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05 Jan 2021by April Hutchinson
Regent Seven Seas Cruises said latest market stimulation is its “largest ever suite upgrade promotion”
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ATLANTA — U.S. health officials say the lack of reported travel history in a Colorado National Guardsman with a more contagious version of the coronavirus suggests the new variant is already spreading in the United States.
Dr. Henry Walke of the CDC says the arrival of the variant known as B.1.1.7 “was expected” given travel patterns between the U.S. and England, where the variant was first seen.
Walke says it’s still unclear how widely the variant has spread in the United States, or whether another concerning variant first seen in South Africa may have arrived.
Dr. Greg Armstrong of the CDC says he’s aware that several states, including California, Massachusetts and Delaware, are analyzing suspicious virus samples to look for the variant. He says the CDC is working with a national lab that gets samples from around the country to broaden that search, with results expected within days.
The U.S. lags behind other nations in performing full genome sequencing on the virus, but CDC officials on Wednesday mentioned several efforts to ramp up that type of complicated lab analysis, which can track and spot genetic changes in the virus that causes COVID-19.
CDC officials called for renewed commitment to wearing masks, avoiding crowds and washing hands.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
— A Colorado National Guardsman who has a new variant of the coronavirus that may be more contagious says he had not traveled.
— Internal documents obtained by The AP show that top Chinese officials quietly ordered strict controls on all COVID-19 research in the country, cloaking the search for the origins of the virus in secrecy.
— Newly elected Congressman Luke Letlow dies from COVID-19 complications at age 41, just days before swearing into office.
— Britain approves vaccine by Oxford-AstraZeneca. The UK-based vaccine allows easier storage and the rollout is expected Jan. 4.
— Pan Cluckers: Coronavirus pandemic feeds demand for backyard chickens.
— Follow AP’s coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic, https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak
HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
LONDON — The Irish government says the country must go back into lockdown for at least a month to curb a resurgent coronavirus outbreak.
Prime Minister Micheal Martin says a new, fast-spreading strain of the virus may make “the numbers will deteriorate further over the coming days” and “we must apply the brakes to movement and physical interaction across the country.”
He says starting Wednesday people should stay at home except for work, education, exercise or “other essential purposes.” Non-essential shops and gyms will close at the end of business on Thursday.
Ireland has extended a ban on air travel from the U.K., where the new variant was first identified, until at least Jan. 6.
Ireland, with a population of almost 5 million, has recorded more than 2,200 coronavirus-related deaths.
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California Gov. Gavin Newsom encouraged schools to resume in-person education next year, starting with the youngest students, and promised $2 billion in state aid to promote coronavirus testing, increased ventilation of classrooms and personal protective equipment.
The recommendation was driven by increasing evidence that there are lower risks and increased benefits from in-person instruction particularly for the youngest students, he says.
Newsom called for a phased approach focusing first on those in transitional kindergarten through second grade, as well as children with disabilities, those who have limited access to technology at home and those who he said “have struggled more than most with distance learning.”
Other grades would be phased in during the spring. But remote learning would continue if parents and students wish and for those who have health issues.
OKLAHOMA CITY — The Oklahoma State Department of Health has announced plans for coronavirus vaccine distribution locations in the state as it moves into phase 2 of vaccinations that will begin with first responders and health care workers who are not in a hospital setting.
The department will establish “PODS,” or Points of Dispensing Sites, at places such as schools, community centers and fairgrounds statewide for those in the second tier, which also includes people 65 and older, according to a statement from the department on Tuesday.
The vaccines are currently being administered to frontline health care workers, residents and staff at long-term care facilities, paramedics, emergency medical technicians, and pharmacy staff who administer the vaccine in long-term care facilities.
The health department says 29,725 vaccine doses have been administered as of Saturday.
State health officials reported 3,249 new confirmed cases of coronavirus on Wednesday and 48 deaths. That brings the total number of confirmed infections to more than 287,000 and the confirmed death toll to 2,453.
JACKSON, Miss. — Mississippi is reporting more than 3,000 new coronavirus cases. The figures Wednesday are a daily high in the state. State epidemiologist Dr. Paul Byers is urging people to avoid large social gatherings for New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.
Byers says Mississippi has distributed about 120,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine and about 17,000 vaccinations have been given. The department says it is working with the University of Mississippi Medical Center to open drive-thru sites to give COVID-19 vaccinations to health care workers starting Monday. Appointments are required, and the department’s website shows which counties will have sites open on certain days.
The state Health Department reported Wednesday that Mississippi had 3,023 new confirmed cases. The department also reported 29 deaths, which occurred between Dec. 22 and Tuesday.
Mississippi has reported 213,055 confirmed cases and 4,747 confirmed deaths from it since the start of the pandemic.
DES MOINES, Iowa – The positivity rate of the coronavirus has ticked higher in Iowa.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins University say the seven-day average of the positivity rate in Iowa has risen over the past two weeks from 35% on Dec. 15 to 36% on Monday.
Iowa has the 12th-highest per capita death rate at 120.8 deaths per 100,000 people.
The state reported about 1,600 new cases and 10 deaths on Wednesday. Hospitalizations fell slightly, though the number of people in intensive care was up.
TORONTO — The Canadian government is requiring passengers arriving to Canada to have a negative coronavirus test taken within three days before arriving into the country.
Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc made the announcement Wednesday. Canada already requires those entering Canada to self-isolate for 14 days. Public Safety Minister Bill Blair noted just 2 percent of coronavirus cases in Canada have originated outside Canada.
The announcement comes as the premier of Ontario said he ordered his finance minister to end a Caribbean vacation, saying he is “extremely disappointed” the official went abroad as the government urged people to avoid nonessential travel.
DENVER — A Colorado man in his 20s has been reported as the first in the U.S. with the more contagious variant of the coronavirus.
He’s from a mostly rural expanse outside the Denver area and recovering in isolation, according to state officials. His condition was not disclosed.
The new, mutated version was first identified in Britain and found in several other countries.
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis says officials will “closely monitor this case, as well as all COVID-19 indicators, very closely.”
