A pedestrian wearing a protective mask crosses California Street in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Tuesday, Dec. 29, 2020.
The U.S. ended the year with records and milestones: New York state and Florida, each hit hard as the coronavirus ravaged across the nation, broke their previous daily records for cases. Texas reported a new high for hospitalizations. California became the third state to pass 25,000 fatalities, after New York and Texas. Virginia reported record infections as total fatalities surpassed 5,000.
New York City plans to speed up the slow start to vaccinations and inoculate 1 million residents in January, Mayor Bill de Blasio said.
Governments across the globe urged people to celebrate the New Year at home. The new, highly transmissible virus strain was found in California, China, Brazil and Singapore. Four nurses in the Netherlands were also diagnosed with the variant.
Key Developments:Global Tracker
: Cases pass 83.1 million; deaths exceed 1.8 millionVaccine Tracker
: More than 10 million shots given worldwideCovid joins war, cancer as historic blight
on Americans’ livesMillions of Americans are calling in sick,
stunting the recoveryWhy the U.K.’s mutated coronavirus is fanning worries: QuickTake
China’s Covid-19 success has a very real drawback
From tech to Tesla, stocks
get $14 trillion boost in virus yearU.S. states
rewrite vaccine rules to get Covid shots moving
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W.H.O. Approves Pfizer/BioNtech Vaccine (4:38 p.m. NY)
The World Health Organization issued its first emergency-use designation for a Covid-19 vaccine, making the Pfizer/BioNtech the first immunization to receive a green light from the Geneva-based body. The move could allow more countries to import and distribute the vaccine, which has already been cleared for use in the U.S., U.K. and Europe.
Texas Hospitalizations Breach Record for 4th Straight Day (4:15 p.m. NY)
Virus hospitalizations in Texas hospitals set a record for a fourth consecutive day as outbreaks proliferated in the second-most populous U.S. state.
Hospitalizations rose 2.3% in the past 24 hours to 12,268, state health department figures showed. Covid-19 patients account for at least 15% of hospital capacity in almost three-fourths of Texas’s trauma service areas, prompting Governor Greg Abbott to shutter taverns and order restaurants and some other businesses to operate at reduced capacity in those areas.
Netherlands Nurses Contract New Virus Strain (4:12 p.m. NY)
Four nurses from Amsterdam’s hospital UMC have been diagnosed with the variant of the coronavirus now widespread in the U.K., the hospital reported on its website on Thursday, news agency ANP reported.
A total of 15 cases of the “British variant” have been identified in the Netherlands, Health Minister Hugo de Jonge reported in a letter to Parliament.
New York Cases Rise to New High (3:53 p.m. NY)
New York state reached a new high of more than 16,800 coronavirus cases, as hospitalizations and deaths continue to rise, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced on Thursday.
Of the over 216,500 tests reported on Wednesday, 7.76% were positive including hotspot areas, according to state data. Hospitalizations reached 7,935, the highest since May 7.
There were 136 virus-related fatalities, bringing the state’s Covid-19 death total to over 30,000.
Cuomo this week warned that numbers are expected to continue to rise as a result of spread over the holidays.
Video: Dr. Fauci: ‘We have to support local groups’ distributing COVID-19 vaccine (NBC News)
“As we begin 2021 and look forward to brighter days ahead, let us all use this time to celebrate smart and recommit ourselves to doing what we know works — wearing masks, avoiding gatherings and socially distancing — so we can win this war and finally put this invisible enemy to rest once and for all,” he said.
Florida Breaks Record for Daily Cases (3:32 p.m. NY)
Florida posted 17,192 new cases on Thursday, the highest single-day total ever except for a Nov. 27 report, which isn’t technically comparable because it included two days of data. The state also increased the number of dead by 133, including both residents and non residents, according to a report from the state health department Thursday.
