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Latest on coronavirus stimulus package and new strain found

Countries around the world were shutting their doors to Great Britain after a possibly more infectious strain of the coronavirus was detected.

This live coverage has ended. Continue reading the Coronavirus Liveblog from Dec. 22, 2020.

Congress struck a deal Sunday on a nearly $900 billion Covid-19 relief package that includes a new round of direct payments and help for jobless Americans, families and businesses struggling in the pandemic.

The agreement includes stimulus checks of up to $600 a person based on income, a federal unemployment insurance bonus of $300 per week, over $284 billion more in loans for businesses struggling to pay rent and workers, vaccine distribution funds and $82 billion in funding for colleges and schools. It also includes the Democrats' priority of $25 billion in rental assistance and an extension of the eviction moratorium.

Meanwhile, the United Kingdom was increasingly isolated on Monday as countries around the world rushed to shut their doors to the island nation after a possibly more infectious strain of the coronavirus was detected there.

710d ago / 5:49 PM UTC
710d ago / 5:44 PM UTC

Excess Covid-19 deaths in CA hit older adults, Black and Latino residents the hardest, study shows

From March through August, excess deaths in California were highest among older adults and Black and Latino residents, a study in JAMA Network Open finds.

The study released Monday classified excess deaths as the numbers of expected deaths subtracted from the total amount of observed deaths. 

While the study showed older adults had the greatest quantity of excess deaths, it was younger adults who saw the greatest increase in excess deaths, “with rates more than doubling between the shutdown and reopening.” 

The rates also changed as different Covid-19 policies were put in place.

“Following the statewide shelter-in-place, Latino residents and those without a high school degree/GED had the greatest increase in excess per capita mortality, with rates more than tripling after reopening,” the study said. “We hypothesize that this pattern reflects the risk of COVID-19 death faced by low-wage, essential workers and their social networks owing to occupational exposure, crowded housing, and inadequate access to testing or treatments.

710d ago / 5:28 PM UTC
710d ago / 4:56 PM UTC

Dr. Birx travels, family visits highlight pandemic safety perils

WASHINGTON — As Covid-19 cases skyrocketed before the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator of the White House coronavirus response, warned Americans to “be vigilant” and limit celebrations to “your immediate household.”

For many Americans that guidance has been difficult to abide, including for Birx herself.

The day after Thanksgiving, she traveled to one of her vacation properties on Fenwick Island in Delaware. She was accompanied by three generations of her family from two households. Birx, her husband Paige Reffe, a daughter, son-in-law and two young grandchildren were present.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has asked Americans not to travel over the holidays and discourages indoor activity involving members of different households. “People who do not currently live in your housing unit, such as college students who are returning home from school for the holidays, should be considered part of different households.”

Click here to read the full story.

711d ago / 4:14 PM UTC

State Department rolls back to Phase 1 in DC Region


The State Department said Monday it will be regressing to Phase 1 effectively immediately in the DC area as Covid-19 surges in the region, according to a memo obtained by NBC News. 

"The move to Phase 1 limits official travel to mission critical movements only and adds additional restrictions to visitor access, size of gatherings, and public facing Consular operations, on top of the maximum telework posture we adopted in November," the department said.

Phase 1 will end on Monday, January 18, just two days before Inauguration.

Washington D.C. has recorded more than 26,600 cases of the coronavirus, including 737 deaths.

711d ago / 4:11 PM UTC

Israel closes its airspace for almost all visitors in response to new coronavirus strain

In response to the new coronavirus strain spreading in Europe, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday he would "close the skies of Israel" — banning almost all travel into the country.

Israelis arriving in the next 48 hours must go into solitary confinement at home, and anyone after that would have to do the same in a hotel, he said. Some exceptions, such as diplomats, would also be allowed entry.

"We currently have a new epidemic that is spreading, with a virus that we still cannot know its nature," Netanyahu said during a tree-planting ceremony in Jerusalem with Jared Kushner, adviser and son-in-law to President Donald Trump. "This mutation could also be corona-two."

Israel is one of dozens of countries to impose new restrictions on travel following the identification of a new coronavirus strain in the United Kingdom. The strain appears to be more infections but scientists do not yet know if it's more or less deadly than those variants already in circulation.

711d ago / 3:50 PM UTC

UPS delivers first Moderna vaccine to Mass. town

UPS delivered the first dose of the Moderna Covid-19 vaccine on Monday to a site in Burlington, Massachusetts.

The delivery arrived at 6:17 a.m., the company said, a day after Moderna began distributing the vaccine across the country.

McKesson, a healthcare supply chain management company, began filling the initial orders for the shot from its distribution centers in Olive Branch, Mississippi, and outside of Louisville, Kentucky on Sunday, now the second vaccine the U.S. in the fight against the virus that has killed more than 317,000 Americans.

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711d ago / 3:22 PM UTC

Are new coronavirus strains cause for concern?

Health experts in the U.K. and U.S. said the strain seems to infect more easily than others, but there is no evidence yet it is more deadly.

Patrick Vallance, the British government’s chief scientific adviser, said that the strain “moves fast and is becoming the dominant variant,” causing over 60 percent of infections in London by December.

The strain is also concerning because it has so many mutations — nearly two dozen — and some are on the spiky protein that the virus uses to attach to and infect cells. That spike is what current vaccines target.

Read the full story here.

711d ago / 3:15 PM UTC

European regulator clears way for use of Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine

AMSTERDAM — Europe's medicines regulator on Monday approved the use of the Covid-19 vaccine jointly developed by the U.S.'s Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech, putting Europe on course to start inoculations within a week.

European Union countries including Germany, France, Austria and Italy have said they plan to start vaccinations from Dec. 27 as Europe tries to catch up with the United States and Britain, where inoculations began earlier this month.

Having gained the green light from the European Medicines Agency, or EMA, the final step is approval by the European Commission, which is expected later on Monday.

"Now we will act fast. I expect a European Commission decision by this evening," Commission head Ursula von der Leyen wrote on Twitter.

Von der Leyen had already targeted the start of vaccinations over the Dec. 27-29 period.

Preparations for the vaccine rollout come as the identification of a highly infectious new strain of the coronavirus in Britain caused chaos across the region, with countries shutting off travel ties with the U.K. and disrupting trade ahead of the Christmas holiday.

EMA officials told a news briefing that it was highly likely the vaccine would work against the new variant of the coronavirus.

711d ago / 2:50 PM UTC

December poised to become the most infectious month of the pandemic

The U.S. recorded 1,803 deaths and 201,828 Covid-19 cases Sunday, as monthly totals in both categories inched toward making December the deadliest and the most infectious month of the pandemic in the U.S.

With 4,330,000-plus cases in the month already, December will likely break the record 4,389,678 cases counted in November Monday. With 49,000-plus reported deaths in the month, it will take longer to surpass April's toll of 58,960 dead.

711d ago / 2:31 PM UTC
711d ago / 2:14 PM UTC

Apple temporarily closes California stores as virus cases mount

Apple has temporarily closed all 53 of its retail stores in California after the number of coronavirus cases reached new daily records in its home state this week. A listing of stores on the phone maker’s website reflects the change, which does not affect bordering states Arizona and Nevada.

The move shows how a major technology company is trying to reduce spread of the virus for employees and consumers, despite potential business impact.

“Due to current Covid-19 conditions in some of the communities we serve, we are temporarily closing stores in these areas,” an Apple spokesperson told CNBC in an email. “We take this step with an abundance of caution as we closely monitor the situation and we look forward to having our teams and customers back as soon as possible.”

Customers can still pick up existing orders and products the Genius Bar has repaired over the next few days, the spokesperson said.

Click here to read the full story.

711d ago / 12:09 PM UTC

Biden and wife Jill to receive Covid-19 vaccine on Monday

WASHINGTON — President-elect Joe Biden and his wife, Jill Biden, are scheduled to receive the Covid-19 vaccine on Monday in Wilmington, Delaware, and it will be recorded on live video.

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff, are expected to receive the vaccine next week.

The Biden transition team told reporters during a Friday briefing call that staggering their vaccinations was "consistent with security and medical protocols" and it was recommended by medical and health experts. Asked for the reasoning for that recommendation, incoming press secretary Jen Psaki declined to go into further detail.

Read full story here.

711d ago / 11:23 AM UTC

Covid-19 vaccination drive heads to nursing homes

The U.S. government and two of the nation's largest pharmacy chains kick off a nationwide campaign to vaccinate nursing home residents against Covic-19 on Monday, a week after the first vaccines authorized in the country began being administered to healthcare workers.

The program is the latest effort to control a pandemic that has killed more than 300,000 people in the country and is straining the capacity of healthcare systems in some states.

The United States has two authorized vaccines against the virus, one developed by Pfizer Inc and German partner BioNTech, which was cleared for use on Dec. 11, and one by Moderna that was approved on Friday.

Some 2.9 million shots of the Pfizer vaccine were distributed last week and mostly given to healthcare workers. The first Moderna injections are expected to begin being administered on Monday. About 7.9 million doses of the two shots are being distributed nationwide this week.

The government is urging states to prioritize those at greatest risk from the virus because vaccine supplies remain limited. 

711d ago / 11:01 AM UTC

U.K. Drivers warned: 'Routes to France closed, stay home'

Image: A sign on a highway in southeastern England warns drivers: "Routes to France closed, stay home." Countries, including France, moved to cut off Britain after a new and possibly more infectious strain of Covid-19 was identified.
A sign on a highway in southeastern England warns drivers: "Routes to France closed, stay home." Countries, including France, moved to cut off Britain after a new and possibly more infectious strain of Covid-19 was identified. Paul Ellis / AFP - Getty Images
711d ago / 10:39 AM UTC

Britain cut off by Canada and others as new Covid strain spreads

The United Kingdom was increasingly isolated on Monday as countries around the world shut their doors to the island nation after a possibly more infectious strain of the coronavirus was detected.

Almost two dozen countries including Canada, France, Germany, Israel, Iran, Colombia and Morocco have suspended flights from the U.K. for 48 hours or more. Saudi Arabia has closed its borders and suspended all flights regardless of destination or origin.

Crisis meetings were scheduled in London and Brussels as officials grappled with how to respond to the variant, which experts estimate is 70 percent more transmissible than others in circulation.

At England's main port of Dover, already gridlocked before this weekend as a symptom of the country's imminent uncoupling with the European Union, freight officials warned that the new travel bans could wreak havoc on supply chains of food and goods days before Christmas.

Over the weekend, there was chaos at train stations and grocery stores, as people packed on to trains to avoid new domestic restrictions announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and stocked up on essentials in fear of possible shortages.

Read full story here.

711d ago / 10:32 AM UTC

French national road haulage federation: U.K. situation becoming catastrophic

PARIS — The situation regarding truck drivers currently stuck in the United Kingdom after European countries cut transport ties due to new COVID fears is becoming catastrophic, said a spokeswoman for the French national road haulage federation.

"They are stuck in lorry parks with no toilets - it's becoming a catastrophe. No driver wants to deliver to the UK now, so the UK is going to see its freight supply dry up," said Vanessa Ibarlucea, spokeswoman for France's FNTR national road haulage federation.

The United Kingdom on Monday became shut off from the rest of Europe after its closest allies cut transport ties due to fears about a new coronavirus strain, sowing chaos for families and companies just days before it exits the European Union's orbit. 

711d ago / 5:59 AM UTC

Biden to receive vaccine

WASHINGTON — President-elect Joe Biden will receive his first dose of the coronavirus vaccine on live television as part of a growing effort to convince the American public the inoculations are safe.

Monday's event will come the same day that a second vaccine, produced by Moderna, will start arriving in states, joining Pfizer's in the nation's arsenal against the Covid-19 pandemic, which has now killed more than 317,000 people in the United States and upended life around the globe.

“I don’t want to get ahead of the line, but I want to make sure we demonstrate to the American people that it is safe to take," Biden has said of his decision. Biden and his wife, Jill, will also thank health care workers at the facility where they receive the shots, his incoming press secretary has said.

711d ago / 5:53 AM UTC

Woman, 87, exposed to virus, stops near Christmas tree

Image: Paramedics prepare to transport an 87-year-old woman who had been exposed to the COVID-19 in Meeker
Paramedics prepare to transport an 87-year-old woman who had been exposed to Covid-19 and was experiencing symptoms in Meeker, Oklahoma, on Sunday.NICK OXFORD / Reuters