The variant is probably still rare in the U.S., but the lack of travel history in the first case means it is spreading, perhaps seeded by visitors from Britain in November or December, said scientist Trevor Bedford, who studies the spread of COVID-19 at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.
MILAN — Italy added 575 coronavirus deaths and 16,202 new positives in the last 24 hours.
Italy’s death toll remains high two months into restrictive measures, which included a modified nationwide lockdown during most of the holiday period.
The scientific director of the Spallanzani hospital for infectious diseases in Rome, Giuseppe Ippolito, says the number of coronavirus deaths has been three times higher than seasonal flu deaths, and hospitalizations are at least double. Even with the vaccine campaign getting under way, Ippolito says citizens should expect to live under restrictions through the first quarter of 2022.
A total of 73,604 coronavirus deaths have been confirmed since February, the highest number in Europe.
PHOENIX — Arizona reported more than 5,000 coronavirus cases and 78 deaths on Wednesday, while hospitalizations statewide continued to set records.
The Department of Health Services reported 5,267 cases. The statewide totals reached 512,489 confirmed cases and 8,718 confirmed deaths.
Hospitalizations for the coronavirus reached a record 4,526 on Tuesday, the latest in a string of records set this month and more than 1,000 higher since the summer peak.
The 1,076 COVID-19 patients in intensive care beds also reached a record and occupied 61% of all ICU beds, according to the state’s coronavirus dashboard.
Some Arizona hospitals with a crush of COVID-19 patients this week resorted to turning down patients through ambulance runs or transfers from other hospitals while accepting walk-in patients needing emergency care
Arizona had the third-highest coronavirus diagnosis rate in the past week, behind California and Tennessee.
LONDON — The British government has extended its highest tier of restrictions to three-quarters of England’s population, saying a fast-spreading variant of the coronavirus has reached most of the country.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock says the top Tier 4 would be extended beyond London and the southeast to large swaths of central, northern and southwest England.
Under the measures, people are advised to stay home, household mixing is banned, nonessential shops are closed and restaurants and bars can only offer takeout.
Hancock says the authorization of a new vaccine for use in the U.K. was good news, but “sharply rising cases and the hospitalizations that follow demonstrate the need to act where the virus is spreading.”
BEIJING — China is encouraging tens of millions of migrant workers not to travel home during February’s Lunar New Year holiday to prevent spread of the coronavirus.
The call issued by the National Health Commission is extraordinary because the Lunar New Year is China’s most important traditional holiday. It’s the only time of the year when many workers can travel home to see their families.
China has limited local transmission of the coronavirus, but authorities remain on high alert about a possible resurgence. Already, schools are scheduled to begin the Lunar New Year vacation a week early and tourists have been told not to visit Beijing during the holiday.
Millions of Chinese use the occasion to take vacations at home and abroad. During the roughly six-week travel period, Chinese can take upward of 3 billion trips. Also, Chinese authorities are carrying out a campaign to vaccinate 50 million people before the Lunar New Year holiday.
China has recorded 4,634 deaths among 87,027 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, a figure considered likely far lower than the actual number.
LONDON — The British regulatory agency that approved the rollout of a second coronavirus vaccine says it and a previously approved vaccine can be given to pregnant and breastfeeding women, in consultation with their doctors, and people with food allergies.
That changes its previous guidance thanks in part to feedback from the growing numbers of people already inoculated. The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency had previously recommended against the use of the first vaccine, made by Pfizer and German firm BioNTech, for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. It also had said that vaccine should not been given to people who have allergic reactions to food, other vaccines or medicines.
But as it green-lighted a second vaccine, developed by Oxford University and U.K.-based drugmaker AstraZeneca, the regulator also indicated that both vaccines are now considered suitable for people with food allergies.
June Raine, who heads the regulatory agency, says people with known allergies to any of the ingredients in the vaccines should not use them.
BERLIN — The head of the World Health Organization says a program to help get coronavirus vaccines to all countries needs $4 billion “urgently” to buy vaccines.
In a video message marking Thursday’s anniversary of the first report of a cluster of cases of “pneumonia of unknown cause” that turned into the coronavirus pandemic, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says “we must ensure that all people at risk everywhere, not just in countries who can afford vaccines, are immunized.”
The Geneva-based WHO is co-leading the COVAX initiative. Tedros says in Wednesday’s message “there is light at the end of the tunnel, and we will get there by taking the path together.”
LONDON — Britain has authorized use of a second COVID-19 vaccine, becoming the first country to greenlight an easy-to-handle shot that its developers hope will become the “vaccine for the world.”
The government says the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency has made an emergency authorization for the vaccine developed by Oxford University and UK-based drugmaker AstraZeneca.
AstraZeneca chief executive Pascal Soriot says “today is an important day for millions of people in the U.K. who will get access to this new vaccine. It has been shown to be effective, well-tolerated, simple to administer and is supplied by AstraZeneca at no profit.”
Britain has purchased 100 million doses of the vaccine. Health Secretary Matt Hancock told told Sky News the “rollout will start on Jan. 4” and will “accelerate into the first few weeks of next year.”
Hundreds of thousands in the U.K. have already received the vaccine made by U.S. drugmaker Pfizer and German firm BioNTech.
United Airlines said Friday that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had requested the passenger manifest of an Orlando-to-Los-Angeles flight that diverted to New Orleans because of a medical emergency earlier in the week.
The man who became ill on the plane was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
The passenger had filled out a required checklist before flying, saying he had not tested positive for the novel coronavirus and did not have symptoms. United says now that “it is apparent the passenger wrongly acknowledged this requirement.”
United referred questions about the man’s coronavirus status to the CDC, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Some social media users who said they were also on the flight reported that the man’s wife said he had symptoms of the virus, including loss of taste and smell. United said that despite people overhearing that information, no medical professionals confirmed that the man had the coronavirus at the time.
“At the time of the diversion, we were informed he had suffered a cardiac arrest, so passengers were given the option to take a later flight or continue on with their travel plans,” United spokesman Charles Hobart said in a statement. “Now that the CDC has contacted us directly, we are sharing requested information with the agency so they can work with local health officials to conduct outreach to any customer the CDC believes may be at risk for possible exposure or infection.”
