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The United Kingdom on Wednesday became the first country to formally approve the Pfizer and BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine, a huge symbolic milestone in the fight against the pandemic.
The vaccine has been authorized far quicker than any other in history, its lightning development outpacing the 15-20 years it usually takes to develop these types of medicines.
The first inoculations are set to be rolled out next week, the government said.
- Map of U.S. hot spots and worldwide Covid-19 cases.
- Tracking surges in states across the country this winter.
- Map of travel restrictions and which states have a mask mandate.
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WH Covid task force urges health officials to sidestep unhelpful local governments
The White House coronavirus task force is warning that the risk from Covid-19 to Americans is at “a historic high” and urging public health officials to “alert the state population directly” if local governments balk at doing so, according to a copy of the latest task force report obtained by NBC News.
“We are in a very dangerous place due to the current, extremely high COVID baseline and limited hospital capacity,” the report, which was distributed to the states earlier this week, says. “A further post-Thanksgiving surge will compromise COVID patient care, as well as medical care overall.”
Notably, the task force is directing health officials to take matters into their own hands and circumvent state and local policies if they “do not reflect the seriousness of the current situation” by making sure the media is “saturated with public health messaging.”
The message? Avoid social gatherings. Wear masks and practice social distancing. Report businesses and organizations that fail to comply with health regulations.
More specifically, the report states, “It must be made clear that if you are over 65 or have significant health conditions, you should not enter any indoor public spaces where anyone is unmasked due to the immediate risk to your health; you should have groceries and medications delivered.”
Echoing what Dr. Deborah Birx and Dr. Anthony Fauci have stressed in recent days, the report also states: “If you are under 40, you need to assume you became infected during the Thanksgiving period if you gathered beyond your immediate household.”
“Most likely, you will not have symptoms; however, you are dangerous to others and you must isolate away from anyone at increased risk for severe disease and get tested immediately,” it states.
Fauci named one of People magazine's '2020 People of the Year'
LOS ANGELES — People magazine has named George Clooney, Dr. Anthony Fauci, Selena Gomez and Regina King as the “2020 People of the Year.”
The magazine revealed its list Wednesday morning as part of a year-end double issue with four covers. The four will be celebrated for their positive impact in the world during a challenging 2020.
Clooney, Fauci, Gomez and King will be separately featured on the magazine covers of the issue, which is out Friday.
U.S. reports 2,380 Covid deaths, the most in months
The U.S. reported 2,380 Covid-19 deaths Tuesday, the most since 2,415 were reported June 26, when New Jersey added probable deaths to its count.
Before that, it's the most deaths since May 7, when 2,578 fatalities were reported. Tuesday's tally brought the nation's overall death toll to 271,165.
The U.S. is averaging 1,502 reported deaths per day in the last week. Four weeks ago, the U.S. averaged 1,111 deaths per day.
According to NBC News' tally, the U.S. counted 181,112 new cases of the coronavirus Tuesday.
Several states hit single-day records Tuesday:
- Arizona, 10,322 cases
- Delaware, 689 cases
- Louisiana, 5,326 cases
- Maine, 20 reported deaths
- New Hampshire, 772 cases
- Oregon, 24 reported deaths
- Washington, 68 reported deaths
- Wisconsin, 117 reported deaths
Will Americans take the coronavirus vaccine once it is approved?
British government criticized for nationalist vaccine messaging
The British government may have been the world's first to formally approve a Covid-19 vaccine Wednesday, but it has also been heavily criticized for attempting to use that milestone for nationalistic ends.
Minutes after the U.K. announced it had approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, Business Secretary Alok Sharma tweeted, "In years to come, we will remember this moment as the day the U.K. led humanity's charge against this disease."
Plenty of people pointed out that the vaccine was developed in Germany by BioNTech, a company led by the children of Turkish immigrants, before being scrutinized in mass trials by the U.S. pharma giant Pfizer and then manufactured in Belgium.
"Why is it so difficult to recognize this important step forward as a great international effort and success?" Andreas Michaelis, the German ambassador to the U.K., responded to Sharma's tweet. "I really don't think this is a national story. In spite of the German company BioNTech having made a crucial contribution, this is European and transatlantic."
Health Secretary Matt Hancock was among those to suggest Brexit had helped the U.K.'s rapid vaccine response. "Because we've left the E.U., we’ve been able to move faster," he said. This was later contradicted by Dr. June Raine, chief executive of the U.K.'s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency — the body responsible for approving the vaccine — who told a news conference that this had not been a factor.
E.U. pushes for 'right to disconnect' from work at home
BRUSSELS — European Union lawmakers on Wednesday voted in favor of a “right to disconnect” from the internet and email, with around one-third of people now working from home across the 27-nation bloc due in large part to coronavirus restrictions.
In a resolution, the parliamentarians argue that disconnecting from work should be a fundamental right and they want the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, to draw up rules allowing people to take time out from the pressures of working at home.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed the way we work and we must update our rules to catch up with the new reality,” said Maltese Socialist lawmaker Alex Agius Saliba, who led work on the resolution.
The resolution, which is non-binding, was passed by 31 votes to 6 against, with 18 abstentions in the European Parliament’s Employment Committee. It must still have to be rubber-stamped by the full house, then submitted to the commission and national EU governments for possible endorsement.
In it, the lawmakers argue that the culture of being “always on” and the growing expectation that workers should be reachable at any time can hurt work-life balance, physical and mental health, and well-being.
NYC sheriff shuts down Staten Island bar for defying restrictions
A bar on Staten Island that violated health and liquor laws was shut down Tuesday afternoon by the New York City Sheriff’s Office.
Mac's Pub, which is in an area where the city prohibits indoor dining, had no liquor license, stored illegal liquor and made illegal sales, the sheriff's office said Tuesday. Four people face criminal charges and health violations after breaking emergency orders meant to curb the spread of the coronavirus, the sheriff's office said.
Deputies issued summonses to three employees for violation of emergency and executive orders, failure to observe order, and failure to protect health and safety, according to the sheriff's office.
San Francisco mayor dined at same Napa Valley restaurant as Calif. governor
SAN FRANCISCO — San Francisco Mayor London Breed dined at a posh Napa Valley restaurant the day after California’s governor was there.
Breed joined seven others at the three Michelin-starred French Laundry on Nov. 7 to celebrate the 60th birthday of socialite Gorretti Lo Lui, the mayor’s spokesman confirmed to the San Francisco Chronicle. She dined in the same kind of partially enclosed indoor/outdoor room Gov. Gavin Newsom celebrated in a day earlier.
Newsom, who has appealed to Californians to “do your part” and stay home, apologized when the 12-person dinner was reported, then again when photos emerged showing him, his wife and others sitting close together at the same table without masks.
Breed’s spokesman, Jeff Cretan, called the mayor’s French Laundry dinner a “small family birthday dinner.” He did not immediately respond to a telephone message Tuesday inquiring whether the dinner involved more than three different households, which are prohibited under the state’s rules.
Italy plans to distribute more than 200M vaccine doses in 2021
ROME — Italy’s health minister told lawmakers on Wednesday that Italy will distribute 202.6 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines during 2021 in “an unprecedented effort that will require a huge collective commitment.’’
Robert Speranza said the vaccines will not be mandatory, but that the doses allotted Italy through an EU collective purchasing agreement would be “enough to potentially vaccinate the entire population.”
Speranza emphasized that the distribution of the vaccines would depend on regulatory approval which was still pending from the European Medicines Agency.
The first vaccines are expected to arrive in January with Pfizer’s vaccine expected to get first EMA approval by Dec. 29 and Moderna by Jan. 12. Priority will be given first to Italy's front-line health care workers, then residents of nursing homes, then to elderly over 80 before moving to other groups like people with medical risks, law enforcement, teachers and prison workers.