emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration.

"It is a constant flow of available vaccines," Perna said. His team is expected to update the nation on the number of available shots each Friday moving forward.

Click here to read the full story.

Acting Secretary Defense Chris Miller gets vaccine at Walter Reed

'The Netherlands is closing down': Dutch prime minister announces new lockdown for holidays

The Dutch government is shutting down the country for the holidays, the country’s prime minister announced Monday.

“We have to bite through this very sour apple before things get better,” Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte said in a televised address to his countrymen. 

The pandemic is spreading “even faster that we counted on last week.” So, Rutte said, “the Netherlands is closing down.”

As Rutte spoke, protesters outside could be heard outside his office in The Hague banging on pots to register their displeasure.

“There's no more leeway and the flu season hasn't even started yet,” Rutte said. “And the reality is also that we are not dealing with an innocent flu, which some people, such as the demonstrators outside still think, but with a virus that can hit anyone hard."

So starting Tuesday, all non-essential stores are closed until Jan. 19 along with hair salons, museums and theaters. All schools have to switch to remote learning by Wednesday. And most child care centers will be closed.

Rutte also urged his countrymen to limit the number of guests over age 13 to just three from Dec. 24-26. “We realize as a Cabinet how intense and drastic the measure we are taking today are,” Rutte said. “Especially so close to Christmas.”

Nearly 633,000 people in the Netherlands, which has a population of about 17 million, have tested positive for Covid-19 and more than 10,000 people have died due to the coronavirus since the pandemic started, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University

The Netherlands, which has already had a partial lockdown in place since October, has seen a sharp increase in new cases in recent weeks, various news outlets have reported.


VA to start vaccinating health-care workers, veterans in New Orleans, Massachusetts

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) said Monday that its New Orleans and Bedford, Mass., medical centers are the first VA facilities to begin Covid-19 vaccinations for front-line health-care workers and veterans who live in long-term care Community Living and Spinal Cord Injury and Disorder centers.

Both facilities are part of the initial group of 37 VA medical centers across the U.S. that started receiving and administering the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine this week.

The sites were chosen for their ability to vaccinate large numbers of people and store the vaccines at extremely cold temperatures.

There will be an initial limited-supply phase of vaccinations followed by a general implementation phase, when large supplies of the vaccine become available.

Veterans who need additional information can use the VA's Covid-19 Vaccine Keep Me Informed tool, visit the VA Coronavirus Vaccine FAQs webpage, contact their care team or visit their facility website.

National Guard distributing Covid vaccine in 26 states and territories

National Guard members in 26 states and territories are assisting in the distribution of the coronavirus vaccine, officials said Monday.

In Ohio, about 30 soldiers and airmen are based at the state Department of Health’s warehouse facility, working to break down batches of the Pfizer vaccine into smaller doses. Other Ohio National Guard members will deliver the doses, in vans and other non-military vehicles, to select locations throughout the state, said Maj. Gen. John Harris, the state’s adjutant general.

Brig. Gen. Gene Holt, assistant adjutant general of West Virginia, said the state has a similar mission, with about 100 licensed healthcare professionals at five different locations separating the doses into smaller packages and then distributing them around the state.

Some 120 members of the Oklahoma National Guard are involved in the effort to move the vaccine from five prepositioned locations to satellite sites throughout the state, said Brig. Gen. Cynthia Tinkham, the assistant adjutant general of the Oklahoma National Guard.

National Guard members are not being used for security in any of these three states, according to the officials. State highway patrol, local law enforcement and first responders are supporting with security where needed.

Pac-12 takes University of Washington out of football title game after some players sidelined by coronavirus protocols

The Pacific-12 Conference removed the University of Washington from league's championship football game after coronavirus testing left the Huskies short-handed, officials said Monday.

North Division-champion Washington had been set to play South winner USC on Friday but  "a number of positive football student-athlete Covid-19 cases and resulting isolation of additional football student-athletes under contact tracing protocols" meant the Huskies couldn't suit up the minimum number of players mandated under league guidelines, the Pac-12 said.

North runner-up Oregon will now take on Southern Cal in the league championship game Friday night in Los Angeles.

Image: NCAA Football: Southern California at UCLA
Southern California Trojans celebrate in the second half of their game against the UCLA Bruins in Pasadena, Calif., on Dec. 12, 2020. USC defeated UCLA 43-38.Kirby Lee / USA TODAY Sports via Reuters

Dr. Fauci predicts 'herd immunity' for U.S. by spring or summer

Dr. Anthony Fauci on Monday predicted that the United States could achieve herd immunity against Covid-19 by "the end of the second quarter 2021" after vaccines are more widely deployed.

