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Covid updates: Biden to jumpstart federal vaccine push; UK strain could be dominant in U.S. by March

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The global death toll of Covid-19 has topped 2 million people, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The milestone marks another 1 million deaths in just 3.5 months. It took 9 months of the pandemic to reach the first 1 million dead. The U.S. has recorded the most virus deaths by a wide margin, with more than 389,000 confirmed fatalities so far. Brazil has reported 207,000 virus deaths, and India has reported nearly 152,000.

As U.S. vaccinations continue to ramp up, President-elect Joe Biden has proposed a stimulus plan that would give most Americans $1,400 each to help offset the pandemic's economic hardship.

Here are some of the biggest developments Friday:

The U.S. is recording at least 238,800 new Covid-19 cases and at least 3,310 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 93.36 million 
  • Global deaths: At least 2.00 million
  • U.S. cases: More than 23.33 million
  • U.S. deaths: At least 389,191

President-elect Biden to activate FEMA, National Guard in U.S. vaccine efforts

The federal government will boost the nation's efforts to vaccinate millions of American against the coronavirus once President-elect Joe Biden takes office.

According to Biden's most recent plans, the U.S. will deploy FEMA and the National Guard to build vaccination clinics across the nation. Biden said his administration plans to have 100 federally-supported vaccine centers across the country, in places like gyms, stadiums and convention centers, within the first month he's in office.

The new administration will also "quickly jumpstart" the federal government's partnership with pharmacies and drug store chains so Americans will eventually have access to the drugs at stores only miles from their home, according to Biden's plan.

"This will be one of the most challenging operation efforts ever undertaken by our country, but you have my word: We will manage the hell out of this operation," Biden said at an address from Wilmington, Delaware.

Read more on how the president-elect plans to jumpstart the nation's slower-than-expected vaccine rollout.

— Noah Higgins-Dunn, Berkeley Lovelace Jr.

San Francisco launches vaccine rollout plan

San Francisco Mayor London Breed
Justin Sullivan | Getty Images

San Francisco Mayor London Breed announced a coronavirus rollout plan for her city which includes three large vaccination sites as well as community sites across the city.

The sites will be located at City College, SF Market in the Bayview and Moscone Center.

"The first of these sites will be ready to go next week, as long as we receive a sufficient supply of vaccines from the state," Breed said. "We will bring pop-up vaccine sites and mobile vaccine teams to increase availability to people living in high-impacted communities."

Starting Jan. 19, people who live and work in San Francisco can sign up to get vaccine notifications at sf.gov/vaccinenotify.

"Right now the vaccine doses we have received remain limited," Breed said. "We need more doses, we're ready for more, and we're asking for more. We're ready to ramp up to distributing 10,000 doses per day. If supply significantly increases, we're ready to handle as much vaccine as we receive."

Riya Bhattacharjee

New virus variant found in the U.K. could be dominant U.S. strain by March, CDC says

A more contagious strain of the coronavirus first found in the United Kingdom late last year, known as B.1.1.7, could become the dominant strain in the United States by March, according to a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The virus' increased transmission could add more stress on the nation's hospitals and require "more rigorous" strategies to tamp down transmission until enough people are vaccinated, researchers said. Enhanced surveillance of the mutating viruses, combined with greater compliance with public health measures, like mask wearing, hand washing and physical distancing, along with faster vaccinations could dent the variant's impact.

"These measures will be more effective if they are instituted sooner rather than later to slow the initial spread of the B.1.1.7 variant. Efforts to prepare the health care system for further surges in cases are warranted," the researchers said.

—Noah Higgins-Dunn

WHO says vaccines aren’t ‘silver bullets’ and relying entirely on them has hurt nations

Seniors, who are 65 and over, wait in line at the Department of Health Sarasota COVID-19 Vaccination Clinic in Sarasota, Florida, January 4, 2021.
Octavio Jones | Reuters

Covid-19 vaccines aren't "silver bullets" and relying solely on them to fight the pandemic has hurt nations, according to the World Health Organization.

"We warned in 2020 that if we were to rely entirely on vaccines as the only solution, we could lose the very controlled measures that we had at our disposal at the time. And I think to some extent that has come true," Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO's health emergencies program, said at a news conference.

With global deaths reaching 2 million and new variants of the virus appearing in multiple countries, world leaders need to do all they can to curb infections "through tried and tested public health measures," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. "There is only one way out of this storm and that is to share the tools we have and commit to using them together."

–Berkeley Lovelace Jr.

Apple recloses retail stores in Texas, North Carolina and Georgia

A security guard takes the temperature of a customer outside the Apple Store on May 13, 2020 in Charleston, South Carolina.
Sean Rayford | Getty Images

Apple is reclosing some of its retail stores in Texas, North Carolina and Georgia amid Covid-19 spikes in those areas.

"We're temporarily closing soon, but are currently open for pickup of existing online orders and previously scheduled Genius Support appointments made through Monday, January 18," Apple says on its retail website.

