September 17 coronavirus news

By Julia Hollingsworth, Adam Renton, Meg Wagner, Zamira Rahim and Ed Upright, CNN

Updated 12:03 a.m. ET, September 18, 2020
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7:20 a.m. ET, September 17, 2020

World Health Organization warns of "alarming rates of transmission" across Europe

From CNN's Vasco Cotovio

A health worker in Irun, Spain, tests someone for Covid-19 on September 2.
A health worker in Irun, Spain, tests someone for Covid-19 on September 2. Gari Garaialde/Getty Images

The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that a “very serious situation” is unfolding in Europe, as "alarming rates of transmission" of the coronavirus surge across the continent.

“Weekly cases have now exceeded those reported when the pandemic first peaked in Europe in March,” WHO Regional Director Hans Kluge said during a press conference on Thursday.
“Last week, the region’s weekly tally exceeded 300,000 patients.”

Kluge added that more than half of Europe's countries have reported an increase of more than 10% in new cases in the past two weeks. 

"Of those, seven countries have seen newly reported cases increase more than two-fold in the same period,” he said. 

Kluge also said the increase in cases should serve as a warning of what is to come. 

“In the spring and early summer we were able to see the impact of strict lockdown measures. Our efforts, our sacrifices, paid off,” he said. “In June, cases hit an all-time low.” 
“The September case numbers, however, should serve as a wake-up call for all of us."
“Although these numbers reflect more comprehensive testing, it also shows alarming rates of transmission across the region”
6:31 a.m. ET, September 17, 2020

For a vaccine to be efficient, enough people have to take it, says Fauci

From CNN's Theresa Waldrop, Shelby Lin Erdman and Maggie Fox

Dr. Anthony Fauci testifies in Washington, DC, on June 23.
Dr. Anthony Fauci testifies in Washington, DC, on June 23. Kevin Dietsch/AFP/Getty Images

If not enough Americans get a Covid-19 vaccine when it becomes available, it won't help reduce the spread of the deadly virus, the nation's top infectious disease official said.

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Dr. Anthony Fauci addressed the risks of too few people taking the vaccine.

Even a third of Americans getting vaccinated against the coronavirus won't be enough, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said.

"It's a combination of how effective a vaccine is and how many people use it," Fauci said.

If you have a vaccine that is highly effective and not enough people get vaccinated, you're not going to realize the full, important effect of having a vaccine."

Read more:

6:09 a.m. ET, September 17, 2020

The pandemic is forcing US seniors into second thoughts about where to live

From Judith Graham, Kaiser Health News

Where do we want to live in the years ahead? Older adults are asking this question anew in light of the ongoing toll of the coronavirus pandemic — disrupted lives, social isolation, mounting deaths. Many are changing their minds.

Some people who planned to move to senior housing are now choosing to live independently rather than communally. Others wonder whether transferring to a setting where they can get more assistance might be the right call.

These decisions, hard enough during ordinary times, are now fraught with uncertainty as the economy falters and Covid-19 deaths climb, including tens of thousands in nursing homes and assisted living centers.

Read more:

5:30 a.m. ET, September 17, 2020

German pharma company says it's dramatically increasing production capacity for possible vaccine

From CNN's Fred Pleitgen in Berlin 

The headquarters of German immunotherapy company BioNTech in Mainz, Germany, on April 22.
The headquarters of German immunotherapy company BioNTech in Mainz, Germany, on April 22. Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images

German pharma company BioNTech is drastically increasing its production capacities for a possible Covid-19 vaccine, the company announced Thursday.

The company is currently developing a candidate vaccine against coronavirus together with US company Pfizer.

BioNTech announced the acquisition of a vaccine plant from the pharma firm Novartis at a press conference.

"In full production operations the production plant will increase BioNTech's capacity to produce vaccines by about 750 million doses per year or more than 60 million doses per month," BioNTech said in a press release. 

BioNtech reiterated its goal of having its vaccine candidate ready for regulatory approval between the end of October and the beginning of November of this year.