Speaking to MSNBC's Hallie Jackson, Fauci — who is the director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases — said that, depending on the "efficiency of the rollout," the Covid-19 vaccines should be widely available to most Americans by spring.

Read the full story here. 

Another grim milestone: U.S. death toll tops 300,000

The United States passed another grim milestone on Monday as more  than 300,000 Americans have now died from Covid-19, since the pandemic took earlier this year, according to a rolling count by NBC News.

There have been more than 16.4 million sickened by the deadly virus in the U.S.

Image: El Paso County Medical Examiner's Office staff move bodies in El Paso
County Medical Examiner's Office staff roll bodies that are in bags labeled "Covid" from refrigerated trailers into the morgue office in El Paso, Texas, on Nov. 23, 2020.Ivan Pierre Aguirre / Reuters

The sad moment came as U.S. healthcare workers received the first shots of a Pfizer vaccine that could eventually control the virus.

“Just because we’re giving out the vaccine is no excuse for the public out there not to continue wearing masks, not to social distance, etc.,” Northwell Health CEO Michael Dowling said, moments before critical care nurse Sandra Lindsay at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in Queens became the first person to get the vaccine in New York City.

 “You have to continue to comply with safety standards, even though the vaccine is going to be distributed over the next couple of months.  You have to do both if we’re going to be successful.” 

Caregiver who works with senior citizens receives first vaccine in Canada

A Canadian caregiver who works with senior citizens became the first person in the country to receive the Covid-19 vaccine on Monday.

Anita Quidangen, who works at the Rekai Centre at Sherbourne Place in Toronto, was administered her first done of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at noon, Canadian media reported.

“This is a watershed moment --- the beginning of the end of this terrible pandemic,” Ontario Premier Doug Ford said in a statement. “The light at the end of the tunnel grows brighter every day, but we must remain on our guard.”

Ford specifically acknowledged the contributions of Quidangen, who has been a personal support worker since 1988 and often worked double-shifts during the pandemic to take care of residents.

"Anita has spent years rolling up her sleeves to protect our province, and today, she didn't hesitate to find a new way to do so," Ford said.

Canada has reported 466,949 coronavirus cases and 13,490 deaths due to Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University researchers.

Why you can't ditch your mask even after you've been vaccinated

People who receive the coronavirus vaccine will still need to wear a mask and practice social distancing, experts say, because it’s not yet known whether the shots can prevent even vaccinated individuals from spreading the virus.

Vaccines can potentially serve three different purposes: they can prevent an infection by blocking a virus from invading cells in the body; they can reduce the risk of serious illness if a person is infected; or they can reduce the amount of virus a person “sheds,” essentially curbing a person’s ability to transmit the virus to others. 

“The challenge is that not all vaccines can do all three,” said Dr. Bruce Y. Lee, a professor of health policy and management at the City University of New York.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is 95 percent effective at preventing symptomatic Covid-19, and the Moderna vaccine is 94.5 percent effective at reducing infection, but neither of the trials were designed to focus on whether the shots could prevent infection altogether — or what effect they could have on transmission.

The CDC has said that until more is known about how the vaccines perform under real-life conditions, “it will be important for everyone to continue using all the tools available to us to help stop this pandemic.”

That includes wearing a mask, washing hands frequently and staying six feet apart from others.

“A vaccine is a very important tool in our arsenal, but we also can’t overestimate it,” Lee said. “We have to layer all these interventions on top of each other to make them more effective.”

London to move toughest level of Covid-19 restrictions as cases rise

Stefan Sykes

London will enter into England’s toughest tier of coronavirus restrictions this week, as cases increase "exponentially" across the city and London hospitals are saddled with a growing number of patients, UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced Monday.

Tier 3 – the highest level of Covid-19 restrictions – will go into effect on Wednesday morning for London, and some surrounding areas. Under tier 3, thousands of bars, pubs, cafes and restaurants will close, except for takeaway and delivery, along with other non-essential businesses. 

People are also advised not to travel to and from tier 3 areas and may only meet others not from their households in groups up to 6 in outdoor settings.

"We know from bitter experience that when cases start to rise quickly, it's much better to act early, rather than too late. This is how we can avoid even tougher restrictions, for longer, further down the road," said London Mayor Sadiq Khan.

