May 19 coronavirus news

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10:51 p.m. ET, May 18, 2020

Chinese province offers to buy wild animals from farmers to support wildlife trade crackdown

From Eric Cheung and Vanesse Chan in Hong Kong

Hunan province in southern China has announced a scheme to buy wild animals from farmers as the country cracks down on the trade of wildlife for consumption.

The initial outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic has been linked to a wet market in Wuhan, capital of China's central Hubei province, where a wide variety of wild animals were being sold as meat, including snakes, porcupines and raccoon dogs.

Since then, China has been working to clamp down on the wild animal trade.

In January, Chinese officials announced that the trading of wild animals would be temporarily suspended in hopes that would help contain the virus. The next month, China slapped a temporary ban on all farming and consumption of "terrestrial wildlife of important ecological, scientific and social value."

On Friday, the Hunan provincial government said it will offer compensation to wildlife farmers so they can switch to alternative forms of farming. Only farmers who obtained a license for the artificial breeding of wildlife are eligible, it said.

The compensation varies depending on the species. Officials will pay 120 yuan ($17) per kilogram of king rat snake, while a guinea pig is worth 24 yuan ($3.40).

Jiangxi province in southeastern China announced a similar scheme last Saturday, but did not specify the compensation offered to its farmers.

In a statement, animal protection group Humane Society International praised Hunan and Jiangxi for "demonstrating global leadership" on the issue, and urged other provinces and countries to follow suit.

"Chinese farmers not only have an opportunity to leave a trade that poses a direct threat to human health -- something that can no longer be tolerated in light of Covid -- but also to transition to more humane and sustainable livelihoods such as growing plant foods," said Peter Li, the NGO's China's policy specialist.
10:32 p.m. ET, May 18, 2020

It's just past 11:30 p.m. in Sao Paulo and 10:30 a.m. in Beijing. Catch up on the latest headlines

The novel coronavirus has infected nearly 4.8 million people and killed at least 318,000 worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University. If you're just joining us, here's the latest on the pandemic:

  • Trump taking hydroxychloroquine: US President Donald Trump said he is taking daily doses of the drug that he's long touted as a potential coronavirus cure. Medical experts and the FDA question its efficacy and warn of potentially harmful side effects.
  • US death projection revised down: A key model often cited by the White House has revised its death projection for the US slightly downward. It now predicts that 143,360 people will die by August 4 -- 3,700 fewer deaths than its previous forecast.
  • Positive early results in vaccine trial: All eight volunteers who received Moderna's Covid-19 vaccine developed antibodies to the virus, according to the biotech company, which has partnered with the National Institutes of Health for the trial.
  • China backs probe -- but wants to wait: Chinese President Xi Jinping said at a key WHO summit on Monday that he supports calls for an investigation into the handling of the pandemic. However, Xi insisted that any inquiry should wait until the virus is contained.
  • Brazil cases surge: Brazil is reporting the third most Covid-19 cases in the world, behind only the US and Russia. At least 254,220 infections have been officially recorded in the country.
  • Latin America death toll mounts: The number of deaths from Covid-19 in Latin America has surpassed 30,000 as of Monday evening, according to JHU. Brazil has more deaths than any other Latin American country, with at least 16,792.
10:12 p.m. ET, May 18, 2020

El Salvador's Supreme Court overrides President's state of emergency extension

From CNN's Stefano Pozzebon

A patient suspected of being infected with Covid-19 receives treatment at the San Rafael Hospital in Santa Tecla, El Salvador on May 16.
A patient suspected of being infected with Covid-19 receives treatment at the San Rafael Hospital in Santa Tecla, El Salvador on May 16. Yuri Cortez/AFP/Getty Images

El Salvador's Supreme Court on Monday suspended the anti-coronavirus state of emergency declared by President Nayib Bukele, saying the decree's extension was unlawful.

Bukele signed a presidential decree extending anti-coronavirus measures on Saturday, a day before the restrictions were set to expire, without seeking Congress approval. 

Critics and lawmakers accused the President of overstepping his authority.

On Monday, the Supreme Court ruled that the power to extend anti-coronavirus measures resides with the Congress, and ordered the presidential decree to be suspended with immediate effect.  

The Supreme Court urged the President and Congress to "act together" in order to present a new emergency decree as soon as possible, according to the text of the resolution.

Bukele reacted to the resolution in a tweet Monday, accusing the court of breaking constitutional order. 

"Who is invading whose functions? Who's breaking the constitutional order?" he tweeted. 

El Salvador first implemented anti-coronavirus measures on March 14, one of the first countries in Central America to impose a lockdown. 

The country has confirmed 1,413 cases and 30 deaths from the virus, according to Johns Hopkins University. 

9:51 p.m. ET, May 18, 2020

Doctor who revised down US death projection says he was "pretty surprised" by his model

From CNN Health’s Arman Azad

Dr. Christopher Murray, right, with Anderson Cooper.
Dr. Christopher Murray, right, with Anderson Cooper. CNN

Dr. Christopher Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, told CNN Monday night that he was “pretty surprised” by his model’s downward revision. 

