U.S. Vaccines May Start Friday Amid Covid’s Worst: Virus Update

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Vaccinations in the U.S. could begin as early as Friday, with the Food and Drug Administration set to vote on emergency-use authorization for the Pfizer Inc./BioNtech SE shot the day before, an FDA adviser told NBC News.

As states put in their orders for vaccines — and began deciding who will get them first — California set another record for infections. New York City’s outbreak continued to worsen, as North Carolina again recorded its highest infections and hospitalizations. Fatalities across the U.S. are rising sharply.

The U.K. plans to begin vaccinations in the week of Dec. 14, as authorities worldwide move to a new stage in tackling the pandemic. Moscow began jabs on Saturday. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the nation can maintain high spending next year to help cushion the economic impact of the coronavirus.

Key Developments:

  • Global Tracker: Cases exceed 66.2 million; deaths top 1.52 million
  • Tracking the coronavirus vaccines that will end the pandemic
  • California contends with virus, wildfires and power disruptions
  • Coronavirus costs are hurtingChristmas tree sellers
  • Pfizer and BioNTech are on track to make50 million vaccine doses this year
  • Vaccine confusion leaves U.S. states asking how many doses they get

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Brazil’s Infections Surge (5:11 p.m. NY)

Brazil reported 43,209 new cases at the end of a fourth week in a steep resurgence of the virus, according Health Ministry data. Infections have more than doubled over the last month to levels near the last peak in August. Another 664 people died.

The nation now has a total of 6,577,177 total cases, the most after the U.S. and India, and 176,628 deaths.

Florida’s Cases Accelerating (4:52 p.m. NY)

Florida reported 10,431 cases, its third consecutive day above 10,000 as the pace of infection rose rapidly. Average daily cases this week were 20% more than last week — or about 1,500 more infections each day — as hospitalizations neared the heights of the summer surge. Mayor Daniella Levine Cava of Miami-Dade said on Friday she was “gravely concerned” about pressure on the area’s medical system.

New York State Reports More Than 10,000 Cases (4:01 p.m. NY)

New York state reported 10,761 new cases, its second consecutive day above 10,000 –at the highest level since the peak of the outbreak in April.

Total hospitalizations rose almost 100 to 4,318. The statewide positive-test rate, which has been rising rapidly, dropped slightly to 5%, though it rose to more than 11% in a hot spot in Westchester County just north of the city. Another 69 people died.

Alabama Infections at Highest Level in Outbreak (3:30 p.m. NY)

Alabama reported 3,390 new cases, the fifth consecutive day over 3,000, keeping infections at their highest level since the start of the pandemic. The state reported 46 deaths, in a week when fatalities have spiked: The seven-day average this week was 44, compared to 31 week before Thanksgiving. Hospitalizations are at an all-time high on a seven-day average, according to the Covid Tracking Project.

California Cases Climb to Record (2:23 p.m. NY)

California added a record 25,068 new cases, bringing the total to 1.3 million. It also reported 209 new deaths for a total fatality count of 19,791.

The state has been warning about the surge in cases and the strain on hospital beds, particularly those in intensive-care units. The number of ICU beds have fallen by 45 to 1,628, a new low, as hospitalizations increased 3.2% to 10,273.

A wide swath of the San Francisco Bay area has imposed stay-at-home rules through Christmas and New Year’s Day, while Los Angeles warned that the number of cases could top 500,000 by the end of the year.

U.S. Covid Shots Could Begin Friday, Doctor Says (2:21 p.m. NY)

A Covid-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE could be in use by Friday if the Food and Drug Administration approves an emergency use authorization, James Hildreth, a member of the FDA’s vaccine advisory committee, told NBC News.

The panel is scheduled to vote on the matter after reviewing the vaccine’s data at a meeting on Thursday.

“If the FDA Commissioner decides to issue approval, the EUA, on that day when the vote is taken, as early as Friday of next week we could see vaccinations happening across the country,” Hildreth said on NBC’s “Weekend Today.”

New Jersey Reports Cases Over 5,000 (2:17 p.m. NY)

New Jersey reported 5,367 new cases, the second time this week over 5,000. The state’s infections are at the highest level since the start of the pandemic. Total hospitalizations fell slightly, and another 53 fatalities were reported.

France’s Drop in New Cases Stalls, Hospitalizations Decline (1:56 p.m. NY)

France’s reported confirmed coronavirus cases increased by 12,923 on Saturday to 2.28 million. The seven-day average of new cases rose by 0.5% to 10,397, climbing for the first time in more than two weeks.

The rate of positive Covid-19 tests remained at 10.7% for a third day, following three weeks of declines. Hospitalizations and patients in intensive care for Covid-19 continued to fall from their mid-November peak. Deaths linked to the virus increased by 214 to 54,981.

The government started easing some lockdown measures a week ago, allowing non-essential stores to reopen.

Italy’s Outbreak Continues to Ease (12:40 p.m. NY)

Italy reported 21,052 new cases Saturday, confirming the downwards trend from last week. Daily fatalities dropped to 662 from 814 on Friday.

Health Minister Roberto Speranza said on SkyTg24 television on Saturday that strict anti-Covid measures are a necessity to avoid a new uptick in virus cases that would swamp hospitals and cause a further increase in deaths.

Asked about vaccine distribution, he said the timing will depend on the European Medicines Agency and that the Italian government plans to administer the vaccine on a voluntary basis once it’s available.

Arizona’s Daily Cases Top 5,000 Again (12:19 p.m. NY)

Arizona reported 6,799 new cases on Saturday, the fourth time this week that the state recorded more than 5,000 daily Covid-19 infections. During the state’s earlier surge last summer, Arizona never hit the 5,000-a-day mark.

