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Covid updates: NY eases some restrictions; U.S. to test vaccine effectiveness on new strains

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The number of global coronavirus infections has crossed the 100 million mark in just about 13 months. With the discovery of new Covid-19 strains that may be more contagious, many nations are starting to resume or tighten international travel restrictions. The U.S. government on Tuesday started requiring air travelers to show proof of a recent, negative Covid test before boarding flights to the United States. Meanwhile, Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel told lawmakers she didn't want a complete travel ban but argued there should be no tourism.

Here are the biggest developments Wednesday:

The U.S. is recording at least 166,384 new Covid-19 cases and at least 3,349 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 100.67 million
  • Global deaths: At least 2.16 million
  • U.S. cases: More than 25.54 million
  • U.S. deaths: At least 427,513

Census Bureau survey finds 51% of unvaccinated Americans would 'definitely' get vaccine

A new survey from the U.S. Census Bureau found that 51% of the roughly 226 million Americans who still haven't been vaccinated "definitely" plan to receive the drug once it's available to them, while 26% said they probably would get the shot.

The latest survey, part of the Census Bureau's efforts to measure household experiences during the pandemic, was conducted between Jan. 6 through Jan. 18 and received 68,348 responses. About 8% of adults said they already received the vaccine.

The Census Bureau found that 9.5% of unvaccinated adults said they would "definitely not" receive a Covid-19 vaccine. Among the respondents who indicated they were uncertain about getting vaccinated, most of the concern was about potential side effects, and many said they wanted to wait and see if it's safe.

— Noah Higgins-Dunn

AstraZeneca CEO holds 'constructive and open conversation' with EU vaccine board

AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot held a "constructive and open conversation" with the European Union's Vaccine Steering Board, which is responsible for striking supply deals for the EU, about the challenges the company has faced while scaling production of its Covid-19 vaccine, according to a statement from the drugmaker.

The conversation comes as AstraZeneca faces fierce backlash from the EU for cutting its projected supply of doses to the 27-member bloc. It was expecting around 80 million doses by the end of March, but now will reportedly receive roughly 31 million doses. 

AstraZeneca said in the statement that it "committed to even closer coordination to jointly chart a path for the delivery of our vaccine over the coming months as we continue our efforts to bring this vaccine to millions of Europeans at no profit during the pandemic."

— Noah Higgins-Dunn

HHS misused health emergency funds, watchdog says

Federal officials at the Department of Health and Human Services raided funds from a little-known agency intended for vaccine research and emergency preparedness, spending millions to move furniture and pay unrelated salaries, according to a new report from a federal watchdog.

An office within the HHS that oversees the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, or BARDA, "failed to account for" more than $500 million it used for administrative expenses between 2007 and 2016, according to the HHS Inspector General's office, the agency's investigative arm.

HHS' Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response funneled so much money from BARDA, which oversees the nation's vaccine programs, to its own coffers "that there was a name for it within the agency: 'Bank of BARDA,'" Special Counsel Henry J. Kerner said Wednesday in a letter to President Joe Biden.

The report does not specify a total amount of funding that was misappropriated, but the investigation details a sweeping misuse of funds that spans both the Trump and Obama administrations. The investigation also provides insight into factors that may have left a little-known, but powerful, biomedical research agency ill-prepared to effectively respond to the demands of the Covid-19 pandemic.

—Will Feuer

Experts warn credit card fraud will increase during pandemic

VIDEO12:5912:59
Why credit card fraud hasn't stopped in the U.S.

The U.S. is the most fraud-prone country in the world, responsible for more than a third of global payment card fraud losses. Experts explain how Covid-19 pandemic could be making matters worse, as more money is transferred digitally.

Rich Mendez

Fed Chair Powell says nothing is more important for the economy than vaccinations

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said Wednesday nothing is more important for the economy than vaccinations — and that he's gotten the first dose of a vaccine himself.

"There are many things that go into, as you know, setting asset prices. If you look at what's really been driving asset prices in the last couple of months, it isn't monetary policy," Powell told reporters after the central bank left interest rates unchanged once again. "It's been expectations about vaccines, and it's also fiscal policy."