His comments come after his model -- which is a key coronavirus forecast often cited by the White House -- revised its death projection for the United States slightly downward.

It's now predicting that 143,360 people will die by August 4 -- about 3,700 fewer deaths than the model predicted when last updated on May 12.

“I must say, we were pretty surprised, Anderson. We were expecting them to probably go up because of a big surge in mobility in the last two, three weeks that we’ve seen in the cell phone data,” Murray said on “Anderson Cooper 360” when asked about the new forecast. 

“But what’s really been fascinating is there’s not a strong correlation between where mobility’s gone up and the trend in cases and deaths, even when we take into account the increase in testing.”

Murray had previously explained upticks in the model’s projections by pointing to mobility data. The thinking had been that as people move around more, they’ll come into contact with more people and create opportunities for transmission.

But those expected increases in infections haven’t materialized yet -- at least not to the extent IHME expected.

“Our explanation for that is if you dig a little bit deeper, and look into the fraction of the population in different states that are wearing masks, we think that’s really the key difference there -- both their behavior and mask wearing.”

CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta pointed to delays between infections, hospitalizations and deaths, and asked Murray what he thought the model would look like in a few weeks, as the impact of reopenings becomes clearer.

“I think we’re going to really need to watch the next week or two, because we sort of expected to see it by now, but certainly it could just be a lagged effect,” Murray said. “And I think we may also run into the phenomenon that people may get fatigued of being cautious -- stop wearing a mask, start having more physical contact.”

9:35 p.m. ET, May 18, 2020

Trump administration to extend US border and travel restrictions related to coronavirus

From CNN's Geneva Sands and Priscilla Alvarez

Passengers walk between terminals at Charlotte Douglas International Airport on May 15, in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Passengers walk between terminals at Charlotte Douglas International Airport on May 15, in Charlotte, North Carolina. Chris Graythen/Getty Images

The Trump administration is preparing to extend travel restrictions and stringent border control measures this week related to the coronavirus pandemic, according to two administration officials.

The latest slate of restrictions indicate that while the United States moves toward reopening, the federal government is not ready to ease measures put in place in March that largely sealed off the US to stem the spread of Covid-19. The strict rules also have the effect of continuing to curb immigration to the US.  

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also suggested last week that the US-Canada border would likely remain closed through June. The agreement as it stands forbids any non-essential travel, although commercial traffic continues.

CNN reached out to the White House and the Department of Homeland Security for comment. 

Opposition: The rules curbing immigration have raised concern among immigrant advocates, lawyers and public health experts who argue restrictions appear to be intended to halt immigration, not to serve a public health purpose.

On Monday, more than two dozen health experts at leading public health schools, medical schools and hospitals cast doubt about the basis of those restrictions. 

"The nation's public health laws should not be used as a pretext for overriding humanitarian laws and treaties that provide life-saving protections to refugees seeking asylum and unaccompanied children," they said in a letter to the Health and Human Services Department. 

Read the full story:

8:53 p.m. ET, May 18, 2020

Trump's doctor says potential benefit of taking hydroxychloroquine outweighs the risk

From CNN's Matthew Hoye

President Donald Trump tells reporters that he is taking zinc and hydroxychloroquine during a meeting in the State Dining Room of the White House, on May 18, in Washington DC.
President Donald Trump tells reporters that he is taking zinc and hydroxychloroquine during a meeting in the State Dining Room of the White House, on May 18, in Washington DC. Evan Vucci/AP

The potential benefits of US President Donald Trump's decision to take hydroxychloroquine as a prophylactic against the coronavirus outweigh the risks, according to his White House physician.

Dr. Sean Conley wrote in a White House memo that after numerous discussions, "he (Trump) and I had regarding the evidence for and against the use of hydroxychloroquine, we concluded the potential benefit from treatment outweighed the relative risk." 

Conley wrote that the President is "in very good health and has remained symptom free." He also added that Trump has been tested numerous times and that the tests have been "all negative, to date." 

He added that two weeks ago, "one of the President's support staff tested positive for Covid-19." 

The background: Earlier Monday, Trump told reporters he is taking daily doses of hydroxychloroquine, a drug he's long touted as a potential coronavirus cure. 

Medical experts and the US Food and Drug Administration question its efficacy and warn of potentially harmful side effects. "A couple of weeks ago, I started taking it," Trump said. He later said he'd been taking the drug every day for a week and a half.

The admission was a dramatic development in Trump's attempts to promote hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for coronavirus, but at least one study has shown the drug does not work against Covid-19 and could cause heart problems. 

The study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. It follows a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine that also showed the drug doesn't fight the virus.

While Trump admitted he doesn't know if the drug works, he claimed "if it doesn't, you're not going to get sick and die."

