Covid updates: New variant Covid case confirmed in Northern Ireland; 1 million vaccinated in America

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With confirmed cases of Covid-19 rising at an alarming pace globally, the World Health Organization warns the world must remain vigilant for the next six months. Some countries have approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for emergency use, while the U.S. has also approved Moderna's. Yet, Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, the WHO's chief scientist, said it will take time before most of the population receive vaccinations.

The U.S. is recording at least 214,800 new Covid-19 cases and at least 2,700 virus-related deaths each day, based on a seven-day average calculated by CNBC using Johns Hopkins University data.

The following data was compiled by Johns Hopkins University:

  • Global cases: More than 78.62 million
  • Global deaths: At least 1.72 million
  • U.S. cases: More than 18.45 million
  • U.S. deaths: At least 326,088

Chile aims to vaccinate 80% of its population, says vice minister

Chile has secured over 36 million Covid vaccine doses, says vice minister for trade
Chile has secured over 36 million Covid vaccine doses, says vice minister for trade

Chile has secured over 36 million doses of various Covid-19 vaccines to be delivered in 2021 — that's more than the country's total population, said Chilean Vice Minister for Trade Rodrigo Yanez.

Among the vaccines that Chile has secured include those by Pfizer and BioNTech, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson as well as China's Sinovac, the vice minister told CNBC's "Squawk Box Asia." Yanez added that the country also expects to receive some doses via Covax, a United Nations' program to subsidize Covid vaccines for low-income countries.

Chile aims to vaccinate 80% of its population, and plans to inoculate all "high risk" groups by March 2021, said Yanez.

— Yen Nee Lee

Brazil again withholds full trial results of vaccine by China's Sinovac

Brazil has once again postponed releasing the full trial results of the Covid-19 vaccine developed by China's Sinovac Biotech, reported Reuters.

Brazil, the first country to complete late-stage trials of the vaccine, said Sinovac had asked them to delay releasing the results for up to 15 days from Wednesday as it compiles data from trials globally, the news agency reported.

The release of the full trial results has now been delayed three times, according to Reuters.

But Brazilian officials said the vaccine, called CoronaVac, is more than 50% effective — therefore meeting the regulatory requirement to be approved for emergency use in the country, the report said.

— Yen Nee Lee

U.K. confirms second strain of coronavirus

WASHINGTON — The British government confirmed on Wednesday that a second new and potentially more infectious variant of the novel coronavirus identified in South Africa has emerged in the United Kingdom.

Last week, South Africa announced the discovery of a new genetic mutation of the disease. On the heels of its identification, countries around the globe began closing their borders to South Africa.

The latest revelation comes after scientists in the United Kingdom detected a new variant of the virus earlier this month.

Both of the new variants, from South Africa and Britain, have not yet been identified in the United States.

—Amanda Macias

Southwest asks employees to be patient as coronavirus aid bill up in the air

A Southwest Airlines executive expressed optimism that the new coronavirus aid package will be signed into law with $15 billion in payroll support for U.S. carriers in tact.

President Trump hasn't signed the $900 billion economic relief bill Congress passed late Monday, calling instead for higher direct payments and other changes, a move that stunned Washington and raised questions about the timing of the aid.

"We ask that you remain patient and allow the process to play out," wrote Jason Van Eaton, Southwest's vice president of government affairs and real estate, in an employee note seen by CNBC. "The bill is nearly 6,000 pages long, and the White House is reviewing and commenting on things they may want changed. All indications are that the PSP language would not change."

Southwest has warned about 7,000 employees that their jobs are at risk next year as travel demand has remained weak, even over the holidays, unless employees agree to pay cuts and other concessions. The passage of the additional aid would halt those efforts and protect jobs in 2021, Van Eaton said. Southwest has never furloughed employees in its nearly 50 years of flying.

Airlines that accept portions of the new round of aid would have to keep workers on payroll until March 31 and call back any furloughed workers. American Airlines has already sent recall letters out to the 19,000 employees it furloughed in the fall when the last round of aid expired. --Leslie Josephs

Northern Ireland confirms positive test for new Covid variant

Northern Ireland confirmed a positive test for the new variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

The Department of Health, in a statement, said the variant was likely to have been present in Northern Ireland for a period of time. Genome analysis was conducted on a small number of suspected cases, producing one positive result.

The confirmation underlines the need for everyone to "redouble our efforts to stop the virus spreading," Health Minister Robin Swann said in the statement.

—Melodie Warner 

White House isn't saying whether Trump will veto Covid relief bill

After President Donald Trump threatened to blow up the more than $2 trillion coronavirus relief and government spending bill last night, he and the White House are staying silent on whether he plans to veto the legislation.

Trump, who did not participate in the talks to craft the proposal, urged Congress to change the package only after it had already passed. He said he opposed it because he wants $2,000 direct payments in the bill, more than the $600 checks his Republican Party was comfortable with approving.

If the president holds up the legislation, Washington could miss several key deadlines. Unless Trump signs the bill into law, about 12 million people will lose unemployment benefits Saturday, the day after Christmas. The government would shut down on Tuesday.