United said the airline decided to keep going to Los Angeles after initially believing the man was suffering from “cardiac distress.”
“A change in aircraft was not warranted; instead, passengers were given the option to deplane and take a later flight or continue on to Los Angeles,” the airline said. “All passengers opted to continue.”
It was not clear Friday if any passengers had been contacted by the CDC. In response to questions from The Washington Post over the past few days, representatives for the ambulance service, hospital, airport and city of New Orleans either declined to release information about the man’s condition or said they had no information about a connection to the coronavirus.
In July, a woman died of covid-19 during a Spirit Airlines flight from Las Vegas to Dallas. Passengers were never notified, The Washington Post found, and the cause of her death wasn’t publicly reported until October.
“We implore passengers not travel if they have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or have COVID-related symptoms,” United said. “If in doubt, the best option is to get tested.”
Transat A.T. Inc., one of the largest integrated tourism companies in the world and Canada’s holiday travel leader, announces its results for the fourth quarter and fiscal year ended October 31, 2020.
“Our results reflect COVID-19’s devastating impact across the travel industry,” stated Jean-Marc Eustache, President and Chief Executive Officer of Transat.
“During the year, we took all necessary actions to limit the damage and preserve our cash. The upcoming completion of the transaction with Air Canada should give us the solidity to face the crisis and capitalize on the recovery that should be sparked by the arrival of a vaccine. We have put in place a $250.0 million short-term financing facility and are currently working on replacing it, should the transaction not take place, with an overall financing covering our needs for the year 2021. This financing could also be obtained as part of a support program for the industry, as announced by the government.” stated Mr. Eustache.
The global air transportation and tourism industry has faced a collapse in traffic and demand. Travel restrictions, uncertainty about when borders will reopen, both in Canada and at certain destinations the Corporation flies to, the imposition of quarantine measures both in Canada and other countries, as well as concerns related to the pandemic and its economic impacts are creating significant demand uncertainty, at least for fiscal 2021. In response to the first wave of the pandemic, the Corporation temporarily suspended its airline operations from April 1 to July 22, 2020. Subsequently, the Corporation implemented reduced summer and winter programs and is continuously making adjustments based on the level of demand and decisions made by health and state authorities. The Corporation cannot predict all the impacts of COVID-19 on its operations and results, or precisely when the situation will improve. The Corporation has implemented a series of operational, commercial and financial measures, including cost reduction, aimed at preserving its cash. The Corporation is monitoring the situation daily to adjust these measures as it evolves. However, until the Corporation is able to resume operations at a sufficient level, the COVID-19 pandemic will have significant negative impacts on its revenues, cash flows from operations and operating results. While the likelihood of the availability of a vaccine in the near future makes it possible to hope for the resumption of operations at a certain level during 2021, the Corporation does not expect such level to reach the pre-pandemic level before 2023.
The Corporation has taken the following measures regarding the COVID-19 pandemic:
Airline and commercial operations
Cost reduction measures
Financing and cash flows
(CNN) — With miles of barbed wire and electric fencing along its border and open government hostility to migrants, Hungary’s borders aren’t always the friendliest place for foreigners.
That’s during normal times. Amid the pandemic, Hungary has shut its doors to almost everyone, even its European neighbors.
Unless, they’ve had Covid-19.
It’s not the place you’d expect to find such a novel exception to otherwise tough entry rules.
The policy, which came into force in early September, opens the door to visitors who can provide evidence that they’ve recovered from Covid-19 — proof of both a positive and negative test in the past six months.
Iceland has plans for a similar policy beginning next week — and it already gives citizens who have previously been infected permission to ignore the nationwide mask mandate.
Experts call these types of policies a kind of “immunity passport.” But does beating the virus actually give you immunity? The evidence so far suggests that for most people, it does.
“It’s certainly theoretically possible that some people even who have antibodies may not be protected,” Dr. Ania Wajnberg tells CNN outside her lab at Mount Sinai Hospital’s Icahn School of Medicine in New York.
“But I think the majority of people that test positive for antibodies will be protected for some time.”
Hungary hasn’t disclosed any outcomes of its Covid border strategy.
Orsi Ajpek/Getty Images
Wajnberg is leading a massive study of more than 30,000 people who had mild to moderate cases of Covid-19. Her latest research published in October found that more than 90% of people have enough antibodies to kill the virus for many months after infection, perhaps longer.
So the risk that someone entering Hungary under this policy could get re-infected, or infect others, is low, she says. Though the science hasn’t entirely been settled on how long immunity does last for, there have only been a handful of documented cases of reinfection.
“This may be a reasonable way to begin to reopen society and allow for travel and business,” she says.
Iceland’s chief epidemiologist Thorolfur Gudnason has reached the same conclusion based on his country’s own data, and studies from abroad.
“I think it’s pretty safe. I mean, everything that we do has uncertainties with it. Nothing is 100%,” he told CNN.
The testing and quarantine exemption at the border begins December 10. The North Atlantic tourist magnet will accept documented proof of a positive polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test that is at least 14 days old, or enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) test that measures antibody levels — provided it’s issued by an approved European lab.
Thorolfur says Icelanders who have beat the virus are also exempt from the nationwide mask mandate with a letter from their doctor — though he says most people wear them anyways because of social stigma. He’s never heard of anyone intentionally getting infected, especially with a vaccine coming soon.
“That is possible. But on the other hand, I think it’s also unfair to people who have had the infection. Why should they not be allowed to travel freely?” he said. “I think it’s a question of justice, basically. If you have the medical condition that you are not spreading or having the virus, you’re not a risk to the environment, then you should be sort of recognized for that.”
Iceland is allowing quarantine-free entry to people who can prove they’ve had Covid.
Iceland is also in talks with the other Nordic countries — Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Norway — so that people with that exemption can travel freely without restrictions. Though Thorolfur says the talks haven’t gone far — and he doesn’t expect any other countries to follow Iceland’s lead.
Thorolfur was unaware of Hungary’s policy.
The central European country has had virtually nothing to say about the success or failure of its unique exemption, what science it’s based on, and how it weighed the pros and cons.