Other stores are temporarily closed or open by appointment only.

—Katie Tsai

Britain stepping up Covid precautions for travelers

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a media briefing on coronavirus (COVID-19) at Downing Street on January 15, 2021 in London, England.
Dominic Lipinski | Getty Images

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is tightening restrictions for travelers amid reports of new Covid-19 variants circulating, Reuters reported.

All incoming travelers will be required to have a recent negative Covid test and immediately self-quarantine for at least 5 days upon arrival, pending a second negative test, the report said. All "travel corridor" arrangements, which allowed for travelers arriving from certain countries to avoid quarantine, will be suspended until at least Feb. 15.

"What we don't want to see is all that hard work undone by the arrival of a new variant that is vaccine-busting," Johnson said during a news conference, according to the wire service.

The change goes into effect at 4:00 a.m. in London on Monday.

Rich Mendez

Small businesses can't get a second disaster loan under most-recent Covid rescue package from Congress

Small businesses won't be able to get a second loan through the popular Economic Injury Disaster Loan program, according to a spokesperson at the Small Business Administration.

That differs from the Paycheck Protection Program, another much-used federal funding source during the pandemic. The PPP re-opened Monday after the $900 billion Covid relief measure passed last month offered extra funding.

While the law doesn't provide additional disaster loans, it does allow hard-hit companies in poor areas to get another EIDL grant.

The CARES Act offered up to $10,000 in grants per company, which didn't have to be repaid. That funding ran dry in July. Businesses applying for a second grant would get the difference between $10,000 and their first allowance.

Greg Iacurci

IRS pushes back tax season start date to Feb. 12

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) headquarters in Washington, D.C.
Janhvi Bhojwani | CNBC

The IRS announced it would begin accepting 2020 tax returns on Feb. 12, a delay from the usual late-January start of tax season.

The agency said it needed more time to prepare its systems after the Covid relief act went into effect in late 2020.

That piece of legislation provided a second round of stimulus payments and made other tweaks to the tax code.

The delay comes at a time when millions of people are out of work and may be inclined to file early to get a tax refund sooner. First-time claims for unemployment hit 965,000 last week, according to the Labor Department.

While the IRS is holding off on the beginning of tax season, the deadline for 2020 tax returns remains set for April 15, according to the agency's announcement.

—Darla Mercado

Companies are paying employees to get Covid vaccine

Companies are giving employees time off or extra cash to go get the Covid-19 vaccine.

Instacart, the online grocery delivery service, announced Thursday that it would give shift leads, in-store shoppers and full-service shoppers $25 to get vaccinated as part of its "Covid-19 Vaccine Support Stipend," starting on Feb. 1.

Trader Joe's is providing employees with two hours of pay per dose of the Covid vaccine received, Trader Joe's spokesperson Kenya Friend-Daniel tells CNBC Make It. The popular grocery store chain is also providing scheduling flexibility so shifts don't interfere with workers' vaccination appointments.

And Dollar General said that it would be giving a one-time payment equal to four hours of pay to frontline hourly team members after getting vaccinated and providing accommodations for salaried workers who need to take time off to get vaccinated.

As of Thursday, the United States has administered 11.15 million doses of Covid vaccine, according to Our World in Data.

Cory Stieg

Big city mayors write open letter to Biden, calling for help with vaccine distribution

People line up on the first day of Clark County's pilot COVID-19 vaccination program at Cashman Center on January 14, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Ethan Miller | Getty Images

In an open letter to the Biden administration, mayors across the U.S. detailed the efforts needed to meet the incoming administration's goal of vaccinating 100 million Americans in its first 100 days.

"By allocating vaccines directly to cities and providing funding to support their efforts, more vaccines can be administered in a more quick and efficient manner," the officials wrote.

Mayors pointed to successful counties like Los Angeles and Seattle as examples of effective systems that use creative methods for distribution. The officials believe they're "best-equipped to mobilize vaccine administration with the support of their credentialed staff like EMTs and paramedics, especially from an equity perspective."

In a tweet, San Antonio, Texas Mayor Ron Nirenberg said, "We must do all we can to expand & improve access."

Read the letter here.

Christian Nunley

Holiday shopping beats expectations as consumers look for cheer

Shopper is aided by an employee at a Lowe's hardware store in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, November 4, 2020.
Mark Makela | Reuters

Shoppers were eager to buy holiday gifts and decorations this year, even as they had smaller gatherings during the pandemic.

Holiday sales rose 8.3% from 2019, according to data released by the National Retail Federation. That exceeded the industry group's own expectations. It had predicted in November that 2020 holiday sales would rise between 3.6% and 5.2% year-over-year, amounting to between $755.3 billion and $766.7 billion. 

National Retail Federation CEO Matthew Shay said Americans were looking for cheer in a challenging time.

"Faced with rising transmission of the virus, state restrictions on retailers and heightened political and economic uncertainty, consumers chose to spend on gifts that lifted the spirits of their families and friends and provided a sense of normalcy given the challenging year," he said in a statement.