Democrats, who pushed for direct payments of at least $1,200 throughout the year, embraced Trump's call for $2,000 checks. They will try to pass a separate bill to send $2,000 payments through the House on Thursday by unanimous consent during a limited pro-forma session. Any single Republican could return and block the legislation.

—Jacob Pramuk

U.S. has vaccinated 1 million people out of a 20 million goal for December

Michael Girard recieves the Covid-19 vaccine with the first batch of Moderna's vaccine at Hartford hospital in Hartford, Connecticut on December 21, 2020. arrival of the vaccine.
Joseph Prezioso | AFP | Getty Images

The CDC said just 1,008,025 shots had been administered as of 9 a.m. ET on Wednesday. That's roughly 19 million doses shy of earlier projections from public health officials for December.

It leaves public officials less than two weeks — about 8 days — to try to close that gap. Two vaccines – from Pfizer and Moderna – have been authorized for use by the Food and Drug Administration, and the U.S. has shipped a total of 9,465,725 doses across the nation, according to CDC data.

National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins said that if the U.S. government doesn't meet its vaccine goal by the end of this month, he hopes Americans "will understand this is a logistic challenge of enormous proportion."

"Frankly, I think it's pretty amazing it has gone as fast as it has, recognizing it has only been 10 days since the FDA gave its first approval for emergency use of the Pfizer vaccine and then a week later for Moderna," Collins told CNN.

Berkeley Lovelace Jr.

Biden Covid advisor details his experience in Moderna vaccine trial

Biden Covid advisor Dr. Atul Gawande on concerns over mutated Covid strain
Biden Covid advisor Dr. Atul Gawande on concerns over mutated Covid strain

Dr. Atul Gawande told CNBC that the second shot he received as part of Moderna's Covid-19 vaccine trial "knocked me down," causing fever and chills.

"Then about 24 hours later, I was back on my feet and doing OK," said Gawande, a coronavirus advisor to President-elect Joe Biden, on "Squawk Box."

Gawande, who also is a surgeon at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, said he was not sure whether he received the vaccine or the placebo. However, he stressed that side effects from a vaccine are not necessarily cause for concern.  "That's the immune system kicking in, and your antibodies being generated to the virus," he said.

Kevin Stankiewicz

Student athletes are worried about their college scholarships

How Covid upended college sports and how they recruit
How Covid upended college sports and how they recruit

Covid has taken a toll on young athletes – and their college prospects, Colette Ngo reports in CNBC's "College Voices" series. Games, tournaments and training camps have been canceled in many states, leaving high school athletes scrambling.

Students are worried about keeping their skills sharp, how they're going to show recruiters what they've got – and if they'll even be able to get a college scholarship. Nearly half (47%) of student athletes surveyed by TD Ameritrade recently said they now believe the cancellation of sports during the pandemic could put their college scholarship at risk.

Many are still hopeful and they're finding new ways to get noticed. Some of them are crossing state lines to compete, others are connecting with recruiters on Zoom.  And they're hoping that, when things return to normal after the coronavirus pandemic, there will be a spot for them.

—Cindy Perman

Trump hasn't signed relief bill but airlines start process to hire back 32,000 workers

President Donald Trump hasn't signed the $900 billion coronavirus relief package that Congress approved Monday night, but airlines have already started the complicated process of calling back more than 32,000 furloughed workers.

In order to receive the $15 billion in additional aid set aside for airlines in the bill, carriers must keep employees on payroll through March 31 and hire back the tens of thousands they furloughed when the last round expired on Oct. 1.

American Airlines, which furloughed 19,000 employees, more than any other U.S. carrier, has sent out recall letters and told workers they would get paychecks by Christmas Eve. The airline so far isn't changing its plans.

Not only will airlines have to call back workers if the bill is ultimately signed into law but they will have to untangle a host of furlough-mitigation programs such as pay cuts in exchange for keeping benefits.

Leslie Josephs

States break from CDC on vaccine prioritization

States are beginning to split with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's guidance on who should receive the Covid-19 vaccine first.

The CDC said Sunday that everyone over 74 years old as well as front-line essential workers like agricultural workers, police and teachers should get the Covid vaccine in the so-called phase 1b; that comes after health-care workers and long-term care residents are vaccinated first in phase 1a.

Texas was among the first states to split from the CDC guidelines. The state announced Monday that it is prioritizing those 65 years and older as well as those with certain medical conditions in its phase 1b vaccination plan, making front-line essential workers wait a bit longer.

More states will likely follow suit in the coming weeks, said Jen Kates, senior vice president and director of global health and HIV policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation.

—Will Feuer

U.S. auto sales expected to be down 15% in 2020

The coronavirus pandemic is expected to cause a 15% decline in U.S. sales in 2020, which would mark one of the worst declines for the industry since 1980.

Despite the rapid drop, however, auto analysts say it could have been a far worse year for sales if it hadn't been for the resiliency of sales to retail customers.

Auto research firm TrueCar reports retail sales are expected to be down only 8% compared with 2019, while fleet sales to commercial and government customers are forecast to plummet 43%.

Retail sales were largely driven by low – even 0% -- interest rates, historically long financing offers and people wanting to hit the open road instead of taking public transportation or airlines, according to analysts and auto executives.