Hancock said that while he knows this is difficult news, especially for businesses affected, the action is "absolutely essential," and can prevent "more damaging and longer-lasting problems later."

According to the BBC, more than 34 million people will be placed under tier 3 when the rule goes into effect. 

NYC Mayor de Blasio warns of possible full shutdown

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio warned of another possible full shutdown of the city because “we’re seeing the kind of level of infection with the coronavirus we haven’t seen since May and we have to stop momentum.”

During his press briefing after first making the remark during a CNN interview, de Blasio said “what is increasingly clear is that all forms of restrictions have to be on the table at this time.”

Reiterating what New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said earlier, de Blasio said “we have to be ready for a full shutdown...just to break the back of this second wave.”

“The state will ultimately make the decision,” the mayor said. 

New variant of coronavirus identified in Britain, U.K. health secretary says

A new variant of the coronavirus has been identified by British scientists and it may have contributed to the recent rapid spread of Covid-19 in and around London, the country's health secretary said Monday.

Matt Hancock told the House of Commons that there was no evidence this new variant was any more deadly, or that it would be less responsive to vaccines. "Initial analysis suggests that this variant is growing faster than the existing variant," Hancock told lawmakers.

The United Kingdom has one of the highest deaths per capita in the world. Its government has come under heavy criticism from experts, many of whom believe it has acted too slowly in introducing social restrictions, often attempting to prioritize the economy over controlling the pandemic.

After two national lockdowns, the country is operating under a system of regional tiered restrictions. On Monday Hancock also announced London and parts of southeast England would move from Tier 2 to Tier 3, meaning bars and restaurants can only offer takeaways, and people are banned from meeting up in private gardens.

This is not the first time scientists have identified a new variant of this coronavirus. In October researchers announced that one such new strain had emerged in Spain in June, and by fall made up most infections in Europe.

New poll finds 84 percent of Americans plan to get Covid vaccine

More than 80 percent of Americans plan to get a Covid-19 vaccine as soon as available or shortly thereafter, according to a poll released Monday by research firm Ipsos and ABC News.

The poll comes as the first U.S. vaccinations were administered Monday morning and indicates growing public acceptance of the safety and efficacy of the vaccines. Previous surveys have found some hesitance and even outright refusal to receive a vaccine.

The Ipsos/ABC News poll illustrated an ongoing political split over the vaccine — 26 percent of Republicans surveyed said they plan to never receive a Covid-19 vaccine, compared to 6 percent for Democrats. 

Navajo Nation to receive its first shipment of Pfizer vaccine

The Navajo Nation on Monday expects to receive nearly 4,000 doses of Pfizer's Covid-19 vaccine, which began rolling out over the weekend, with the first shipments coming to the Indian Medical Center in Gallup, New Mexico, and distributed to regional health care centers.

By Tuesday, health care workers and residents of long-term assisted living facilities will start receiving the vaccine first on a volunteer basis, tribal leaders said.

"This is the first step in the vaccine process to help rid this invisible monster from our homes and communities," Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said in a statement. He added that the tribe was heavily involved in the vaccine process with Pfizer, and that more than 200 people on the Navajo Nation volunteered for the clinical trials.

The tribe, whose lands span Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, grappled early on during the pandemic and had among the highest per capita case rates in the country. The tribe's health department has warned of an "uncontrolled spread" in some communities, and continues to institute stay-at-home orders and the closing of businesses during weekend lockdowns.

FedEx makes first deliveries of Covid vaccine

HHS Sec. Azar says Covid vaccines will be widely available by February or March

In an appearance on the "Today" show Monday, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said that 2.9 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine will be delivered to locations across the country this week and that the potential approval of additional vaccines could mean that vaccines will be as widely available as flu shots by early spring.

"We hope we will see as much of that used as humanly possible this week," Azar said of the initial shipment of 2.9 million doses.

Azar repeated a claim he made last month that up to 20 million Americans could receive their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine by the new year.

Azar said the 20 million figure is "possible" because there is enough vaccine in the U.S. for 20 million to be vaccinated before 2021, for 50 million by the end of January, and up to 100 million people by the end of March.

Azar urged Americans to "please get the vaccine" as soon as you are able and recommended to get it, adding that Americans must keep their vigilance high during the current Covid-19 surge, which is coinciding with the holiday season.

"I want you to be there to get these vaccines, I want you to be there — I want next year's Christmas and holidays, I want everyone in your family to be there, so please be careful over the next several weeks, be very careful," Azar said.