—Sara Salinas

Richest man in Mexico, Carlos Slim, hospitalized with Covid-19

Carlos Slim
Pedro Pardo | AFP | Getty Images

Mexican telecoms magnate Carlos Slim has been hospitalized with the coronavirus, spokesman Arturo Elias said Wednesday, according to Reuters.

Slim, 80, is doing "very well" and has been hospitalized in order to keep an eye on his health during treatment. The news comes after Slim's son Carlos Slim Domit said Monday his father was "having a favorable development after more than a week with minor symptoms."

Slim's family controls America Movil, the largest telecommunications provider in Mexico.

Rich Mendez

U.S. travel group urges Biden administration not to require Covid tests for domestic flights

A Delta Airlines agent sanitizes ticketing kiosks at John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana, CA on Tuesday, January 26, 2021. Passenger traffic at JWA was down more than 60% in 2020 due to the pandemic.
Paul Bersebach | MediaNews Group | Getty Images

The U.S. Travel Association, an industry group that lists major hotel chains, Airbnb and several large airports among its members, is urging the Biden administration not to require Covid tests for domestic travel.

The Biden administration is weighing whether to require air travelers to show proof of a recent, negative test before domestic flights, a senior CDC official said Tuesday. The government started requiring negative tests for international air travelers flying to the United States, including U.S. citizens.

Extending that to domestic flights would be "unworkable" said Tori Emerson Barnes, the U.S. Travel Association's executive vice president of public affairs and policy, citing inconsistent access to testing around the country. The industry group has expressed those concerns to the White House and government agencies, she added.

The travel industry is reeling from the pandemic and industry members worry a domestic testing requirement would depress bookings further.

Leslie Josephs

U.S. to study vaccine effectiveness on new strains

Two top U.S. health agencies will collaborate to study how effective Covid-19 vaccines are against mutated strains of the virus, White House health advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said Wednesday.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health will work together to better understand and monitor how vaccines hold up against the mutated strains, he said. He added that the scientists are mostly concerned now about the B.1.351 strain, first found in South Africa, that appears to render vaccines somewhat less effective.

"We will be monitoring in real time the effect of antibodies that we induce with current vaccines and future vaccines as to what impact they have on the ability to neutralize these mutants," Fauci said Wednesday. He added that if new variants begin to cause concern that the vaccines will be substantially less effective, scientists have options such as "making a version of the same vaccine that in fact would be directed specifically against the relevant mutant."

—Will Feuer

New York eases some restrictions, though new variants could pose threat

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said New York will lift restrictions on gatherings and some nonessential businesses across most of the state — except in parts of the greater New York City-area, including Washington Heights, the Bronx and Queens, and the Newburgh area upstate.

The new measures will eliminate harsher limits on indoor dining, gathering sizes and businesses like gyms, barbershops and hair salons. While indoor dining in New York City will remain closed for now, more details on how the state plans to reopen those businesses could come later this week, Cuomo said.

There is a concern that new, more contagious variants of the virus first identified in the United Kingdom, South Africa and Brazil could take hold and threaten the state's ability to treat an influx of Covid-19 patients, Cuomo said.

"Yes, it creates anxiety, and all I can tell you is that we watch it and we adapt," Cuomo said. "If it changes, we will change."

—Noah Higgins-Dunn

2021 Cannes Film Festival pushes dates back to July

The 2021 Cannes Film Festival, initially scheduled for May, has been postponed until July due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, according to an announcement on the festival's official website.

The 74th Festival de Cannes will now take place July 6-17.

Cannes was not held in 2020 due to the pandemic, although the festival did announce official selection films for that year.

Chris Eudaily

FDA issues alert on hand sanitizers from Mexico after toxins discovered

The FDA has recently increased the list of recalled hand sanitzers for containing methanol.
Frederic J. Brown | AFP | Getty Images

The FDA issued an import alert on alcohol-based hand sanitizers from Mexico after tests carried out by the agency found that over half of the products tested showed dangerous levels of Methanol contamination.

It's the first time the agency has placed countrywide restrictions on an entire category of drugs.