The Hungarian government declined interview requests and sent only a statement describing the policy itself. Many of the experts approached by CNN were unaware it was in place. It hasn’t been widely discussed even inside Hungary.
The World Health Organization (WHO) advised against immunity passports in April. “There is currently no evidence that people who have recovered from Covid-19 and have antibodies are protected from a second infection,” read its scientific brief.
On Thursday, the WHO confirmed it has not changed its position, but, Regional Advisor Dr. Siddhartha Sankar Datta said it was looking to help countries implement electronic vaccination certificates. Other experts have also raised concerns about immunity passports.
“I think the worst-case scenario is that you see a spike in cases that happens because people are incentivized to try to get Covid to demonstrate immunity,” Carmel Shachar, a Harvard University bioethics and health law expert, tells CNN.
“So, all of a sudden, you’d see people not wearing masks, not respecting social distancing, because they want to get Covid. Especially if more and more countries adopted a similar scheme.”
Experts in several leading medical journals have also warned that immunity passports could incentivize otherwise healthy people to willfully seek out infection.
It’s unclear if anyone has actually become infected on purpose in order to enter Hungary, but University of Oxford ethicist Rebecca Brown finds it hard to believe.
“It would be quite an extreme thing to do. And I think, in all likelihood, the vast majority of people wouldn’t,” she says, explaining that Covid-19 can come with long-term effects even in some young, healthy people.
Hungary has closed its borders to most of Europe.
Orsi Ajpek/Getty Images
Shachar also argues that “immunity passports” could potentially reward reckless people who become infected after ignoring Covid rules or erode medical privacy.
“The more information that you require to be put out there the more normalized it is to intrude on people’s privacy,” she argues.
Harvard bioethicist Natalie Kofler is blunt in her opposition to immunity passports. “It’s a bad idea,” she says.
Kofler says they could exacerbate existing inequalities.
“If you’ve had [the virus] before, it’s not like a vaccine from an ethical standpoint. That’s because you’ve had to be healthy enough, privileged enough to get the healthcare that you might have needed, and rich enough to get the testing that you might have needed to have survived the virus,” she says.
Oxford’s Brown wrote a paper examining the pros and cons of immunity passports, that ultimately argues that the potential benefits outweigh the drawbacks.
“Lots of people who are concerned about immunity passports haven’t really made many suggestions about how we might resolve the difficulties and they don’t look insurmountable. It looks like there are ways that we can address the kinds of problems that could arise,” she says.
Aviation body IATA wants to introduce vaccination passports to open borders.
STR/AFP via Getty Images
Immunity passports may come back into fashion once there is a vaccine. The International Air Transport Association, which represents hundreds of airlines, is pushing for a secure, digital “travel pass” for passengers to show proof they’ve been vaccinated, once a shot is available.
The CEO of the Australian airline Qantas, Alan Joyce, has already suggested that in the future, passengers will have to prove they’ve been vaccinated in order to board.
Brown argues that those who have recovered from the virus should be treated the same as those who have had the vaccine. Even skeptical Shachar is cautiously open to the idea.
“There’s actually a positive benefit to treating them the same. We don’t want to waste vaccine dosages, it’ll be a while before we have enough vaccines for absolutely every human on the planet,” she says.
Asked if those who have recovered from the virus should be placed at the back of the vaccine line Wajnberg says it’s a good idea in theory. In practice, she says it would require the same accurate, high-quality ELISA tests she uses in her lab, to be rolled out on a massive scale.
“It might make sense… not to vaccinate the people with very high levels of antibodies already, but I think that will be very challenging operationally.”
Neil Bennett, Christian Streib, Oscar Featherstone Bálint Bárdi, David Allbritton and Adrian Divirgilio contributed to this report
The drugmaker Moderna said it would apply on Monday to the Food and Drug Administration to authorize its coronavirus vaccine for emergency use.
The first injections may be given as early as Dec. 21 if the process goes smoothly and approval is granted, Stéphane Bancel, the company’s chief executive, said in an interview.
Moderna’s application is based on data that it also announced on Monday, showing that its vaccine is 94.1 percent effective, and that its study of 30,000 people has met the scientific criteria needed to determine whether the vaccine works. The finding from the complete set of data is in line with an analysis of earlier data released on Nov. 16 that found the vaccine to be 94.5 percent effective.
The new data also showed that the vaccine was 100 percent effective at preventing severe disease from the coronavirus. The product was developed in collaboration with government researchers from the Vaccine Research Center at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Mr. Bancel said the company was “on track” to produce 20 million doses by the end of December, and 500 million to a billion in 2021. Each person requires two doses, administered a month apart, so 20 million doses will be enough for 10 million people.
Shares of Moderna surged nearly 18 percent, to $149.50, by early afternoon, after the company’s announcement Monday.
Moderna is the second vaccine maker to apply for emergency use authorization; Pfizer submitted its application on Nov. 20. Pfizer has said it can produce up to 50 million doses this year, with about half going to the United States. Its vaccine also requires two doses per person.
Speaking on “CBS This Morning” on Monday, Alex M. Azar II, the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, reiterated that distribution would begin quickly after the expected approvals of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
“We could be seeing both of these vaccines out and getting into people’s arms before Christmas,” he said.
Asked about the role of states in the distribution process, Mr. Azar said that doses would be shipped out through normal vaccine distribution systems, and governors would be “like air traffic controllers” determining which hospitals or pharmacies receive shipments. While governors will determine which groups are prioritized, he said he hoped that they would follow the federal recommendations. He added that he would speak to governors on Monday afternoon with Vice President Mike Pence.
The first shots of the two vaccines are likely to go to certain groups, including health care workers; essential workers like police officers; people in other critical industries; and employees and residents in nursing homes. On Tuesday, a panel of advisers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will meet to determine how to allocate initial supplies of vaccine.
Mr. Azar said that C.D.C. experts will base their recommendations on the latest data on virus cases around the country.
But generally, “Be thinking people in nursing homes, the most vulnerable, be thinking health care workers who are on the front lines,” he said.
The White House moved quickly on Monday to take credit for the Moderna vaccine’s development.