The mayors of four Arizona cities have called on Republican Governor Doug Ducey to take stronger actions to curtail rising cases. The most important measure, they’ve said, is passing a statewide mask mandate to supplement existing local requirements.

North Carolina Breaks Records (12:07 p.m. NY)

North Carolina reported 6,018 new cases, another record at the end of week in which daily cases passed 5,000 three times. Hospitalizations rose to a record 2,171.

NYC Infections and Hospitalizations Tick Up (12 p.m. NY)

New York City’s outbreak continues to widen: Mayor Bill de Blasio reported increases in new infections, 2,179 on a seven-day average in the latest count, and new hospitalizations, 158. The positive-test rate declined slightly to 5%, on a seven-day average.

Maine Hits Record for Weekly Cases (11:36 a.m. NY)

Maine reported a record daily average number of cases, 265 over the last week, the state’s Center for Disease Control reported Saturday. On Friday, Nirav Shah, the agency’s director, called the spread “ferocious” in a state that has so far avoided a major outbreak. He warned that tracking infections would have to scale back to focus on the most vulnerable most likely to cause further spread.

Germany to Spend Up to $7.3 Billion on Vaccination Drive (11:23 a.m. NY)

Germany will spend as much as 6 billion euros ($7.3 billion) on vaccinating its population against the coronavirus.

“That’s a lot of money,” Health Minister Jens Spahn said at a conference in Berlin on Saturday. Still, the cost of “not getting it under control is higher,” he said.

By contrast, the nation will likely spend as much as 20 billion euros on November support for restaurants and cafes, he said. Germany aims to begin mass vaccinations by the summer of next year, Spahn said earlier in an interview with T-Online.

U.K. Opposition Leader Self-Isolates (9:48 a.m. NY)

Kier Starmer, leader of the opposition Labour Party in the U.K., has gone into self-isolation after a member of his staff tested positive. Starmer is well and not showing any symptoms of Covid-19, a spokesperson said in an emailed statement.

Dutch Infection Rate Worsens for Second Day (9:31 a.m. NY)

The number of new cases in the Netherlands increased for the second day in a row. There were 6,577 new reported infections on Saturday, up from 5,921 on Friday and 5,634 on Thursday, ANP said. Measures by the Dutch government had previously lowered the daily number of cases to below 5,000 from 10,000 or more.

U.S. Fatalities Accelerate Sharply (8:26 a.m. NY)

U.S. deaths are up on average of 34% this week versus last week, or about 500 more per day. The nation reported 2,637 fatalities on Friday, the fourth day this week above 2,500, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University and Bloomberg. Friday’s fatalities were below Thursday’s record of 2,867.

Compared to a month ago, total deaths have risen 134%. The Midwest, which was hit first in the now nationwide surge, and the South are leading the increases, according to theCovid Tracking Project.

U.K. to Start Local Vaccine Services From Dec. 14 (7:30 a.m. NY)

Local services will start in week of Dec. 14, with a goal of delivering 975 doses per site to priority patients that week, NHS England said in aletter sent to doctors on Friday.

Vaccines must be used quickly, and sites will initially receive 3.5 days’ worth of supplies, which can be stored at between 2 and 8 degrees Celsius, the letter said. The Pfizer Inc.-BioNTech SE shot must be kept at freezing temperatures longer term. Sites involved in the first wave of deployment will be given more details Monday about vaccine supplies and fridges for storage. People over 80 will get shots first.

Germany Can Maintain Spending, Merkel Says (6:15 p.m. HK)

Germany can carry on spending “large sums” next year to help the economy through coronavirus upheavals, Chancellor Angela Merkel said ahead of a parliamentary vote on the federal budget next week.

“We were able to deploy large sums in 2020 and we will be able to do so in 2021 because we have managed our finances well in the past years,” Merkel said. Debt-funded stimulus measures were necessary this year to prevent far costlier bankruptcies and job losses, she said.

Still, the nation can’t maintain this support forever and it will have to start working off the exceptional debt from 2023, Merkel said in her weekly podcast. “We already see enormous budgetary challenges for the coming years.”

Hungary Reports Record Deaths (4:40 p.m. HK)

Hungary set another daily record for Covid-19 related deaths, as Prime Minister Viktor Orban prepares to announce whether virus curbs will be relaxed for the holiday period.

The nation had 193 daily deaths and 5,525 new infections, its virus task force said in a statement on Saturday. Orban is scheduled to announce on Monday whether some restrictions will be eased for the upcoming holidays, including a curfew and a ban on public gatherings. The prime minister has said that his virus advisers oppose any loosening of curbs put in place almost a month ago.

Russia Starts Vaccinations as Cases Hit Record (4:23 p.m. HK)

Moscow started widespread vaccination of front-line workers and other high-risk people on Saturday, following an order from Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday. More than 5,000 people signed up in the first five hours of registration on Friday, Moscow’s mayor said on his blog. The Kremlin has resisted a broad lockdown, putting the responsibility for imposing restrictions on regional governments.

Russia reported a record 28,782 cases in the past day, the government’s virus response center said Saturday. That raises the total to 2.4 million, the fourth-most in the world.

German Cases Slow; Intensive-Care Bed Use Rises (4 p.m. HK)

Days after Germany extended its partial lockdown into next year, authorities reported a rise of 15,403 cases in the last 24 hours, down from 24,158 the previous day. Deaths stood at 480 over the last 24 hours, below the record of 510 in mid-April. The number of occupied intensive-care beds ticked higher, with 82% in use, up from 81% the previous day. Germany has a further contingent of reserve beds.

— With assistance by Ian Fisher, Rudy Ruitenberg, Suzi Ring, Alessandra Migliaccio, Flynn McRoberts, Linus Chua, and Fernando Travaglini

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