ALBANY, N.Y. — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday that he has asked airlines flying into the state from the United Kingdom to make all passengers take a COVID-19 test before they get on the plane.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks to members of New York state’s Electoral College before voting for president and vice president in the Assembly Chamber at the state Capitol in Albany, N.Y., Monday, Dec. 14, 2020. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink, Pool) Hans Pennink/Associated Press

The Democrat said three airlines with scheduled flights from London to New York — British Airways, Delta and Virgin Atlantic — had agreed to comply.

Starting Thursday, COVID-19 testing will be required up to 72 hours prior to departure for all passengers of Delta and its partner Virgin Atlantic traveling from the U.K. to New York or Atlanta, a Delta spokeswoman said Monday.

Cuomo has been calling on the U.S. government to temporarily halt all flights from the U.K. because of the emergence there of a new strain of the coronavirus.

Numerous nations have already taken that step out of concern that the newly identified strain might be more easily transmitted.

“I think the United States should do what other countries have done, which is halt the travel,” Cuomo said, adding that too much was still unknown about whether the mutated virus would pose more of a threat. “I was on the phone with top experts all weekend. We don’t know if it’s more deadly. We don’t know how much more easily it’s transmitted.”

Cuomo added that he believed he had the legal authority as governor to ask airlines to test passengers in the absence of federal action.

Biden gets COVID-19 vaccine on live TV in effort to persuade Americans of its safety

NEWARK, Del. — President-elect Joe Biden on Monday received his first dose of the coronavirus vaccine on live television as part of a growing effort to convince the American public the inoculations are safe.

The president-elect took a dose of Pfizer vaccine at a hospital not far from his Delaware home, hours after his wife, Jill Biden, did the same. The injections came the same day that a second vaccine, produced by Moderna, will start arriving in states. It joins Pfizer’s in the nation’s arsenal against the COVID-19 pandemic, which has now killed more than 317,000 people in the United States and upended life around the globe.

“I’m ready,” said Biden, who was administered the dose at a hospital in Newark, Delaware, and declined the option to count to three before the needle was inserted into his left arm. “I’m doing this to demonstrate that people should be prepared when it’s available to take the vaccine. There’s nothing to worry about.”

The president-elect praised the health care workers and said President Donald Trump’s administration “deserves some credit getting this off the ground.” And Biden urged Americans to wear masks during the upcoming Christmas holiday and not travel unless necessary.

Other top government officials last week joined the first wave of Americans to be inoculated against COVID-19 as part of the largest largest vaccination campaign in the nation’s history.

Vice President Mike Pence, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and other lawmakers were given doses Friday. They chose to publicize their injections as part of a campaign to convince Americans that the vaccines are safe and effective amid skepticism, especially among Republicans.

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and her husband are expected to receive their first shots next week.

But missing from the action has been President Donald Trump, who has spent the last week largely out of sight as he continues to stew about his election loss and floats increasingly outlandish schemes to try to remain in power. It’s an approach that has bewildered some top aides who see his silence as a missed opportunity for the president, who leaves office Jan. 20, to claim credit for helping oversee the speedy development of the vaccine and to burnish his legacy.

Trump, who in the past has spread misinformation about vaccine risks, has not said when he intends to get the shot. He tweeted earlier this month that he was “not scheduled” to take it, but said he looked “forward to doing so at the appropriate time.”

Read the full story here.

U.S. Olympic officials have yet to decide if vaccinations will be mandatory for Tokyo

The International Olympic Committee won’t require coronavirus vaccines of athletes competing at the Tokyo Games next summer, but the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee is working on a plan to educate American athletes and possibly facilitate immunization for its Olympic hopefuls.

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A man and a woman look at the Olympic rings float in the water in the Odaiba section in Tokyo on Dec. 1. AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko, File

USOPC officials said on a conference call with reporters Monday that the organization would encourage Team USA athletes to take the vaccine when it becomes available. When asked whether the organization would mandate a vaccine for its athletes, Sarah Hirshland, the USOPC’s chief executive, said a full plan had not yet been developed.

“Certainly we’ll have discussions about access, availability, the proper timing, ensuring we understand any potential allergy reactions, side effects, things of that nature,” she said, “so we can be very thoughtful as we are providing information to the athlete community as they make their decisions and choices. … Suffice it to say, we will encourage and make available to those who desire it, a vaccine.”

