The Latest: Pfizer CEO urges patience on reopening economies

ATHENS, Greece — Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla urged global governments not to reopen economies too quickly because of the optimism created by possible COVID-19 vaccines.

“Given the pressure to open the economy, (governments) should not make this mistake…and relax immediately,” said Bourla, speaking at an online event hosted in his native Greece.

“The vaccine is one tool in controlling this disease…The time that we will have to go back to normality is not far away. But it is definitely not now.”

Bourla spoke Wednesday after Britain became the first country to approve a vaccine developed by Pfizer and German biotechnology company BioNTech.

The 59-year-old executive says early stages of national vaccination programs were likely to have a significant impact because they would be directed at vulnerable groups like seniors and health care workers.



— U.K. approves Pfizer coronavirus vaccine for emergency use, puts Britain on track to start vaccinations soon

— International Red Cross seeks equitable access to vaccines

— Russia and Germany hit record numbers of daily coronavirus deaths

— Tokyo Olympic fans from abroad may have health tracked by app


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DETROIT — A judge refused to block Michigan’s ban on indoor dining during a surge in coronavirus cases.

U.S. District Judge Paul Maloney say a “plausible explanation” for the state order exists: People can’t eat or drink without removing their mask, a step that could spread the virus.

Maloney turned down a request for an injunction with a week left in the three-week indoor dining ban. Some restaurant owners say the steady loss of customers could put many of them out of business. They say they’re concerned about a possible extension of the order by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s administration.

The Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association and some restaurants sued the state health director. They say they can safely provide indoor dining and are treated unfairly when compared to other businesses.


GENEVA — The World Health Organization is hailing Britain’s approval of a coronavirus vaccine for emergency use, calling it a “great achievement.”

Dr. Michael Ryan, chief of emergencies at WHO, likened the recent progress toward a coronavirus vaccine to “reaching the base camp on Mt. Everest: We still have to climb the mountain. It’s a great achievement, but we still have to get there.”

Ryan says “many obstacles” remain, such as producing enough vaccine, distributing it fairly, creating demand for the vaccine and delivering it to “every individual who actually needs it.”

He alluded to the reticence of some people to take a vaccine.

“You get to choose, and you should get to choose,” he said. “But you’re also part of a forest.” He reminds people, “it’s not just for you. You represent that new firewall.”

Ryan says more vaccines are needed beyond the “three or four” in final stages, along with increased production and lower prices.


MADRID — Spain will slightly ease curfew restrictions for three days during the Christmas holidays while keeping most limits in place because of the coronavirus.

Health Minister Salvador Illa says officials from the regional governments agreed Wednesday to ban travel between regions from Dec. 23 to Jan. 6, with exceptions for essential trips.

Family gatherings over the holidays will be limited to 10 people from the same household. Large public events are banned. A curfew will be in place between 1:30 a.m.-6 a.m. on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve. The country currently has an 11 p.m.-6 a.m. curfew.

Spain’s 14-day infection rate dropped Wednesday to 251 cases per 100,000 people from a high of 529 cases on Nov. 9.

Spain has recorded 1.6 million confirmed cases and more than 45,500 deaths.


BERLIN — German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the governors of the country’s 16 states have agreed to extend current pandemic restrictions until Jan. 10.

Merkel says Germany is still “very far” from its goal of reducing the rate of infections to 50 cases per 100,000 people.

The decision means restaurants, bars and gyms remain shut and limits on personal contacts will be restricted into the new year, although all agreed to ease some restrictions over the Christmas period.

Merkel also expressed confidence in the process led by the European Medicines Agency to review coronavirus vaccine candidates for approval. The agency has said it will meet Dec. 29 to assess the application submitted by BioNTech and Pfizer, whose vaccine was given authorization for emergency use Wednesday by the U.K. regulator.


RICHMOND, Va. — A health system serving a swath of central Appalachia says it will halt nonemergency elective procedures because of surging cases of coronavirus and capacity concerns at its Virginia and Tennessee hospitals.

Ballad Health officials say it will take effect Monday for at least 30 days.

Ballad CEO Alan Levine also announced that the system has one refrigerated morgue truck at a Tennessee hospital and has ordered a second one for another hospital. Ballad has been urging community members for months to follow basic public health measure to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Virginia has more than 242,000 cases and 4,113 confirmed deaths. Tennessee has 380,000 cases and 4,638 confirmed deaths, according to each state’s health department.


UNITED NATIONS — The International Committee of the Red Cross is urging “equitable access” to vaccines for people affected by conflict and violence.

ICRC Director-General Robert Mardini says health workers and people in regions where fighting is taking place “endure the double burden of conflict and COVID. We believe that people there should have the same right and access to the vaccine as others do.”