—Melissa Repko

CDC data reveal 1.34 million second vaccine shots administered in U.S.

Nurse Dawn Duran administers a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to Jeremy Coran during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Pasadena, California, U.S., January 12, 2021.
Mario Anzuoni | Reuters

Currently, 9.69 million people in the U.S. have received at least one Covid vaccine dose and just over 1.34 million have received the second vaccine shot, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The U.S. has distributed 30.6 million doses. Of the 11 million vaccine shots administered, 6.5 million were the Pfizer vaccine and 4.6 million from Moderna.

With vaccine eligibility expanding differently state by state, the number of additional doses administered will vary.

Rich Mendez

Delta warns it will ban travelers who can't show 'basic civility'

Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian has a message for travelers: behave or you'll be banned. Bastian's comments come after a spate of politically motivated disruptions on flights before and after the deadly riot at the U.S. Capitol and an increase in the number of travelers who refuse to comply with pandemic face mask policies.

Atlanta-based Delta banned several travelers for harassing Utah Republican Sen. Mitt Romney on a Washington D.C.-bound flight last week, calling him "traitor" for not challenging the results of the November presidential election.

"Those who refuse to display basic civility to our people or their fellow travelers are not welcome on Delta," Bastian wrote in a staff note. "Their actions will not be tolerated, and they will not have the privilege of flying our airline ever again."

The Federal Aviation Administration said it will implement a "zero tolerance" policy for unruly passengers and fine them up to $35,000.

Airlines and airports are stepping up security ahead of President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration next week, adding staff to better monitor travelers. Delta on Thursday said it would prohibit passengers from checking guns on D.C. flights, a move that was followed by Alaska, United, American, Frontier, Southwest and Spirit. American said it would suspend alcohol sales, while Alaska will limit bookings for Washington D.C. and institute a policy similar to a post-9/11 rule that would require travelers to stay in their seats after takeoff and before landing.

Delta has already banned more than 800 travelers for refusing to wear face masks, a requirement to fly during the pandemic.

—Leslie Josephs

Pfizer to temporarily reduce vaccine deliveries to Europe

Pfizer will temporarily reduce deliveries of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid vaccine being delivered to Europe from next week "and for a period ahead," according to the Norwegian Institute of Public Health.

"We were predicted 43,875 vaccine doses from Pfizer in week 3. Now it seems that we get 36,075 doses," the authority said in a statement.

The temporary reduction in vaccine deliveries was said to be "in connection with an upgrade of production capacity," with NIPH adding it would "affect all European countries."

Last week, the European Union said it was doubling its stock of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

—Vicky McKeever

How dine-in restrictions accelerated the rise of ghost kitchens

VIDEO9:2809:28
How Covid fanned the rise of ghost kitchens

Ghost kitchens can be a sustainable business model for the hard-hit restaurant industry as the pandemic continues to ravage the U.S., reports CNBC's Sunny Kim.

Ghost kitchens — or cooking facilities that produce food only for delivery and takeout with no dine-in areas — could create a $1 trillion global market by 2030, according to Euromonitor.

—Melodie Warner 

U.S. retail sales fall again in December

VIDEO2:3502:35
U.S. retail sales fall 0.7% in December, vs. flat reading expected

U.S. retail sales declined 0.7% in December as renewed business restrictions undercut restaurant spending and reduced shopping mall traffic, Reuters reported. Economists polled by Reuters expected flat retail sales in December.

The Commerce Department also said November data was revised to show a sales decline of 1.4% instead of the 1.1% drop previously reported.

—Melodie Warner 

U.S. health officials push hospitals to administer unused antibody drugs

A health worker handles a blood sample on the first day of a free Covid-19 antibody testing event in Florida.
Paul Hennessey | Barcroft Media | Getty Images

Coronavirus antibody treatments have the potential to keep the most at-risk coronavirus patients out of the hospital if given early enough in their infection, but the drugs are still underutilized in the U.S., the nation's top health officials said.

The federal government has shipped more than half a million courses of the treatments produced by Regeneron and Eli Lilly, which are given to people through and IV infusion. The problem is that many patients don't know how to access them, and hospitals aren't prescribing the medications or arranging the infusion sites necessary to administer the drugs, they said.

"I want my colleagues to hear me," U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams told reporters on a call Thursday. "You need to think about and be willing to prescribe these medications much more frequently as a way to protect your patients, preserve your hospital capacity and to support your exhausted colleagues."

—Noah Higgins-Dunn

U.S. hospitalizations tick lower for a second straight day

U.S. hospitalizations ticked lower for a second day straight on Thursday, according to data from The Atlantic's COVID Tracking Project.

Roughly 128,900 people are currently being treated in U.S. hospitals for Covid-19, down from 130,300 as of Wednesday and from 131,300 as of Tuesday. Though the earliest signs of improvement are a welcome change from skyrocketing hospital stays, patient volumes remain at overwhelming levels and near pandemic highs.

—Sara Salinas

Read CNBC's previous live updates here: