A Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. ship returned early to Singapore and all passengers were told to stay in their rooms after one of them tested positive for Covid-19 on day three of a four-day cruise to nowhere.

U.S. regulators indicated they may grant emergency-use authorization to Pfizer Inc.’s vaccine, calling it highly effective with no safety issues. The news came as the number of infections in the U.S. topped 15 million and cases globally rose above 68 million, more than the entire population of the U.K.

Britain became the first country to start administering a Covid vaccine to its population. Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned people to keep their “discipline” during the rollout as cases are starting to rise in London. Germany plans to vaccinate as many as 8 million people in the first quarter of 2021.

Cruise Ship Quarantined; Global Tally 68 Million: Virus Update

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Cruise Ship Quarantined; Global Tally 68 Million: Virus Update

Kenya May Opt for AstraZeneca Vaccine (1:46 p.m. HK)

Kenya may choose the Oxford–AstraZeneca vaccine as it can be kept using standard refrigeration rather than complex cold storage, the Daily Nation newspaper reported, citing the health department’s chief administrative secretary.

Covid on Cruise ‘Not Unexpected’ (1:33 p.m. HK)

Singapore’s Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing said the Covid-19 case reported on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship was “not unexpected” and the government was prepared for such a situation, ChannelNewsAsia reported.

Iran’s Trouble Buying Vaccines (1:02 p.m. HK)

Iran’s attempts to procure vaccines to curb the worst outbreak of coronavirus in the Middle East are being hampered by U.S. sanctions, officials in Tehran said, as it is unable to utilize a payment system intended to ensure fair global access to the shots.

Iran had hoped to deploy funds worth billions of dollars locked up in South Korean won-denominated accounts. However, central bank Governor Abdolnaser Hemmati said U.S. banking sanctions were effectively preventing Tehran from using the COVAX facility that’s jointly managed by Geneva-based Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and the World Health Organization. Banks were unwilling to process transactions and convert the won into dollars, he said on Instagram.

In a statement, a spokesperson for Gavi said there was no “legal barrier” to Iran procuring vaccines through COVAX as the U.S. Treasury’s Office on Foreign Assets Control had issued a license covering coronavirus vaccine procurement.

Mongolia to Ease Curbs Next Week (11:35 a.m. HK)

Prime Minister Khurelsukh Ukhnaa announced plans to ease lockdown restrictions in the capital Ulaanbaatar from Dec. 14., Bloomberg TV Mongolia reported. Businesses including restaurants, cafes and shopping malls will be allowed to reopen from 6 a.m. local time Monday.

The lockdown was previously scheduled to be lifted this Friday. Ulaanbaatar has been subject to strict measures, including a ban on public gatherings and restricted movement in and out of the city since Nov. 11.

Alberta Bans all Social Gatherings (9:40 a.m. HK)

The Canadian province announced strict new limits in an attempt to control a surge in cases, banning all social gatherings for at least four weeks from Sunday and requiring masks in all indoor areas. Casinos, gyms, salons and entertainment facilities will close, while bars and restaurants are limited to takeout and delivery orders.

Retail stores, malls and religious houses will be limited to 15% of capacity, and people must work from home unless they’re physically required at their workplace.

Positive Case on Cruise to Nowhere (9:10 a.m. HK)

A Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. ship returned early to Singapore after a passenger tested positive for Covid-19. About 2,000 people are on the Quantum of the Seas vessel and they’ve been told to stay in their rooms as a precautionary measure.

“We know this isn’t exactly how you planned to spend your cruise, and we are terribly sorry,” Royal Caribbean said in a note to passengers. Breakfast was delivered to guests in their rooms and passengers were given permission to smoke in their bathrooms.

Hong Kong Travel Quota? (9:08 a.m. HK)

Hong Kong officials have discussed limiting air passenger arrivals if there is a shortfall of hotels willing to serve as quarantine centers, the South China Morning Post reported, citing a government pandemic adviser. The cap would only be considered in “extreme conditions.”

Over 15,000 New Cases in Texas (8:21 a.m. HK)

For just the second time since the pandemic emerged, Texas logged more than 15,000 new cases in a 24-hour period.

The second-largest US.. state reported 15,103 new infections, just a week after posting a record 15,182. Hospitalizations have surged 59% since the beginning of November to more than 9,000. The state’s worst hot spots are Amarillo and Laredo, which have more than 30% of hospital capacity occupied by virus patients.

Low Risk English Schools (7:45 a.m. HK)

Cases were low in schools that reopened in England after the first nationwide lockdown, suggesting there was little risk of spreading the disease, according to a study published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases journal.

The research covered nurseries and schools that reopened after implementing measures such as smaller classes and the formation of social bubbles. The virus was most often spread among staff, while student-to-student transmission was rare.

New York State Cases Rise (7:10 a.m. HK)

Coronavirus hospitalizations are nearing 5,000 in New York State, Governor Andrew Cuomo said. Of the more than 162,400 tests conducted statewide, 5.74% were positive, including in hot-spot areas, the highest since mid-May.

“As we continue to see the number of Covid cases rise in New York and across the nation, it’s critical that we not only remain tough and practice safe behaviors to limit viral spread, but that we also do everything in our power to ensure hospitals are prepared to handle a growing number of patients,” Cuomo said.

Cruise Ship Quarantined; Global Tally 68 Million: Virus Update

France Sees ‘Worrying’ Situation (6:45 a.m. HK)

France is mulling “many options” related to to the planned loosening of lockdown measures scheduled for Dec. 15 as the number of Covid-19 cases remains high, Health Minister Olivier Veran said in an interview on LCI TV.

Options include introducing a new curfew or sticking to the current lockdown for some additional days to observe developments, Veran said.

The government will discuss the Covid-19 situation Wednesday, and an announcement is due before end of the week, he said. The situation is “worrying,” as the “level of contaminations is still high,” Veran said. “We’re not out of the second wave yet.”

U.S. Looks to AstraZeneca, J&J (6 a.m. HK)

The U.S. government’s plan to vaccinate most Americans by next summer rests heavily on two Covid-19 shots that U.S. regulators won’t get a chance to rule on until early in 2021.

AstraZeneca Plc and Johnson & Johnson together would provide 150 million to 200 million shots in the first quarter, said Moncef Slaoui, chief scientific officer of Operation Warp Speed. This could immunize 110 million to 150 million people, if the doses are evenly split between J&J’s single-dose vaccine and Astra’s two-dose regimen.

Cruise Ship Quarantined; Global Tally 68 Million: Virus Update

CVS, Walgreens Seek Pharmacists (4:30 a.m. HK)

CVS Health Corp. and Walgreens Boots Alliance Inc. are aggressively recruiting pharmacists, pharmacy technicians and nurses to administer vaccines in long-term care facilities, just days before the drugstore giants are expected to play a key role in a large immunization effort.

Representatives from the two companies are making in-person and virtual pitches to independent pharmacists, according to National Community Pharmacists Association Chief Executive Officer Douglas Hoey. The outreach has surprised the group’s members because it suggests the chains don’t have enough people to run the massive effort, he said.

Netherlands ‘Really Not Going Well’ (2:45 a.m. HK)

Cruise Ship Quarantined; Global Tally 68 Million: Virus Update

The Netherlands extended a partial lockdown for the holiday season, with Prime Minister Mark Rutte warning that stricter measures may be announced before Christmas if numbers don’t come down. “It is really not going well,” Rutte said at a press conference in The Hague on Tuesday.

Health Minister Hugo de Jonge cautioned that people should remain vigilant rather than adopting a “we-are-almost-there” attitude in regard to the first vaccines expected to show up in early January.

The number of cases in the Netherlands rose again in the past seven days, a worrying increase after declines in recent weeks, the health agency RIVM said earlier on Tuesday. In the latest week, 43,103 new patients were confirmed, a jump of more than 9,000.

