The Latest: Dubai approves use of Pfizer coronavirus vaccine
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Dubai has approved the use of the Pfizer vaccine against the coronavirus and will launch an “extensive” inoculation effort starting Wednesday.
Authorities in Dubai, the financial hub of the United Arab Emirates, said the vaccine made by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech would be offered to citizens and residents free of charge.
The announcement comes after the UAE issued the first government authorization of the Chinese vaccine Sinopharm, claiming it was 86% effective based on an “interim analysis” of Phase III trials without offering further details. Clinics across the federation of seven sheikhdoms have started administering the Chinese vaccine.
The UAE has recorded over 195,800 coronavirus cases and more than 600 deaths. Although the country has seen an uptick in cases in recent months, Dubai, with its economy heavily dependent on air travel and hospitality, has remained open for business and tourism.
THE VIRUS OUTBREAK:
Congress has easily passed a $900 billion pandemic relief package. It would deliver long-sought cash to businesses and individuals and resources to vaccinate a nation confronting a frightening surge in COVID-19 cases and deaths. The bill has been sent to President Donald Trump for his signature, expected in the coming days. The effort comes at the end of a year that’s become the deadliest in U.S. history. Preliminary data on U.S. deaths show the coronavirus pandemic contributing to a 15% or more increase in deaths over last year. U.S. deaths topped 3 million for the first time, and the percentage increase was the largest in a single year since 1918.
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HERE’S WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING:
NEW YORK — A top federal health official has signed off on an advisory committee’s recommendation about who should be prioritized for limited doses of coronavirus vaccine.
The government earlier this month advised state vaccination campaigns to put at the front of the line health-care workers and residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Robert Redfield on Tuesday endorsed the committee’s recommendation and made official government guidance.
An expert committee voted on Sunday to recommend the next groups to be prioritized. They said the second group should be people age 75 and older, and people with certain jobs – like teachers, corrections officers, and grocery store workers – that put them in frequent contact with other people.
The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices listed the third group as other essential workers, people ages 65 to 74, and people 16 to 64 who have certain medical conditions that put them at risk for severe illness if they become infected.
CHICAGO — Thousands of Illinois inmates and jail employees have become sickened with COVID-19 since the pandemic’s start. The increase in recent months has alarmed prisoner rights advocates.
The Chicago Tribune reports at least 59 inmates have died from COVID-19 and nearly 10,000 inmates and staff members have become infected. Most infections are recent. From March to early August, there were fewer than 700 known infections.
The head of the Illinois Prison Project calls it an “absolute failure” by the state. Illinois Department of Corrections officials have acknowledged the high number, which is partly blamed on more testing in jails.
The Illinois Department of Public Health said the state on Tuesday had 6,239 newly confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases, including 116 deaths. Overall, Illinois has reported 911,308 cases, including 15,414 deaths.
PARIS — France will start allowing EU citizens and some British citizens to come to the continent from Britain, after shutting down all passenger and cargo traffic from the U.K. because of a new strain of the coronavirus.
French Prime Minister Jean Castex announced Tuesday that citizens of the border-free European travel zone arriving from Britain will be allowed to enter French territory as of midnight – but only if they have a PCR virus test from the last 72 hours. British citizens with EU residency will also be allowed.
The new rules will be in place until Jan. 6.
Castex said no decision has been made yet on cargo traffic but expected a solution “in the coming hours.”
COLUMBIA S.C. — The South Carolina governor’s office announced Tuesday that Republican Gov. Henry McMaster has tested positive for the coronavirus and was slated to receive outpatient antibody treatment for “mild symptoms.”
His office said McMaster, 73, learned he had tested positive late Monday following a test “due to coming into close contact with the COVID-19 virus.” McMaster’s wife, 73-year-old Peggy McMaster, tested positive last week but remains asymptomatic.
On the advice of his personal physician, the governor was slated to receive monoclonal antibody treatment Tuesday, which his office called a “preventative measure for those with mild to moderate symptoms.”
Officials say the governor was tested last week at the same time as his wife but had a negative result at the time. He is now “experiencing mild symptoms with a cough and slight fatigue.”
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Californians are being warned it is too risky to celebrate the winter holidays normally and if they don’t change plans there could be a disastrous explosion of coronavirus cases.
The state has recorded a half-million coronavirus cases in the last two weeks, and Gov. Gavin Newsom says a projection model shows California could have 100,000 hospitalizations in the next month.
The current surge is already overwhelming hospitals in urban centers and rural areas alike. A medical center in Imperial County along the Mexican border warned Monday that it is fast running out of patient beds.
California is enduring by far its worst spike in cases and hospitalizations. All of Southern California and the 12-county San Joaquin Valley to the north have been out of regular ICU capacity for days.
California is averaging almost 44,000 newly confirmed cases a day and has recorded 525,000 in the last two weeks. It’s estimated 12% those who test positive end up in the hospital. That means 63,000 hospitalizations from the last 14 days of cases. The current figure is 17,190.
PHOENIX — The death toll in Arizona from the coronavirus outbreak has passed the 8,000 mark on Tuesday as the state reported an additional 153 known deaths, the second-highest daily increase during the pandemic.
The state has seen 8,125 total deaths.
The Department of Health Services reported an additional 5,869 known COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, increasing the state’s total to 467,215 confirmed cases.
According to the state coronavirus dashboard, there were 4,019 virus-related hospitalizations as of Monday, the latest in a string of pandemic-highs recorded this month during the fall surge now continuing into winter.
MILAN — The number of new COVID-19 cases in Italy rose by 13,318 on Tuesday, with 201 requiring intensive care treatment, as Italy heads toward a nationwide partial lockdown for the Christmas holidays.
The Health Ministry said the daily death toll remained at 601, bringing Italy’s known pandemic total to 69,842. Hospitalizations dropped below 25,000, with 2,687 people in intensive care — 43 fewer than a day earlier.
Italians are easing into a holiday season full of restrictions, and already are barred from traveling to other regions except for valid reasons like work or health.
Starting Christmas eve, travel beyond city or town borders also will be blocked, with some allowance for very limited personal visits in the same region.
PHOENIX — The Arizona Senate has announced a new set of COVID-19 safety guidelines for the upcoming legislative session in January, including requiring masks.
Arizona Senate President Karen Fann told the senators and staff on Monday that anyone who enters the Senate building must have their temperature checked and be wearing masks at all times.
The guidelines also require 6 feet (1.83 meters) of social distancing when possible and prohibits handshakes or any physical contact during committee hearings and gatherings.
Fann warned that failing to comply with the rules could result in an early end of the session. Lawmakers shut down their buildings last month and cut the 2020 session short because of the pandemic.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Deaths in Florida’s nursing homes doubled during the Thanksgiving holiday, according to statistics gathered by the AARP. But Florida’s rate was dramatically lower than the national average, as COVID-19 infections across the country surged.
In the three weeks straddling the Thanksgiving holiday, the rate of deaths in Florida nursing homes was 4.7 for every 1,000 residents — more than double the 2.3-death average recorded in the four weeks leading into the holiday. The data was partly culled from statistics generated by the Centers for Disease Control. Nationally, the death rate over the holiday period was 15.3 deaths per 1,000.
Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has made it a priority to protect the state’s elderly, and patients and staff at nursing homes statewide began injecting vaccines last week.
Nationally, the rate of deaths among nursing home residents, as well infections to not only residents but the staff who care for them, has more than tripled over the past seven weeks. The COVID-19 pandemic has killed more than 106,000 residents and staff of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.
BISMARCK, N.D. — The governor of North Dakota is allowing bars and restaurants to return to regular hours of operation on Tuesday, as the active number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have declined.
The food service establishments had been closed to in-person service between 10 a.m. and 4 a.m. since Nov. 16. Republican Gov. Doug Burgum signed an amended executive order on Monday that allows them to return to normal hours, consistent with any local requirements.
But to keep the virus in check, the bars and restaurants must follow other state and local rules, including limiting capacity to 50% and allowing no more than 150 people inside until Jan. 8. Social distancing, mask wearing and other precautions also remain in place.
A state order requiring masks to be worn in indoor businesses, indoor public settings and outdoor public settings where physical distancing isn’t possible remains in effect until Jan. 18. Banquet, ballroom and event venues also remain limited to 25% percent of maximum occupancy until Jan. 8.
The Department of Health has said hospitalizations due to COVID-19 in North Dakota have decreased to 158 from a peak of 341 on Nov. 11, while active cases have decreased to 2,655 since peaking at 10,293 on Nov. 13.
WASHINGTON — The nation’s top infectious disease expert has received the initial dose of the newest COVID-19 vaccine alongside other federal health leaders who helped oversee its development.
Dr. Anthony Fauci received his first shot of the two-dose regimen alongside National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. Each received the vaccine co-developed by NIH and Massachusetts drugmaker Moderna.
The vaccinations Tuesday at the NIH campus outside Washington are part of a broader government effort to bolster public confidence in the safety of two COVID-19 vaccines recently cleared by U.S. regulators.
Six health care workers from NIH’s research hospital also received vaccination shots at the event.
WASHINGTON — The nation’s top infectious disease expert estimates that most Americans will have access to the new COVID-19 vaccines by mid-summer.
Dr. Anthony Fauci told Good Morning America on Tuesday that he expects to start vaccinating the general population “somewhere in the end of March, the beginning of April.”
He said the process could take up to four months to reach all Americans who want to receive the vaccine.
The first doses started rolling out last week, with health care workers, first responders and the elderly on the priority list. Fauci planned to receive his own shot of the vaccine created by Moderna on Tuesday.
Fauci also said it was “certainly possible” that the new COVID-19 strain discovered in the U.K. had reached America as well. He said travel bans were unnecessary and “rather draconian,” but that pre-travel testing requirements for visitors from the U.K. might be preferable.
Fauci reiterated his longstanding plea for Americans to curb their normal Christmas and holiday plans this year as the virus continues to surge all around the country.