Many leagues and sport organizers are hoping the vaccine brings some normalcy to the 2021 competition calendar, though most officials are also publicly saying they have no intention to jump the line. Hirshland said the country’s priority right now should be vaccinating people who are high-risk and also working on the front-line of the covid-19 battle, not necessarily athletes.

“As time goes on and the vaccine becomes more readily available, we certainly will be ready to be supportive of our athletes and the rest of the delegation as we think about going abroad,” she said.

The United States will send 550-600 athletes to Tokyo next summer for the postponed Summer Games. The American delegation likely will number hundreds more, including coaches, staff and officials.

IOC President Thomas Bach said earlier this month that the IOC would not require the vaccine of its athletes but would encourage everyone coming to Tokyo to seek out the immunization, if possible. He said vaccinating against covid-19 is good for athletes’ “safety and their health” but is “also a sign of respect for their fellow athletes” and for the host nation.

Hirshland said the USOPC is still a month or two away from finalizing any sort of vaccine plan for its Tokyo-bound delegation.

E.U. authorizes Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine, with hopes to speed doses to all 27 member countries

ROME – The European Union’s drug regulator on Monday authorized the use of the continent’s first coronavirus vaccine, enabling countries to begin inoculations next week in an urgent but complicated fight to ease the pandemic.

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A truck enters the Pfizer Manufacturing plant in Puurs, Belgium on Monday, Dec. 21, 2020. The European Medicines Agency is meeting Monday to consider approving a coronavirus vaccine developed by BioNTech and Pfizer that would be the first to be authorized for use in the European Union. AP Photo/Valentin Bianchi

The authorization of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine could stand as a symbolic turning point in a pandemic that has killed more than 300,000 Europeans, caused the deepest recession since the E.U.’s formation and sent many countries back into lockdown for the holidays. Countries are also halting flights to and from Britain, alarmed about an emerging variant of the virus that is said to be more transmittable.

European policymakers have portrayed the vaccine rollout as a chance to show the continent’s unity in the face of the virus threat. Doses will be allocated to all 27 E.U. nations based on population, not wealth, and each country will pay the same price. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen expressed hope that countries would start the vaccination in unison in the days after Christmas.

In the end, though, the launch may be a bit disunited, with vaccines being administered in a rolling wave in the coming weeks.

Some countries have struggled to get in place the ultracold freezers necessary to store the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. Others are still tweaking plans about how they will decide who gets the first inoculations – generally, front-line health workers, as well as residents and staffers of nursing homes, but each country has its own list. And the first shipments may be modest: Media in Estonia reported last week that one company wanted to send 10,000 doses in the first wave, enough for just 5,000 people in the country of 1.3 million.

“We are not yet at a turning point,” Emer Cooke, executive director of the European Medicines Agency, said in announcing the Pfizer-BioNTech authorization. “It will take time to roll out vaccines in sufficiently large numbers to enable all of our citizens to be protected.”

Some health officials are grumbling that Europe has already fallen behind other countries, with the United States, Britain and Canada having authorized the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine earlier this month. The United States has also authorized a vaccine developed by Moderna, which Europe’s regulator will review for authorization on Jan 6.

At an E.U. summit this month, some leaders pushed the European Medicines Agency to speed up the decision-making, and the regulator bumped up its meeting from Dec. 29 to Dec. 21, saying it had received new information from the vaccine producers. E.U. policymakers who have defended the pace say that the best way to ensure widespread public confidence in the safety of the vaccines is not to appear to cut any corners on studies of safety and efficacy.

The European Medicines Agency is using a more fleshed-out process for vaccine approval compared with the United States, which authorized the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on an emergency basis. The E.U.’s executive branch will need to sign off on the deal, a move that von der Leyen said could come later Monday.

“Now we will act fast,” she said on Twitter.

The pressures are immense. More than 3,000 people on the continent are dying of the virus every day.

California stopped a virus surge in March with a stay-at-home order. Why isn’t this one working?

LOS ANGELES – California’s first coronavirus lockdown order, in the spring, produced benefits within a month. By April, Gov. Gavin Newsom was able to crow that the state had “arguably flattened” the curve on infections.

It has been two weeks since a second stay-at-home order was issued, and no such flattening has yet occurred across most of California. This may be because restrictions are looser than those in the spring, and because many Californians are so fatigued by public health orders — or militantly resistant to them — that they are mixing with people from outside their households.

But experts say the most pertinent explanation has to do with the amount of the coronavirus in the community. The latest orders came after the virus was already raging out of control, in part because of Thanksgiving travel — a difference experts say will make the current surge much harder to corral.

“The virus is unforgiving and relentless, and there is just so much community transmission,” said Dr. Tomás Aragón, who next month will take over as director of the California Department of Public Health.

When new daily case counts reach more than 20 per 100,000 people, “it becomes really difficult to control the infections,” said Aragón, who has helped lead San Francisco’s pandemic response as the county’s health officer.

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Medical tents for vaccinations are set outside the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles Friday, Dec. 18. Increasingly desperate California hospitals are being “crushed” by soaring coronavirus infections, with one Los Angeles emergency doctor predicting, that rationing of care is imminent. AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes

California’s daily case rates are soaring way beyond that number. Los Angeles County’s daily case rate last week was 153.6 per 100,000 residents, Aragón said. The state’s count was 82.2 per 100,000 residents, compared with a national average of 64.6.

“Once the rates get really high,” said Aragón, “it is not like you can fine-tune it with levers.”

The new stay-at-home order is making some difference, though. GPS data from cellphones show that people in California are moving around less, Newsom has said. Greater rates of movement have been associated with higher case counts throughout the pandemic.

Health experts interviewed by The Times said the situation would be even more dire without the new stay-at-home order. But their predictions of when cases might stabilize or dip — if only briefly — varied, ranging from a week to after the holidays.

Meanwhile, intensive care units at many hospitals are filled, and medical providers are being more selective about which patients are admitted.

The crush is expected to get worse before it gets better. Experts say the lack of hospital space and shortage of staff will lead to more deaths, not just for COVID-19 patients but also for people with other ailments who should have been hospitalized but were not able to gain admittance. The state has ordered thousands of body bags and refrigerated storage units to handle the dead.

Contrast this misery with the state’s success in the spring, when California reaped nationwide praise for flattening the curve by shutting down in March, closing all schools and nonessential retail. But the number of infections then, while rising, was only a fraction of what the state faces today.

“There is no precedent for how well a lockdown will work when you are having as many cases as we are currently having,” said Dr. John Swartzberg, an infectious-disease expert at UC Berkeley.

Read the full story here.

California governor in precautionary quarantine for 2nd time

LOS ANGELES  — California Gov. Gavin Newsom is back in a precautionary coronavirus quarantine for the second time in two months as surging COVID-19 cases swamp the state’s hospitals and strain medical staffing.

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California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks at a COVID-19 testing facility in Valencia, Calif. AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, Pool, File

Newsom will quarantine for 10 days after one of his staffers tested positive for COVID-19 on Sunday afternoon, the governor’s office said. Newsom was then tested and his result came back negative, as did the tests of other staffers who were in contact.

Last month, members of the governor’s family were exposed to someone who tested positive for the virus. Newsom, his wife and four children tested negative at that time.

As of Sunday, more than 16,840 people were hospitalized with confirmed COVID-19 infections — more than double the previous peak reached in July — and a state model that uses current data to forecast future trends shows the number could reach 75,000 by mid-January.

More than 3,610 COVID-19 patients were in intensive care units. All of Southern California and the 12-county San Joaquin Valley have exhausted their regular ICU capacity, and some hospitals have begun using “surge” space. Overall, the state’s ICU capacity was just 2.1% on Sunday.

The explosion of cases in the last six weeks has California’s death toll climbing. Another 161 fatalities reported Sunday raised the total to 22,593.

In hard-hit Los Angeles County, Nerissa Black, a nurse at Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital, estimated she’s been averaging less than 10 minutes of care per patient every hour. That includes not just bedside care, but donning gear, writing up charts, reviewing lab results and conferring with doctors, she said.

“And the patients who are coming in are more sick now than they’ve ever been, because a lot of people are waiting before they get care. So when they do come in, they’re really, really sick,” Black said Sunday.

CVS Health expands COVID-19 vaccination program

WOONSOCKET, R.I. — CVS Health has expanded its COVID-19 vaccination program for residents and staff of long-term care facilities into 12 states.

The drugstore chain said Monday it will add another 36 states on Dec. 28 and start vaccinations in Puerto Rico on Jan. 4.

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A man wearing a mask while walking under a Now Hiring sign at a CVS Pharmacy during the coronavirus outbreak in San Francisco in May. AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File

Vaccinations began around the country last week, mostly for health care workers. CVS Health and rival Walgreens also started providing shots at some long-term care locations in Connecticut and Ohio.

Both companies said they would expand their programs in 12 states starting this week. CVS Health said Monday that those states include Florida, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon and Vermont.

Woonsocket, Rhode Island-based CVS Health plans to make three visits to each site in order to give residents and staff their initial shoot and then a booster. The company said it expects that most residents will be fully vaccinated three to four weeks after the initial visit, and it will complete its program in about three months.

Sudan bans travelers from the UK, Netherlands and South Africa

CAIRO — Sudan on Monday banned travelers arriving from the UK, The Netherlands and South Africa from entering the county amid concerns over new coronavirus variants detected in those countries.

The civil aviation authority said the ban would go into effect starting from Wednesday and would last till January 5.

Sudan has reported more than 22,963 confirmed cases, including 1,450 deaths, as of Friday. The actual COVID-19 tally, however, is believed to be higher given the country’s limited testing.

The decision by Sudanese authorities followed similar measures by several western countries that have imposed temporary bans on certain travel from the United Kingdom, following the discovery of a new strain of coronavirus.

The new strains in the UK and South Africa appear to be more infectious than the original virus.

Macron holds cabinet meeting by video while in recovery

PARIS — A croaky-voiced French President Emmanuel Macron held a cabinet meeting Monday via video, in which he indicated the French could enforce “systematic tests” as a condition for French nationals returning from Britain to France for the holidays.

Macron, in stable condition, has been working from home at the Elysee Palace as he recovers from his COVID-19 infection.

Macron said that the “problematic virus mutation” identified in southern England caused the U.K. “to take exceptional decisions on Saturday and accelerate the measure of closures and constraint.” It brought France to suspend all travel and freight from the U.K. until Wednesday.

French government spokesman Gabriel Attal told reporters after the Cabinet meeting that “a certain number of strains viral are being analyzed constantly” by French scientists.

He defended France’s decision to close its border with the U.K., saying the idea behind the 48-hour freeze was to give enough time for Europe-wide negotiations.

Attal said vaccinations in France are expected to begin by Sunday.

Vatican OKs vaccine for Catholics

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican says it’s “morally acceptable” for faithful to receive COVID-19 vaccines whose research used cell lines from tissue obtained from abortions.

The Vatican office on doctrinal orthodoxy on Monday noted in a statement that bishops and Catholic groups have made conflicting pronouncements on the matter. The statement says “it is morally acceptable to receive COVID-19 vaccines that have used cell lines from aborted fetus” in the research and production process when “ethically irreproachable” vaccines aren’t available to the public.

Pope Francis ordered the publication of the statement, which also stressed that the licit use of such vaccines “does not and should not in any way imply” moral endorsement of such cell line use.

The statement by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith cited the circumstance of citizens not being allowed by health authorities to choose which vaccine to be inoculated with. It also noted that vaccination “is not, as a rule, a moral obligation” and therefore must be voluntary. Still, the Vatican cited the “duty to pursue the common good” by protecting the weakest and most exposed to the virus through vaccination.

German virologist skeptical about mutated virus, but says countries need to take precautions anyway

BERLIN — A top German virologist is hinting at some skepticism about how much more infectious a new coronavirus strain detected in England really is, though he says it’s right for politicians to take precautions.

Christian Drosten, a professor of virology at Berlin’s Charite hospital, told Deutschlandfunk radio Monday he is “not so very worried at the moment.” He pointed to “incomplete” information and said British scientists say they need to wait until this week to be able to conclude preliminary analyses that could confirm the suspicions, or not.

British officials say the new variant is up to 70% more transmissible than existing strains. They have tightened restrictions in southeast England, and a string of European countries on Sunday halted flights from Britain.

Drosten said it’s important to see what British scientists conclude in the coming days. But he said: “of course you have to act out of caution as a politician, particularly as there’s an extremely heated news situation coming from England — you have to react somehow.”

South Africa says mutated virus is driving new cases

JOHANNESBURG — South Africa has announced that a new variant of the COVID-19 virus is driving the country’s resurgence of the disease, with higher numbers of confirmed cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

According to health officials and scientists leading the country’s virus strategy, the new variant, known as 501.V2, is dominant among new confirmed infections in South Africa’s current wave.

The new strain, different from the one in Britain, appears to be more infectious than the original virus. South African scientists are studying if the vaccines against COVID-19 will also offer protection against the new strain.

Professor Salim Abdool Karim, chairman of the government’s Ministerial Advisory Committee, said in a briefing to journalists that the preliminary data suggests that the new strain of the virus is now dominating South Africa’s new wave which is spreading faster than the first.

South Africa currently has more than 8,500 people hospitalized with COVID-19, surpassing the previous high of 8,300 recorded in August.


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