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UPS, FedEx prepare to distribute Covid vaccines; France extends lockdown until January

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A staggering number of Americans are dying from the coronavirus each day, as the virus tears through cities and strains the health system. The U.S. recorded 3,124 new Covid-19 deaths on Wednesday, the deadliest single-day tally of the pandemic so far, according to a CNBC analysis of Johns Hopkins University data. The country reported more than 221,000 new Covid-19 infections on Wednesday, and more than 106,000 Americans are currently hospitalized with the virus. The country's top health experts have warned those numbers are only going to climb, as a Thanksgiving-related spike in cases runs into the winter holidays.

The following data was compiled by Johns Hopkins University:

  • Global cases: More than 69.59 million 
  • Global deaths: At least 1.58 million
  • U.S. cases: More than 15.61 million
  • U.S. deaths: At least 292,141

Hong Kong's restaurants need government subsidies to survive, business leader says

Prominent Hong Kong business leader Allan Zeman called on the city's government to provide subsidies for the food and beverage sector as Covid-19 restrictions are tightened again.

"I think that it's something that is vital for the survival of the businesses," he told CNBC's "Street Signs Asia."

The city's chief executive, Carrie Lam, announced this week that gyms and beauty salons would be closed and dining in restaurants banned after 6 p.m. in a bid to control a new wave of the virus. Bars and karaoke lounges have also been shut.

"It just does not bode well for the industry," said Zeman, chairman of property developer Lan Kwai Fong Group. "Many of the bar owners, many of my tenants feel that they can't survive," he said.

Lam said the government would study additional relief measures for the affected sectors, but Zeman said he doesn't think it will be able to match previous packages because the government needs to preserve cash.

Hong Kong reported 112 new confirmed cases of the coronavirus, taking its total case count to at least 7,291. More than 1,300 cases have been recorded in the past 14 days, according to the city's department of health.

— Abigail Ng

U.S. needs to vaccinate 60% to 70% of population to break Covid's spread

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'Time for public health to act': Professor says of Covid vaccine rollout in the U.S.

The U.S. has to vaccinate 60% to 70% of its population to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease, said Dr. Carlos del Rio, an infectious disease professor at the Emory University School of Medicine.

President-elect Joe Biden has pledged 100 million vaccinations within his first 100 days in office. If such a pace continues, the U.S. would be able to vaccinate 60% to 70% of its people by the end of summer or start of fall in 2021, del Rio told CNBC's "Squawk Box Asia."

The professor said that generally, there are three groups of people who resist vaccines: Those who are anti-vaccine, those who prefer to wait and see, and those who doesn't trust the public health system. The latter group is the most important one to try to convince to take a Covid vaccine, added del Rio.

— Yen Nee Lee

FDA panel recommends Pfizer’s Covid vaccine be approved for emergency use

A U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisory panel recommended the agency approve Pfizer and BioNTech's coronavirus vaccine for emergency use in people over 16 years old, reports CNBC's Berkeley Lovelace Jr.

The Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee's vote is the last step before the FDA gives the final OK to broadly distribute the first doses throughout the United States.

If the FDA accepts the nonbinding recommendation from the panel — which is expected — it would mark a pivotal moment in the Covid-19 pandemic, which has infected more than 15.4 million people and killed roughly 290,000 in the U.S. in less than a year.

—Melodie Warner 

UPS, FedEx say vaccines will get priority treatment, GPS tracking

United Parcel Service President of Global Healthcare, Wesley Wheeler, holds up an example of one of UPSs tracking system as he speaks at a Senate Transportation subcommittee hybrid hearing on transporting a coronavirus vaccine on December 10, 2020, in Washington, DC.
Andrew Harnik | AFP | Getty Images

FedEx and United Parcel Service executives told lawmakers Thursday that their shipping networks are ready to start transporting coronavirus vaccines as soon as possible, even as the companies face the most hectic holiday shipping peak on record.