“President Trump’s Operation Warp Speed is rapidly advancing on a trajectory of success to save millions of American lives — five times faster than any other vaccine in history,” Michael Bars, a spokesman for President Trump, said in an emailed statement.
The hopeful news arrives at a particularly grim moment in the U.S. health crisis. Virus cases have surged and overwhelmed hospitals in some regions, and health officials have warned that the numbers may grow even worse in the coming weeks because of Thanksgiving travel and gatherings. In November alone, there have been more than four million new cases and 25,500 deaths.
More than 70 vaccines are being developed around the world, including 11 that, like Pfizer’s and Moderna’s vaccines, are in large-scale trials to gauge effectiveness.
Moderna’s application for emergency use authorization will include data from its Phase 3 study of 30,000 people. F.D.A. scientists will examine the information, and the application is likely to undergo a final review on Dec. 17 by a panel of expert advisers to the agency, Mr. Bancel said, adding that he expected the advisers to make a decision within 24 to 72 hours. The F.D.A. usually follows the recommendations of its advisory panels.
Officials at Operation Warp Speed, the government’s program to accelerate vaccine development, have said vaccinations could begin within 24 hours after the F.D.A. grants authorization.
Mr. Bancel said that Moderna had not yet begun shipping vaccines across the country, and would not do so until the emergency authorization is granted.
The government has arranged to buy vaccines from both Moderna and Pfizer and to provide it to the public free of charge. Moderna has received a commitment of $955 million from the U.S. government’s Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority for research and development of its vaccine, and the United States has committed up to $1.525 billion to buy 100 million doses.
The federal government will also begin a publicity campaign to encourage vaccinations, with ads on radio this week and on TV soon, he said.
In response to a question about how officials can guard against people using money or connections to jump the proverbial line, Mr. Azar vowed to “call out any inequities or injustices that we see.”
While many in the United States celebrated a muted Thanksgiving over Zoom, millions of people traveled instead, rejecting the advice of public officials.
According to Transportation Safety Administration data, about 800,000 to one million people passed through T.S.A. checkpoints each day in the days before and after the holiday — far lower than the same period last year, but likely far higher than epidemiologists had hoped to see.
A United Airlines spokeswoman, Annabelle Cottee, said the week of Thanksgiving was “the busiest since March” for the carrier.
Americans also took to the roads. AAA predicted significant declines in bus, train and cruise travel, but predicted only a modest drop in car travel.
For several days leading up to Thanksgiving, as case numbers and hospitalizations across the country grew exponentially, political leaders and medical experts warned of the dangers of compounding the virus spread by being with others. In November alone, there have been more than 4.1 million cases and more than 25,500 deaths.
There were 91,635 current hospitalizations as of Nov. 28, according to the Covid Tracking Project, almost twice as many as there were on Nov. 1, and triple the number on Oct. 1.
Aware of the emotional resonance of the holiday, experts tried to thread a narrative from these numbers that would convince people of the danger. Their warnings were direct — sometimes stern, sometimes impassioned pleas.
“Keep the gatherings, the indoor gatherings as small as you possibly can,” Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said on “Good Morning America” last week. By making that sacrifice, he said, “you’re going to prevent people from getting infected.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was also urging people not to travel. “All Americans want to do what they can to protect their loved ones,” Dr. Henry Walke, a Covid-19 incident manager at the C.D.C., said at a news briefing.
And though it would have been unrealistic to expect a public that is restive from months of restrictions to universally abide by such recommendations, the aftermath of those decisions will begin to unfold in the weeks ahead.
Dr. Fauci, during an appearance on the Sunday news program “This Week,” said the best course for Thanksgiving travelers might be “to quarantine yourself for a period of time.”
Dr. Deborah L. Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, said that travelers “have to assume that you were exposed and you became infected and you really need to get tested in the next week.” She urged that travelers avoid anyone in their family over 65 or with underlying illnesses.
That guidance comes as the C.D.C. is considering shortening the recommended isolation period for infected people. And while it is too early to know if holiday travel will affect the virus’s spread, new research suggests that people are most infectious about two days before symptoms begin and for five days afterward, meaning this week will likely be crucial in containment.
On Monday, Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City urged residents who had ignored official guidance and attended Thanksgiving gatherings to get tested.
In anticipation of a renewed demand, the city has opened 25 new testing locations in the last week. It will also now post online the wait times at its testing sites, which had seen growing lines as New Yorkers scrambled to get tests before their holiday plans.
The city’s seven-day average positive test rate was at 4.03 percent, Mr. de Blasio said, but he warned that the data may be skewed because fewer tests were conducted during Thanksgiving weekend.
“Some of our numbers may be skewed by that,” he said.
The U.S. map shows a country where almost every region is a hot spot. States that were once spared, like Montana and Wyoming, have reported record deaths and infections, while states that were pummeled in the first wave are straining anew.
On Sunday, California became the first state to report more than 100,000 cases in a week, according to a New York Times database.
And in New Jersey, hospitalizations have increased 60 percent in the last two weeks and deaths have increased by 78 percent. Over three days in November, the positivity rate in Newark, the largest city in the state, was 19 percent.
“We begged people to have a somber, respectful, small Thanksgiving,” Gov. Philip D. Murphy said on Fox News Sunday. “And I want to give a shout out to New Jerseyans because I think overwhelmingly that’s what happened, but there’s a lot of fatigue out there.”
Mr. Murphy called the next few months “the fight of our lives,” while also citing the progress of vaccines and noting that there was “light at the end of the tunnel.”
And there was something to celebrate on Sunday in New York City, at least for some parents, when Mr. de Blasio announced that he would reopen the city’s public elementary schools, abruptly shifting policy after an outcry from critics who questioned why gyms and bars remained open while schools were shut.
As he warned that New York State had entered a new phase in fighting the spread of coronavirus, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced on Monday a new series of emergency measures to combat rising hospitalizations and case numbers statewide.
Among other steps, Mr. Cuomo urged hospitals to identify retired nurses and doctors in case of staff shortages, develop emergency field plans and prepare to add 50 percent of bed capacity. In Erie County in western New York, all elective surgeries will be stopped on Friday and similar protocols could be enacted in other areas of the state.