The FDA has warned against the use of hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine to treat the novel coronavirus and said the drugs should only be used in hospitals or clinical trials because they can kill or cause serious side effects. These include serious heart rhythm problems in Covid-19 patients treated with the medications, especially when they are combined with the antibiotic azithromycin or other drugs that can affect the heart.

Hydroxychloroquine is approved to treat or prevent malaria and to treat autoimmune conditions such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.

Read more:

9:17 p.m. ET, May 18, 2020

Key coronavirus model revises US death projection slightly downward

From CNN's Arman Azad

A medical laboratory scientist inserts a patient's swab sample into a coronavirus testing machine in the lab at Stamford Hospital in Stamford, Connecticut on May 14.
A medical laboratory scientist inserts a patient's swab sample into a coronavirus testing machine in the lab at Stamford Hospital in Stamford, Connecticut on May 14. Tyler Sizemore/Heart Connecticut Media/AP

A key coronavirus model often cited by the White House has revised its death projection for the United States slightly downward, now predicting that 143,360 people will die by August 4.

That’s about 3,700 fewer deaths than the model predicted when last updated on May 12.

The shift is small, but it marks a departure from recent increases in the model’s death projections, which have been largely based on increases in mobility across the country and the easing of social distancing measures.

As people have been moving around more -- and as social distancing measures have been relaxed -- the model has projected more deaths.

But in today’s release, researchers at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, who built the model, say that fewer people are forecast to die in certain parts of the country. 

That suggests that expected increases in coronavirus cases may not have materialized yet in certain places -- at least not to the extent that the model was projecting.

CNN is tracking US coronavirus cases and deaths here:

 

9:12 p.m. ET, May 18, 2020

Early results from Moderna vaccine trial show participants developed antibodies against coronavirus

From CNN's Elizabeth Cohen

A view of Moderna headquarters on May 8, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Moderna was recently given FDA approval to continue to phase 2 of a coronavirus vaccine trials with volunteers.
A view of Moderna headquarters on May 8, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Moderna was recently given FDA approval to continue to phase 2 of a coronavirus vaccine trials with volunteers. Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Volunteers who received Moderna's Covid-19 vaccine had positive early results, according to the biotech company, which partnered with the National Institutes of Health to develop the vaccine.

If future studies go well, the company's vaccine could be available to the public as early as January, said Moderna's chief medical officer, Dr. Tal Zaks.

"This is absolutely good news and news that we think many have been waiting for for quite some time," Zaks said.

These early data come from the phase 1 clinical trial, which typically studies a small number of people and focuses on whether a vaccine is safe and elicits an immune response.

The results of the study, which was led by the National Institutes of Health, have not been peer reviewed or published in a medical journal.

Moderna, based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is one of eight developers worldwide doing human clinical trials with a vaccine against the novel coronavirus, according to the World Health Organization. Two others, Pfizer and Inovio, are also in the United States, one is at the University of Oxford in Britain, and four are in China.

Moderna has vaccinated dozens of study participants and measured antibodies in eight of them. All eight developed neutralizing antibodies to the virus at levels reaching or exceeding the levels seen in people who've naturally recovered from Covid-19, according to the company.

Neutralizing antibodies bind to the virus, disabling it from attacking human cells.

"We've demonstrated that these antibodies, this immune response, can actually block the virus," Zaks said. "I think this is a very important first step in our journey towards having a vaccine."

Read more:

9:06 p.m. ET, May 18, 2020

China backs coronavirus investigation but says it should wait until pandemic is contained

From CNN's Rob Picheta

Chinese President Xi Jinping said he supports calls for an investigation into the handling of the coronavirus pandemic at a key summit Monday, but insisted that any inquiry should wait until the virus is contained.

Xi spoke at the World Health Assembly after more than 100 countries backed a resolution calling for an independent inquiry into the pandemic, which has so far claimed more than 300,000 lives globally.

The President defended his country at the annual meeting of the World Health Organization (WHO), saying Beijing had acted transparently about the origins of the virus, which was first detected late last year in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.

"All along we have acted with openness, transparency and responsibility, we have provided information to the WHO and relevant countries in the most timely fashion, we have released the genome sequence at the earliest possible time, we have shared control and treatment experiences with the world without reservation, we have done everything in our power to support and assist countries in need," Xi told the assembly via video conference.

Xi also expressed condolences for the lives lost due to the virus, and went on to agree with the need for an investigation, though he said it should wait until the pandemic subsides.

The European Union-drafted resolution, driven by calls for an inquiry from Australia, does not single out China or any other country but calls for an "impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation" of "the (WHO)-coordinated international health response to Covid-19." Several countries, including the United States, have accused China of withholding information about the virus.

Australia's call for an investigation last month sparked an angry flare-up from Beijing, which accused Canberra of a "highly irresponsible" move that could "disrupt international cooperation in fighting the pandemic and goes against people's shared aspiration."

Read more: