U.K. Approves Vaccine; U.S. Hospital Use Surges: Virus Update

The U.K. became the first western country to approve a Covid-19 vaccine, clearingPfizer Inc. andBioNTech SE’s shot before decisions by the U.S. and European Union.

Hospitalizations for Covid-19 in the U.S. increased by more than 1,000 a day at the end of November, data released from the Department of Health and Human Services show. California reported a record number of new cases. Newguidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control cuts quarantine time for individuals exposed to the coronavirus by as much as half.

Italy’s government is set to tighten restrictions during the holiday season to prevent revelers from worsening the pandemic. The daily death toll from the virus in Germany rose to the highest since mid-April, and Chancellor Angela Merkel extended the nation’s partial lockdown for three more weeks.

Key Developments:

  • Global Tracker: Cases reach 64.3 million; deaths top 1.48 million
  • U.S. Hot Spots: New York, California, Rust Belt drive death surge
  • The new virus wave inJapan is older and more serious, data show
  • The U.K. hasapproved a vaccine. Here’s what happens next
  • Vaccine Tracker: Covid-19 inoculations are about to begin
  • Thebest and worst places to be in the coronavirus era

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Eli Lilly to Provide Treatment (6:17 a.m. HK)

The U.S. government paidEli Lilly & Co. $812.5 million to secure an additional 650,000 vials of Covid-19 antibody treatment to be administered in December and January to non-hospitalized patients at the early stages of disease.

Operation Warp Speed, the multi-agency effort to accelerate access to treatments, had previously paid Lilly $375 million for an initial 300,000 doses of its monoclonal antibody, bamlanivimab. As a part of that deal, Lilly agreed to supply the U.S. with an additional 650,000 doses with an important caveat: The country would have to demonstrate an ongoing need for thetreatment, which is difficult to manufacture and limited in quantity. Now, as the U.S. continues to see a surge in cases, that option has been exercised.

Australia’s New South Wales Has New Case (5:20 a.m. HK)

Australia’s New South Wales state recorded itsfirst new case of the coronavirus in 25 days after a woman working at a quarantine hotel in Sydney tested positive.

The woman’s five family members were tested overnight and all returned a negative result for the virus, the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper reported, citing state Health Minister Brad Hazzard.

Australia has largely controlled the spread of community transmission, but health experts say there is no room for complacency due to an ongoing risk of the virus entering the community from returned overseas travelers — despite a mandatory system of hotel quarantine. More than 30,000 Australians, many living in Europe and the U.S. where the virus is rampant, are waiting to return home.

U.S. Hospitalizations Rise by 1,000 a Day (4:55 a.m. HK)

Hospitalizations for Covid-19 in the U.S. increased by more than 1,000 a day at the end of November, data released Tuesday from the Department of Health and Human Services show. The number of inpatients jumped 9.6% to a record 96,668 on Dec. 1 from 88,167 on Nov. 23. California recorded a 38% surge over the eight-day period, with 8,171 coronavirus patients as of Tuesday. Arizona’s Covid-19 inpatients jumped 28% to 2,479. Coronavirus cases account for more than a fifth of hospitalized patients in North Dakota and South Dakota, Rhode Island, New Mexico, Indiana, Illinois, Minnesota and Michigan.

California Reports Record Cases (3:37 a.m. HK)

California reported 20,759 new coronavirus infections, shattering the previous record of 18,350 hit just last week as its outbreak rapidly accelerates. The rate of positive tests jumped to 6.9% from 6.5% Tuesday, according to state health department data, reaching the highest level since early August.

Hospitalizations, also at a record, climbed 3.4% to 9,365 patients. Governor Gavin Newsom said this week that deeper restrictions on residents may be coming if trends fail to improve, warning that intensive-care units may become overwhelmed later this month.

Germany Extends Partial Lockdown (3:23 a.m. HK)

Chancellor Angela Merkel said Germanywill extend its partial lockdown by three more weeks as the country struggles to regain control of the coronavirus spread.

Bars, gyms and cinemas will remain closed until Jan. 10 and the government will reconvene with regional leaders on Jan. 4 to reassess the restrictions, Merkel said on Wednesday after talks with the premiers of Germany’s 16 states.

Germany’s infections rates are still far too high and need to come down faster, Merkel said in Berlin.

Merkel’s administration last week already extended a partial shutdown until Dec. 20 while keeping schools and much of the economy open. The partial lockdown has yielded little progress in slowing the spread to levels the government has determined as manageable.

Spain Limits Christmas Groups to 10 (3 a.m. HK)

Spain will allow families to meet in groups of up to 10 on Christmas Eve, Christmas, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day as part of itsrestrictions on festive season gatherings, Health Minister Salvador Illa said in a news conference Wednesday. The government is seeking to strike a balance between permitting small-scale festive gatherings and combating the pandemic.

The government will also restrict travel between mainland Spanish regions from Dec. 23 to Jan. 6, unless journeys are for family gatherings, he said.

New York Expecting 170,000 Doses (1:55 a.m. HK)

New York expects to receive 170,000 doses of Pfizer Inc.’s vaccine on Dec. 15, Governor Andrew Cuomo said Wednesday.

Health-care workers in the most high-risk jobs, such as emergency rooms, as well as nursing-home residents and staffers will receive the vaccine first, Cuomo said at a virus briefing in Albany.

To be effective, experts say the vaccine must cover 75% to 85% of the population, Cuomo said. “That is a tremendously high percentage on every level.”

Two doses are required per person, so the state will receive an additional 170,000 from Pfizer 21 days after the first.

The state expects additional shipments of the Pfizer vaccine and about 40,000 doses from Moderna later this month, Cuomo said. The shipments will then continue to arrive on a rolling basis.

Cuomo acknowledged that the first few batches won’t cover everyone, but he said he expects they will cover most of the approximately 85,000 nursing-home residents and 130,000 staff members. There are about 600,000 health-care workers in the state, he said.

NYC Surge Won’t Deter Schools Plan (1:15 a.m. HK)

New York City’s new coronavirus cases hit 1,809 on Monday, its highest daily tally since May 3 and 144 more than the previous day. Yet its school system remains on track to reopen for pre-kindergarten and elementary students Monday, Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

City public and private hospitals reported 1,203 Covid-related hospitalizations as of Nov. 30, up 90 from the previous day and its highest level since June, according to state data. But the mayor said hospitals remain able to handle the increasing load. The city recorded a 4.80% seven-day average positive infection rate, edging closer to a 5% public-health safety threshold established months ago.

Germany Seeks Shot Doses Beyond EU Deal (12:40 a.m. HK)

Germany is conductingdirect negotiations with domestic Covid-19 vaccine developers to obtain more doses than would be allocated through the shared European Union plan, Health Minister Jens Spahn said on Wednesday.

The country is in talks with BioNTech SE, Pfizer Inc.’s partner on the first vaccine approved in a Western country against the virus, as well as CureVac NVand IDT Biologika GmbH, Spahn said. All three German companies received funding through a government program to support Covid vaccine development.

U.K. Quickly Approves Vaccine (10:23 HK)

The U.K.’squick approval of the Covid vaccine from Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE means Britons will get first dibs on a shot developed in two other countries — the U.S. and Germany.

Britain’s drug regulator on Wednesday cleared the vaccine for emergency use, ahead of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and its European Union counterpart. The government cited a rule allowing the U.K. to authorize a shot independently before the end of the Brexit transition period on Dec. 31. An accelerated review process in which regulators were able to monitor Pfizer’s trial data in real time also helped.

The U.K.’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency “has done a great job of working with the company to look at that data as it’s come through and do things in parallel, rather than one after the other as they normally would,” Health Secretary Matt Hancock said in a radio appearance. He also credited Brexit, though the MHRA said the speedy authorization was conducted within EU guidelines.

Testing, Quarantine of Air Travelers Not Needed in Most Cases (8:49 p.m. HK)

People traveling during the pandemic shouldn’t automatically be considered as high-risk for spreading infection, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and the European Union Aviation Safety Agency said on Wednesday. The prevalence of the coronavirus among travelers is estimated to be lower than for the general population, the groups said.

Testing and quarantine have a limited impact on reducing spread, particularly in travel between places of similar risk or when moving from less-risky areas to those with more cases. Routine testing in such circumstances could have a negative impact by diverting resources from more urgent needs such as contact tracing and testing those who had direct contact with infected cases, ECDC and EASA said.

EU Regulators Offer Travel Guidelines (8:28 p.m. HK)

European Unionregulators offered a fresh set of safe-travel recommendations to make it easier for people to cross national borders within the bloc while guarding against another resurgence of the coronavirus.

The guidelines in the run-up to the end-of-year holidays are an attempt to strike a balance between the responsibility of EU governments for health policy and the role of the European Commission in preventing barriers in the single market. The goal is to avoid a repeat of a rush to looser measures, something that EU countries did to salvage the summer tourist season, fueling infections.

— With assistance by Dan Reichl

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