“It’s a new phase in the war against Covid,” Mr. Cuomo said at his news conference in New York City. “It’s a war in terms of preparation and mobilization.”
The number of New Yorkers hospitalized with the virus has more than tripled over November, from 1,125 on Nov. 1 to 3,532 on Sunday, he said.
“We are not going to live through the nightmare of overwhelmed hospitals again,” he says. “If a hospital does get overwhelmed there will be a state investigation.”
Mr. Cuomo has warned that the holidays and indoor social gatherings during the winter season could trigger a further resurgence of the virus. Still, instead of regional or statewide shutdowns, Mr. Cuomo had opted for a “micro-cluster” approach to targeting communities where rates of positive test results are particularly high.
On Monday, the governor said new metrics — including hospitalization rates, death rates and available hospital beds — would be used to determine lockdown levels under the state’s color-coded restriction system. Mr. Cuomo also called on hospital networks across the state to better prepare for a surge in patients than they did in the spring, and plan to spread patients out between individual sites.
“We lived this nightmare, we learned from this nightmare, we are going to correct for the lessons we learned during this nightmare,” he said.
The traditional Christmas markets that dot European cities, drawing thousands of festive revelers into plazas to enjoy mulled wine, colorful lights and public art, have largely been canceled this year.
But on Advent Sunday, the official start of the holiday season, celebrations continued in different forms. In partially locked-down Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, the mayor, Matus Vallo, led viewers of a Facebook livestream on a walk through the city’s historic center.
Wearing a cheerful Christmas sweater, Mr. Vallo met musicians and artists along the way, received soothing words from a local priest, eyed winter-themed paintings from art galleries and lit up a Christmas tree in the main square.
“We know what the situation is, but we decided that we won’t let Advent be ruined anyway,” he said to the camera.
Locals and visitors in Bratislava will still be able to gawk at the Christmas lights on a stroll, but officials wanted to avoid the large holiday crowds. Moving traditional events online was part of that effort; a series of holiday concerts and events will be streamed throughout December.
It’s just one of several creative solutions as markets were canceled across the continent. In Landshut, Germany, visitors must experience the Christmas markets as a drive-through, according to Agence France-Presse. They can observe the spectacle from inside their cars as mask-wearing employees hand them menus offering typical treats like roasted chestnuts and gingerbread hearts.
And in the United States, New York City will require reservations to see the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center, in a bid to fight the holiday crowds that usually pack the surrounding plazas and sidewalks. The city will keep the viewing time to 5 minutes, Mayor Bill de Blasio said. Groups will be limited to four people.
Still, the mayor, who has expressed concern that cases of the virus could surge during the holiday, encouraged people to watch the annual tree-lighting ceremony — scheduled for Wednesday — at home instead of flocking to Midtown Manhattan. “Please, if you can make a decision to watch it on TV, that’s so much better,” he said.
Hong Kong will limit gatherings in public to two people, including two per table at restaurants, as it battles a surge in cases. Playgrounds, swimming pools and karaoke rooms will close, while gyms will remain open but be limited to two mask-wearing participants, the city’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, said at a news conference on Monday. Hong Kong has reported an average of 85 new daily cases in the past week, far above the near-zero tallies it had reported after a summer surge.
Italy approved a stimulus package worth $9.6 billion, or 8 billion euros, on Sunday to support struggling businesses. The deal will postpone or suspend tax deadlines for some businesses, subsidize amateur sports associations and send checks of 1,000 euros to seasonal workers in the tourism, spa and entertainment industries. Italy is currently under a nationwide 10 p.m. curfew with bars and restaurants closing at 6 p.m., and some regions have further restrictions.
In Russia, a hospital near Moscow reported on Monday that it had administered the first known batch of the Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine to civilians. The Domodedovo Central City Hospital confirmed in a phone interview that the vaccine had been delivered and that the first shipment available for general use had already run out. Russia’s government backed efforts to develop a vaccine before other countries has been widely criticized for cutting corners. The rush to deliver a vaccine to the general public has also been spurred by the growing number of new cases and deaths in the country, with the total number of cases in Russia nearing 2.3 million.
North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un “harshly criticized” his government agencies for mishandling the economy, the country’s state media reported on Monday, as new data revealed just how much the pandemic had slashed the country’s already dwindling trade with China.
Signs had already emerged earlier this month that North Korea’s economic trouble was deepening, driven by long-standing international sanctions and the impact of the pandemic. According to customs data released by Beijing last week, North Korea’s imports from China from January to October plummeted by 76 percent to $487 million, while its exports shrank 74 percent to $45 million in the same period.
China is North Korea’s only major trading partner, accounting for more than 90 percent of its external trade. In October, the North’s import from China amounted to a mere $253,000, nearly a 99-percent drop from the previous month. South Korean officials and analysts have warned that a sharp decline in imports from China in recent months could drive up domestic prices in the North.
The Chinese government only records official trade and does not cover smuggling that takes place across the borders between the two neighbors. Still, the figures provided fresh evidence that the coronavirus was squeezing the North Korean economy more effectively than international sanctions ever have.
During a meeting of the Workers’ Party that Mr. Kim presided over on Sunday, the government agencies responsible for the economy were harshly criticized for “failing to provide scientific guidance” and “failing to overcome subjectivism and formalism in their work,” the North’s official Korean Central News Agency reported.
But this was not the first time Mr. Kim has admitted to his country’s deepening economic woes, acknowledging in August that his five-year plan for economic growth had failed. Mr. Kim all but sealed North Korea’s borders with China earlier this year over fears of the potentially catastrophic consequences the pandemic could inflict on the country’s poor health system.
North Korea insists that it has registered no coronavirus cases, but outside experts remain skeptical.
With New York City’s unemployment rate at 13.2 percent, many people have turned to working for food delivery apps like DoorDash, Uber Eats and Grubhub, which have seen huge demand from customers.
While delivery drivers have been essential to feeding New Yorkers and keeping them safe, their working conditions, already precarious before the pandemic, have gotten worse.
Even as the food delivery companies have seen sales surge, the workers’ pay has remained erratic. Because the drivers are independent workers, they are not entitled to a minimum wage, overtime or any other benefits, like health insurance. Undocumented immigrants, who are not eligible for unemployment or federal coronavirus assistance, make up the bulk of the work force in New York.
The added competition from the surge in new workers has compounded the financial challenges. Advocacy groups estimate that there were roughly 50,000 delivery workers before the pandemic — a number they say has grown exponentially. Uber alone said it had added 36,000 couriers in New York since March.
DoorDash and Uber said they had provided extra help to delivery drivers during the pandemic, including offering sick pay to those who were infected. DoorDash, the nation’s largest food delivery app, said it provided access to low-cost telemedicine appointments.
DoorDash also said it had changed its pay model, which came under fire last year after it was revealed that tips were being used to subsidize its payments to workers. The company recently reached a $2.5 million settlement with prosecutors in Washington, D.C., after being accused of misleading consumers over how it tipped its workers.
Drivers for food delivery apps are typically paid per delivery depending on the estimated duration and distance of a trip, plus tips. The work can be convenient for people supplementing a main source of income, but a struggle for those who depend on it as a primary job, advocates for the workers said.
While some in the creative community on TikTok joke about the coronavirus vaccine or tease people who are part of the anti-vaccine movement, scientists and coronavirus vaccine participants are hoping to be a source to fight misinformation on the app.
In February, a scientist who goes by Dr. Noc on TikTok started noticing a need for science-based videos about the coronavirus that his expertise in working to develop an antibody treatment for Covid-19 could help provide.
He has since posted many videos addressing the coronavirus, including updates on vaccines, mink infected with the coronavirus and how some people with the virus can lose their sense of taste and smell. The videos, he said, have left him vulnerable to harassment from people against vaccines and masks.
Lately, Dr. Noc has found himself answering questions reflecting the fears and misconceptions about coronavirus vaccines that are sometimes perpetuated on the platform by jokes about side effects or forays into fictional narrative, like a sci-fi scenario in which the government kills those who refuse a vaccine.
“While people may appreciate them, they’re not going to go viral,” he said about his videos. “It’s a game of catch-up.”
Vaccine trial participants have also been describing their experiences and answering questions about the process for viewers.
Ashley Locke, 29, from Nashville, said she posted about her experience as a participant in AstraZeneca’s trial to document a journey in her life, but didn’t expect the more than two million views it has gotten, or the thousands of questions and comments.
Since that post, she’s been creating videos and answering questions from her comment section about side effects and wearing masks after being a part of the trial. She even brought in a friend, also a part of a trial, to talk.
But with all that, she said, she isn’t always successful in demystifying the vaccine.
“There are some people that are really out there that are convinced that it’s a microchip,” she said. “They’re a little too far gone to convince.”
A cohort of 63 international students on Monday arrived in Australia under a pilot program that allows them to resume their studies, even as the country’s borders remain closed because of the pandemic.
The students, the first group of international students allowed in since March, arrived at Darwin International Airport in the Northern Territory from Singapore. They are from mainland China, Hong Kong, Japan, Vietnam and Indonesia.
All of them tested negative for the coronavirus 72 hours before boarding the charter flight. They will be required to quarantine at a former workers’ camp outside the city of Darwin for 14 days before being allowed to re-enter the campus at Charles Darwin University.
The education sector, crucial to the Australian economy, is set to lose billions of dollars if the country’s borders do not reopen before the end of 2021. According to research from Victoria University, the loss of international students is also affecting the makeup of Australia’s cities.
In September, Charles Darwin University made a deal with the state and the federal government that would enable students to return from overseas to study. The success of the program could influence whether more international students can return to study in other states, including South Australia and the Australian Capital Territory.
Speaking to the local news media, the students — some of who had become stranded while visiting family overseas — said they felt lucky to return to Australia, which is beginning to reopen as states eliminate, or come close to eliminating, the spread of the coronavirus.
Xitao Jiang, a 23-year-old student from China returning to Australia, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation on Sunday that was “very lucky” to have the opportunity to return to the country and study at the university in Darwin.
By the end of the third week of England’s second national lockdown, which began early this month in a bid to stem a second wave of coronavirus infections, the number of new cases has fallen 30 percent, according to new data.
Some parts of northern England, which had been hit particularly hard by the new outbreak, experienced an even greater drop, the latest interim findings from Imperial College London’s React study showed.
But Matt Hancock, the British health secretary, warned that the data, while promising, showed the country could not “take our foot off the pedal just yet,” according to the BBC. In a post on Twitter late Sunday, Mr. Hancock cautioned that “we mustn’t waste our progress now we can see light at the end of the tunnel” with mass testing and promising coronavirus vaccine candidates on the horizon.
England’s current lockdown is set to end just after midnight Wednesday. But the lifting of restrictions will be different across the country, as regions move into one of three tiers based on their current rate of infection. Britain is still grappling with the highest number of Covid-19 deaths in Europe and its deepest recession on record, with experts warning that the knock-on effects of the pandemic could last for years.
All through the fall, teachers have been at the center of vehement debates over whether to reopen schools for in-person instruction — often vilified for challenging it, sometimes praised for trying to make it work.
But these debates have often missed just how thoroughly the coronavirus has upended learning in the 130,000 schools in the United States, and glossed over how emotionally and physically draining pandemic teaching has become.
In more than a dozen interviews with The New York Times, educators described the immense challenges, and exhaustion, they have faced. Some recounted whiplash experiences of having their schools abruptly open and close, sometimes more than once.
Others described the stress of having to lead back-to-back group video lessons for remote learners, even as they continued to teach students in person in their classrooms. Some educators said their workloads had doubled.
Many teachers said they had also become impromptu social workers for their students, directing them to food banks, acting as grief counselors for those who had family members die of Covid-19 and helping pupils work through their anxiety, depression and isolation. Often, the teachers said, their concern for their students came at a cost to themselves.
“Teachers are not OK right now,” said Evin Shinn, a literacy coach at a public middle school in Seattle, noting that many teachers were putting students’ pandemic needs above their own well-being.
