US passes new Covid-19 milestone with 3,000 deaths in one day

Food and Drug Administration holds key meeting to consider approving Pfizer vaccine

The United States passed a new Covid milestone, recording 3,000 deaths in a single day, as the pandemic continued to spread across the country.

More than 3,000 deaths were registered on Wednesday – part of a recent pattern that has seen death rates and infection levels rise in dozens of states.

The seven-day average for daily deaths has now hit 2,500 over the last week – the highest level since April at the peak of the first wave of the virus.

The new daily record comes as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) held a key meeting to consider approval for the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine. A top advisory committee held a full-day hearing on Thursday into the vaccine which has already been approved by Britain and Canada. If approved by the committee, the FDA is likely to authorise the vaccine quickly, with doses expected to be shipped to providers within hours.

Logistical challenges

US officials have said that 100 million Americans could be vaccinated by February, but there are concerns about the logistical challenges of distributing the vaccine. Front-line health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities are expected to be prioritised.

TV host Ellen DeGeneres became the latest high-profile American to test positive for coronavirus, announcing her diagnosis yesterday. Filming for her show has paused, though the star said she feels “fine.”

President Donald Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani was released from hospital in Washington after receiving treatment for coronavirus. The 76-year-old was administered similar medication given to Mr Trump earlier this year, he said. "The minute I took the cocktail yesterday, I felt 100 per cent better," he told a New York radio station from his hospital bed. Tweeting yesterday, he wrote: "My treatment by the nurses and staff at Georgetown Med Star hospital was miraculous. I walked in with serious symptoms. I walked out better than ever."

Biden appointments

Separately, president-elect Joe Biden announced new appointments to his team of advisers yesterday, many of whom held prominent positions in the Obama administration.

Former ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice has been named as head of the domestic policy council. Ms Rice, who had been in the running for Secretary of State, will not need Senate approval for the post, and the position will see her take a domestic-focused role for the first time.

Former chief of staff to president Barack Obama, Denis O'Donoghue has been named as the director of veteran affairs, with Mr Biden noting that he had earned his trust during the Obama administration "as a first-class manager with the knowledge and vision to deliver results."

Katherine Tai, who is currently the top legal official on the trade-focused ways and means committee, has been named as the replacement for US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.

The key role will see Ms Tai, a Chinese-American, oversee US trade policy, including navigating America's ongoing trade disputes with China, the WTO as well as the EU and Britain.

Mr Biden also announced that he will travel to Georgia next Tuesday to campaign for the two Democratic candidates running in a pair of run-off elections for the US Senate on January 5th.

Win control of the Senate

Describing the elections as "crucial," Mr Biden urged supporters to donate to a "Flip Georgia Fund" to help Democrats win control of the Senate. Democratic candidates Jon Ossoff and Rev Raphael Warnock are seeking to flip two seats held by Republicans. If both win their elections, Democrats will have an effective majority in the Senate as vice-president Kamala Harris will hold a tie-breaking vote.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration announced that Morocco had agreed to normalise relations with Israel – the latest Arab nation to do so. In exchange, the US will recognise the sovereignty of the north African country over western Saharan territory.

Asked if Saudi Arabia was considering establishing diplomatic contact with Israel, Trump adviser Jared Kushner said: "If you go back four years ago, that notion was unthinkable. . . they're watching very, very closely what's happening with all these different normalisations and peace treaties, and they're seeing the tremendous economic impact that's happening, the tremendous interchange of people."

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch, a former Irish Times journalist, was Washington correspondent and, before that, Europe correspondent