"We have publicly said that we expect our results end of October, beginning of November. If that is the case then we will also hand in our paperwork for approval at the end of October or the beginning of November," BioNTech CEO Ugur Sahin said at a Thursday press conference.

Sahin said BioNTech and Pfizer plan to deliver some of the first 100 million available doses to the US, once the doses have been approved.

"We will deliver vaccines both to the United States and Europe if the necessary approvals are obtained," he said.
"We have had multiple talks and are currently preparing paperwork that not only encompasses clinical data, but also data on production quality," he said.

Sahin added that BioNTech and Pfizer plan to simultaneously seek vaccine approval from regulators in the US and EU.

5:04 a.m. ET, September 17, 2020

Report noisy karaoke singers to help fight coronavirus, Philippine governor urges public

From CNN's Julia Hollingsworth

Macky Albor/Shutterstock
Macky Albor/Shutterstock

A provincial governor in the Philippines has set his sights on a set of people who he says are hurting the fight against the pandemic: karaoke singers.

In a Facebook post in the early hours of Tuesday morning, local time, the governor of Cavite province, Jonvic Remulla, urged the public to report noisy karaoke singers to authorities to help fight against coronavirus.

In the post, which began by quoting lyrics from "My Way" by the late American crooner Frank Sinatra and The Buggles' "Video Killed the Radio Star," Remulla told his constituents that getting a good night's sleep was one of the best ways to strengthen the immune system.

"Curfew isn't just made to reduce nonsense night strolls. It is also meant to strengthen the body through a good and sound sleep," he said.

But one of the most frequent complaints from constituents had been the "tireless abuse" from people singing karaoke, he said. 

"This is the favorite hobby of those who have nothing to do from last night until dawn," Remulla said.

"If you're drunk, over the amount of drinking and most of all your excursion is against the time, you can be charged and taken to the precinct on the spot," he wrote. "If you don't want to sleep early, please let yourself sleep! Learn to respect the neighbors who have to wake up at 4 a.m. (like me)."

Read the full story:

4:38 a.m. ET, September 17, 2020

Indonesians caught without a mask forced to dig graves for Covid-19 victims

From journalist Mochamad Andri in Jakarta, Indonesia

Eight people in Indonesia's Gresik Regency were forced to dig graves as punishment for not wearing masks, according to Head of Cerme Sub-district, Suyono.
Eight people in Indonesia's Gresik Regency were forced to dig graves as punishment for not wearing masks, according to Head of Cerme Sub-district, Suyono. Cerme sub-district office via Witness News

Villagers who refuse to wear masks are being forced to dig graves for victims of Covid-19 by local authorities in one part of rural Indonesia, in the hopes that a little bit of manual labor and empathy will convince others to do their part to help stop the pandemic. 

Three middle-aged men and five minors in Cerme district of Gresik Regency, East Java, were given the unique punishment on September 9, authorities said. 

Though mask-wearing is mandatory in public throughout Indonesia, there has been a vocal segment of the population that has been reluctant to wear masks and practice social distancing.

Experts say the lack of public vigilance has made it more difficult for Indonesian authorities to stymie the spread of the virus, which to date has infected nearly 230,000 people in the country. More than 160,000 of those patients have recovered, while at least 9,100 have died, according to the Indonesian Health Ministry.

Social punishment: As cases spiked in recent months, Indonesia's government passed a law in July requiring people to wear masks in public, but left it to local officials to determine punishments for noncompliance. A joint team called the "three pillars" -- which consists of the Indonesian National Armed Forces, Indonesian National Police and local law enforcement -- are in charge of enforcing mask restrictions across the country.

In Cerme, the "three pillars" gives those caught not wearing a mask the option of accepting a fine of 150,000 rupiah ($10) or accepting what the government calls "social punishment," according to the district's leader.

Read the full story here.

3:40 a.m. ET, September 17, 2020

Parents sent student to school while knowingly infected with coronavirus, mayor says

From CNN's Taylor Romine and Madeline Holcombe

Almost 30 teenagers have to quarantine after parents sent their child to a Massachusetts school despite knowing they were positive with Covid-19, according to Attleboro Public Schools and the town's mayor.