Experts and teachers’ unions are warning of a looming burnout crisis among educators that could lead to a wave of retirements, undermining the fitful effort to resume normal public schooling. In a recent survey by the National Education Association, the country’s largest teachers’ union, 28 percent of educators said the coronavirus had made them more likely to leave teaching or retire early.
Those We’ve Lost
Iris Meda, 70, didn’t feel right sitting on the sidelines when the pandemic hit. She’d been retired only a few months, and still had a lifetime of nursing experience in hospitals, prisons, schools and long-term care facilities to share.
So she went back to work in August, teaching nursing skills to high school students through Collin College, north of Dallas. But within weeks, she had come down with Covid-19 herself. After nearly a month in the hospital, most of it on a ventilator, she died on Nov. 14.
Her daughter, Selene Meda-Schlamel, said her mother was exposed to the virus on Oct. 2 while teaching a laboratory class, despite the precautions she was taking.
“I wasn’t worried, because I knew she was wearing an N95, and that she was some distance from the students,” Ms. Meda-Schlamel recalled, in an interview.
“I said to myself, ‘If something happens to her, it happens to her doing something she loves, fulfilling her calling and benefiting the world,’” she said. “But that’s a very different outlook from, ‘My best friend is gone, my kids don’t have a grandmother. Everything that we planned on doing will never occur.’”
Ms. Meda grew up in New York, the oldest of nine siblings, and was a natural caretaker from childhood, her daughter said. She married at 20, expecting to be a stay-at-home mother, but at her husband’s urging, she went back to school and earned a nursing degree from City College.
“She had a very personal touch,” Ms. Meda-Schlamel said. “You never felt like she was rushing you.”
Ms. Meda worked as a nurse at the jail on Rikers Island before moving to Texas in 1993, where she spent the rest of her career before retiring in January. When she took up teaching, she wanted to pass along to her students the kind of encouragement she had gotten to pursue an education. After class, she often returned home “lit up” from the thrill she got from teaching, her daughter said.
When her Covid-19 symptoms worsened in mid-October and she began struggling to breathe, Ms. Meda called her daughter for a ride to the hospital. Ms. Meda-Schlamel recalled that in the car, her mother handed her an envelope containing her medical documents and a handwritten card that she forgot about in the hectic days that followed.
When she finally opened it, she said, she found a note her mother had written after their phone call, telling her how proud she was of her and what a wonderful life she had before her. And two signed checks fell out, meant to help her daughter cover the hospital bills. On one, the amount was left blank.
“That was kind of symbolic of how she was as a person,” Ms. Meda-Schlamel said. “She was always giving people blank checks, blank emotional checks: ‘Whatever you need from me, if I have it, I’ll provide it.’”
When Lisa Bloor heard that her daughter Abby’s elite-level soccer club was being shut down in England’s latest coronavirus lockdown, she faced a tough problem: how to explain that boys at the same level were allowed to keep playing.
“How do I tell my daughter it’s because she’s a girl?” Ms. Bloor asked. “It’s disheartening. There’s no logic in it at all.”
As the coronavirus has upended lives across the world, women have found themselves disproportionately affected, whether by taking on the often invisible labor of an outsize share in household duties, caring for children and relatives or finding the hard-fought gains they made in the workplace in past years almost entirely wiped out.
In early November, after Britain’s government reluctantly admitted the need for a second lockdown of all but England’s most essential services to stop the number of Covid-19 cases spiraling out of control, the restrictions — and exceptions to the rules — laid bare yet another gender gap: the one between women and men’s sports.
When the British government granted “elite sport” special dispensations for the duration of a four-week lockdown, the top six tiers of men’s soccer could carry on training and competing. But only the top two women’s soccer leagues were permitted to continue.
The Football Association, which governs the sport in England, ruled that the men’s F.A. Cup tournament would not stop, but postponed the women’s F.A. Cup until the national lockdown lifts in early December.
Nowhere was the gender divide more transparent than in the decision surrounding the soccer clubs’ academies, which sharpen the skills of the most promising school-age players and prepare them to turn professional.
Boys’ training at more than 80 English Football League and Premier League clubs’ academies could remain open under “elite” protocols, but the F.A. decided that girls’ academies at clubs such as Everton — where Abby Clarke, Ms. Bloor’s 16-year-old daughter, trains at least four times a week as part of the development squad — were “nonelite” and would have to suspend all activity throughout the lockdown.
Today is expected to be the busiest day of travel of the holiday as millions packed the airports for Thanksgiving travel despite the warnings. An infectious disease expert says that we may see how much the virus spread during the Thanksgiving travel by Christmas time.
Foley said there were more than 4,000 calls for service as of Saturday night.
HARTFORD, Conn — In FOX61’s latest segment of First and Finest, Brian Foley with Connecticut’s Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection discussed how state police stepped up enforcement and patrols over the long holiday weekend.
Foley said there were more than 4,000 calls for service as of Saturday night. He said state police issued about 330 tickets on Connecticut highways, there were 11 DUIs, and state police assisted 264 drivers on the roadside.
“That being said, the big news out the weekend was that there were six fatalities and five accidents, fatal motor accidents, so it was sadly a deadly weekend on highways in Connecticut,” said Foley.
Foley also discussed deadly crashes involving wrong-way drivers. He said a vast majority of those accidents are caused by impaired drivers.
The Connecticut Department of Transportation has been putting together counter-measures to help prevent the issue, like implementing new technology.
Foley also provided new insight as the investigation into a deadly hit-and-run in Vernon continues.
Police say 44-year-old Andrew Aggarwala was walking his puppy this past Tuesday along Phoenix St. when he was hit and killed by a car that drove away.
Aggarwala was a father and very involved in youth sports in the community.
Vernon Police say they have seized a vehicle of interest in this case that was found near the area of Phoenix Street.
However, police say no one has been taken into custody yet.
Foley said these investigations always take time and urged patience.
“There’s some steps to be taken here. The car will likely have a computer in it. They can analyze that. They’ll do some search warrants for cell phone records for anyone that may have been a possible driver. These things take time. We have to wait for the cell phone and different results to come back,” said Foley.
Aggarwala’s dog Ollie ran off after that crash and has been missing for the past few days.
However, the dog was found safe Saturday morning and was reunited with its family.