The HHS secretary predicted that with the likely approval of Moderna's apparently safe and effective vaccine, and the potential approval of others from Johnson & Johnson or AstraZeneca —both of which are scheduled to publish data in 2021 — could mean that Covid-19 vaccines are as easy to obtain as a flu shot by the end of February.

North Carolina, Tennessee top 10,000 Covid cases, California sets new record

California reported 38,468 new Covid-19 cases Sunday, the most any state has reported in a single day according to NBC News' count.

The 214,267 cases reported in the state the past week is more than any country except Turkey, Brazil and India, according to Johns Hopkins figures.

Across the U.S., 205,780 new infections and 1,337 deaths were reported Sunday. As of this morning, 299,597 have died of the virus here since the pandemic began.

The U.S. has averaged 214,941 cases and 2,410 reported deaths per day in the last week.

These states also set single-day records:

  • New York, 12,519 cases
  • North Carolina, 10,561 cases, its first time above 10,000
  • Tennessee, 11,352 cases, its first time above 10,000

Vaccines start arriving across the U.S.

With cargo trucks and planes fanning out across the nation, the first federally approved Covid-19 vaccine was set to arrive in 145 locations in all 50 states Monday.

They are the first of 2.9 doses of the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine the companies expect to deliver across the U.S. this week, arriving at 425 other locations Tuesday and 66 Wednesday, according to Gen. Gustave Perna, chief operating officer of Operation Warp Speed, speaking at a briefing this weekend.

Having been approved by the Food and Drug Administration last week, the first super-cool boxes of vaccine left departed Pfizer's plant in Portage, Michigan, on Sunday under the guard of U.S. marshals.

The elderly and health and nursing home workers will be prioritized, but most Americans will not receive the vaccine until next year.

Read the full story here.

Japan, South Korea fret as surging coronavirus undermines leaders' support


Japan and South Korea grappled with surging coronavirus cases and growing public frustration on Monday as Japan's prime minister tiptoed around a contentious travel subsidy program while an anxious South Korean president warned of harsh curbs.

Japan reported more than 3,000 new cases on Saturday, yet another record as winter set in, with infections worsening in Tokyo, the northern island of Hokkaido and the city of Osaka. 

South Korea reported a new daily record of 1,030 infections on Sunday, a big worry for a country for months held up as a mitigation success story but still a fraction of the tallies being seen in some European countries and the United States, where vaccines are being rolled out.

Japan, with a focus on the economic costs, has steered clear of tough lockdowns. It tackled its first wave of infections in the spring by asking people to refrain from going out and for businesses to close or curtail operating hours.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said last week a halt to a campaign that subsidizes domestic tourism was not under consideration, citing economic considerations.

Critics say encouraging people to travel has helped spread infections. Media reported on Monday that Suga could restrict the program after weekend polls showed his support had eroded over his handling of the pandemic.

Across the sea in South Korea, President Moon Jae-in also faces sliding ratings as clusters of new infections fuel criticism over what many see as slack containment.

"Our back is against the wall," Moon said. "This is a crucial moment to devote all our virus control capabilities and administrative power to stopping the coronavirus."

Germany calls on all to forgo Christmas shopping to stop exponential rise in Covid cases

The Associated Press

BERLIN — The German government called on citizens Monday to forgo Christmas shopping, two days before the country heads into a hard lockdown that will shut most stores, tighten social distancing rules and close schools across the country.

“I wish and I hope that people will only buy what they really need, like groceries,” Economy Minister Peter Altmaier said late Sunday. “The faster we get these infections under control, the better it is for everyone.”

Chancellor Angela Merkel and the governors of Germany’s 16 states agreed Sunday to step up the country’s lockdown measures beginning Wednesday and running to Jan. 10 to stop the exponential rise of COVID-19 cases. Merkel said existing restrictions imposed in November failed to significantly reduce the number of new infections. Germany has been recording steadily higher confirmed cases and deaths in recent weeks.

On Monday, the country's central disease control center reported 16,362 new cases — that's about 4,000 cases more than a week before. The Robert Koch Institute reported 188 new deaths bringing the overall death toll to 21,975. Last week, the daily death numbers rose to almost 600 cases, but after the weekend the numbers are usually lower because not all states reported new figures on the weekend.

Hospitals across the country had in recent weeks repeatedly warned that they were reaching their limits in caring for COVID-19 patients and that staffing on intensive care units was becoming a problem. On Monday, 4,552 COVID-19 patients were being treated in intensive care in the country, 52 percent of them on respirators.

NBC News