A Covid-19 positive student attended class on Monday, but the school wasn't notified of their diagnosis until the next day, Attleboro High School superintendent David Sawyer said in a letter sent out to families Tuesday night.

Twenty-eight students who had close contact with the infected person have been notified and asked to quarantine for 14 days, Sawyer said.

The school did not identify the student and family.

Read more:

3:10 a.m. ET, September 17, 2020

Analysis: Trump's not bothering to hide his political interference in vaccine push

Analysis from CNN's Stephen Collinson

US President Donald Trump speaks to the media on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC, on September 15.
US President Donald Trump speaks to the media on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC, on September 15. Saul Loeb/Getty Images

US President Donald Trump's political interference in the scientific and ethical process underwriting the quest for a Covid-19 vaccine -- on stunning display on a chaotic Wednesday -- is deepening the damage of his disastrous pandemic response.

In a breathtaking spell of propagandizing, a President who has no medical expertise and has incessantly downplayed the emergency, bulldozed into the White House Briefing Room to kneecap one of the nation's top health officials, Dr. Robert Redfield. The head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had told lawmakers it could be fall 2021 before there are sufficient vaccine stocks to allow normal life to resume. He also said masks work.

"I think he got the message maybe confused," the President said of the vaccine comments and added that Redfield "didn't understand the question" on masks -- even though the doctor's answers had been clearly considered and carefully worded.

The President's undercutting of Redfield came in a week in which he has repeatedly rejected the best advice of health authorities, including by holding an indoor campaign rally. He's also challenged the science of global warming as historic fires rage in Western states. But he's not the only top government official chafing at pandemic-induced restrictions that are designed to keep people safe from a highly infectious pathogen.

In an extraordinary statement on Wednesday, Attorney General William Barr lashed out at state governors using executive powers to impose restrictions that keep businesses closed in an effort to save lives and slow the spread of the virus.

"You know, putting a national lockdown, stay at home orders, is like house arrest. Other than slavery, which was a different kind of restraint, this is the greatest intrusion on civil liberties in American history," Barr said during an appearance hosted by Hillsdale College, a private, conservative school in Michigan.

Read the full analysis:

2:45 a.m. ET, September 17, 2020

Qantas is offering a sightseeing flight around Australia for people who miss flying

From CNN's Chandler Thornton

A general view shows the empty Qantas departure terminal at Melbourne Airport in Australia, on August 20.
A general view shows the empty Qantas departure terminal at Melbourne Airport in Australia, on August 20. William West/AFP/Getty Images

Australian airline Qantas is offering a seven-hour "scenic joy flight" around Australia for people who miss flying. 

"Qantas will operate a special scenic joy flight above the Northern Territory, Queensland and New South Wales in response to strong demand from frequent flyers who miss the experience of flying and just want to take to the skies," a news release from Qantas said Thursday.

Tickets went on sale Thursday and sold out within 10 minutes, a Qantas spokesperson told CNN.

“It’s probably the fastest selling flight in Qantas history," Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said. “People clearly miss travel and the experience of flying. If the demand is there, we’ll definitely look at doing more of these scenic flights while we all wait for borders to open.”

The Boeing 787 Dreamliner plane will fly low-level to popular Australian sites like Uluru, the Great Barrier Reef and Sydney Harbor.

"No passport or quarantine required," the news release said.

The flight will take off October 10 from Sydney and make its way up the New South Wales coast, cross the Queensland border to fly over the Gold Coast, Brisbane and Sunshine Coast before continuing north to fly over the Whitsundays and Great Barrier Reef. It will then track across the country to Uluru and Kata Tjuta to showcase the iconic red center before returning to Sydney.

"The special scenic flight is designed to fulfil the travel experience that many Australians have been missing throughout the COVID pandemic. Frequent flyers have said they just want to get on a Qantas aircraft and experience the joy of flying again without having to navigate border restrictions or quarantines," the news release said.

For months, Australia has closed borders to almost all foreigners, and any Australian citizens wanting to go overseas need an exit visa to leave the country.