Michael Wayland

Miami’s commercial real estate boom picks up steam

After struggling for years to attract finance and tech firms, Miami is becoming a magnet for companies trying to escape from high taxes and over-crowding amid the pandemic, CNBC's Jane Wells reports.

"I've been buying real estate in Miami for over 20 years, and it has been a great flight. Since Covid started, it's a rocket ship," said Alex Rodriguez — as in "A-Rod," the former Major League Baseball superstar who has been investing in commercial and residential properties. 

Rodriguez recently partnered with Barry Sternlicht of Starwood Capital in developing restaurant and retail space under construction in Miami Beach, which will be the first Class A office space in that community.  

"People don't feel safe," Sternlicht said of New York. "The affluent are leaving in busloads, and Miami is getting more than their fair share."

Terri Cullen

Sorrento's antibody injection and nose drops may be tools to fight Covid

Research associate Sachi Johnson works at Sorrento Therapeutics where efforts are underway to develop an antibody, STI-1499, to help in prevention of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in San Diego, California, May 22, 2020.
Bing Guan | Reuters

Sorrento Therapeutics is working on new antibody therapies that could help combat the coronavirus pandemic.

It won a $34 million contract from DARPA, co-funded by JPEO, to develop an intramuscular injection that delivers gene-encoded neutralizing antibodies against Covid and its variant strains. The company has initiated manufacturing of the neutralizing antibody STI-2020 in the protein form to produce 100,000 doses to be available next year, in the anticipation of an emergency use authorization from the FDA.

Sorrento also filed an investigational new drug application with the FDA for a Phase 1 clinical trial to test the safety and efficacy of COVI-DROPS, antibody nose drops it claims can boost Covid immunity.

COVI-DROPS has been studied in hamsters at the Animal Biosafety Lab at the University of Texas Medical Branch. According to scientific director of the lab, Dr. Slobodan Paessler, "the drops when administered to hamsters infected with Covid-19 prevented tissue damage and disease. It's an exciting discovery and Sorrento has a good right to be hopeful."

—Lori Ioannou

S&P 500 opens higher, rebounds from a 3-day losing streak

U.S. stocks opened higher even after President Donald Trump's criticism of the new Covid-19 relief package added prospects for delayed deployment of funds to struggling Americans, reports CNBC's Yun Li and Maggie Fitzgerald.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 170 points, while the S&P 500 gained 0.5%, rebounding from a three-day losing streak. The tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite traded 0.1% higher.

—Melodie Warner

Nearly 40% of Americans don't want the Covid vaccine, HHS plans to win their trust

How the coronavirus vaccine works and why Americans should trust it
How the coronavirus vaccine works and why Americans should trust it

The U.S. now has access to two different Covid vaccines, but nearly 40% of Americans say they don't want to get the shot, according to a Pew Research Center survey of 12,648 U.S. adults from Nov. 18 to 29.

The Department of Health and Human Services will spend $250 million to try to convince the population that the Covid vaccine is both safe and effective. 

But this effort by the federal government to persuade the entire country to trust a vaccine made in record time, using technology that had never before been licensed, has been plagued by controversy, including suspicions about politicizing the message and concern over the lengthy delay in rolling out the targeted messaging that was promised. 

At least 15 states decided to instead launch their own communication campaigns to expedite the message.

—MacKenzie Sigalos

U.S. weekly jobless claims rise less than expected

Initial jobless claims lower than anticipated at 803,000 vs 888,000 expected
Initial jobless claims lower than anticipated at 803,000 vs 888,000 expected

U.S. jobless claims rose less than expected last week as employers awaited expected relief from a pending $900 billion stimulus package, reports CNBC's Thomas Franck.

The Labor Department reported first-time unemployment-benefits filers totaled 803,000 in the week ending Dec. 19, while economists polled by Dow Jones expected initial claims to rise to 888,000.

Initial claims for the previous week were revised higher by 7,000 to 892,000, the highest since early September.

—Melodie Warner

Merck in $356 million Covid treatment supply deal with the U.S.

Budrul Chukrut | SOPA Images | Getty Images

Merck agreed to supply the U.S. government with 60,000 to 100,000 doses of its Covid treatment for up to about $356 million, Reuters reports.

The deal will help support advanced development and large-scale manufacturing of Merck's investigational therapeutic MK-7110 to treat patients hospitalized with severe or critical Covid-19.

Data from September showed the injection increased the likelihood of symptom improvement in serious Covid cases and also reduced the risk of respiratory failure and death.

—Melodie Warner

Pfizer to supply 100 million more Covid shots to the U.S. by July

White House and Pfizer strike deal for 100 million more vaccine doses
White House and Pfizer strike deal for 100 million more vaccine doses

Pfizer will supply the United States with 100 million additional doses of its Covid-19 vaccine by July, Reuters reported.

Pfizer and German partner BioNTech will deliver at least 70 million doses by June 30, with the balance of the 100 million doses to be delivered no later than July 31.

The agreement raises the total number of doses for delivery to the U.S. to 200 million.

—Melodie Warner

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