Like other states, Florida’s case reports have been affected by a holiday slowdown at laboratories, and the jump may in part reflect a catch-up effect. But current hospitalizations -- a more reliable indicator amid the holiday distortions -- have been steadily climbing, reaching 6,298 on Wednesday, the highest since Aug. 13.
Florida has been on a different cycle from other parts of the nation, with hospitalizations and deaths peaking between July and August, when much of the country got a reprieve. Its per capita case and hospitalizations rates remain well below current hot spots including California, Tennessee and even New York. But if current trends hold it could soon return to the seven-day average levels seen in its earlier wave.
In L.A., a Death and a Tweet Every 10 Minutes (3:27 p.m. NY)
Los Angeles County’s Department of Public Health began posting memories about people who died of Covid-19 every 10 minutes on Twitter.com Thursday. The remembrances included “the Dodgers fan who loved Kershaw” and “a recent retiree who dreamt of finally traveling the world.”
Health officials in the nation’s most-populous county said Wednesday the region has been averaging 150 deaths per day due to the disease, a rate that works out to about one every 10 minutes. The daily toll almost exceeds the 170 a day who die of all other causes.
Officials have been urging residents not to travel or gather for the New Year’s holiday after seeing a surge in cases related to Thanksgiving celebrations. Hospitals are near full capacity and ambulances are being diverted to other locations. Private mortuaries are also having trouble making arrangements for all of the dead. “Please stay home tonight. Slow the spread. Save a life,” the county’s Twitter feed said.
California Tops 25,000 Deaths (2:33 p.m. NY)
California recorded 428 daily deaths from Covid-19 -- second only to the 432 reported Wednesday for the most since the pandemic began -- to push its total toll to 25,386. Los Angeles County, the state’s most populous, has been the worst-hit, with 274 deaths yesterday and more than 10,000 total, according to county health data.
Hospitalizations reached another record while intensive-care units in Southern California and the San Joaquin Valley are at surge capacity. Still, there were small signs the state’s outbreak may be plateauing. Daily cases climbed by 27,237, less than the 14-day average of about 37,000, while the 14-day average rate of positive tests fell to 11.9% from 12.4% a week ago.
Virginia Breaks Record (1:11 p.m. NY)
Virginia reported 5,239 new cases, a record since the start of the pandemic. Another 48 people died as the state surpassed 5,000 total fatalities.
China and Brazil Report Cases of Virus Variant (1:02 p.m. NY)
A woman who arrived in Shanghai on Dec. 14 from the U.K. tested positive for a contagious new strain of the coronavirus -- China’s first reported case, according to Dow Jones. In Brazil, a variant belonging to the same “family” as the new strain detected in the U.K. has been reported in Sao Paulo state, according to a local lab.
Spain Hits Record for Second Straight Day (12:52 p.m. NY)
Spain reported a record number of new cases for a second day as infections continued to increase during the festive period.
New cases identified over the previous 24 hours climbed by 10,217, compared with 9,860 on Wednesday. Spain reported 148 deaths in the past 24 hours while the 14-day infection rate rose to 280 per 100,000 people from 265.
Spain has imposed curfews and restrictions on the size of meetings, while leaving regional authorities to set the specific conditions for the populations under their control.
Pfizer Backs Two-Dose Vaccine Schedule After U.K. Shift (12:02 p.m. NY)
Pfizer Inc. said the second dose of its Covid-19 vaccine should be delivered to individuals within the recommended 21-day period, calling into question a decision by the U.K. to space out the dosing regimen.
The U.K. decision not to hold back any of its vaccine supply is aimed at quickly reaching as many high-risk people as possible. Under the government plan, second doses could be administered as many as 12 weeks later, longer than the three-week timing determined as optimal by Pfizer’s late-stage studies and the four weeks suggested for the shot developed by Moderna Inc.
Pfizer said Thursday that people should get their shots on the recommended schedule, warning that “there is no data to demonstrate that protection after the first dose is sustained after 21 days.”
France Finds Case of South African Variant (11:57 a.m. NY)
France has identified a first case of the South African variant of the virus, the health ministry said. The man self-isolated at home immediately after symptoms appeared a few days after returning from South Africa, the ministry said. No “risky” contact cases have been identified by the authorities, and the person has now fully recovered.
To limit the spread of new Covid-19 variants, France is requiring people traveling from the U.K. and South Africa to provide fresh negative tests.
Ireland Says Virus Spreading Rapidly (11:31 a.m. NY)
Ireland’s chief medical officer Tony Holohan said the latest virus wave appears to involve much earlier transmission into older-age groups than previous outbreaks. The government on Wednesday announced a third national lockdown, to avoid what health authorities described as an “almost unimaginable” outbreak.
The virus is spreading rapidly in all age groups, authorities said, with over 1,600 new cases reported on Thursday. The numbers hospitalized may double over the next week to as many as 1,000, according to government modeling.
U.K. Cases Accelerate (11:27 a.m. NY)
The U.K. reported more than 50,000 new cases for a third consecutive day. It had 55,892 new infections on Thursday, 38% higher than the average of 40,477 over the previous seven days. It had more than 900 deaths associated with the virus for a second day in a row, the highest figures since the peak of the first wave of the pandemic in April.
Reported Swiss Cases Slow (10:41 a.m. NY)
Switzerland registered 4,391 new cases on Dec. 31. That translates to a 19% reduction from the previous week, based on a 7-day average, the broadcaster SRF reported. Still, scientists advising the government have cautioned that the holidays may be skewing the numbers, and that given the highly infectious virus mutation, cases are likely to rise again.
NYC Plans to Vaccinate 1 Million Next Month (10:15 a.m. NY)
New York City has set a goal to vaccinate 1 million residents in January.
The city plans to put up pop-up sites and use schools to help reach that goal, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday on CNN. He called for help from the federal and state government.
“This thing is not moving the way it needs to in the U.S.,” de Blasio said. “New York City is going to show that we can jump-start this and vaccinate people at a record pace. And we want to see the whole country be a part of this, because we need to go faster to fight back the coronavirus if we want to recover.”
New York City intends to double the number of vaccine access points, to at least 250 sites. As of today, the city has administered 88,410 doses, 25% of those delivered.
Portugal Reaches Record After Easing Restrictions (9:57 a.m. NY)
Portugal on Thursday reported a record 7,627 new confirmed cases, according to the health ministry, after the southern European nation eased confinement measures during the Christmas season. Total Covid-19 cases rose to 413,678. The country reported 76 deaths in a day, and the number of patients in intensive-care units fell by 5 to 482.
Scotland Hits Record Again (9:54 a.m. NY)
Scotland reported another record, with 2,622 people infected over the past 24 hours. The government in Edinburgh doubled down on its order for people to stay at home and avoid indoor mixing as the country prepares for its Hogmanay year-end celebration. Many cases have been linked to the new Covid-19 strain that prompted a renewed lockdown across most of the U.K.
Stay Home, English Revelers Told (7:20 a.m.NY)
Everyone in England should stay at home when they celebrate the New Year on Thursday night, the U.K. government said. People should act as if they have Covid-19, ministers said as they launched a publicity campaign warning of the rapid rise in infections and the pressure on the National Health Service.
The advice coincides with new rules putting 78% of the country’s population in the strictest tier 4 pandemic curbs, banning almost all household mixing and closing non-essential shops.
German Cases Jump by Most Since Outbreak Began (2 p.m. HK)
Germany recorded the most new coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic as Angela Merkel called on citizens to remain disciplined in the fight against the disease.
Infections rose by 49,044 in the 24 hours through Thursday morning, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, passing the previous high set Dec. 17. The sombre milestone was passed a day after the country recorded more than 1,000 single-day fatalities for the first time Wednesday.
In her final New Year’s address as chancellor, Merkel said a harsh winter would require perseverance while a vaccination campaign rolls out.
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