Vaccines will get loaded on and off planes before other items and those flights will get priority from the Federal Aviation Administration, the companies said. Packages of the vaccines will be outfitted with special labels and other tracking devices to monitor movement, location and temperature.

The preparation comes as the Food and Drug Administration weighs granting approval of Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine for emergency use.

In addition to shipping vaccines, UPS will ship other supplies including syringes, diluent and PPE for health care workers administering the vaccines, in addition to more dry ice. Pfizer's vaccine must be stored at minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit.

Leslie Josephs

Bipartisan Covid proposal includes more PPP funding for distressed small businesses

Frederick Bass | fStop | Getty Images

Small businesses with battered finances could be in line for additional funding through the Paycheck Protection Program.

Bipartisan lawmakers unveiled a $908 billion Covid relief framework on Wednesday, which set aside $300 billion for the Small Business Administration, the federal agency responsible for the lending program.

These PPP loans are forgivable if business owners devote at least 60% of the proceeds toward payroll expenses. Though the Treasury Department and IRS say that this forgiveness is tax-free, borrowers currently can't deduct business expenses that they covered with PPP proceeds. The latest proposal would reverse that policy.

The bipartisan proposal would also offer certain small businesses a second PPP loan. Those firms must have no more than 300 employees and they must have sustained a 30% revenue loss in any quarter of 2020.

—Darla Mercado

Unemployment claims hit three-month high

Workers applied for unemployment benefits at the highest level in three months last week, signaling a rise in layoffs while millions are poised to lose financial assistance in late December.

Nearly 1.4 million people filed an initial claim for jobless benefits the week ended Dec. 5, split between state and federal programs, the Labor Department reported Thursday. That's the most since mid-September.

Unemployment benefits generally replace half a worker's lost wages. However, aid varies greatly by state. Some states cap benefits at a level below the federal minimum wage.

More than 19 million Americans are collecting jobless aid, according to the Labor Department.

Greg Iacurci

Walmart gets ready for Covid-19 vaccines

Cars drive past a Walmart store in Washington, DC, on August 18, 2020.
Nicholas Kamm | AFP | Getty Images

Walmart is getting ready to help administer Covid-19 vaccines, even as it waits for their approval and availability, the company's chief medical officer said Thursday.

On the company's website, Dr. Tom Van Gilder said the big-box retailer wants to make sure it can store the vaccines and offer them to the public. He said its more than 5,000 stores and Sam's Clubs are gearing up with proper storage, such as freezers and dry ice. He said it's entering into agreements with states so it can offer the vaccines at pharmacies or other facilities, such as nursing homes.

He said the company can help accelerate the vaccine's rollout because of its many locations and its health-care staff who administer other shots, such as the flu vaccine.

"With 90% of the American population living within 10 miles of a Walmart, we will play an important part in making sure those who want a vaccine can get one when they are eligible based on their state's prioritization, especially those in hard to reach parts of the country that have recently been hit hard by the epidemic," he said.

—Melissa Repko

Michigan Gov. Whitmer creates bipartisan commission to help ease vaccine hesitancy

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed an executive order creating a "bipartisan Protect Michigan Commission" within the state's department of health to "help raise awareness of the safety and effectiveness of an approved COVID-19 vaccine," according to a statement from Whitmer's office.

The commission, which will consist of at least 50 people representing diverse populations of the state, will serve in an advisory capacity to the Democrat governor. It will be charged with providing "public leadership to elevate and reinforce the importance of an approved" vaccine and identify areas or groups within the state that are likely to experience increased levels of vaccine hesitancy, according to the governor's office.

 "This bipartisan group of leaders is uniquely equipped to help reinforce the importance of everyone getting vaccinated," Whitmer said in a statement.

—Noah Higgins-Dunn

France says Covid rates still too high to re-open cultural venues

View of the Louvre museum quieter than ever in Paris, France, on March 13, 2020.
Jerome Giles | NurPhoto | Getty Images

France won't reopen cultural and entertainment venues next week as it initially planned because Covid-19 infection rates are not coming down as fast as the government had hoped, Prime Minister Jean Castex said.

France's government had said that the lockdown it imposed at the end of October would be partially lifted by Dec. 15, including the re-opening of cultural venues, Reuters reports. That was contingent, however, on the number of new cases of infection falling to around 5,000 a day.

"We are not yet at the end of this second wave, and we will not reach the objectives we had set for Dec. 15," Castex told a news conference, according to Reuters. "We cannot let down our guard. We have to stay focussed, and find our way through the next few weeks with lots of vigilance."

Theatres, cinemas and museums are now scheduled to re-open at the beginning of January, Castex said.

Terri Cullen

Dr. Fauci on combatting 'enormous' Covid problem: 'We can't walk away'

Anthony Fauci, MD, Director, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health, looks on before testifying at a U.S. Senate Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee Hearing to examine COVID-19, focusing on an update on the federal response at the U.S. Capitol Washington, D.C., U.S., September 23, 2020.
Graeme Jennings | Reuters

Dr. Anthony Fauci said the idea of walking away from his role in ending the pandemic is "unconscionable," during a Q&A panel with Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health Wednesday.

The nation's leading infectious disease expert said it's his responsibility as a public health official and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease to keep working.

However, "the enormity of the problem, it just can actually overwhelm you," Fauci told CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta during the panel.

Fauci said in tough moments his approach is to "suck it up and keep going, no matter how frustrating it gets," he said. "It's not about me and how I feel. It's about what the problem is, and the problem is enormous."

Fauci added that hearing about the large numbers of people infected with and dying from Covid can be "numbing" for people. The general public should "understand that you're dealing with real suffering, and real disease and real loss in the form of death of loved ones," Fauci said. "We can't walk away from that problem."

Cory Stieg

U.S. pilot union seeks priority access to vaccine

Pilots talk after exiting a Delta Airlines flight at the Ronald Reagan National Airport on July 22, 2020 in Arlington, Virginia.
Michael A. McCoy | Getty Images

The largest U.S. pilots' union wants the federal government to give aviators priority access to coronavirus vaccines after initial distribution to critical workers and citizens.

"As vaccines make their way through the approval process and begin to be distributed to frontline health-care workers, ALPA urges Congress and the administration to recognize the essential role of airline pilots in the supply chain," said Air Line Pilots Association President Joe DePete in a letter to leaders of a Senate transportation subcommittee ahead of a hearing on vaccine logistics. The union represents some 59,000 U.S. pilots, including those at United, Delta and FedEx.

Pilots need Federal Aviation Administration approval to take the vaccine or their medical certificates could be suspended, ALPA said.

—Leslie Josephs

Google to show approved vaccine information in search results

Google has started showing people in the U.K. boxes containing information about coronavirus vaccines in search results.

The internet giant has been updating its platforms for several months, showing approved Covid-related data from governments and health authorities like the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control, in a bid to tackle misinformation about the virus.

A screenshot showing Google's new knowledge panels on search results about coronavirus vaccines.
Ryan Browne | CNBC

The company said its new Covid-19 vaccine knowledge panel feature would be rolled out to other countries once they've begun approving vaccines. Britain began vaccinating people on Tuesday after approving Pfizer and Moderna's vaccine.

—Ryan Browne

ECB expands bond buying as Covid resurgence weighs on the recovery

A euro currency symbol sits on display in the visitor centre at the European Central Bank (ECB) building in Frankfurt, Germany.
Alex Kraus | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The European Central Bank expanded its massive monetary stimulus program by another 500 billion euros ($605 billion), taking its total value to 1.85 trillion euros and extending the time horizon for asset purchases until March 2022.

The Pandemic Emergency Purchase Programme (PEPP) was launched earlier this year to shore up the euro area economy against the lasting effects of the pandemic. However, a resurgence of cases and further nationwide lockdown measures in recent weeks have dented the bloc's recovery prospects.

The ECB held interest rates on its main refinancing operations, marginal lending facility and deposit facility at 0.00%, 0.25% and -0.50%, respectively.

—Elliot Smith 

Dow drops at open as U.S. unemployment data disappoints

U.S. stocks fell at the open after the release of weaker-than-expected jobless claims data and an ongoing struggle for lawmakers to reach a new fiscal stimulus deal before year-end, reports CNBC's Fred Imbert and Pippa Stevens.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average declined 115 points, or 0.3%. The S&P 500 dipped 0.5%, and the Nasdaq Composite slipped 0.7%.

—Melodie Warner 

European Medicines Agency says cyberattack accessed Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine documents

The European Medicines Agency said it "has been the subject of a cyberattack" and documents related to the development of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine were "unlawfully accessed," reports CNBC's Sam Shead.

The EMA, which authorizes the use of medicines across the European Union, said on its website that it launched an investigation "with law enforcement and other relevant agencies."

The regulator did not disclose details of the attack but BioNTech said on its website that documents included in its regulatory submission, which were stored on an EMA server, had been accessed. It's unclear exactly which documents were accessed and who by.

"It is important to note that no BioNTech or Pfizer systems have been breached in connection with this incident and we are unaware that any study participants have been identified through the data being accessed," BioNTech said.

—Melodie Warner 

Jobless claims rise more than expected as gathering restrictions resume

The pace of jobless claims reached the highest weekly total since Sept. 19 as local and state governments have imposed restrictions on some activities due to a spike in coronavirus cases, reports CNBC's Jeff Cox.

The Labor Department reported first-time claims for unemployment insurance totaled 853,000 last week, an increase from the 716,000 total a week before. Economists surveyed by Dow Jones had been expecting 730,000.

—Melodie Warner 

FDA panel votes on Pfizer’s Covid vaccine today

An influential FDA panel is scheduled to vote Thursday on whether to recommend the approval of Pfizer and BioNTech's coronavirus vaccine for emergency use. Here's what you need to know before they vote.

The decision from the agency's Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee, an outside group of experts in infectious diseases and vaccines, is the last step before the FDA would give a final OK to distribute the drug throughout the U.S.

The federal government is prepared to ship 2.9 million doses of Pfizer's vaccine to jurisdictions across the U.S. within 24 hours after clearance from the FDA, Army Gen. Gustave Perna, chief operations officer for Operation Warp Speed, said at a briefing on Wednesday.

—Berkeley Lovelace Jr.

Manhattan renters returns, new leases jump 30% in November

Sign advertising apartments for rent in the Upper East Side in New York City.
Adam Jeffery | CNBC

Renters are returning to Manhattan after an early-pandemic mass exodus, driving new leases up 30% year over year in November, CNBC's Robert Frank reports.

It was the strongest November showing in 12 years, with more than 4,000 new leases signed. The surge follows a record drop in rental prices in the original epicenter of the Covid-19 outbreak in the U.S.

The median net-effective rent, meaning rental prices including concessions, fell 22% in November to $2,743, with most landlords offering more than two months of free rent.

—Sara Salinas

Virus scare on Royal Caribbean cruise ship was a false alarm, Singapore says

Despite major efforts, the cruise industry was dealt another blow this week.
Ingo Wagner | picture alliance | Getty Images

A passenger who tested positive for Covid-19 aboard a "cruise-to-nowhere" from Singapore has been found not to have the virus, CNBC's Saheli Roy Choudhury reports.

The initial positive test forced the ship to return to dock and required nearly 1,700 guests to self-isolate.

Passengers on Royal Caribbean's Quantum of the Seas vessel were restricted to their cabins for more than 16 hours after an 83-year old man, who sought medical help on the ship for diarrhea, tested positive for Covid.

"A final confirmatory test ... has confirmed that the 83-year-old male Singaporean...does not have Covid-19 infection," the health ministry said in a statement.

Terri Cullen

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