Coronavirus updates: December deadliest month of pandemic

By ROSA SANCHEZ, EMILY SHAPIRO and IVAN PEREIRA, ABC News(NEW YORK) — A pandemic of the novel coronavirus has now infected more than 78.4 million people worldwide and killed over 1.7 million of them, according to real-time data compiled by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.Here’s how the news developed Wednesday. All times Eastern:

Dec 23, 8:21 pmUK halts flights from South AfricaGrant Shapps, the United Kingdom’s transportation secretary, tweeted that all flights to and from South Africa will be halted starting 9 a.m. Thursday, after a new coronavirus mutation was discovered in that country.”British & Irish Nationals, visa holders and permanent residents arriving from South Africa will be able to enter but are required to self-isolate for ten days along with their household,” he tweeted.South African nationals won’t be allowed to enter the U.K. until the ban is lifted, Shapps said.

Dec 23, 7:58 pmDecember deadliest month of pandemicWith only eight days left, December has already gone down as the deadliest month of the pandemic, according to the COVID Tracking Project.As of Wednesday, 57,638 Americans died from the virus in December, according to the health data. April is the second deadliest month of the year with 55,267 fatalities, according to the Tracking Project.The daily hospitalization rate broke another record Wednesday with 119,463 Americans hospitalized with the virus.”The 7-day average for hospitalizations is at a record 115k,” the tracking project tweeted.Dec 23, 7:00 pmSurge affecting states with 80% of the population: White House Coronavirus Task ForceThe White House Coronavirus Task Force urged state leaders to step up their messaging when it comes to health warnings as the number of cases continues to rise across the country, according to a report for governors that was obtained by ABC News.The rise in cases is now in states home to more than 80% of the American population, according to the report.”Preventing a post-Christmas/Kwanzaa surge is critical through clear and continuous messaging: ‘To preserve our hospital system for you, we need you to wear masks, physically distance, wash hands, and avoid crowds and social gatherings beyond your immediate family,"” the report said.The task force reported that the current surge is currently plateauing at 10 times the daily cases of the spring surge and three and a half times the daily cases of the summer surge.The number of COVID-19 inpatients is three times the number of spring inpatients and more than double the summer surge, according to the report. Weekly fatalities are greater than the spring surge and two and a half times greater than the summer surge, according to the task force.ABC News’ Arielle Mitropoulos and Josh Margolin contributed to this report.Dec 23, 6:32 pmTexas breaks daily COVID-19 case recordTexas recorded 19,185 coronavirus cases Wednesday, a new record for the state, according to the Texas Health Department.Its previous record was on Dec. 17, with nearly 17,000 new cases reported.The state recorded 294 new deaths on Wednesday and there are 10,574 people hospitalized statewide, according to the Health Department.Texas has recorded 1,451,256 cases so far, the Health Department said.Dec 23, 6:15 pmThunder-Rockets game postponed after positive testsOne day into the NBA’s new season, the league announced that a game has been postponed due to COVID-19 related issues.The game between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockets was put on hold after three Rockets players tested positive or inconclusive, according to the league. Four other players are quarantining following contact tracing procedures, the NBA said.”Additionally, James Harden is unavailable due to a violation of the Health and Safety Protocols. All other Rockets players were tested again today, and all returned negative results,” the league said in a statement.One other player was unavailable due to an injury and the Rockets did not have the mandatory eight-player roster to play the game, according to the NBA.Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.