U.S. has more than 19 million COVID-19 cases and Fauci is worried about a post-holiday surge

U.S. has more than 19 million COVID-19 cases and Fauci is worried about a post-holiday surge

The global tally for confirmed cases of the coronavirus-borne illness COVID-19 was edging toward 81 million on Monday, while the U.S. case tally topped 19 million, and experts warned the next few weeks will be hard after many Americans traveled over the Christmas holiday.

“We’re really at a very critical point,” he said. “If you put more pressure on the system by what might be a post-seasonal surge because of the traveling and the likely congregating of people for, you know, the good warm purposes of being together for the holidays, it’s very tough for people to not do that.”

The latest data from the Transportation Security Administration showed that 1.13 million passengers were screened at U.S. airports on Saturday, the most since mid-March. In the last 10 days, five saw more than 1 million passengers going through U.S. airports.

Fauci said he backs the decision to require negative COVID-19 tests before allowing people from the U.K. to enter the U.S., which comes after a new strain of the virus was detected there.

The variant strain is something “to follow very carefully” and “we’re looking at it very intensively now,” he said.

“Does it make someone more ill? Is it more serious virus in the sense of virulence? And the answer is, it doesn’t appear to be that way.” U.K. officials say it appears that the vaccines being rolled out will be strong enough to deal with the new variant but, Fauci said, “we’re going to be doing the studies ourselves.”

Read now: How many people have to get vaccinated against COVID-19 to reach herd immunity? ‘The faster we do it, the faster we get back to life’

The U.S. counted at least 152,102 new cases on Sunday and at least 1,230 people died, according to a New York Times tracker. In the past week, the U.S. has averaged 184,951 cases a day, which is down 12% from two weeks earlier.

There are currently 118,720 COVID-19 patients in U.S. hospitals, according to the COVID Tracking Project, below the record of 119,463 set on Dec. 23, but still worryingly high.

Fauci said the U.S. is at a critical phase of the pandemic, with the worst probably still ahead. He predicted the general population would be immunized widely by late March or early April — beyond the front-line workers, older people and certain other segments of the public who are first in line.

The U.S. continues to lead the world by cases, at 19.1 million, and deaths at 333,140, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University, or about a fifth of the global tally for each.

There was relief for many when incumbent President Donald Trump signed a $900 billion pandemic relief package late Sunday, after spending days refusing to do so. The package will offer much-needed cash to businesses and individuals and avert a federal government shutdown, as the Associated Press reported.

The massive bill includes $1.4 trillion to fund government agencies through September and contains other end-of-session priorities such as an increase in food stamp benefits. The move sparked a massive stock rally that sent leading indexes, including the Dow Jones Industrial Average

 and S&P 500

  to record highs.

In other news:

• Novavax Inc.

 is starting a late-stage trial of its COVID-19 vaccine candidate with plans to enroll up to 30,000 volunteers at about 115 sites in the U.S. and Mexico. The trial is being supported by partners of Operation Warp Speed, the federal government program that aims to quickly develop vaccines and therapies, including the Department of Defense and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health, and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response. Barda is providing up to $1.6 billion to fund the trial under a Department of Defense agreement. The trial will be randomized, placebo-controlled and will evaluate the efficacy of the treatment, called NVX-CoV2373, in patients aged 18 and older.

See also: AstraZeneca believes its coronavirus vaccine will be effective against new strain

• The European Union started its vaccination program on Sunday by dosing doctors, nurses and the elderly with the vaccine developed by Pfizer Inc.

 and its German partner BioNTech SE
the AP reported. The first jabs were coordinated across the trading bloc in a show of solidarity. The vaccine had started arriving in super-cold containers at EU hospitals on Friday from a factory in Belgium. Each country was only getting a fraction of the doses needed — fewer than 10,000 in the first batches for some countries — with the bigger rollout expected in January when more vaccines become available. All those getting shots Sunday have to come back for a second dose in three weeks. Ursula von der Leyen, head of the European Union’s Executive Commission, said with additional vaccines in development, the EU will have more shots than necessary this year and could share its surplus with the western Balkans and Africa. “Europe is well positioned,” she insisted.

• China has jailed a citizen journalist who reported on the spread of the virus in Wuhan in late 2019 for four years, Reuters reported. Her lawyer said the sentence was imposed for “picking quarrels and provoking trouble.” Zhang Zhan, a 37-year-old, is the first such person known to have been tried, and was among a handful of people whose accounts from crowded hospitals and empty streets painted a more grim picture of the pandemic than official accounts.

• Indonesia is banning all foreign travelers for two weeks, starting Jan. 1, the Guardian reported. The news was announced by Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, citing concerns about transmission. The new rule will apply to all foreign visitors, with the exception of senior government officials.

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Latest tallies

There are now 80.9 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 globally, the Johns Hopkins data shows, and at least 1.77 million people have died. Almost 46 million people have recovered.

Brazil has the second highest death toll at 191,139 and is third by cases at 7.5 million.

India is second worldwide in cases with 10.2 million, and third in deaths at 147,901.

Mexico has the fourth highest death toll at 122,426 and 13th highest case tally at 1.4 million.

Italy has 71,925 fatalities, the highest in Europe, and 2.0 million cases. The U.K. has 2.3 million cases, the most in Europe, and 70,860 deaths, second-highest in Europe and sixth highest in the world.

China, where the virus was first discovered late last year, has had 95,693 confirmed cases and 4,773 deaths, according to its official numbers.

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