The ICRC says it is ready to support national vaccination campaigns and facilitate access to COVID-19 vaccines for people in countries affected by conflict and violence.


MIAMI — Gloria Estefan says she spent most of November in isolation after testing positive for the coronavirus.

The Grammy-winning singer says she tested positive days after dining outdoors at a Miami-area restaurant. The 63-year-old Estefan enduring only “a little bit of a cough” and dehydration after losing her sense of smell and taste. She’s tested negative twice since recovering.

In a video shared on Instagram, Estefan speculates she might have been exposed by a fan who was not wearing a mask and spoke closely to her.

“I know we are kind of in a very big spike in Miami. It’s tough here now,” she said in her video. “Please everybody, wear your masks, try to stay six feet away and protect yourselves.”


AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine Gov. Janet Mills is quarantining after being exposed to a person with a probable case of the coronavirus.

Mills announced Tuesday she was potentially exposed by a member of her security detail and is getting tested.

Mills says she has no symptoms, and both wore masks while keeping their distance from each other. However, she says she’s still observing safety protocols.

The Democratic says she’ll be working in the Blaine House, the governor’s official residence in Augusta.


MEXICO CITY — Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador suggested politicians who impose lockdowns or curfews to limit the coronavirus are acting like dictators.

The comments came Wednesday as López Obrador again fended off questions about why he rarely wears a mask. He says its a question of liberty.

The Mexican leader says pandemic measures that limit people’s movements are “fashionable among authorities … who want to show they are heavy handed dictatorship.”

It was unclear if the Mexican leader was referring to authorities in other countries or the mainly opposition-party local leaders who have tried to impose limits because of the coronavirus.

Mexico has recorded 1.1 million coronavirus cases and nearly 107,000 test-confirmed deaths, the fourth-highest toll in the world. However, Mexico does little testing and officials estimate the real death toll is higher.


LONDON — Britain’s health secretary has confirmed that batch testing has been completed for the first 800,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, which will be ready for use starting early next week.

Matt Hancock told lawmakers on Wednesday that the U.K. has preordered 40 million doses of the shots, enough for 20 million people to get the required two shots each. The doses will be tested in batches for safety.

“This is a monumental step forward. It’s no longer if there’s going to be a vaccine, it’s when,” he said. “This is a day to remember, frankly, in a year to forget.”

Hancock says distribution of the vaccine will be “one of the biggest civilian logistical efforts that we face as a nation.” He says the shots will first be distributed by hospital hubs and 50 of these are “ready to go” next week.

Doctor’s offices, pharmacies, conference centers and sports venues will later play a part in distributing shots.


WARSAW, Poland – Poland’s government says it is aiming at covering between 50% and 80% of the nation with voluntary and free of charge coronavirus vaccinations that should be available early next year.

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki says Poland is seeking to purchase some 45 million vaccine units, at the cost of up to 10 billion zlotys ($2.7 billion; 2.2 billion euro) and has made some adjustments to the state budget to meet this “very, very high cost that we must afford.”

The vaccines should be available as soon as they are approved by Europe’s health authorities, Morawiecki says.

The first groups to be offered vaccination will be the medics, uniformed services like police and the military who are helping the medics, and the elderly. That’s a total of up to 7 million people in a nation of some 38 million.

Vaccination, requiring two shots three weeks apart, should be made available in various medical centers across Poland and in mobile facilities.


WASHINGTON — A leader of the Trump administration’s effort to produce and distribute a coronavirus vaccine says he expects the Food and Drug Administration to soon authorize the use of a vaccine.

Operation Warp Speed chief science adviser Moncef Slaoui says he hopes by Dec. 10 or 11, a Pfizer vaccine is approved in the U.S.

Slaoui told ABC’s “Good Morning America” he “would expect the FDA to reach a similar conclusion” as British authorities did by approving emergency use of a vaccine developed by American drugmaker Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech.

Slaoui is urging people to listen to the experts about taking the vaccine, look at the data and keep their minds open. He says “great science” allowed researchers to do discovery work “in weeks rather than in years.”

Slaoui calls the vaccine “an insurance against this virus” and says it’s “what will get us out of this pandemic.”


MOSCOW — Russia has registered a record number of coronavirus deaths for a second straight day.

The government coronavirus task force reported 589 new deaths on Wednesday, the highest daily tally in the pandemic. The previous record of 569 deaths was registered on Tuesday. The task force has recorded 41,053 virus-related deaths in all.

Russia continued to report high daily infections this week as well. On Wednesday, officials registered 25,345 new infections. Russia’s total of over 2.3 million confirmed cases is the fourth largest caseload in the world.

Still, Russian authorities have insisted there is no need to impose a second nationwide lockdown or shut down businesses. Currently, there is a country-wide mask mandate and mostly mild restrictions that vary from region to region.


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