Switzerland May Close Shops, Restaurants (2 a.m. HK)

Switzerland’s federal government plans to work with cantons, or states, to unify restrictions to fight the pandemic. The proposed new measures, including reducing opening hours for shops and restaurants, would take effect from Dec. 12 and last until Jan. 20. Measures could be tightened further on Dec. 18, when restaurants and shops might shut altogether, if case loads don’t come down.

The country of about 8.5 million on Tuesday reported 4,262 new infections, up 12% from a week ago.

In contrast to its neighbors, the Swiss federal government has thus far shied away from imposing a second round of lockdowns even though case loads were much higher than in Germany. Instead, it has asked cantons to manage the situation as they see fit.

More Than 1 Million Americans Expected to Fly (12:55 a.m. HK)

Americans are expected to continue with their travel plans for the Christmas holiday with more than a million air passengers anticipated for the balance of December and into January for the holiday, David Pekoske, administrator of the Transportation Security Administration, said Tuesday.

Anthony Fauci, the U.S. government’s top infectious-disease expert, said that the Christmas holiday season could pose greater risks than Thanksgiving when it comes to spreading the coronavirus, and urged Americans to double down on measures such as wearing masks, avoiding crowds and social distancing.

Despite Pekoske’s forecast, passenger traffic has fallen steadily since Thanksgiving as the country faces a surge in new infections. In the past seven days through Monday, airlines carried only 33.5% of passengers compared with the equivalent week in 2019, or an average of about 725,000 a day. The passenger numbers are the lowest seven-day average since late September, according to TSA data.

Vaccine’s Effect on Transmission Still Unknown (11:35 p.m. HK)

Pfizer Inc.’s Covid-19 vaccine prevents symptomatic cases of the virus, but it’s not clear if the shot keeps the disease from being transmitted, U.S. Food and Drug Administration staff found in a report issued Tuesday.

Cruise Ship Quarantined; Global Tally 68 Million: Virus Update

The conclusion highlights a major unknown about vaccine candidates that persists ahead of an ambitious U.S. rollout of millions of shots: How effective they’ll be in stemming the spread of coronavirus at a population level.

The answer to that question carries important implications for the continued use of public-health measures including masks and social distancing, even among those who have been immunized.

Cases Rising in London, Johnson Says (10:09 p.m. HK)

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned London is facing a rise in infections as he urged the public to stick to the pandemic rules. The government is due to review the restrictions on Dec. 16 and could impose tighter curbs on regions where cases are rising.

In London, cases are “starting to climb again in spite of all the efforts we’ve made,” Johnson said in a video released on Twitter. It is “vital” people keep their “discipline” as the vaccine is rolled out at the same time, he said.

Cruise Ship Quarantined; Global Tally 68 Million: Virus Update

Zurich to Close Casinos, Sex Clubs (9:57 p.m. HK)

The Swiss canton of Zurich will close casinos, sex clubs and saunas from Dec. 10 in an effort to curb infections. It will also close restaurants an hour earlier and limit public gatherings to 10 people — going beyond the federal government’s threshold of 15 people. The measures last until Jan. 10.

Infection rates in Zurich have recently been among the highest in Switzerland. “The situation in hospitals remains tense,” the local government said in a statement, adding that a new high in hospitalized Covid-19 patients was reached Monday.

Pfizer, BioNTech’s Vaccine Meets FDA’s Requirements (8:54 p.m. HK)

The vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech meets the requirements for an emergency-use authorization set out by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, according to a 92-page staff report analyzing the companies’ clinical development program.

The shot appears safe and effective, including among people who had previously been infected, according to the report. Side effects appear mild and are more common in younger people.

The report offers a first look at the U.S. review of the vaccine ahead of a public meeting Thursday of outside advisers to the agency. The FDA could clear the shot shortly after the meeting, with as many as 6.4 million doses immediately available to kick off a vast immunization effort designed to end a pandemic that has killed more than 283,000 Americans.

Cruise Ship Quarantined; Global Tally 68 Million: Virus Update

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