FDA testing found that 84% of the samples analyzed from April through December 2020 violated FDA regulations. Symptoms from exposure can include vomiting, seizures, blindness, effects on the central nervous system and hospitalizations and death, with young children being most at risk, the agency said.

Rich Mendez

Democrats set the stage to pass Covid relief alone

Democrats are preparing to pass another coronavirus relief package without any Republican support.

President Joe Biden is still trying to win GOP votes for his $1.9 trillion rescue proposal. Still, Democrats are not counting on Republicans joining them as GOP lawmakers express concerns about the plan's cost.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., added votes to the House schedule next month in order to start the budget reconciliation process. The move will allow the party to pass a relief bill with a simple majority in the Senate, which would not require Republican votes.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., also said his party wants to win Republican support. But he added that Democrats are prepared to move forward without the GOP.

Budget reconciliation comes with its own challenges. At least some Democrats have concerns about the plan's price tag, and the party cannot afford a single defection in the Senate.

Rules governing the reconciliation process could prevent the party from including some of its priorities in a bill.

— Jacob Pramuk

U.S. air travel lowest since July as pandemic effects rage on

A traveler walks between terminals at a nearly deserted John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana, CA on Tuesday, January 26, 2021.
Paul Bersebach | MediaNews Group | Getty Images

Airport screenings in the U.S. are at their lowest since July as Covid-19 infections rise, CNBC's Leslie Josephs reports.

The Transportation Security Administration reported just under 500,000 people at airport screenings Tuesday, down 71% from just a year ago. The TSA said it was the lowest number of screenings since July 4.

This week the Biden administration issued an entry ban for most non-U.S. citizens who have recently visited Brazil, the UK, much of Europe, and now South Africa. The administration also now requires travelers to produce a negative Covid test before traveling into the U.S., and is considering requiring negative test results for domestic flights.

Major airlines expect it will be several months until Covid vaccines affect the industry comeback.

Rich Mendez

Slow vaccine rollout will prolong travel demand recovery, Boeing CEO says

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Boeing CEO: Slow Covid vaccine rollout will prolong travel demand recovery

The slow rollout of the coronavirus vaccine will prolong a desperately needed recovery in travel demand until mid-to-late summer, Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun told CNBC's "Squawk on the Street."

The pandemic has slammed women's retirement accounts

The coronavirus pandemic has had an uneven financial impact on women and people of color, and it's affected their ability to save for retirement.

Nearly 3 in 4 women with investable assets of $100,000 or more said the pandemic has negatively affected their ability to retire, according to a survey released Monday from the Nationwide Retirement Institute. The survey questioned more than 2,500 investors, advisors and financial professionals online between May 17 and June 25, 2020.

The survey also showed that women may be less prepared than men to protect their invested assets in volatile markets or have an established strategy against outliving their assets. "The impact of Covid has been profound," said Lori Hall, director of strategic accounts at Nationwide Financial. "But it's part of a more systemic issue."

Still, there are a few things women who have had to step back from retirement savings due to the pandemic can do now to keep themselves from falling too far behind, such as making any contributions they can and reducing spending. In the future, it is possible to rebuild as well, according to financial experts.

—Carmen Reinicke

Walmart bets online grocery shopping will outlast the pandemic

Walmart is betting Americans' online grocery shopping habits will outlast the pandemic.

The retailer is adding high-tech, local fulfillment centers to dozens of its stores by converting square footage or tacking them on to an existing building. The small warehouses will help the retailer handle more orders and get them ready for pickup and delivery faster.

Walmart tested one system called Alphabot at its Salem, New Hampshire, store in 2019, and the retailer saw how the technology allowed it to pick orders within minutes. Instead of relying on employees to get each item from a store shelf, the automated systems combine machinery and manpower. In the fulfillment center, robots retrieve popular items from groceries to electronics. At the same time, personal shoppers handpick any fragile or unwieldly items on the sales floor, such as a steak or a big pack of paper towels.

Tom Ward, senior vice president of customer product at Walmart U.S., said the pandemic has only heightened customer demand for speed and convenience.

"As we move ahead, we don't see the use of these services changing in the future," Ward said. "We expect that we'll continue to serve more and more customers who have come to rely on pickup and delivery as an important part of their lives."

—Melissa Repko

January is the pandemic's deadliest month yet in the U.S.

With nearly 80,000 reported deaths through Jan. 26, the first month of 2021 is the deadliest month yet of the Covid-19 pandemic in the United States. The grim January toll surpassed the previous high set in December with five days remaining in the month, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

The milestone comes as the country sees mixed signals related to the virus. The seven-day average of daily coronavirus cases is down 17% from a week ago to about 166,000 per day, the lowest level since early December. Hospitalizations are declining nationwide as well, according to data from the Covid Tracking Project. At the same time, new strains of the virus have emerged worldwide, prompting the Biden administration to impose measures such as travel restrictions on some non-U.S. citizens entering the country.

In total, the coronavirus has claimed more than 425,000 lives in the U.S., more than any other country, according to Hopkins data.

—Nate Rattner

Oxfam warns it may take a decade for poor to recover pandemic losses

A branch of Oxfam in London, February 12, 2018.
Peter Nicholls | Reuters

The pandemic economically hit women and ethnic minorities the hardest, while the 1,000 richest people on the planet recouped their losses within nine months, reports CNBC's Holly Ellyatt, according to estimates from the global charity Oxfam.

Oxfam believes it could take more than a decade for the world's poorest to recover as the pandemic "ushered in the worst job crisis in over 90 years with hundreds of millions of people now underemployed or out of work."

Oxfam's report, entitled "The Inequality Virus," was published on Monday to coincide with the start of the World Economic Forum's Davos Agenda, taking place virtually this year amid the pandemic.

The charity said a temporary tax on excess profits made by the 32 global corporations that "have gained the most during the pandemic" could have raised $104 billion in 2020, "enough to provide unemployment benefits for all workers and financial support for all children and elderly people in low- and middle-income countries."

Responding to the report, Mark Littlewood, director general at free-market think tank the Institute of Economic Affairs, said that while "Oxfam is right to highlight the impact the pandemic has had on the world's poorest ... the charity's proposed solutions demonstrate a fundamental misunderstanding of both economics and poverty relief."

—Melodie Warner 

51 million Americans accrued more credit card debt because of Covid

Just over half of the adults with credit card debt, or roughly 51 million people, added to their balances since the start of the coronavirus crisis, according to a new report by CreditCards.com. Nearly half, or 44%, said the pandemic was to blame, the report also found.

The near-even split is another indication of a so-called K-shaped recovery, with the wealthiest Americans faring better while millions more face other setbacks like job losses.

Overall, credit card balances are down slightly from where they were one year ago, according to the most recent data from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. A number of households chose to pay down existing credit card debt and shore up their financial standing due to the pandemic.

 The average balance is now around $5,315.

—Jessica Dickler

AstraZeneca, in defense of delayed rollout, says EU ordered Covid vaccine later than UK

AstraZeneca CEO Pascal Soriot, in defense of the drugmaker's delayed Covid vaccine rollout to the EU, said the 27-member bloc ordered three months later than the U.K., however, the company is "working 24/7" to fix production issues, reports CNBC's Holly Ellyatt.

The European medicines regulator is expected to approve AstraZeneca's coronavirus vaccine by the end of the week. The EU was expecting around 80 million doses by the end of March but will reportedly receive only around 31 million doses.

Soriot said that as soon as the vaccine is approved by the European Medicines Agency, "we will be shipping at least 3 million doses immediately to Europe, then we'll have another shipment about a week later and then the third or fourth week of February. And the target is to deliver 17 million doses by February."

—Melodie Warner 

Current vaccine production capacity won’t bring global herd immunity until mid-2022: INSEAD

VIDEO3:0603:06
Current Covid vaccine manufacture capacity won't bring global herd immunity until mid-2022: INSEAD

Many Covid-19 vaccine manufacturers are attempting to figure out ways to expand their production capacities, Prashant Yadav, an affiliate professor of technology and operations management at INSEAD, told CNBC.

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